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Today’s  organizations are rife with volatility, uncertainty and complexity. The current and future global landscape  seems ambiguous.  High performing, agile teams and the leaders who understand how to develop them are quickly becoming the “secret ingredient” for success.

With the right tools and ideas, organizations can achieve a level of success in less time than ever before. The graphic below illustrates how organizational thinking has evolved over past years, with an emphasis on agile teams and team leaders who function with purpose and meaning. 

“Agility” is a term applied to the ability of an individual or group to exhibit mental flexibility in approaching ideas, people and tasks.  

Team agility” is the ability of a cross-functional group to continually sense, explore and respond to new opportunities, ideas and changes with speed, openness, flexibility and achievement focus. Today’s business and institutional environments challenge traditional ways of thinking and doing. 

As a result, successful teams must be more than technically proficient and results minded – they also need to be agile. 

Characteristics of agile teams are:

  • Purpose and meaning driven
  • Context-setting agility
  • Stakeholder and leadership agility
  • Agile individual team members
  • Agile mindsets are:
    • Expressed in creative agility
    • A “growth” mindset 
    • Fluidity – the mental flexibility to think… 
      • vertically and horizontally
      • divergently and convergently
      •  in order to solve problems and have maximum impact
    • The ability to be proactive in learning quickly from experience

Teams usually reach peak performance in three to five years, but understanding how the brain works and aligning team development practices with neuroscience,  can fast track teams into high performing agile teams in as little as six months.

A Neuroscience Approach to High Performing Agile Teams

A netball team won the national championships. Although this case study is about a sports team becoming champions, the principles and strategies followed to develop high performing agile teams in business, were applied in this scenario.

Most physical and health related skills optimization for top athletes are usually of a very high standard. These skills are seen as the vocational skills that all top netball players have to master to excel in the game. Developing the vocational skills to execute their jobs well, in the  organizational landscape, are of primary importance to employees. 

This story focuses on the “secret ingredient” added to their preparation, that increased their competitive advantage over their competition, that did not focus on brain performance optimization.

Netball players, like all members of any  organizational team, have to constantly out-think and out-perform their competition. They have to make quick, precise decisions in any new and potentially stressful situations in a fast and easy manor. This requires optimum cognitive flexibility to be at the top of their game. 

Brain fitness therefore, is as important as physical fitness. Currently, developing and optimizing brain fitness and mental flexibility of athletes, seldomly features in their preparation or is not perceived to be of equal importance as optimizing physical fitness and health. 

In this case, prioritizing and aligning both the physical and brain fitness of athletes, as of equal importance, became the differentiating strategy in preparing them for the National Championships. Increasing the overall brain agility of players became the “secret ingredient” in their preparation. 

A neuroscience approach to optimizing the drivers that impact brain performance and neuro-design flexibility was followed, learning mental skills that the athletes have never been exposed to before.

The broader leadership of the netball organization, that consisted of all team coaches, assistant coaches and managers, were trained first in all interventions that players had to do to ensure they understand, support and implement the neuroscience approach described below. 

In addition to interventions for players, developing leadership agility was a major focus area. Emphasis was on empowering coaches and managers to:

  • Assess and optimize their own neuro-agility by completing a Neuro Agility Profile™ 
  • Add speed and adaptability to stability, creating a competitive advantage in volatile, complex and ambiguous conditions
  • Create a people-centered culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles
  • Quickly and efficiently reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities

Subsequently, all players were assessed by Neuro Agility Profile ™ (NAP™) pre-assessment, fifteen sessions that consisted of the content below and a NAP™ post-assessment. The pre-assessment values were compared to the post-assessment values to indicate the effectiveness of the interventions. 

This is what the interventions consisted of for coaches, managers and all team members:

Neuro-Agility Optimization

All brain-based elements that impact the ease, speed and flexibility with which people learn, think and process information were measured with the Neuro Agility Profile™ (NAP). All players learned cross-lateral movement exercises and advanced visual skills training to increase their brain agility.

Agile Mindset Optimization

During the intervention, all participants learned how to develop an agile mindset that consisted of attitudes like a growth mindset, creative agility and boundary fluidity. This was accomplished by learning to support processing information effectively, synthesize meaning from it, seek improvements, encourage idea diversity from it and be willing to consider information that is at odds with preconceived notions.

Learning Agility Optimization

Team members were encouraged to take calculated risks, experiment, re-skill, up-skill and multi-skill rapidly for continuous improvement in changing scenarios.

Purpose Clarification

During every session time was spent to help the team formulate their purpose and clarify accountabilities aligned with the team’s values, priorities and goals.

Developing Trust

Intense effort was made to establish and maintain high levels of mutual trust between coaches, managers and team members.

Final results:

  • The netball team won the National Championships
  • The NAP™ indicated significant improvements in the brain fitness and overall brain optimization scores of players 
  • The results were concluded as significant, as the overall p-value was found to be 0.024 at a 0.05 level of significance!
  • Optimizing brain agility and cognitive related skills directly correlates to improved performance and team agility.

Takeaways

There is a multiplication effect when following a neuroscience approach to developing and optimizing the brain fitness and cognitive flexibility of individual team members, that enables them to contribute more effectively to continually sense, explore and respond to new situations and opportunities with ease, speed, flexibility, surprise and competitive success.

Does your team have the “secret ingredient” to be a game changing, high performing, agile team who out-thinks and outperforms the competition?

For more information about how you can develop agile, high performing teams, contact Smart Brain Insights for a  no-charge consultation. 

 



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Author:
Fred Tiencken

Fred Tiencken is the Co-Founder and Senior Director of Smart Brain Insights and a Latin American Corporate Regional Partner for Neuro-Link Company where he works directly with practitioners, partners and clients.