Creating a leadership team that speaks, acts with one voice

January 9, 2007
By: Bob Rausch, Ph.D.

This article is based on a 2006 FABTECH® Intl. & AWS Welding Show seminar presented by Dr. Bob Rausch, a facilitator and coach for executives, managers, and their teams. It explains the importance of creating and energizing effective leadership teams, describes common team characteristics, and discusses potential defuelers and refuelers.

Team members image

Commenting on his company's transformation, a manufacturing company manager said, "We transformed our culture from a bottom-line-driven organization to one that creates value through customer service and core behaviors. The key to our transformation was a unique leadership team that unified and energized us so we all were pulling in the same direction."

Every team I've worked with in developing enterprise energy has been challenged to focus its efforts on achieving high performance and productivity. Team leaders have tried everything under the sun to accomplish this goal — team building, motivation, morale-building meetings — the list goes on and on. No matter which approach is taken, the one thing that's critical to creating a unified team is the effective use of team energy.

Interactional energy, as I call it, is one of the most important but neglected aspects of team performance. To achieve its goals, a team must maintain a high energy level. However, few leaders are aware of energy's impact on productivity and often overlook this important element of high performance.

Every team has energy. You can't see it, but you can feel it. Some teams have positive energy, which breeds enthusiasm and excitement. They get things done. Others generate negative energy, which causes conflict, frustration, and low productivity. How a team uses its energy creates what I call the "dance of energy." The interactions among team members will produce either a positive energy dance or a negative energy dance.

What Is Interactional Energy?

Webster's Dictionary defines energy as "the capacity for vigorous activity and available power." Scientists have shortened the meaning to "the ability to do work." Interactional energy is how people interact with one another mentally, emotionally, and physically to accomplish their goals. Team members who energize each other accomplish tasks more efficiently and have more fun doing so. When team members de-energize each another, every project seems like a major struggle. No fun!

How does interactional energy work? When people work together, they positively (or negatively) affect each other's energy. Although this may seem strange, evidence proves that people resonate with one another. This resonance, which is created by team member attitudes, communication, and behaviors, could be called "team vibes."

In his book Vibrational Medicine, Richard Gerber, M.D., provides a good example of resonance. He wrote, "Let's use the example of two perfectly tuned Stradivarius violins and place them at opposite ends of a small room. If we pluck the E string on one violin, the E string of the sister violin will also begin to vibrate." Dr. Gerber said that human beings also produce resonance with one another. When two people are at the same energy level, they relate to one another more effectively. We might say they are in sync. The energy of one person has a positive impact on the energy of the other, creating a positive dance of energy.

The Dance of Energy

Scientists have declared that within a group, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Every organization has a dance. As with any dance, a pattern develops over time. That pattern is created by the interaction of the people performing the dance. A team serves as a good illustration of the dance of energy. Each team has a dance, and the pattern is developed by the interaction among members. The dance can be positive or negative. A positive dance creates energy; a negative dance drains the team's energy and negatively affects its productivity.

Certain characteristics influence team energy. Each has a potential defueler and refueler.

Team Alignment

Defueler: If a team does not know its leader's expectations, it quickly will become misaligned. When the team is misaligned, each member has a different idea of what's important to accomplish its goals. An out-of-sync team wastes energy as members push against each other.

Refueler: Having clear alignment among leaders, managers, and employees energizes a team. This dynamic is developed when leaders set the expectations and team members understand clearly what's required to fulfill those expectations.

Unfiltered Communication

Defueler: Holding back information for fear of looking stupid, making a mistake, being ridiculed, or insecurity about the relevance of information is an energy-draining behavior.

Refueler: Communicating the progress (good or bad) of goals candidly and clearly is imperative for high-energy teams.

The Cold, Hard Facts

Defueler: "Not me, do you think I'm going to go against the grain of this company? Let them stay ignorant." Failing to deliver the cold, hard facts, no matter how difficult it is or how people take it, minimizes the team's effectiveness and creates a negative dance.

Refueler: A decision is jeopardized if all the information is not discussed. The team that is fearless when it comes to discussing the hard facts among themselves and their leader develops positive energy.

Listen, Hear, Acknowledge Information

Defueler: Failing to listen to or ignoring someone can be as bad as a slap in the face. Pretending to listen is an insult to his intelligence. People know when they are being heard or ignored. Failing to listen to and acknowledge team members kill team energy.

Refueler: Listening, hearing, and acknowledging information are three distinct activities. When we listen we show interest. When we hear we confirm value. When we acknowledge we show respect for that person's information. Doing any or all of these increases team energy.

Execution or Death

Defueler: M any teams discuss issues to death without taking any action. All planning reaches a point of diminishing return. Failing to execute is a lot like turning on the ignition in your car, putting it in neutral, and stepping on the gas. You're using a lot of energy, but you never make the trip.

Refueler: Discussing, planning, or even arguing about a project is a good thing. Executing the plan is even better. Taking action produces energy, even if you don't have all the information. Without execution you die!

Dealing With Negative Team Members

Defueler: The critic or negative person is an energy consumer who eventually saps an entire team's energy. Negative people cause teams to feel lethargic, tired, and exhausted. They actually suck the energy right out of a team by the things they say and do. I call this the siphon-hose syndrome. Left unchecked, negative members drain the team's confidence, motivation, and optimism.

Refueler: How do you cope with the negative person? One, make sure your energy is at a high level, especially if you work around this person. Refuse to participate in the negativity. Be really straight and let this person know you have important things to do and you have no energy for negativity.

Energizing a team is everyone's responsibility. Although the leader has to initiate energizing activities and behaviors, all team members must help keep the team's energy level high. Schoolmaster and historian Thomas Arnold (1795 – 1842) said it best, "The difference between one man and another is not mere ability – it is energy."

Bob Rausch, Ph.D.

Bob Rausch, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer

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