The brilliance of the brain leaves much to be discovered. What we know, on a basic level, is what Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute says; “Everything you do in your life is based on your brain’s determination to minimize danger or maximise reward.” 

He designed the SCARF model. This model shows that minimizing danger and maximising reward is an evolutionary response, and an organising principle of the brain.

The brain can be in any one of the two states at any moment – moving away from perceived danger (de-motivators), or moving towards perceived reward (motivators). This has major implications for relationships and contribution because the state you are in has a direct impact on your capacity to do good work; if the brain can’t work and if it’s facing a threat or a reward, it usually sways towards a threat.

The first thing you need to do within teams is to ensure … psychological safety, as the state you are in dramatically influences the quality of your output.

Historically the carrot and stick approach was used to ‘encourage’ people to engage. This is not only archaic and over simplistic, but it is usually very short-lived.

In highly stressful or distrusting situations, we resort to one of four responses. We will either fight (argue), take flight (move away from) freeze (disengage) or sooth (agree) with our antagonist.

Whatever the default response, the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. The unconscious signalling tells it of the threat, such as fear, sadness or anger. It then processes this emotional threat by shutting down complex problem solving, creativity and decision-making.

We effectively go ‘offline’, and lose access to the higher order executive brain functioning (such as planning, reasoning and problem-solving) found in the prefrontal cortex.

Unless the threat is literally life threatening, the shutting down will be cerebrally debilitating, releasing stress hormones and depriving thinking.

Is it time to maximise contribution and play it safe?

I am the author of Leading Self and Others (how to make a difference where you are with what you’ve got) and Teaming with ideas (life lessons in teams- from business, sport and parkrun). You can contact me here.