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Making Teams Work
The Science
By Duncan Austin on Mon 19 June 2023

Making Teams Work

Intro› The ScienceCollective IntelligenceMeasuring: Impact 360

Following on from my previous post about the team performance initiative I've had the privilege to dive into here at, I'd like to touch briefly on some of the science that has gone into it.

This broadly fell into three fields - individual performance, collective intelligence, and neuroscience.

Engagement seems to be the main driver of personal performance. In this context, engagement involves energy, enthusiasm, and focused effort (Grundam & Saks, 2011). Gallup and APD GLOBAL RESEARCH have well-validated scales to measure engagement that predict future performance. In both scales, the item that most predicts high performance is that the person gets to use their strengths at some point every day. They get to do something they love every day. Something that gives them energy.

Neuroscience explains where that energy comes from. Dopamine is the neurochemical of motivation. It keeps us on the right path and pushes us to get better at it. When we're doing something we love and have done well, we get a dopamine spike. Dopamine is the precursor molecule to adrenalin. Adrenaline = energy.

Another key neurochemical involved in flow-state is acetylcholine, which is a main ingredient in focus, and also works with adrenaline. When we focus, as in a flow state, it marks the neurons being used for strengthening and connecting later on. This means we learn faster.

Dopamine also strengthens neurons and makes new connections. When we get the dopamine spike from achieving something worthwhile, dopamine reinforces the neural structures that led to that achievement in reverse order. This is how we get better at achieving, and how we learn. Conversely, constantly pointing out faults is basically sending the message "no" and we're not wired to reinforce mistakes. Constant criticism kills learning.

This is why the people at the top of their fields manage to get into the flow at some point in each day.

There are some simple things we have done to facilitate this. We have 1 to 1s every week and in the 1 to 1s I ask the team member about tasks that they did in the last week where they felt energised. Be specific.

Then, instead of micromanaging, I give people the freedom to pick up tasks themselves. Give them a good degree of autonomy for how they do them. By letting them manage their workload, they are more likely to get into the flow.

What I'm asking them to do is to find the unique shape of their maximum impact. A side-effect we've discovered is that people feel a compulsion to achieve and have a maximum impact. This has been particularly noticeable with newcomers to the team, some of whom have expressed their surprise at how strong this effect has been, kind of like "What's happening to me?".

Next: Collective Intelligence