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 The Lift Effect takes executives on a ride of a lifetime, using a network of people, experiences and processes to lift leadership performance. 

- Clare Goodman

The Lift Effect Blog

Building brain-based team work

Sometimes being in relationships, either at work or at home can be both pleasurable and painful. Positive relationships at work can make the difference between engagement or disengagement. Gallup has recently conducted research into why people come to work and one of the most important factors is ‘the people that I work with’. So people are important and working in a team environment is essential for success in business.

 “Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped” (Lencioni, 2005)

He goes onto describe a dysfunctional team as;

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

A team that trusts one another, engage in passionate discussions, commit to decisions and hold one another accountable are more likely to set aside personal agendas and focus on the goals of the team (Lencioni, 2005). So it seems obvious that to build an effective team a leader needs trust, passionate, honest conversations, commitment, accountability and a focus on mutual team goals.

David Rock devised a neuroscience model called SCARF that may help explain team work further (Rock, 2008)

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

These five domains are essential in building relationships with others. Our brain is wired to minimize threat or maximize reward and if you can maximize reward across some of these domains then you are more likely to achieve a positive relationship.

“The model enables people to more easily remember, recognize and potentially modify the core social domains that drive human behaviour” (Rock, 2008)

In many respects this SCARF goes further into providing a strong framework for building teams than Lecioni’s. It incorporates Lencioni’s plus adds the importance of relatedness and fairness, which according to Rock are strong drivers in the model.

Practical Ideas for Leaders

Use the SCARF model as a framework to start looking at whether you are driving threat or reward behaviours in your team.

Do your team members feel:

  • Status; that their opinions are valued, that they are important, that they ideas are valued.
  • Certainty; that they know what is expected and where the team is heading
  • Autonomy; do they feel that they have some control over what they are doing?
  • Relatedness; do they feel a sense of belonging to the team? Is there a high level of trust and support?
  • Fairness; Do they feel that they and others have been treated fairly? This could include money, bonuses, work allocation, feedback etc.

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Are organisations really set up with our brain in mind?

According to author Daniel Pink we’re in transition from the Information age to the Conceptual Age. He writes in his book The Whole New Mind “The best employees of the future will excel at creative problem solving and different ways of thinking — synthesizing seemingly diverse things together for better solutions, using metaphors to explain new ideas for which no context yet might exist.”

And yet do we really set up our work environments to support this type of rich and dynamic thinking?

Richard Boyatzis, author and professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western wrote “If you want people coming to work with half their brain then put them under pressure”.

And he has a point, the more you delve into the demands placed on employees and more importantly the demands that employees place on themselves you can see their brains bending under the strain. This is great for problem solving but the exact opposite of what is required for innovation and creativity.

For some of my coaching clients, innovation is something that happens in the shower or walking the dog if at all, as work comprises of long hours, back to back meetings and the unwritten ground rule that unless you look busy you are not doing your best.

To add to this large organisations have invested heavily in developing processes and systems, all designed to create consistency and in some cases safety however in many cases employees create a dependency on process and a tendency to stop thinking outside the box.

Although innovation may be an organisations core value, generally cultures fail to support this.

Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting book looking at this problem of innovation in the workplace called Imagine.

“What Imagine and the literature about the neuroscience of creativity says is, when we need moments of insight, when we need to find far-reaching connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, when we’ve really hit the wall…that’s when we need to relax, to stop thinking about work, because the answer will only arrive when we stop looking for it.”

In other words to be able to be creative, as opposed to just problem solving we need to quiet the mind and allow ourselves to slow down. Mood matters, relaxing our minds and getting distance from the problem will increase the likelihood of an a-ha moment.

So what do we need to change in our organisations?

  • We need to really acknowledge creativity and innovation as a highly desirable ability.
  • We need to encourage others to think differently through provocative (not threatening) questions. Practicing a different way of thinking will increase the likelihood of creative thought.
  • We need to give people time to allow ideas to flow
  • We need to trust our employees to change their environment i.e. go for a walk to get into a better mind state
  • And we need to create supportive cultures so employees feel empowered to take time to think and not feel guilty because they are not rushing around the office.

Remember some of the most creative companies like Apple and Google give their employees task free days. These are days where they can work on anything they like without a kpi in sight. And it is through this type of investment in precious time that these companies report that the best ideas emerge.

So how can we get ready for the Conceptual Age? How can we support our teams and employees to develop and cultivate this amazing capability and harness it to create highly competitive organisations?

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