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Energize Your Team to Increase Productivity and Competitive Advantage

According to a 2011 Gallup survey, 71% of America’s workforce is disengaged and 19% of those are actively disengaged. Certainly, then, organizations need leaders who know how to energize teams; it’s a critical competitive advantage.

Most of us have been part of a great team, and that experience is etched in our minds. When I ask people to tell me about the best team they have ever been a part of, they remember the leader, the impossible goal that they somehow achieved, the hard work, the long hours, the crazy fun and silliness, the sense of cooperation, the endless energy and the creative ideas that were generated. Does any of this sound familiar? Teams that are high-performing and energized generally share these common characteristics, which we’ll explore below.

The Work

Nothing energizes a team like working toward a shared goal that everyone believes in, and where everyone gets to contribute and feel valued.

Ask yourself: How hard might you work for something you truly believed in and valued? It’s the same with your team. Teams need a shared goal that is deemed important by all the members. It instills a sense of pride and purpose in the team. Effort and importance are linked. It may not be possible to make every aspect of everyone’s job important, but if you can create a team goal that is important, you’ll get a more energized team.

Tom was a client. He was the new engineering team lead for an industrial components company. He had inherited a team that needed energizing. “I needed something with which to get the excitement in the team going again. I had to find something that everyone could get on board with. We needed a reason to be a team and a goal we could be enthusiastic about.”

People love a challenge. Challenging work means that each person on the team feels competent to do the work, but is stretched in some way so that he/she grows and develops in knowledge and skill. As the team leader, you need to look at each person’s skills and determine the right mix of work that allows for both competence and growth. If you can add some competitive fun, all the better.

Being valued is a basic human need. People never get tired of genuine praise, sincere gratitude and acknowledgement. Recognize and reward success at every level. Give credit where credit is due. Make it a priority to celebrate team success, including major milestones. People want to work for a successful team, and celebrations create momentum for continued success. Never miss these opportunities.

The Environment

Now let’s look at what it means to create a supportive environment. Teams that have a strong sense of community have a higher level of productivity and satisfaction with work.

People are what scientists call “herd animals,” which simply means we like to belong to groups. Much of our identity comes from the groups we belong to. Groups provide a sense of community, shared purpose and connection. People join and stay with groups about which they can feel proud.

People spend most of their waking hours at work, so make your team a group to which people want to belong. Make sure the team believes everyone is treated fairly, that everyone’s views are valued and there is a productive way to disagree without getting personal. Be inclusive with decision-making to create buy-in and ensure that the best decisions are made.

Encourage laughter and fun, which not only relieve tension and stress, but are also the precursors to creativity and innovation. And it’s a great way for a team to bond. A recent brain study said that a “happy” brain was 31% more productive. Create opportunities for fun; it’s good for everyone. Plan a
team outing or bring in pizza for lunch one day so that people have a chance to interact and relax.

A couple of years ago, a client’s team was under a big push to get work done and his team was showing the stress. On a Thursday afternoon, about 3:00 p.m., he called a special meeting in the large conference room. My client said he heard a couple of comments like “now what” as they all filed down the hallway. When they got to the conference room, he surprised everyone by having the local smoothie shop there to serve smoothies to everyone. He had some happy music playing in the background. There was no meeting, he said, “We were just swaying and sipping to the music.”

How You Manage Yourself 

Great teams don’t just happen. They take careful, conscious and caring management. It also takes a leader who is willing to work to improve personal weakness. Great leaders recognize they can’t fix themselves, that they need a mentor or coach to help them grow and develop to their full potential.

Leaders fall into two categories, catabolic and anabolic. It’s actually more of a continuum with catabolic at one end and anabolic at the other. Catabolic leaders usually have a command and control approach to leading. The catabolic leader usually gets results, but often does so at the cost of the team’s morale. These leaders tend to be overly critical, quick to blame others, reluctant to praise and insist that things be done their way. They become frustrated when problems arise and look for who’s responsible. It is a negative energy that stifles enthusiasm in the team.

People who work for catabolic leaders feel there is little reason to give 100%, because neither ideas nor contributions are acknowledged. Teams with catabolic leaders show a lack of engagement, lack of innovation, lack of motivation, low morale and poor performance and productivity.

Anabolic leaders have a different approach to achieving results. Their energy is positive. Leaders with anabolic energy are inclined toward seeing any situation as an opportunity to move forward with a solution. Anabolic leaders have high emotional intelligence, listen to their teams and encourage communication. They are approachable, they mentor, inspire and treat everyone as an individual deserving of respect. They don’t take themselves so seriously that they can’t be vulnerable. When they make a mistake, they apologize.

Both catabolic and anabolic leaders focus on results, but use very different approaches. Ironically, leaders with catabolic energy often fear that unless they control things, things will fail, and because the team is disengaged, it is more likely that things will go wrong. The harder the catabolic leader works to control things, fix problems and resolve issues, the more stress and frustration he/she will feel. In addition, the decisions made often produce inferior results.

A leader who builds an anabolic team provides a competitive advantage. Research conducted by Karen Buck and Diana Galer (E-Factor Revealed, 2011) has shown that by shifting from a catabolic leader to an anabolic leader can increase engagement at work by as much as 51%. Similarly, satisfaction with work/life balance and working relationships improve by 70% and 44%, respectively. It’s worth paying attention to your leadership approach.

Where do you fall on the continuum? In what areas would you like to improve? Find a mentor or coach who can help you change catabolic leadership behaviors into anabolic behaviors.


If you want a team that will outperform and overcome obstacles, develop the characteristics of the anabolic leader. Make some aspect of the work important, challenge your people to grow and develop, and create an environment where people are valued and there is a relentless focus on success.

In a conversation I had a few years ago, Peter Schutz, the former President and CEO of Porsche known for bringing the company back to life in the 1980s and saving the Porsche 911 from extinction, said to me, “My job was to inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”

Most of us are just ordinary people looking for an opportunity to do extraordinary things, because to do so makes us feel good about ourselves. People need to feel competent, they like a challenge and they like to win. Bring that feeling to your team, and they’ll be energized and enthusiastic.


Susan Germaine’s firm, Germaine Consulting LLC, helps companies design strategies to foster employee engagement. As an executive coach, she has spent more than 1,800 one-on-one hours working with CEOs, business owners and other executives, helping them realize their leadership potential. Please reach Ms. Germaine by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Germaine Consulting, LLC