How to Develop High-performing Leaders and Teams: an Applied Neuroscience Approach, with Andy Longley


November 4, 2021

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and having a great discussion with Andy Longley from teamup. I’ve got to know Andy and the teamup guys quite well over the past couple of years, and I love the way they're going about helping organisations develop high performing teams and leaders using applied neuroscience. I was really eager to learn more, and Andy very kindly shared a wealth of knowledge and information around this topic, which is discussed in the video above, and summarised below:

About Andy

Andy has worked in several different roles, across many countries since he began his career. Originally from New Zealand, Andy initially started working as a Business Psychologist – he has worked in defence, international relations, retail, aviation and is now working in the Berlin start-up scene. He has worked with many people across these industries: multi-lingual teams and multi-ethnic teams, and one thing that remains ever consistent throughout is that humans are humans: we all have the same basic needs and social drivers - and leadership can be looked at through that lens.

About teamup

Andy was working in-house, heading up the talent agenda and strategy for adidas in Germany when he met his now business partner, Ali, who was delivering many of the leadership development programmes at adidas. The two had a shared philosophy around how to develop leaders and teams, and after Andy had left adidas, the two caught up to discuss this in more detail.

They both agreed that there was an absence of a great way of making high-performing teams come to life. They both found that many of the methods and expertise around this area was based outdated thinking around what humans need.

There was, however, a lot of brilliant information in the existing literature relating to neuroscience and about how you can create a 'brain-friendly' environment at work. Additionally, the latest technology, which allows us to scan brains, has shown us new information about what is going on in different parts of the brain when certain things are happening in the workplace.

Equipped with this knowledge relating to applied neuroscience, Andy and Ali thought there was a great opportunity to build an organisation which could really help high-performing teams and leaders, and started developing their own psychometrics, consultancy and training, based on applied neuroscience.

teamup

Andy’s view on what makes a great team leader

Before Andy started to work within neuroscience, he would have likely had a very different answer to the question - he would have listed some competencies, skills, EQ, ability to delegate etc. However, these days, he has a very different answer.

What Andy has found through the science is that skills and capabilities are certainly required, but a hugely important factor around what makes a great leader is having the ability to create an environment in which other people can thrive - and this skill can be taught.

Great leaders need to create an environment that is 'brain friendly', and in line with the unconscious mind's natural wants and needs. In order to achieve the best performance in the work place, the brain needs to be kept in a positive, reward state, rather than an anxious and threat state. If leaders are able to provide this for their teams, then they will create an environment which allows people to genuinely thrive - and this is what Andy and his team specialise in.

For Andy, leadership should be constantly trying to magnify the performance of those people you are working with. In order to do that, leaders need to use the knowledge of the brain, what it is and what is does, and how you can take practical steps to create, that environment which allows others to thrive.

More into the detail around neuroscience

There is a term in the world of neuroscience, known as 'neuroplasticity'. This is the phenomenon that anybody is able to rewire neural pathways within their brain. This means that people can, over time, change their behavioural habits, so they start to become engrained. The brain never loses its ability to change shape, based on habits that are formed. Therefore, by approaching leadership with the notion that everybody can improve, and can be focused and socially connected, a team will be able to reach its full potential.

In a business context, specifically regarding leaders and teams, there are three areas in which every leader can start to focus on to promote high performance, and this relates to the fact that the brain is always doing three things:

  1. Looking for meaning and purpose

The brain is always searching for meaning and purpose in life and in work. If leaders can create a team environment where a team is connected to a purpose that really motivates them, then the brain is naturally going to be in a far more comfortable and motivated state. If these conditions within the environment can be created by leaders, each member of the team will be moving more towards a higher purpose and Finding their Why. It’s incredibly important for a team to be able to do this collectively by creating a shared team identity, much like sports teams who achieve success, through songs, uniforms, shared history. If leaders can do these things, it starts to activate empathy and dopamine and helps build the foundations for high performance.

     2. The brain hates uncertainty

Uncertainty means we don’t know what is coming, and that is a survival threat to us. If leaders can create an environment that has as much certainty as possible, then this is an incredibly powerful way to stop the brain from worrying about uncertainty. This means that more focus can be applied to higher-order tasks, such as decision making, complex problem solving and interpersonal and social connection.

An example of what can be done to reduce uncertainty, is scenario planning to cover different eventualities of what ‘might’ happen, so when it does happen, it will have been anticipated and not perceived as a threat. For example, if a business is about to move into a new market, this may bring about a great deal of uncertainty for team members, whose brains will go back to the primitive survival techniques of ‘what if?’, and persistently worrying about outcomes. Scenario planning enables leaders to act out scenarios with different eventualities. Consequently, when these eventualities come up, uncertainty will be reduced among the team.

  1. The brain always wants to grow and progress

Our brain is always wanting to grow and to progress. As a leader, it is hugely important to make sure that team members are generally, professionally, and personally growing. Incorporating things like stretch goals to ensure that team members are getting better and can feel the progress that they’re making will ensure that they are engaged psychologically and subconsciously, in line with this innate need from the brain. Great leaders will coach and support their team members in their constant growth and progress.

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Inclusivity within teams

We know the paramount importance of ensuring that organisations are inclusive. Andy says that, by definition, a business cannot have an exclusive team and be high performing.

Again, we can go back to the brain and its innate needs. Human beings are incredibly socially driven and have a need to be around other people. The level of social nuance that is picked up on both consciously and subconsciously is phenomenal – much more than any other species. Therefore, if we detect that we are not part of a group or cannot be our true selves, this activates hyperarousal in the brain (a symptom of the fight/flight response). This, consequently, means that we are not able to focus on higher order functions.

Teams need to focus on how to create the conditions for inclusion within the workplace. Leaders need to create an environment which fosters inclusivity. This is about making sure that everybody within the team knows each other and has psychological safety, where people can be their true selves, can share different opinions and have good, challenging discussions and debate in a healthy way.

Leaders must ensure the conditions are created which enables everybody in the team to contribute – meaning that they feel as though they are part of the team and belong to the group. If leaders do this effectively, not only will it result in high performance, but as a building block for organizational culture, because how we experience our organisation is how we experience our team. Ultimately, teams need to capitalize on the cognitive diversity that everyone brings in, and this will be the grounds for creating cultural change for the organisation to be more inclusive.

Andy’s views on how to build and foster a company culture

Companies can build a culture that they want, intentionally, from the start. Founders need to identify what are the key values that are really important to the organisation. To do this, you need to establish what these values mean today, are they the values we want to have now and are they the values we want to represent us in the future, to ourselves and to our clients? Once your values have been broadly established, really get to the bottom of each of them… do they represent us? Are they authentic? Challenge these values as a team collectively. Get to the point where everybody within the organisation believes in them and feels passionate about them. Once established, organisations should start designing people processes around behaviours linked to these values and incentivizing these behaviours through performance management. This will help to develop the right type of habits across that the organisation wants to build, which will align with this culture.

Organisations also need to make sure that employees are being held to account (leaders in particular) for being consistent and authentic with these behaviours and values, and the processes and incentives that have been brought in to foster them - because if organizational culture drift comes along, it’s incredibly difficult to reverse this – particularly among fast-growing organisations.

Finally, it’s hugely important that organisations constantly and intentionally monitor the overall organizational culture. Make sure that the values, behaviours, and attributes that we have in place are still what we want. Organisations should review this at least annually.

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teamup products

teamup has designed and built four innovative psychometric assessments, which are all based on the teamup proprietary model of applied neuroscience to develop high-performing teams and leaders. I’m incredibly proud to say that the Evolve platform powers these psychometrics for teamup. Andy has given us some info about all of them - and you can access more information by following this link.

Neuroselfie

This is a short self-report in which team leaders can self-assess against the teamup framework, using likert questions. Upon completion, users will receive a custom report to show where they’re tracking against the six areas of high performance.

180/360 degree feedback

teamup has built a 180/360 degree feedback. This looks at whether a leader is creating an environment for others to thrive, again, based on the teamup model of applied neuroscience. The 360 will provide leaders with feedback against the areas of high performance, which is delivered via a teamup accredited coach.

teamup For Teams (TUFT)

teamup's flagship product, teamup for Teams, is a team assessment. All members within a team will answer a diagnostic questionnaire and get their own customized team report, that shows how this team – with its collective accountability and responsibility, is performing, and what can be done practically in order to improve that.

The psychometric tools that Andy and his team are incredibly powerful, and have already been used by large clients on a global level.

To find out more about any of the teamup products, or how Andy and his team can support, please contact him on:

Andy.longley@teamup.inc

Andy's LinkedIn

The teamup Website

Thanks for reading/watching!

 

 

 

Richard Anderson - Co-Founder

Passionate about people, software and assessment. Always wanting to learn more.