Are you a member of a successful team or one that performs marginally or miserably? Have you ever wondered why some teams excel at what they do and why their people are energized, happy and having fun? What differentiates these successful teams from those that experience low performance, with people who are demoralized, complaining and depressed? You may be surprised to learn that “dream team” performance is almost guaranteed when four foundational neuroscience principles are practiced. They are easy to understand and implement when forming new teams, retooling struggling teams and taking successful teams to higher potential. Dream teams may include couples, families, businesses, sports and organizations of all sizes and types. Teams who practice continuous learning and improvement maintain the “razor’s edge.”
Step# 1 Align Team Members with Mission, Values and Goals
A simple definition of a team is “a group of people that come together to do something together.” Teams often fail because their purpose and values are vague, unknown or unacceptable. There must be a clear and compelling purpose and value for team members to be interested, motivated and engaged. Values ultimately determine team success and sustainability, because values drive behavior. The higher values of “service,” “teamwork” and “continuous learning” will ultimately prevail over values of “competition,” “self-interest” and “disrespect.” Even a team with a strong and charismatic leader will fail without a clear purpose and good values.
Your brain voluntarily engages with work, projects, and people when there are strong value components and desired positive outcomes. Your brain pays maximum attention and engages with situations containing high levels of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Your brain likes challenges, inspiration and noble causes. Consistent favorable outcomes, and even the thought of future potential outcomes, keep your brain focused, flexible, curious, interested and hungry for similar experiences.
All team members will be well served in the process of creating and refining their team mission, values and major goals. These actions connect each person to the collective team. A major role of the Team Leader is to continuously communicate and strengthen the team purpose and values. This step achieves team unity by aligning everyone with the mission and values. Team member needs may vary widely and do not have to be the same to have a united team. Having compelling reasons for each team member to be engaged, interested and productive is the key to this foundational alignment step.
Shared values and alignment of purpose are the team’s:navigation system.” Successful teams never get lost or disconnected, even in changing and chaotic times, when their navigation system points to “magnetic north.” The team is bonded through their values as they work collaboratively and cooperatively in alignment with their mission and goals. Teams having achieved this first step are poised for successful outcomes and camaraderie.
Step #2 Define and Build Core Competencies
Essential and collective knowledge, skills and experience form the core competencies of a superior team that meets and exceeds its goals and customer needs. As examples, technological core competencies for Canon include optics and microelectronics; Honda’s technical competencies include small, quiet and powerful engines, and, drive trains. Core competencies may include sales excellence, market research, product development and customer service. Criteria for core competencies include:
- Transferable to multiple products and services
- Access to multiple market segments, customer groups and applications
- Difficult for competition to replicate quickly
- Learning and brain-based intellectual property
Core competencies define the focal points for learning, sharing, and applying essential knowledge to the team goals. Learning occurs best when people are willing to be vulnerable and honest about what they truly “know, apply and teach” rather than what they “know about” (e.g. shallow knowledge to impress).The core competency list becomes the most important daily team tool for continuous growth and improvement. This focus harnesses each team member’s brainpower and builds a powerful “team brain.” Intellectual property and skill sets grown by a well-developed team are not easily replicated by competition.
Each team member is assigned the responsibility to develop and grow one or more core competencies. The list of team core competencies should not exceed five. The analogy is “inch wide and mile deep” rather than “mile wide and inch deep.” Core competency teams constitute a minimum of three people. This helps protect the intellectual property in the event a team member leaves. Core competency teams meet quarterly, or more frequently, to share learning with the other competency teams. This activity can be likened to connecting and filling silos of knowledge.
Teams that focus on creating and growing their intellectual capital set themselves on a high road, rarely traveled by the competition. They get to their destination quicker, safer and with greater ease than those traveling the conventional, well-traveled roads. Learning, growing and applying new knowledge to challenges and problems helps create happy and healthy brains.
Step #3 Align Team Member Strengths with Goals, Core Competencies and Activities
Typically, one thinks about team member strengths in terms of subject matter expertise, skills, education, experience, leadership ability and enthusiasm. These are essential characteristics for all successful teams. Rarely are sensory and cognitive thinking strengths valued as important traits. Knowing how each team member’s brain is wired, how they think and how to leverage their brainpower is the missing link to connecting knowledge with team success. The following neuroscience principles explain sensory and cognitive thinking strengths.
1. Nearly every activity has combinations of sensory and cognitive thinking characteristics that define the “neuro-signatures” of the activity. Team members are more likely to engage, enjoy and perform better in work aligned with their brain strengths.
2. Each team member has unique ways to take in and process sensory information. These strengths affect work productivity, problem solving, decision making, learning and communicating.
3. Team members, exchanging information on each other’s sensory and cognitive thinking “wavelengths”, will understand each other more fully and obtain understanding in the minimum amount of time, thus, improving individual and team productivity. This activity also engenders greater respect and rapport.
Each team member’s sensory and cognitive thinking strengths are determined by using a reliable and statistically validated survey. Aligning team member brain pathways strengths and knowledge with the neuroscience signatures of the activity is a powerful way to create work assignments. As an example, a team member having Auditory (listening and crafting words) and Global (creative problem solving and seeing possibilities) strengths might be a good candidate for situations involving conflict and negotiation, supplier contracts, joint ventures and legal disputes.
Sensory Pathway Activities:
- Visual: data entry, quality control observations, reading instructions, visual arts, design, proof-reading
- Kinesthetic: hands-on activities, operating equipment and tools, physical action and movement, face-to-face interactions
- Auditory: listening attentively, asking and answering questions, conflict resolution, crafting language, hearing tone of voice
Cognitive Thinking Pathway Activities:
- Sequential: analysis, staying on-task, organization, logic, process and procedures, tactical, content, practical and realistic
- Global: open-ended, multi-tasking, options and possibilities, systemic, exploratory, ideating, “big picture,” strategic, context
- Integrated: a combination and near equal balance of Sequential and Global activities.
When each person’s sensory and cognitive thinking preferences are known, team members can communicate on each other’s “wavelength.”
- Visual Learners Need: Visual media. Key written points. Pictures. Graphics. Images. Color. Clutter-free environment.
- Kinesthetic Learners Need: Physical, hands-on experiences. Comfort. Freedom to move about. Frequent breaks.
- Auditory Learners Need:Clarity of words. Attentive listening. Ability to ask questions. Quiet environment.
- Sequential Thinkers (“left brain”) Need: Logic. Order. Particulars. Realism. Practicality. Data. Schedules. Content.
- Global Thinkers (“right brain”) Need: Possibilities. Options. Generalities. Open-ended. Big Picture. Context.
- Integrated Thinkers Need: A combination and balance of Sequential and Global communication methods.
Teams having achieved Steps 1 through 3 are experiencing phenomenal success. Goals are met and exceeded. Team members are engaged, having fun and can’t wait to get to work. Competition can’t figure out what this team is doing right. Customers are happy and loyal.
Step #4 Continuous Alignment, Learning and Improvements
Even in light of high performance, the best teams and organizations seem to “burn out” and lose their competitive differentiation after a period of greatness. Why is this and what can be done to maintain the “razor’s edge?” Continuous alignment, learning and improvement are the keys to continuing patterns of success.
Your brain gets bored and lazy with the “same old thing” even if, at one time, the “same old thing” was great and wonderful. The brain needs new challenges, new experiences and new learning to operate at peak performance. Applying knowledge and taking action strengthens brain neuron pathways. The potential for neuronal growth is infinite due to the 100 billion neurons that grow multiple pathways to one another like an elaborate root system.
1. Continuously strengthen the mission and values of the organization
2. Create new and challenging goals for:
a. Core competencies
b. Customer needs
c. Individual and team development
3. Always, always, stay in touch with the customers, tracking their needs and wants. Anticipate their future needs so you are there when they need you.
4. Avoid studying the competition. This is a distraction. It is a better use of time and energy to focus on team performance, customer satisfaction and long-term customer needs. A danger of studying competition is evaluating their weaknesses; in doing so, you may be unconsciously building your own neuropathways around their weaknesses. If you do study the competition, be sure to clearly define their best practices and the patterns of behavior you want to replicate and improve upon for your team.
5. To avoid team members becoming stale, switch positions and establish coaches to continue raising the performance bar. Occasionally, let willing and able team members take leadership positions. Encourage team members to go on sabbaticals to learn, help other teams and be of service to others. Your team may become the spawning place for developing team leaders in your organization.
6. Strive to strengthen and add new core competencies. Learners should teach others as the ultimate way to learn. Subject matter experts and core competency carriers should oversee and coach others. The goal is to build and connect “knowledge silos.” A true learning team continuously builds knowledge, skills and competencies.
7. Embrace and welcome change, including team members moving on, new team members coming aboard and changing marketplace conditions.
Teams who practice continuous learning and improvement maintain the “razor’s edge.” It takes due diligence, focus and high energy to maintain “dream team” performance.
In conclusion, these neuroscience solutions will create, build and strengthen “dream team” performance. The four-step formula is:
1. Align team members with a clear and compelling mission, based on high integrity values that resonate and are important to each team player.
2. Define and build team core competencies as the engine for mission and goal success.
3. Align team members’ knowledge and brain strengths with the goals, core competencies and activities of the team.
4. Promote continuous alignment, learning and improvement.
These four steps may be the best and most advanced way to build superior and sustainable teams using neuroscience principles and leveraging the power of the brain.
- Boosting Trader Performance With Neuroscience (brainpathways.net)
- A Neuroscience View of Learning Styles (brainpathways.net)
- Mining Your Global Brain for Creative Solutions (brainpathways.net)
- Win the Motivation Tug-of-War With Simple Practical Neuroscience Laws (brainpathways.net)
- Three Secret Hot Tips for Exceptional Rapport and Communication (brainpathways.net)
- Using Practical Neuroscience for Fast, Easy Learning (brainpathways.net)