International Society for the Systems Sciences
The Team Syntegrity Model
An Architecture for Organizations
of the Future
Professor of Management
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Team Syntegrity is a future-oriented approach to the design of democratic
management in the sense of the heterarchical-participative type of organization.
It is a holographic model for organizing processes of communication, in
particular for the (self-) management of social systems, developed by Stafford
Beer1. Based on the structure
of polyhedra it is especially suitable for realizing team-oriented structures
as well as for supporting processes of planning, knowledge generation and
innovation in turbulent environments. In the following the architecture
of the model will be illustrated by using the structure of an icosahedron,
as an example (see figure 1).
The formation of networks by persons at different locations, who are connected
by mutual interests, is a manifestation of the information society and a
structural answer to challenges of our times. An infoset is a set of individuals
who share a common concern and who are in possession of corresponding information
or rather knowledge connected with the subject. The Team Syntegrity Model
supplies the structural framework for the synergetic interaction of an infoset
that is intended to lead to an integration of multiple topics and perspectives.
The term Syntegrity results from a combination of synergy and
integration. An infoset of 30 persons can organize itself using the
structure of an icosahedron. (For different numbers of people solutions
with the help of other polyhedra are possible.) Each member of the infoset
is represented by one edge of the icosahedron. Each vertex corresponds to
a team; with the icosahedron there are 12; they are marked by different
colours. 5 edges lead to each vertex, therefore there are five members to
each team (as players). Thus each participant as a player belongs to two
different teams, - those connected by the edge that represents him or her.
Mrs. Black-Yellow, for instance, belongs to the teams Black and Yellow.
At the same time she is acting as a critic to two other teams. This means
that each team consists of 5 players and 5 critics.
Figure 1: Icosahedral Structure of the
Team Syntegrity Model
The process of a syntegration proceeds as follows (simplified representation):
1. Opening: The syntegration stands under a general topic that focuses
all mutual efforts and is explicated in an opening question, e. g.: Which
form should management training take in future?
2. Generation of the agenda (Problem Jostle): Each participant hands
in contributions that seem important to him or her (Statements of Importance).
In the following these are discussed and combined (Aggregated Statements
of Importance). Then, in a process of successive synthesis and prioritizing,
the agenda for the actual work on the general topic or problem is generated
(Hexadic Reduction). It is finally worded in 12 topics (Consolidated Statements
3. Assignment to groups (Topic Auction): Each member of the infoset
decides on the topics to whose processing he or she would prefer to contribute.
A corresponding listing of the individual preferences forms the basis for
the assignment to the various teams, with the help of an optimization algorithm.
One alternative is random assignment to groups.
4. Working on the topic (Outcome Resolve): The individual teams (consisting
of 5 players and 5 critics each) discuss their respective topic. Each team
meets several times (e. g. in three iterations). The fact that the same
problem setting with its different but interconnected aspects is continually
processed by the same set of people, who gather in alternating compositions,
provably leads to a self-organizing process with a high effect of integration:
Via reverberation, the information in the Infoset is shared progressively,
5. Conclusion: final coordination if necessary in Triplets (corresponding
to the triangular faces of the icosahedron), presentation of the results
Case Study: A Global Transdisciplinary
On September 25, 1996 a research project directed by professors Raúl
Espejo, University of Humberside, England and Markus Schwaninger, University
of St. Gallen, Switzerland, reached its culmination: A festschrift3 for his seventieth birthday was handed
over to Stafford Beer, the founder of management cybernetics4
. This commemorative publication is the result of a model-based interaction
carried out mainly via electronic media, of 30 cyberneticians from sixteen
countries and four continents. The ceremonial act took place at John Moores
University, Liverpool which houses the Stafford Beer Collection. The project
was supported by a considerable donation from the Stiftung für Systemorientiertes
Management (Foundation for System Oriented Management, Chairman: Prof. Hans
The aim of this project was to create a festschrift worthy of the founder
of management cybernetics. At the same time it should constitute a substantial
contribution to the body of knowledge of cybernetics. The initiators - Espejo
and Schwaninger - decided in 1994 to realize a corresponding project. Stafford
Beer is not only a professor at several universities in Britain and the
United States, the winner of several prizes as well as a president and ex-president
of high-ranking scientific societies (so of the Operational Research Society
among others). He also is a conceptual architect of new models of organization,
including innovative uses of information technology, and as a practitioner
was one of the great pioneers in their realization.
In principle, at the core of a festschrift project is the generation of
a knowledge product. However, commemorative publications often represent
collections of articles that show little integration. Worldwide there is
a large number of people who know Beer's works well and probably would be
willing to contribute to this festschrift. How was it possible to canalize
this high potential into a coherent effort that would lead to a genuine
knowledge product? In order to reach the demanding objective the project
was aiming for, a new approach was required. The initiators decided to apply
Beer's Team Syntegrity Model as a basis for organizing the process
of creating the festschrift. That model appeared to be especially suitable
for carrying out the ambitious endeavour to work on the complex domain of
knowledge embodied in management cybernetics, in a global cooperative research
and publication project.
The challenge confronting us was mastered as follows:
1. Winning a circle (,infoset") of experts in cybernetics (among others
from the universities of Manchester, Toronto, Valladollid, Dublin, De Los
Andes/Bogotá, Mannheim, Humberside, John Moores/Liverpool, City University/London,
St. Gallen, Bangor, Nayang Institute of Technology/Singapore).
2. Interaction on the basis of the Team Syntegrity Model,
a cybernetic model of organization created by Beer himself (see textbox).
3. Combination of distant and local communication between the persons
involved making use of the most advanced technological means.
Up to then the Syntegrity Model had been applied in numerous strategy
and organization projects but always merely in workshops, i. e. via local
communication. In order to make a genuine process of generating knowledge
resulting in an actual product - the festschrift - possible, it was required
to plan and control the project in an exceedingly circumspect fashion. To
get most out of the project, the first electronic syntegration ever realized
was among the planned technological innovations. Another innovation was
the endeavour of thirty people writing a book together, mainly via the World
The project proceeded in the following phases:
1. Preparation: Installation of a worldwide web site as a communication
platform (we used a server at City University London, which also gave the
corresponding technical support).
2. First electronic syntegration: By way of distant interaction the
agenda for a local syntegration was generated that was to take place at
the end of March, 1996 in Britain. In the course of five months an infoset
of more than 40 cyberneticians from four continents and sixteen countries
was interacting via electronic means.
At the beginning a multitude of ideas was generated, all the participants
handing in multifarious issues viewed from the most different perspectives.
Later priorities were set successively. By means of election procedures
(via Worldwide Web) and lateral discussions (that were partially also carried
out by supplementary means of communication such as telephone, fax, e-mail
etc.) the infoset created, in self-organizing fashion, an agenda, namely
the twelve topics for the various chapters of the festschrift. In this phase
147 initial statements of importance were transformed, step by step, into
twelve consolidated statements of importance. Finally, each member of the
infoset could decide to which topics he or she would prefer to contribute,
i. e. which of the twelve teams he or she would join as a player.
3. Local syntegration: From 24 to 27 March, 1996 the definitive infoset
- 30 cyberneticians from all over the world - met for a three and a half
day workshop at Mickleton near Stratford-upon-Avon, England. In an intensive
and for all participants fascinating exchange of ideas the twelve chapters
of the festschrift were drawn up. The discussion was organized according
to the geometry of an icosahedron: Each of the thirty participants was a
member of two teams as a player (represented by an edge connecting two corners
of the icosahedron), as well as a critic of two further teams. Each team
met in three iterations, first of all for a kind of brainstorming, at the
second time for a conceptualization and finally at the third time for designing
an action plan, i. e. how to proceed in order to produce the respective
chapter within the team. All sessions were recorded on videotape. These
recordings were then transcribed (in excerpts) by Andreas Krafft and Alfonso
Reyes, the assistants of the project coordinators.
4. Second electronic syntegration: Again through distant interaction
the twelve chapters were written between March and beginning of August,
1996. For this purpose a further platform with a special groupware (first
class) was installed on a server of the University of Bangor. An important
input for this phase were the transcripts of the sessions in Mickleton.
The consolidation of the chapters and the writing of one chapter reflecting
on the process used by the editors took place between middle of June and
beginning of August at the University of St. Gallen.
5. Production of the CD-ROM: In the months of August and September,
a CD-ROM was produced at AMAZE, a media company in Liverpool, under the
direction of Roy Stringer and Dr. Roger Harnden, two multimedia experts.
This CD-ROM is a technological and educational masterpiece. It documents
more than the results of the project, - twelve chapters on the cybernetics
applied to organization and society, plus several videos, including two
by Heinz von Foerster and Russell Ackoff. The user can navigate through
a multidimensional structure in an interactive manner, to discover the process
that led to this end product. Figure 2 gives an overview of the content
of the CD-ROM.
Figure 2: Content of the CD-ROM
The title of the festschrift is To Be and Not to Be, that is the System:
A Tribute to Stafford Beer (Eds.: Raúl Espejo and Markus Schwaninger).
The work shall be published as a CD-ROM by Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag5 as well as in the form of
a book, probably under the title: Cybernetics in Organizations and Society:
A Self-Constructing Approach.
The presentation at John Moores University, Liverpool demonstrated that
this festschrift constitutes a world innovation. In a global, decentralized,
cooperative research and publication project we created more than a work
of twelve highly integrated chapters. At the end of the process we realized
that a new, most promising method had been found to organize distributed
processes for the elaboration of knowledge-intensive products, by a completely
new method whose full potential remains to be actualized in the future.
For details on the Team Syntegrity Model see: Beer, Stafford: Beyond Dispute.
The Invention of Team Syntegrity, Chichester: Wiley, 1994; Espejo, Raúl/Schwaninger,
Markus, eds.: To Be and Not to Be, that is the System. A Tribute to Stafford
Beer, 1996 (CD-ROM, publication forthcoming).
2 A formal representation
of the Outcome Resolve as a Markow-process ascertains, by means of a calculus
of eigenvalues, that after three iterations, 90 % of the information in
the Infoset will be shared by all its members (Jalali, Assad: Reverberating
Networks. Modelling information propagation in syntegration by spectral
analysis, in: Beer, Stafford: Beyond Dispute. The Invention of Team Syntegrity,
Chichester: Wiley, 1994, 263-280).
3 The term festschrift
also stands for commemorative volume.
4 For details,
see: Schwaninger, Markus: Stafford Beer, http://www.isss.org/primer/beer.html,
February 1996 (under: Homepage of the ISSS-International Society for the
Systems Sciences). Furthermore, a special issue of the Journal Kybernetes
was dedicated to Stafford Beer, at an earlier stage: Kybernetes, Vol. 22,
Number 6, 1993.
5 Address: Carl-Auer-Systeme
Verlag, Audiovisuelle Medien, Weberstrasse 2 D-69120 Heidelberg, WWW-address: