Spend some time in most any organization and you are sure to hear people talk about the level of energy associated with different people or projects. In some instances, an initiative may be characterized in terms of the energy “around” it. In others, a team in which ideas flow freely and its members build effortlessly on one another’s work will be described as “high energy.” In still others, a particularly influential person may be known as an “energizer” — someone who can spark progress on projects or within groups.
On the flip side are the people who have an uncanny ability to drain the life out of a group. These energy-sappers are avoided whenever possible, even when they have expertise to contribute to solving a problem. When a meeting with a “de-energizer” is unavoidable, people often waste time dreading it and mentally rehearse how they will cope. They usually find the interaction unproductive and disheartening and afterward may seek out colleagues in order to vent their frustration. Thus de-energizers not only drain the people they meet but often affect the productivity of people they might not even know.
Most people are quick to acknowledge that they have both energizers and de-energizers in their lives. Equally quickly, they relate energy to important managerial concerns such as team performance, innovation, employee motivation and job satisfaction. Yet while the term energy is pervasive in much of organizational life, it is also a highly elusive concept in that context.1 Usually when people describe energizing conversations, they refer to ones in which they are mentally engaged, enthused and willing to commit effort to possibilities arising from the discussion. But is energy truly related to performance or learning in organizations? And how is it created and transferred in groups?