Leadership styles and team culture come in many flavors and variations. But the common denominator among individual leaders and teams is that every single person is, in fact, human. And each of those humans comes with a nervous system. Becoming fluent in understanding how nervous systems fully engage and what makes them shut down is essential in navigating this new normal of working from home.
Remote work arrived much faster than anyone anticipated. Some of us are struggling and others are thriving. But what we all need is for our leaders to create team cultures that generate a sense of collaboration with clear and open communication, balanced by connection and competence.
Now is the time to prioritize emotional intelligence and capitalize on understanding your team dynamics. During these uncertain times, the ability to build cohesive team culture is both critical and essential. Establishing trust, psychological safety and empathy needs to be your prime directive in order to accomplish your OKRs, goals and hit milestones on your roadmap.
How do you know you trust someone? How do you know you don’t trust someone? According to neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s HBR article, The Neuroscience of Trust, the more you trust someone, the more you feel connected to them. When we trust others, we secrete a neurochemical called oxytocin, known as the bonding chemical. We also secrete oxytocin when we hug others, when we feel part of a community or group, and when we witness someone’s vulnerability.
Pro Tip: Start certain team meetings with questions from this deck. It invites colleagues to share personal stories about themselves, which helps build trust through vulnerability and transparency and allows others to get to know them better.
Google researched 180 of its teams to answer the question, “What makes a team effective at Google?”. They found that the number one tenet to effective teams was psychological safety— where team members felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable with colleagues. This is key because the research shows the fastest way to disengage and shut down employees is to interrupt, humiliate, ridicule or dismiss them in front of others.
Pro Tip: During one-on-one meetings, be able to both recognize your employee’s accomplishments and communicate appreciation for the values he or she brings to the team. Learn more from Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation at Work.”
Empathy done masterfully can actually help rewire brains, calm nervous systems and secrete oxytocin. The difference between empathy and compassion is the following: Empathy is about noticing a feeling in either yourself or others, and compassion is action-oriented to improve one’s well-being and ease emotional tension.
Pro Tip: Read Chris Voss’ book, “Never Split the Difference” to deeply understand and start practicing tactical empathy. You can also explore Sarah Peyton’s book, “Your Resonant Self” to learn how to connect more empathetically with yourself and others.
Fostering this type of team culture is the antithesis of burnout. Our nervous system begins to shut down when we find ourselves exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically from continuous and prolonged stress. But research shows that both trust and empathy release oxytocin—a stress antidote. And instilling psychological safety as a core tenet in team culture can release other neurochemicals, such as serotonin and endogenous opioids that lower cortisol. As our stress levels decrease, we are more inclined to show up with greater productivity, creativity and higher levels of engagement.