How To Spot A Successful Team27 Noviembre, 2018 / Articles
This is a post by Tara Swart, neuroscientist and leadership adviser. She works with leaders worldwide to help them achieve mental resilience and peak brain performance, improve their ability to manage stress, regulate emotions and retain information.
I’d like to return again to my Organizational Plasticity Index (OPI), introduced in my post “Why Business Is Like The Brain.” We’ve already expanded on one aspect of the model, and here, I’d like to explore another, synaptic connection, which equates to the systemic organization of the relationships and communication channels within a business. The OPI model that compares businesses to the brain, using key aspects of brain function as a metaphor to help make sense of the healthy, or dysfunctional, running of a business. The model is useful because it helps me work with clients to identify the unseen “pathways” within their business that go beyond chain of command diagrams, workflow models, and mission statements. The OPI rating helps me to measure the long-term resilience of the businesses I work with.
The “synaptic connections” within a business relate to the way relationships function: both linear and lateral; hierarchical and “official” and informal. If I were to map these out, they would appear more like constellations or complex webs of connections than hierarchical family trees. The more closely I have studied these connection-maps, the more I became convinced that they mimic the similar lattices and asymmetrical cross-hatching of connections that appear between neurons in the brain. The similarity is uncanny.
At the moment, this complexity is compounded by the incoming and fast-evolving impact of AI on teams, and the fact that managers must now evolve to manage teams that marry AI and human roles and expertise. This requires a sophisticated combination of computational thinking and a manager’s most human qualities: emotional intelligence, intuition and creativity.
When I attempt to “map” the synaptic connections in any business, it immediately becomes apparent that some departments and roles are more comprehensively ‘connected’ than others. This is likely to be a consequence of necessity, precedent and individual and team personalities. It’s an evolving picture, of course, and at times, the breakdown of a key connection (let’s say the marketing and sales director fall out), will have a host of ripple-effect consequences, strengthening allegiances lower down, creating back-channels for communication and potentially leading to fissures elsewhere in the business.
When mapping the synaptic connections, it’s important to think of the way individuals function within “units” or groups of people. All units are made up of people that group together to perform certain functions, much like the whole brain is made up of neurons and glial cells that group together to perform certain functions. Some of these groupings are process driven and have been set out in the chain of command. Others are less “visible” in HR terms, but still, are crucial to identify in order to understand the organism of the organization as a whole.
Some of these units have functions that apply across the whole organization (like the pre-frontal cortex, limbic system or basal ganglia). Examples include:
- Senior Leadership Team
- Middle Management
- HiPos (HiPOs are like stem cells. They can plug in nearly everywhere. HiPOs are often millennials and so they hold the potential to become any type of fully formed cell in the future – connector, innovator, functional expert etc)
At the more functional level, we find organizational units with a specific functional focus (more like specific parts of the brain units e.g. Broca’s area that controls speech production, or the corpus callosum which connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain)
- Sales & Marketing
- Logistics & Distribution
- HR & Education
- Others as defined in your organization
As a business behaves in a plastic way, much like an organism with a series of complex and interconnected processes going on inside it, the synaptic connections of a healthy business are constantly changing and adapting to the environment. I’ll talk about the impact of this in a later post, on Epi-cultures –the environmental context of an organization– its physical environment as well as its culture and ethos, and the milieu within which it sits including geopolitical and psycho-social world events. None of this can be separated out from the functioning of the connections within the business, as the two are interconnected. Having said that, I usually begin by mapping the “synaptic connections” –it’s the best way to understand the business. So, in your own organization, take a snapshot of everything from toxic relationships and poor communication all the way up to great cases of collaboration and knowledge sharing. Start to notice examples of productive and inhibiting relationships throughout your business. Productive relationships should hold others accountable towards the greater good of the business as we navigate exponential rates of change and the future of work. These agents of change act like paracrine signaling, which is a form of cell-to-cell communication in which a cell produces a signal to induce a change in nearby cells, altering the behavior of them.
The final step is to kick-start the process of change by changing ten things, even a little to create a cascade of benefits. Examples of these could include:
- Offering mediation for any toxic relationships
- Creating a leadership development programme
- Hosting team dynamics workshops
- Undergoing executive coaching
- Setting up mentoring across the organization
- Take the OPI survey and get a pulse check for your organization