I love diving deep into how/when & why work is getting done. Into the differences between environments of high velocity & insane productivity VS ones where the air seems to have a consistency of a gel, slowing everything down to crawl ...
There are several factors that have various levels of impact on productivity & effectiveness, but there's one particular I didn't write much about (until now). I call it "energy (level) of a work environment".
It's not a great discovery that:
- there are work environments buzzing with a positive vibe, with people smiling, beaming with confidence, enthusiasm & highly contagious positive energy
- but there are also ones that seem to "suck" energy out of people - where no-one dares to be pro-active, it's better to follow than to lead, everyone appears burdened with negativity & constraints with no apparent belief in any positive change
What may be less obvious or even surprising: the higher energy doesn't necessarily always mean "the better" - the energy contained in a system has also to be well balanced. While too little energy means apathy, stagnation & limited creativity, too much energy disturbs focus, causes chaos & makes people tired (not immediately, but inevitably).
It's the role of a leader to "manage the (energy) dynamics" within the environment: to pump the energy in when it's needed or to drain it out when the overload is imminent (but before the severe damage is done). There's million ways/techniques to do that, e.g.:
- how you speak: volume, tempo, length (verbosity level), softness VS hardness, pauses & suspense
- what you speak: seriousness/humour, swearing, levels of expressiveness & passion, picturesque analogies & parallels, striking/mild rhetoric
- body language, posture, gestures, smiling, even the way you walk or whether you're sitting or standing while talking
- coming up with something unexpected VS well-known/soothing rituals
- intimate gestures VS keep-the-distance behaviour
A skilful leader will quickly recognise when his team(s) starts falling into the negative effects of the Parkinson's Law or simply procrastinate and apply some energy to create a healthy sense of urgency, avoid the stagnation & hence spark real "let's-do-it" attitude (again).
On the other hand, even the most capable & knowledgeable leader will fail if (s)he puts his fellows to sleep during every interaction ... (yes, I know such people!)
Understanding the (energy) flow
But the role of a leader is not just to adjust the energy by her/himself, but primarily to understand the innate "energy characteristics" of other co-workers/stakeholders:
- there are people who (by nature) add the energy to the system - e.g. because they are warm, naturally enthusiastic or strongly passionate about the topic they work on
- but there are also "energy vampires" with an insatiable appetite for sucking the energy out of the system (consciously or not) - e.g. egocentric individuals screaming for attention, sarcastic ones who manifest their displeasure or change-averse people with a strongly analytical or melancholic temperament
Understanding these characteristics, how they mix & how the particular individual will affect a energy flow (& balance) in a given work environment is crucial. The energy-starved system will lose any productivity it had before, while the over-heated one can get out of control: torn by conflicts, diverged priorities or battle of egos (and in the end - total exhaustion).
Contrary to the examples provided above, it's not always top contributors or people with the most highly-valued skills who bring the most energy in - sometimes it's an enthusiastic junior developer or just a person who fits in for the social reasons. And the other way around - the biggest energy "consumers" don't have to be pathological sociopaths: e.g. imagine a top-notch engineer (the most experience & skilful inter pares) who unknowingly weakens the confidence of team-mates (hence diminishing their energy).
Understanding & manipulating the work environment dynamics ain't easy. And some aspect of it can't be learned (IMHO) - they have to come as a natural talent, otherwise all the attempts are obviously artificial and can't succeed. Some would just call it "charisma" - personally I think it's related, but still a somehow separate discipline/characteristic.
Nevertheless, trust my words of a former consultant - I've visited many workplaces & I strongly believe that far more of them were constrained more with paralysing energy deficit than an accumulated technical debt.