Applying the Lessons of Neuroscience to Create Effective Meetings

The 2010 Organization Development Network conference held in New Orleans brought together the latest thinking in neuroscience, large-group methodologies, employee engagement and leadership development.  And those were just the sessions I attended!

These theories are not only “foundational” to the field of transformation, but they are rapidly evolving (revolutionizing!) 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.

As a consultant, being able to connect why I advise my clients on highly participatory meetings to neuroscience enables me to move from perceived “soft skills” to hard science. Providing a short article or a book on “why it matters” lessens their concern (“will this go well and will I look good?”) and elevates their trust in me as their advisor (creating relatedness). And I get to impact the changes my clients want – with velocity and while empowering them.
Lets 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
–    Making decisions & solving problems
–    Staying cool under pressure
–    Collaborating with others
–    Facilitating change

Imagine 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 they 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 … their 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

Extraordinary Results
Its 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.

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

Critical Success Factors for Effective Meetings:	Why It’s Needed?  Concern It Addresses
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.

Recommended readings and websites to delve deeper into neuroscience and effective meetings:


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.

Posted by Laura Gramling