The link above takes you to an article in the HBR, copied below. I felt the need to respond, so copied the article and my reply here. I'd be interested in your thoughts about it all.
Human beings are profoundly social — we are hardwired to connect to one another and to want to work together. Frankly, we would never have survived as a species without our instinctive desire to live and work in groups, because physically we are just not strong or scary enough.
Tons of research has documented how important being social is to us. For instance, as neuroscientist Matt Lieberman describes in his book, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, our brains are so attuned to our relationships with other people that they quite literally treat social successes and failures like physical pleasures and pains. Being rejected, for instance, registers as a “hurt” in much the same way that a blow to the head might — so much so that if you take an aspirin you’ll actually feel better about your breakup.
David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has identified relatedness — feelings of trust, connection, and belonging—as one of the five primary categories of social pleasures and pains (along with status, certainty, autonomy, and fairness). Rock’s research shows that the performance and engagement of employees who experience relatedness threats or failures will almost certainly suffer. And in other research, the feeling of working together has indeed been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement that brings with it the very best performance.
Theoretically, the modern workplace should be bursting with relatedness. Not unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, most of us are on teams. And teams ought to be a bountiful source of “relatedness” rewards.
But here’s the irony: While we may have team goals and team meetings and be judged according to our team performance, very few of us actually do our work in teams. Take me, for example: I conduct all the research I do with a team of other researchers. I regularly coauthor articles and books. My collaborators and I regularly meet to discuss ideas and to make plans. But I have never analyzed data with a collaborator sitting next to me, or run a participant through an experiment with another researcher at my side—and my coauthors and I have never ever typed sentences in the same room. Yes, many of the goals we pursue and projects we complete are done in teams, but unlike those bands of prehistoric humans banding together to take down a woolly mammoth, most of the work we do today still gets done alone.
So that, in a nutshell, is the weird thing about teams: They are the greatest (potential) source of connection and belonging in the workplace, and yet teamwork is some of the loneliest work that you’ll ever do.
So what we need is a way to give employees the feeling of working as a team, even when they technically aren’t. And thanks to new research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University, we now know one powerful way to do this: simply saying the word “together.”
In Carr and Walton’s studies, participants first met in small groups, and then separated to work on difficult puzzles on their own. People in the psychologically together category were told that they would be working on their task “together” even though they would be in separate rooms, and would either write or receive a tip from a team member to help them solve the puzzle later on. In thepsychologically alone category, there was no mention of being “together,” and the tip they would write or receive would come from the researchers. All the participants were in fact working alone on the puzzles. The only real difference was the feeling that being told they were working “together” might create.
The effects of this small manipulation were profound: participants in the psychologically togethercategory worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also said that they felt less tired and depleted by the task. They also reported finding the puzzle more interesting when working together, and persisted longer because of thisintrinsic motivation (rather than out of a sense of obligation to the team, which would be an extrinsic motivation).
The word “together” is a powerful social cue to the brain. In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you toward the same goal.
Executives and managers would be wise to make use of this word with far greater frequency. In fact, don’t let a communication opportunity go by without using it. I’m serious. Let “together” be a constant reminder to your employees that they are not alone, helping them to motivate them to perform their very best.
This was my reply
I appreciate that many articles now being written increasingly refer to neuroscience, but can't help feeling like they dumb-down the subject too far. It's good to acknowledge that we benefit neurologically from the stimulus provided in socially positive conditions, and we don't receive the same stimulus working in what our brain interprets as social isolation, but I worry about the accuracy of interpretation encouraged in the reader when we allude to principles like 'we work in teams when we have meetings'.
To dig a layer deeper, we could consider Nohria's 4 Drive theory and include the drives to Bond, Acquire, Learn and Defend (and consider the neural activity behind each), then we could consider the dopamine receptors stimulated along the dopaminergic mesolimbic pathway when we are making progress toward a goal perceived as 'good' (then look at the formation and definition of perceptions of 'Good' / WIIFM), then we could consider the psychological Fear of failure and Fear of rejection imprinted through inhibitive and compulsive destructive criticism during childhood (very often reinforced at work).
With those building blocks of knowledge in place, we could then see there are often times in meetings where there is absolutely NO teamwork (as defined by neural activity) due to the psychological stresses imposed by bosses, peers, targets and systems, reinforcing an external locus of control in the individual and promoting the principles of 'Learned helplessness' on a systemic and formalised basis.
I thoroughly understand the need to 'Keep it SHORT & Simple' (the new version of KISS) and know it's hard to strike the balance between the complexity of the subject and the current vocabulary utilised in the markets this knowledge can serve, but taking it back to 'simplified' too far, I fear we often lose content and context.
In such conditions, we have seen too many people 'jump on the bandwagon' and start selling snakeoil - this is a turning point in history and far too important to let it go through the same greed driven cultural process as other 'best-practice' knowledge in the market place (just think of Lean and Six Sigma - where there is still mass confusion in the market after 40years of dealing with Muda and forgetting Muri and Mura to suit the prevailing western culture based on Keynesian economics and related financial models used to define 'Good'). Isn't that proof enough we can't afford to go into these things and only report on half the subject.
Do we really want the benefits of neuroscience to be compromised because it gets churned through the same Keynesian capitalist mill that has allowed and encouraged an approach that leads to a 'change' market consistently reporting a >75% failure rate for decades?
Let's keep promoting the use of Neuroscience and Psychology in the development of Leaders at work, teachers in the classroom and parents in the home, but let's do it justice up-front and avoid the mistakes of the past. We don't want another global multi-billion$ market full of half-cocked ideas based on assumptions because we start off by keeping it simple stupid.
What do you think?