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Elevate team performance by understanding the brain

Early on my career, I had a boss who was a real ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. One moment he’d be towering over me at my desk, screaming instructions in my face.

But once we’d all clocked off, he’d be buying rounds, telling jokes and being the life of the party. Naturally, I never knew where I stood with him. 

One time he stormed into my office yelling, demanding answers. I froze. The threat of this intimidating, tall man brought my brain to a standstill. I couldn’t think.

The psychological stress from this job made coming to work exhausting. I didn’t know which version of him I was going to get when I walked through the door each morning and I certainly didn’t feel I was working in a positive, motivating workplace culture.

I now know this boss had activated my fight/flight responses. I was an unproductive member of the team because my brain registered my boss as a danger. Thankfully, I left that job. But the experience had fascinated me. The impact this boss had on my brain seriously affected my performance. 

Since leaving the job with the tyrannical boss, I went on to study neuroscience and its role in business. I have since learnt that understanding the brain is key to understanding your staff and getting the best results out of them – no matter what level of business you are in.

There are three key facts for employers to keep in mind:  

  1. The brain’s key role is to keep us safe. We are either in an approach (reward) state, or an avoidance (threat) state. For productivity to be at its best, we need to keep ourselves and our staff in the approach/reward state. 
  1. Your brain is a predicting organ. You spend half your waking hours predicting what will happen —whether you are conscious of it or not.
  1. You brain tries to conserve energy wherever possible. Your brain conserves energy and keep this in store to deal with threats in your environment.

As a leader in the workplace, your job is to maximise the brain’s reward state so that you can always get the best out of your people. If your staff are in ‘productive mode’, they feel safe enough to take risks and make mistakes and are always looking to solve problems collaboratively.

However, the fight/flight responses are often bubbling away just below the surface and can be easily triggered. When our staff are in ‘protective mode’, they are less likely to take accountability for any mistakes or take any risks, and their attention is focused inwards on themselves.

When people are in the reward state, they are 50 per cent more likely to problem-solve effectively. Positive emotions and increased dopamine levels are closely linked to optimum productivity. 

People who experience positive emotions explore more options when trying to solve problems and can overcome non-linear problems that require more insight.

Today, I manage my own team at Laser Clinics Australia. We trust each other wholeheartedly, but most importantly we have fun. Laughter does a lot for the human brain. It helps us think better and feel less stress. 

From my experience, creating a light and jocular work environment is more effective and we frequently have clients tell us how fun and happy our clinic appears to be as a workplace

I have consistently led the most psychologically safe, and therefore most sustainable team. This has enabled me to increase our revenue and performance year on year. In 2021, this led to being awarded Franchisee of the Year by Laser Clinics Australia. 

By understanding how the brain affects productivity, I hope employers everywhere can create a workplace culture of safety and high performance. Without a boss who is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

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Jodi Cottle

Jodi Cottle

Jodi Cottle is a published author and leading franchisee for Laser Clinics Australia. Her book The Pocket MBA is available for order via pre-sale now from jodicottle.com

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