Flat, Egalitarian Structure: Working with Energy

“Where’s the energy?!” is a common expression of frustration from OD consultants. Almost every one of us has sat with a group which is out of options, in endless discussion and making no progress. “Go with the energy” is another —advice for when you do not know what to do. When energy is referred to in such ways, assumptions about the meaning and the use of the word ‘energy’ have been limited to feeling-intensity or lack of it. The focus is on how energy feels (which is understandable) not the nature, sources, or impact of it that these sayings call for. Listening to leading theorists at the 2010 NTL conference on The New OD project new directions for OD theory, two themes emerged for me which have implications for wanting to understand how energy is maintained and worked with in groups and systems. Those themes are: the ability to respond and manage energy in the moment the need for a quick response to change in the environment—‘reading energy’ Developing and managing movement toward flatter, egalitarian work styles and structure addresses these themes.  Flat, egalitarian structure generates and loosens energy. Energy is something more than what members bring to groups and systems. It is also inherent in certain structures. When the dynamics of egalitarian structure are known and honored, energy structure is present and creative. This article illustrates the relationship between flat, equalitarian structure and the impact of the phenomena of energy release in such structures. The Theory of Working with Energy Flat structure theory or Power Equity Group (PEG) theory  (Pierce, 2011) provides a framework and images for working with energy and holding a space or a container for ‘work’, such as in self-managing teams.  As energy theory, it describes the nature and impact of the loosened energy of egalitarian structure. The trend over the last thirty years or more is toward the use of flatter, less hierarchical structure in many workplaces.   Good teamwork brings visions of working together, energized and creative; everyone’s resources are essential and valued. Members with their differing styles of work and leadership are sources of energy. The other major genesis of energy is the group as an entity itself, separate from members. It is a source of influence that needs to be taken into account. Differentiating the group from members as initiators of energy often makes the difference as to how well members work together in loosened egalitarian energy.

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