By Laura Gramling, President, EnSpark Consulting

Neuroscience theories have given a robust, scientific voice to the field of human systems and organizational development.  Application of these theories is changing the way we conduct meetings, make decisions and lead.

Why?  Because when these theories are put into action, they have a positive impact on outcomes, quality of decisions and are a key to sustainable, long-term success.

Let’s take a look at one of the key theories and how applying it can make the difference.



The learnings of how our brains work, process information and make decisions, can be applied to just about all of organizational life and leading organizations:

  • Making decisions & solving problems
  • Staying cool under pressure
  • Collaborating with others
  • Facilitating change

Image an organization that is faced with multiple threats (low morale, high competition, sluggish economy, thin resources, complex processes) and image staff and leaders running about trying to fix things as quickly as they can on gut reactions.

Sounds like a lot of workplaces, right?  And you wonder, “Why can’t the leaders make better decisions about what to change or focus on? How come they can’t come up with a strategy that will last?”  Well, the answer is largely … they are just being human.


5 Social Concerns to Pay Attention To

David Rock, scientist, researcher and leader in the neuroscience field (he coined the term “NeuroLeadership”) has distilled the complex world of brain science to manageable and useable knowledge for organizational leaders.

He maintains that if you pay attention to these social concerns and create practices to lower ‘threats’, you will achieve better results with your employees and managers.

Social Concerns Impact as Threat Environment as Rewards
Status “Is my social status or others social status being threatened?” If so, what you’ll get is less critical thinking, high survival actions. Create a workplace where experimentation and creativity are rewarded. And failures are not punished, but rather explored for “what’s needed to make it work?”
Certainty We crave it because we like to predict what is going to happen. Be clear and consistent in your communications, requests and in responding to feedback.
Autonomy We love not being dominated by our circumstances or by others. We want a say in what we do. Engage your employees and managers in making decisions whenever possible.
Relatedness The more we know each other, the more we trust each other. And therefore, the less anxiety there is that each other is a threat. “Bonding” experiences aren’t just “nice to do”; they are essential if you want a high-performing group.
Fairness We want it to be fair! And just! Be transparent and honest in your employee practices and decision-making.

Extraordinary Results

It’s not just about mitigating or lowering threats, but creating conditions for success, creativity and insights that lead to extraordinary results.  The conditions that foster great insights are:

Be quiet – Your brain can more easily make new connections and patterns if it is not dealing with details and navigating data.

Be relaxed – When you are not on ‘high alert’ for threats, your brain can access more patterns and ideas.

Don’t think of anything specific – You can’t produce an insight under pressure or by ‘thinking of it’.

Be happy – When your brain is free from immediate threats, new connections and patterns can emerge.


Extraordinary Meetings

With that neuroscience primer, we can begin to make correlations to how to create highly effective meetings

Critical Success Factors Why It’s Needed? Concern it Addresses
Creating Trust & Openness “Can I trust this group?” is a foundational need that has to be answered in order for free, open discussions to occur. Participants want to know that their time and contributions are valued Status
Inviting Collaboration Being heard and acknowledged provides a sense of ownership to the content being created and a willingness to contribute. Use a variety of ‘participation formats’ allows for everyone to contribute in the way that best suits them Status
Establishing Clear Decision Making Process Another foundational need of all groups is to address, “how are decisions going to be made?” Once participants know the boundaries of their roles, they are freed up to pay attention to the content of the discussion vs. wondering how their contributions are going to be used Certainty
Knowing “who’s in the room” Pay attention to the dynamics of who is attending. Take into consideration:
- How well do the participants know each other?
- Is there a lot of controversy or “politics” amongst them?
- # of introverts vs. extroverts?
What is their attitude towards conflict? Making decisions? This project?
Modeling Good Listening & Feedback Skills How the facilitator ‘shows up’ to lead the meeting, sets the tone for the entire event. Be empathic, open, and responsive. Encourage sharing and a willingness to be influenced by new ideas. Be straight and specific in giving feedback. Certainty
Developing a Clear Agenda Maximize engagement by developing a clear agenda with specific times for presentations and specific times for collaboration/brainstorming/sharing Use a mix of ‘participation formats’ as you move into higher levels of trust & openness. Certainty
Documenting Meeting Outcomes Prior to ending a meeting, review what was accomplished, decisions reached and next steps. Ensure all next steps have a defined “by when” they will be accomplished and a clear owner of who is responsible for achieving the result. Identify any outstanding issues or “parking lot” items. Certainty

Recommended readings and websites to delve deeper into neuroscience and effective meetings:
Change leaders and consultants need an array of theories and tools to impact the status-quo and to bring about the transformations that are needed.  More and more, we are seeking out those tools that bring out the best in people.  Applying neuroscience to our change work is a natural evolution (say revolution!) to this ever-growing body of work called organization development.


Your Brain at Work:  Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.  HarperBusiness.  2009.

Effective Meetings

Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Catherine Toldi, Sarah Fisk, and Duane Berger.  Wiley & Sons.  2007.

The Change Handbook:  The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems by Peggy Holman, Tom Devane and Steven Cady.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers.  2007.

Free Guide for Creating
Successful Virtual Meetings

Free Guide for Creating Successful Virtual Meetings

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Free Guide for Creating
Successful Virtual Meetings

Free Guide for Creating Successful Virtual Meetings

Please check your email and confirm your address. NOTE: You may need to check your Promotions folder or your Spam folder.