February 20, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:45 am

Finding your 'Synergist' can help firm prosper

"The Synergist — How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" by Les McKeown (Palgrave McMillan, $27).

You built a cross-functional team from your best and brightest. Their skills and perspectives were supposed to combine and produce the optimum outcome. Yet, the team failed. Why?

McKeown would tell you that the mix of personalities, not skills, created a team without synergy. Lacking the element that binds the team's efforts together, the teammates played their instruments but never became an orchestra. Cacophony produces noise, not music.

McKeown's research shows most unsuccessful teams have three personalities unknowingly working at cross purposes: Visionaries have big ideas and have difficulty grasping the details. Their verbal communication parallels their stream-of-consciousness thinking process. Their conversations often lack "clear instruction, crisp directions or a straightforward, unembellished opinion. Visionaries also expect results now because their personality demands that they move to the next project.

Operators just want to get back to the real job of "checking stuff off their to-do list." Most Operators love the fact that their to-do list remains bottomless. They don't appreciate the fact that bottomless results in constantly juggling and renegotiating priorities and deadlines. While Operators are innovative, bottomless also often leads to shortcuts and workarounds, not real solutions.

The Processors live for the details; they think old-and-reliable, not new-and-improved. Without data, which doesn't exist when breaking trail, they can become preoccupied with analysis. Too many details create a devil of a different type — paralysis analysis. They don't realize that a viable plan doesn't have to be perfect; it only needs a solid foundation. It's a work-in-process that can be tweaked during execution.

McKeown's analysis of highly-successful teams identified a fourth personality style: The Synergist. It was present, yet hidden, within the personalities of the Visionaries, Processors and Operators (VOP). The Synergist naturally came out of the VOP when discussion "focused primarily on what is best for the enterprise." It became the invisible orchestra conductor instructing the VOP how to play its instruments to create harmony. The Synergist would appear at various times in the VOPs as they saw their perspectives linked by common sense to that of the organization. To assist VOPs with finding their inner Synergist, McKeown developed the "The Synergist's Toolkit" which covers managing communication, time, conflict and delegation.

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"King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone" by David Carey and John Morris (Crown Business, $16).

With $166 billion in assets under management and nearly $30 billion of capital accessible for investment, Blackstone L.P., a private equity firm, combines the personalities of bankers and capitalists. Like banks, private equity firms provide capital and assume the risks of default. Unlike banks, they take control over the companies in which they invest. Some investments do well — resulting in job growth and value appreciation for investors; some don't — resulting in job and value loss. Based on the political and economic environments, private equity firms have been much maligned as "strippers and flippers." Carey and Morris take us behind the scenes so you can be the judge.

I found a firm concerned about its investors [Blackstone manages about $58 billion in public (government) pension funds and almost $25 billion in private (corporate) pension funds.] In 2007, sensing a bubble about to burst, it began shifting away from investments in cyclical businesses like chemicals and industrials. Pharmaceuticals, medical devices, healthcare services and foods were safer bets because their "demand tends to more steady across the business cycle." That said, the jury is still out on its long-term investments in commercial real estate and alternative energy.

You'll delve into the details of deals won and lost. You'll learn why some investments paid off and others didn't. You'll understand why private equity firms provide capital when banks won't take the risk.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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