The Simple Way to Create Highly Engaged Teams – The Afterburner Effect

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Have you heard of oxytocin? It’s a neurochemical often referred to as the “Love Drug”. You might wonder what that has to do with business or building highly engaged teams. Love, drugs, and business are three words that usually send the HR department spinning!

What does the “Love Drug” oxytocin have to do with highly engaged business teams?

Positive feedback loops are critical for Oxytocin production and secretion. For those familiar with Afterburner, we call this type of feedback a “Debrief”— it’s intentional feedback aligned to purposeful goals. Oxytocin’s primary function is bonding, hence its nickname. Levels are highest between a mother and baby at birth, and when they are low, we can feel anxious, unhappy, and even depressed.

According to Dr. Paul J. Zak’s eight years of research measuring brain activity in the workplace, oxytocin levels are also high in organizations with trustful leaders and employees who aren’t afraid of creating constructive conflict and inviting challenges into their work.

Having a baby at work to release oxytocin is clearly infeasible! So let’s explore practical ways to increase oxytocin at work and build better engagement in our teams.

Dr. Zak identifies three methods to boost oxytocin daily:

Build trust

The more trust we build, the more oxytocin is released in the brain. High levels of oxytocin cause people to work harder to help the group achieve shared goals. We know it’s oxytocin causing this cooperation because Zak and his colleagues have developed a way to safely infuse synthetic oxytocin into living human brains. This significantly enhances selflessness to help others, including those different from us. Quick trust-building can be achieved simply by doing what you say you’re going to do—set expectations and meet them.

Do meaningful work

Zak theorizes that an organization only exists because it improves people’s lives. Otherwise, why would you show up each day and why would customers buy your products or services? When people understand and act on a company’s purpose while at work, a second oxytocin stimulus arises because most of us value helping others. Zak’s experiments showed that teams with both high trust and a strong sense of purpose far outperformed the competition. A simple question can reveal if you’re doing meaningful work: “What is the impact of the work I’m about to do?”

Delegate generously

The Royal Bank of Canada focused on expectations during their 2005 turnaround. Before this, Canada’s largest bank was structurally and financially lagging. Decision-making was sluggish, and collaboration between business units was rare. One of their first steps was setting concrete expectations for all business units, establishing joint goals to meet organization-wide objectives. These changes, along with embracing challenges through a transparent accountability system, dramatically improved RBC’s focus and financial performance. Effective delegation involves setting your team up for success through clear, cascading goals and defined roles and responsibilities, which can be rapidly shifted to exploit opportunities or adapt to real-world challenges.

Connecting purpose, building trust, and powering delegated decision making with The Fighter Pilot Debrief

Our Debriefing tool, “ORCA,” is a simple four-step process that links your expectations or goals (Objective) with your Results today, inviting challenge from the group to identify the cause of any discrepancies. Understanding the cause allows us to take small actions individually to adjust our approach and accelerate our business. Imagine the impact of one small win or adjustment each day from every person in your organization—compounded daily, it’s profound.

The Fighter Pilot Mindset℠ we bring to Debriefing, which we call “Nameless and Rankless,” fosters radically open and honest conversations. It’s designed to work alongside the traditional hierarchies in an organization, creating a safe space for everyone to reflect on their own and the team’s goals and performance.

Oxytocin is a “free hit” of energy and motivation. It bonds your team together, making the workplace a more enjoyable and productive environment. It doesn’t release by accident; intention is crucial. Debriefing is the perfect tool and mindset to help you bond as a team and unlock the full potential of the “Love Drug”.