Discover the Neuroscience of Teams

Welcome to the neuroscience of things, where neuroscientist, Dr Bill Price focuses on the neuroscience of teams and teamwork.

This article is my response to some of the CEOs I coach. One requested I spend time with him and his team, another asked for “team time” with her top managers, so hence my current focus on teamwork. So welcome to my take on the neuroscience of things, with a special focus on teams.

Firstly, I want you to consider a picture in your mind. What do you think when you see a tortoise balancing on top of a telephone pole? You can only come to one conclusion – the tortoise never got there by itself! Every leader needs a team to take them to where they need to be.

Generally speaking, in a team coaching scenario, I use a future-focused growth model that is Africanised to contain principles of Ubuntu, together with experience in developing the neuroscience of teams. One also needs to be aware of ‘the now’ or our present reality. This is such a critical element. Some people refer to this using the anagram ‘VUCA’ – Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, and Ambiguity.

Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty in the world today, but there are also promises and possibilities within problems. We therefore need to be agile, resilient and what leadership studies call ‘antifragile’.

Make your team antifragile…

Universities like Harvard, Oxford, Stellenbosch etc, tend to use this term a lot. We also like to use it when it comes to the neuroscience of teams. What does this mean in the context of teamwork? It means that your team doesn’t only survive a shock, but actually improves and thrives because of it.

In his book, Antifragile – Things that gain from disorder, Nassim Taleb challenges us to “stand uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resil­ient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.”

In the context of the neuroscience of teams, this means we don’t resist. We rather work with whatever comes our way and become creative. When we are alert and attentive to what is going on, we see everything as a learning experience and we become antifragile.

How is your team doing? Is it is fragile? Or resilient? Or are they moving towards antifragile? Being antifragile means they go with the flow. But at the same time, they’re inventing, creating, learning and always looking at new possibilities.

EQ is essential to the Neuroscience of teams

When I coach teams, I ask, “How you doing?” Often they reply in generalisations. Now, the moment you use a generalisation, you disconnect from emotional intelligence because you’re explaining a behaviour without acknowledging your emotions, and those of the people around you.

In the neuroscience of teams the Emotional Quotient (EQ) is just as needed as IQ. Identifying the emotions in your team, is key to developing the neuroscience of teams. This helps you determine where you are really at, and what shifts you need to make. It takes you into the ‘now space’ or what is known in neurology as ‘a non-delusional place.’

In our general state of busyness our subconscious reminds us of all we have achieved. For example,
“I’ve been working here for 15 years, I know the strategy…” So in our fuzziness of mind we don’t ask the questions that propel us to do better and take us to the top. We need to ask, “Who are we? What is it all about?” And we need to be clear minded. Clear mindedness is mindfulness.

I achieve this by taking time out each morning where I consider my day ahead and my appointments. I am conscious of my breathing and I become very intentional. So I don’t go to a meeting just knowing what’s on the agenda, I go into a meeting asking “What results do I want, as a leader to achieve by the end of this meeting? It’s a shift in mindset!

I consider what my team need to hear… what they must do… and what they must be clear about. How can I bring clarity of mind? As a leader I am also aware that I mustn’t sympathise with my team, rather I must have empathy for them. So I look out for their emotions and we speak about them. This becomes part of our team meetings.

I’m aim to be centred and self optimised so I’m always ahead of the pack. I personally wake up an hour earlier, every day, I use 20 minutes for quiet meditation, 20 minutes for physical exercises and 20 minutes for personal study. (Listening to TED Talks and reading about subjects where I want to be optimised in as a leader

Successful goal setting comes from a place of deep connection with your identity. This is where you allow your neurology to determine who you are in your future. Asking, “What new skills do I need? What talents must I develop, what knowledge etc.” Only once you’ve defined your new ‘I am’, can you work towards the necessary goals to achieve your targets.

Take your team from good to great

Jim Collins has a great model that is relevant here. It encourages teams to go from ‘Good to Great’. In fact Jim observes that good is the enemy of great. He talks a lot about ‘the flywheel’ which represents all the activities teams need to achieve on an ongoing basis, which will ultimately deliver greatness.

The Flywheel effect is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.

In my experience this is best achieved by being customer-focused. As teams we need to focus all our energy, talents and skills on for the customer. There are few activities that are not directly related to customers so everything we do should be customer-centric.

Be it our systems, our leadership, the way we lead, our team is all going to have a direct impact on our customers. As teams, we need to move towards a customer focus aligned with our end goals because there’s very little that doesn’t impact on our customers.

I’m not talking about micromanagement. It’s more about paying attention to team energy, compilation of their skills, knowledge etc. As a team leader, the biggest competence you need to ensure is that every team member has the ability to generate income. Even the marketing team must be competent in generating revenue not just in gaining influence.

Consider the competence of each team member

As you move towards sustainable success, consider your team members and how they fare according to the following list of questions. Take a moment and just breathe in and out. Then identify each team member and give them a score out of 10.

  • Is this person a value added individual?
  • Are they adding value to the business?
  • Are they adding adding value to the team?
  • Are they bringing creativity?
  • Are they solution-orientated?
  • Are they profit-minded?
  • Do they realise that every action creates a reaction?
  • Do they realise they must create profit?
  • Are they committed to the team?
  • Are they productive or just busy?
  • Does the team member know their role?
  • Do they understand what they are part of?

There will of course be people in your team who have an over developed ego or are self important. These are the mavericks that can destroy your team. It’s important to get them to see they are part of the team and there is a game to play.

Careful you don’t score your team members too highly. Six and seven is good and eight and nine is exceptional. Look at the lower results and see which three questions need to be covered first in a conversation with your team. Hit the weak spots and assess progress in measurable ways. By all means affirm what is good and show appreciation where something has been done well. But equally identify where team members have not been pulling their own weight and implement a plan of adjustment and alignment.

Imagine a tennis court where there are multiple balls in the air. This may be a picture of busyness but it is not tennis. This is why measuring busyness is not as important as monitoring productivity. Three questions can be vital here.

  1. What is the game that we playing?
  2. What is it that we want?
  3. What is it that we do?

I was coaching the leaders of a sugar factory some years ago when I asked these questions to a group of engineers. They came up with mathematical engineering answers quoting percentages. My response was to show them that there were not just engineers, they were part of a team.

To answer to the question, “What is it that we do?” I wrote the following on the whiteboard.

“We produce sugar. That is our job!”

Their role in producing that sugar might be from an engineering perspective, but each team produces the total product of the company. And that’s what every team needs to do. The admin team in a motor company must know the business exists to sell cars. Each member should therefore consider, how they can make it easier for the company to achieve this objective.

Neuroscience of Teams 4

Watch Dr Price’s presentation on the neuroscience of teams for more insights into how you can take your team from good to great.

Also read: Unveiling the 7 Brain Languages: Unlocking the Power of Communication

Bill Price

Dr Bill Price is an international speaker, author and executive coach. Dr Price is based in South Africa where he is well known as a leading Neuroscience practitioner and strategic sage who guides individuals, businesspeople and corporate leaders to achieve their full potential. He also helps empowers people in their personal lives around the themes, of leadership, getting the most out of life and relationships. Consider participating in one of Dr Bill Price's coaching courses or consider attending one of his free 'Synapses'. These neuroscience based webinars are held twice a month over Zoom dealing with a variety of different topics.

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