Team Building and Neuroscience

Building teams and developing leaders with the human brain in mind is somewhat of a hot topic amongst L&D and training folk.

The downside is that just as with past “hot topics” that infuse team building and development from time to time, it can be tricky to sort the “wheat from the chaff.”

The use of the word “neuroscience” and “brain” in connection with teams and leadership abounds, but just using the word “neuroscience” in connection with team building and leadership does not a genuine expert make.

Getting beyond the buzzwords requires genuine experts in the field, and furthermore the ability to select the more pragmatic insights and match them to meaningful day to day take away tools for the participants.

Unfortunately not every bona-fide expert in the field of neuroscience can easily pitch their knowledge at the layman or busy business person.

We have worked very closely with author and behavioural expert Peter Burow and his team at the Neuropower Group to match current neuroscience to corporate and government team and leadership briefs. It’s this ability to take the best from the science and match only the relevant components to each brief where the real power to get results resides.

Based on over 25 years of research, Peter created the Neuropower framework that explores the social systems of the brain, core beliefs and behavioural archetypes.

As an integrative model it does not exclude other models (unless the current research positively invalidates them, as on occasion it can) but rather enables a careful user to enhance their use of the tools they know and love.

For decades many providers have used established models such as Belbin Team Roles, Tuckman’s Model or Situational Leadership and experiential learning knowing that they work, but perhaps not understanding at great depth why.

Neuroscience is starting to uncover some exciting areas of social and behavioural insight that help us better understand why the good models work, and more importantly how to deploy them even more effectively.

With the right time and effort dedicated to understanding the neuroscience of behaviour, decision-making and cognitive bias it’s great to be able to have those “eureka moments” that not only confirm that an existing tool works, but that also better inform us as to why they work.

Neuropower explores in depth six major social systems of the brain (Automatic, Emotional, Intervention, Relational, Objective and Open) that profoundly influence individuals and teams as they develop, and also serve as the “emotional fuel” for individual and collective approaches to daily interactions, planning and execution.

These social systems develop for a team along a similar trajectory to Tuckman’s established “Form – Storm – Norm – Perform” model, but with greater sophistication and insight into the individual core belief preferences that people bring into the team with them.

Each system relies upon a balanced unfolding of various social of the human brain to enable people and teams to progress. Imbalance or gaps at any stage can put teams askew for best progression through the process, and ideally require revisiting and repair by informed leadership.

Underlaying the six social systems are also nine major clusters of core belief types residing in the faster and more intuitive neuro-limbic system (as opposed to the more evolved “neuro-rational” system) of the brain. fascinating also for those who are fans of enneagram work.

Humans being emotional creatures, perceived and real external threats trigger these deeper core belief types and bias observable behaviours and decision-making within teams. If these dynamics are better understood then leaders and teams can map the strengths and weaknesses of their team more accurately and counter such biases more effectively.

Enhanced understanding of what drives the team and its people at this level also enables teams to experience “accelerated teaming” with respect to their progress from being a newly “formed” team to a “performing” team.

This form of more “practical” application for current neuroscience is where there is great progress to be made in enhancing team building and leadership development processes in general. We have certainly become fans.

It does however require moving beyond the mere buzzwords to access recognised experts in the field who can marry the science to real world practice.

Will Team Building Activities Impact Your Bottom Line?

Team building away days are popular with many companies. Company management usually accepts that a coherent team can substantially increase profits. The theory says it’s because the team members feel more of a team spirit, they are more engaged in their work, and the end result is that everyone benefits.

Is that what actually happens though?

Very often it is. Properly planned away days with properly planned team building activities can definitely impact your bottom line. It’s a sad fact though that this is not always the case. Some activities are quite frankly bizarre. Do treasure hunts, saving the planet and mission impossible type scenarios really work? Well, yes and no.

A quick look through an Internet search engine using the question, “do team building activities work” reveals some interesting results. One result even suggested that the team should decide for itself whether they wanted to play games or use an activity related to the kind of work they do. It seems logical to assume that given the choice most teams will opt for the game; it’s more fun.

Perhaps that’s where the problem lies. Some companies providing team away days assume that it all has to be fun, perhaps because people on an away day would like to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but the whole idea of away days and team building activities is to build a stronger team. If games can do that, fine, but more often than not an activity related to work, and therefore actually relevant, works better.

The activities used in team building have to produce the right results or they are a waste of everyone’s time. Furthermore, the team members have to understand certain things about the process, or no matter how good the activity is it will not realise its full potential.

There has to be clear expectations. The team leader must communicate clearly to the members what it is they are expected to achieve. Team members have to want to be on the team. They have to understand why they are on the team and why they are essential to the company. Only then can they be expected to have the necessary commitment to play their part properly.

The activities that a team make use of should do a number of things. One important thing that needs to be discovered is simply how they think and how they best work. There’s no point in going against the grain, so if a team works well in a certain way, unless there’s a good reason for doing otherwise, let them.

If each team member can learn how each other member thinks and works in a variety of work situations as a result of an away day, then a lot has been achieved. This kind of information is invaluable to any company. This is the basis of team building; the team understanding itself and going on to higher and greater things. Team building activities that can do that are worth their weight in gold!

Group Morale Boosters! 5 Leadership Team Building Activities

As a keynote speaker sometimes I get the opportunity to do a follow up leadership seminar at the event. I find team building self development activities really need to be catered to the group or they are a generic time drain.

A good self development leadership activity makes people laugh, think, understand conflict and work together outside of their work context. Here are some fun, inspirational and memorable morale boosters for your next seminar, convention or event:

1. In a seminar, I like breaking down the room based on 4 personality types ( after I have described what they are, characteristics, etc)and than asking the group to solve a business problem by creating a team, based on what personalities they want on it. What will each personality type contribute? How? What will be the drawbacks? In a true Donald Trump Apprentice Style way the problem could be to create an advertising campaign to promote a specific product. The discussion that ensues will help people see how personality styles create conflict and affect how you contribute to a team.

2. Another a fun, simple self development seminar team activity, based on improv…. is create a story with a word. Each person in a line up adds a word to make up a story. Some people don’t listen or get nervous and they put in a word that makes no sense and word by word the group tries to make a sensible story. Usually very halarious and great lessons emerge about listening, interpretation, resolving conflict etc. You can create the story around a business theme you are working on to personalize this.

3. A simple and easy seminar activity is to tell two truths and a lie. In rounds of 8, each person tells two true statements about themselves and one lie. The group has to decide which is the lie. A good way to get to know one another and very funny.

4. Balloons are Morale Boosters! Blow up a bunch of balloons of several colours. Have the whole room stand up. The objective is to keep the balloons in the air no matter what, they can’t touch the ground. Seminar participants boink balloons to each other, gyrating around trying to keep them in the air. For variation, ask the group to move the red balloons to the front of the room, the green balloons to the back of the room, etc.

5. What I like about you. A great event icebreaker, Have a flip chart paper for each person with their name at the top. Each person goes around and writes what they like about others on their respective paper. Afterwards, the posters can be displayed at work. It is a great morale booster when people can look up at their positive leadership qualities.

6. First Meeting. Have 3 people on each team( usually 3 men and 3 women on opposing teams). The objective is for each team of three to act in synch as one person. They are to meet the other team and each team is one person, they move together and talk together. Step by step and word by word each team member is looking for clues from one person ( usually a leader will emerge) on when to move, words to say etc. It is hilarious and teaches leadership ( if one person in each team doesn’t take control and lead the other two in words and movement- it is a mess), communications skills, teamwork.

Add more fun at your event with simple, easy morale boosters that build leadership qualities.