PM Essence

Transforming Team Performance

- Jitendra Kaushik, PMP, COE Group

“People don't need to be managed, they need to be unleashed” --Richard Florida

As a leader we know it is often very important to influence the thinking of our team members to carry out a successful change. In this article, let us explore how understanding of working of our brain can be applied to transform ourselves into more effective leaders.

Working of brain – the science behind

To store information, ideas and thoughts our brain creates 'mental maps'. When we try to process a new idea, brain creates a new map and then tries to link this new map with the existing maps. Anything that does not fit with our existing mental maps creates dissonance till it is sorted out by brain. When we process complex ideas we tap into our visual center – we see flashes of ideas in our mind's eye. While our brain uses up a lot of energy when it is trying to process complex ideas, there is a burst of energy released when the brain makes new connection. Brain is a very energy efficient system and processing of new ideas demands energy.

Most of the common activities are hard wired by the brain. This helps the brain work without thinking – expending much less energy than otherwise would have been required. Many times our internal realities are different from our external realities, which change much faster.

The hardwired mental maps grows stronger as and when they are used in more and varied situations. Ingrained habits and thought processes cannot be changed. It is easy to create new thought processes and mental maps by providing positive feedback to brain.

Improving team performance - using the science of brain

The insights explored above points to a new way of improving people's performance.

As a leader you help them improve their quality of thinking. Help them process their ideas better. Letting people come up with their own actionable ideas provides them with motivation to see the actions through.

Once you get people thinking keep them focused on solutions. This is different form usual – problem focused approach. To illustrate the difference study the following table:


Removing 'why' from your conversations is a great way to focus on solutions. Stretch people. Take them out of their comfort zone. Acknowledgement and encouragement calms mind and allow focus on the task at hand. Plan your conversations. These are few effective way to get the best out of your people.

We need to put aside our mental states that may cloud our ability to listen openly. Maintain a distance from the problem – this helps in improving clarity.

Avoid natural biases and prejudice while listening to others. Then you are opening yourself to listen to them in a whole new way.

Clear and crisp communication allows the listeners to process the information effectively.

Visualize what you plan to say and then use visual words and metaphors to communicate your ideas. Get to the core of the discussion point quickly to hold people's attention and interest.

Establish permission before having a dialogue. Establish the context and then anchor your conversations around that context. Creating an explicit context, specifying where you are coming from, what is your goal for the conversation and what are you looking to achieve from this conversation. In complex conversations, it is a good idea to refer to the context multiple times during the conversation.

The questions you may ask in a conversation can have multiple categories:

• Problem questions – what is the issue you are facing?
• Detail questions – what are the deadlines? What resources you need?
• Thinking questions – how important this issue is to you on a scale of 1 to 5?
• Vision question – what are you trying to achieve?
• Planning question – how do you plan to deliver this?

As a leader you shall be asking thinking, vision and planning questions, in this order. Avoid asking problem and detail questions.

When you help people become aware of their dilemma, they reflect on it and if you lead them with right questions their brain will make suitable connection to get its 'Aha' moment, create insights for them. You help them explore alternatives that are available. This ensures people don't take the easiest path and they are able to find the best approach to their dilemma in the given circumstances. At this point people are bubbling with energy. You help people take tangible actions translating the just released energy into discernible actions.

It is critical to follow up on the process outlined above. By doing this in a positive and supporting way, we help our people consolidate the new habits and thought processes. This ensures consistent performance improvement or team members over extended periods of time.