Sunday, February 15, 2009 by Dave Blum

In my blog post dated December 8, 2008,  I wrote about my friend the “genius” — Harald Katzmair, Ph.D, founder of Vienna/NY-based FAS Research.  Well, Harald was in town again from Austria last week — always great news for me.  Besides being a good friend, Harald (and that mind of his) always sparks some wonderful new team building ideas.

Harald’s latest area of interest:  energy gradients.

According to Harald, when it comes to energy generation, equilibrium is death.  In other words, if all the elements in a system are equal and homogenous, no energy is generated.   What’s needed is a “gradient”.  So for example, if you want to extract electrical energy from water, you must first create a height gradient — water flowing from high to low.  A river running through a flat valley creates very little energy.

For a guy like me who leads team building exercises for a living, this is a significant insight!  A homogenous team, with group members possessing very similar skills and personality styles, can generate only a small amount of energy.  There’s simply too much equilibrium — and hence the group has only limited potential.  A wise leader, then, must put together his team with some intentionality, including in its membership a wide variety of abilities and temperaments.

Is this easy?  Far from it.  Your average leader would much prefer to gather around him a group of like-minded teammates, with similar personality styles.  This would be the comfortable way to go…and it would likely lead to a lack of team energy and innovation.  So he has to be brave and choose people who might argue and debate and disagree — who will risk harmony for the sake of a certain dynamism.

What’s interesting to me is that although diverse, heterogenous teams create energy, you also need to expend energy in keeping them together.  It’s particularly important to set and enforce ground rules of behavior to ensure that discussions do not get personal, or become too acrimonious.   So here’s the flow:

Create dis-equilibrium —  release energy — expend energy keeping dynamic but unstable group together — release more energy — expend more energy/release more energy, and so on.

This is a great area to explore in your own team building activities.  And don’t be worried if people disagree with you.  It’s better than equilibrium!