With over 7.3 billion unique brains on the planet, knowing how to get the best out of any team can be tricky. While the need to maintain physical wellbeing for better performance is well accepted, brain safety is more often relegated to the unimportant drawer, viewed as the soft underbelly of business. However, the findings of the brain science has revealed how understanding why people think and behave the way they do along with the impact of emotions on decision-making is key to creating effective teams.
Brain friendly is brain safe.
The brain’s primary function is to keep us safe. While we are wired to connect with others, because the brain craves familiarity and patterns, anything new or different is viewed as a potential threat. This activates the stress response, elevates the intensity of emotions and can reduce our capacity to access our conscious logical and rational thought. No matter how brilliant an individual’s CV or breadth of experience, it is their ability to manage potential threat and stress at any given moment that determines how capable they are of collaborating with others and working at their best. Creating a brain friendly workplace starts with incorporating the following.
1. Establish trust between all team members
Operating in a trusting environment reduces threat and helps unify the team. Trust builds in small increments over a period of time and can wax and wane when tested. An effective team leader maintains trust through observable behaviour that is open, consistent and transparent and asks for help when needed.
2. Value respect.
From the most junior member of a team to the head of a company, showing respect for another’s position makes us feel valued. Disrespect from being overlooked for a key meeting to being publically snubbed can trigger a threat response equivalent to the fear associated with hearing footsteps following us down a dark alley.
3. Provide autonomy.
Acknowledging individual skills, providing the freedom for people to step up and demonstrate what they are good at, keeps everyone in a towards state, motivating contribution to the cause and boosts team performance.
4. Stay impartial.
Playing fair is crucial in any team whether in sport or business. Favouritism, allowing others to take credit where it’s not due or failing to acknowledge everyone’s input can quickly destroy relationships and team cohesion. A team leader has to demonstrate consistency in all their dealings to maintain brain safety. Unfairness triggers a deep and intense visceral response associated with the emotion of disgust that can be hard to overcome, as negotiators dealing with workplace disputes have long recognised.
5. Be clear.
Uncertainty is one of the most significant triggers of threat in the brain and often results from poor communication. The associated anxiety is highly infectious meaning an entire team can be negatively infected in a manner of minutes through lack of clarity in a message. Managing expectations and promoting confidence comes from sharing information that is clear, unambiguous, encourages questions and updated as appropriate.
6. Lead with empathy.
While your staff may not expect you to sit down with them over a hot cup of tea and biscuit to discuss their challenges, demonstrating empathy is a potent motivator that enhances loyalty. People will go that extra mile for a leader they believe in. Feeling heard and understood is always about human connection.
In a world where economic uncertainty, geopolitical events and massive organisation change are part and parcel of everyday life, creating a brain friendly workplace is what keeps all brains at work curious, willing to explore and open to new ideas.
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Written by: Dr. Jenny Brockis, an international speaker and mentor on using neuroscience to improve performance.