The Neuroscience of Innovation: How Businesses Can Create High-Performing Teams

Neuroscience of Innovation in Business

Human potential unleashed is the reason I get up every day. While there are many good reasons for talented people to cave to mediocrity, I delight in seeing what happens when they don’t. What happens on the other side of this stinging desert of resistance is nothing short of magic. How can we help more people experience this? How can we grow the reward of coming to that lush land on the other side of everything hard?

Here at Sproutly, we’re always looking for ways to unleash that potential just a bit more. In the spirit of this, one of our team members decided to reach out to some neuroscientists to see what they can teach us about nurturing more effective teams.   Here are some of our most interesting take-aways.

The world of business is changing, as technology has enabled companies to hire employees who work remotely across the globe. This has also opened doors for more networking, with clients and collaborators who interface through software rather than face-to-face. As technology has pivoted to an ever faster-paced business world, so too must companies adapt how their teams operate. 

Neuroscience may have the solutions the business world is seeking, as understanding how the brain works can inform companies how to build stronger, high-performing teams. According to Dr. Paul J. Zak, professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, effective teamwork and improved economic performance stem from a culture of trust. 

Embracing a culture of trust not only improves a company’s bottom line but also creates a better working environment for employees. According to Dr. Zak, when compared with people at low-trust companies, employees at high-trust companies reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, and 76% more engagement. Just as technology has innovated the practical ways in which business is conducted, neuroscience, it seems, has solutions that can help companies empower their employees for success.

How to Manage for Trust

In his research, Dr. Zak identified several factors that allow managers to foster trust among their teams and create measurable improvement for a company's productivity.

Publicly Recognize Excellence 

Research shows that recognition has a major impact on trust, especially when it occurs immediately after an achievement. This recognition is effective when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public, it inspires others to aim for excellence. By celebrating successes, companies can also provide a forum for top performers to share best practices and encourage further collaboration between coworkers.

Lead with Transparency

According to Dr. Zak’s research, uncertainty about a company’s direction leads to chronic stress among employees, but open, transparent communication can prevent this. Keeping this communication consistent is also key. A 2015 study found that engagement among teams improved when supervisors communicated daily with their direct reports. Additionally, another study found that leaders who are vulnerable and ask colleagues for help can facilitate trust inspire teams to reach goals. 

Provide Greater Autonomy to Employees

Once employees have been trained, companies should, when possible, allow them to take control of their process. This autonomy promotes innovation, as employees are free to try different approaches. Companies should still provide oversight and risk management to minimize negative deviations, and post-project debriefs allow teams to reflect on positive deviations and build upon success.

Foster Relationships Among Colleagues

Managers and team leaders can set the stage for personal development and growth among employees. One way to do this is by assigning a difficult but achievable goal, and as the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals to intensify focus and strengthen connections. Overall, having team members collaborate to reach a goal allows brain activity to coordinate their behaviors efficiently. A Google study revealed that managers who focused on the personal development of their team members outperformed others in the quality and quantity of work. 

A Bright Future for High-Trust Companies

Dr. Paul J. Zak concludes that companies should cultivate trust by setting clear directions with transparent communication, giving employees what they need to complete their tasks, and getting out of the way of innovation and collaboration. Ultimately, he states, “high-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.” 

By fostering that autonomy within the structure of clear communication and encouraging collaboration, companies can create an environment for high-performance teams to thrive. This neuroscience-based approach can improve employee engagement and ultimately create stronger foundations for companies as they move into the future.

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