The Horizons team presented a Pop Up University at the 2017 NHS Expo on the topic of “Building energy for change: improvement as an unstoppable force”. If you missed the event, you can view our slides. Rosanna Hunt, who is an Organisational Psychologist and part of the Horizons team, has written a blog about the session:

“What’s it like to be part of a high performing, high energy team? Can you think of a time, when you worked in a dysfunctional team? What was your experience there?”


These were some of the opening questions posed to the audience at Horizons’ Pop-Up University “Building energy for change: improvement as an unstoppable force” at NHS Expo.

The responses resonated with some key descriptors on the high and low ends of the SSPPI five Energy Scales (below).

High energy teams were supportive, had a shared purpose, felt safe, passionate and stimulating. Low energy teams were exhausting, competitive – places where blame and mistrust were rife.

Research shows that organisations with high positive energy do better on every dimension of performance (Bruch and Vogel)[1]. Change leaders who can tap into the positive energy for change that exists among the people involved and unleash it for the benefit of achieving large scale change (LSC) are more likely to achieve their goals.

Large-scale change, however, requires sustainable energy – the majority of systems-level change projects fail, or aren’t sustained because insufficient consideration is given to the five energies required for change [fig 2]. Failed change programmes have consequences for patient safety, outcomes and care for our people in every sense: burnout and fatigue in our teams are increasingly prevalent where inadequate attention is paid to energy management.

Our research shows that senior leadership teams in the health and care system have disproportionate levels of intellectual energy. This reflects change efforts that are often dominated by logical, rational planning efforts where the social and relational aspects of LSC are underplayed and where shared purpose may not be strong. An over-dominance of intellectual energy spells trouble for LSC. On its own, intellectual energy cannot be transformational. It keeps leaders in their comfort zone, intellect-to-intellect.


Google’s Aristotle project – the most in-depth longitudinal study ever conducted on high performing teams – showed that the key to being a high performing, high energy team is ….being nice. This is more important than having the most knowledgeable, talented people on the team.

There is a growing understanding of the importance of psychological energy at work[2]. Without strong psychological energy, people do not feel safe to innovate and try new things that might fail. The most effective way to build psychological energy is by building social and spiritual energy.

Diagnosing energy for change in teams is itself a dynamic process that enables individuals, teams and organisations to make sense of their own drivers and resistance to change. Many teams we work with find that the tool [fig 3] gives them the platform to start conversations about crucial issues hidden under the surface of change programmes.

Teams can rate their energy scores under each domain of energy, and the energy level for a specific change initiative is calculated on a scale from one to five. What are the most dominant energies in your team? Do you trust each other? Do you have a sense of direction? Is there a sense of solidarity amongst all involved in making the change happen no matter what professional background they hail from?

Mintzberg stated that “leadership is about releasing the energy that exists naturally in people”. There has never been a time when this is more pertinent – given the challenges we face in Health Care today.

Five domains of energy for change

Energy for change is defined as ‘the capacity and drive of a team, organisation or system to act and make the difference necessary to achieve its goals’. The five domains of energy within the model are:

Social energy: that is, the energy of personal engagement, relationships and connections between people. It is where people feel a sense of ‘us and us’ rather than ‘us and them’.

Spiritual energy: that is, the energy of commitment to a common vision for the future, driven by shared values and a higher purpose. It gives people the confidence to move towards a different future that is more compelling than the status quo.

Psychological energy: that is, the energy of courage, resilience and feeling safe to do things differently. It involves feeling supported to make a change, and trust in leadership and direction.

Physical energy: that is, the energy of action, getting things done and making progress. It is the flexible, responsive drive to make things happen.

Intellectual energy: that is, the energy of analysis, thinking and planning. It involves gaining insight as well as planning and supporting processes, evaluation, and arguing a case on the basis of logic/evidence.



[1]Bruch H, Vogel B. Fully Charged: How Great Leaders Boost Their Organization’s Energy and Ignite High Performance. London: Harvard Business School Press; 2011.

[2] Edmonson A and Polzer J (2016) Why psychological safety matters and what to do about it