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  • Writer's pictureSam Rockey

Making Coming Back to the Office Together More Effective.

5 Insights Powered by Science…….and Common Sense

Last week we had the good fortune of working with a team of fifty people in person. It was a dizzying experience – largely because most of us had forgotten how exciting it is to connect with our fellow human beings in real life, and how joyous it is to have a conversation without having one’s own face looking back on a screen. It was also an opportunity to test out in real time the ideas from our upcoming book ‘The Social Brain’. Drawing on Professor Robin Dunbar’s many years of research about how social groups operate most effectively and what we have experienced in practice over many decades of leadership development – we focused in on five techniques to make our face to face time together meaningful, energised and efficient. · Eating Together. Convening a group of people to come together to eat and drink is one of the most efficient methods of bonding. The act of sharing a meal releases endorphins (endorphins are rather miraculous as hormones go as they work to reduce stress and anxiety) which in turn creates connection and positive energy. Endorphins have a shelf life of about 30 minutes, so during that time fellow diners will feel well disposed and connected to each other. Beginning a team get together with a meal (and not as a reward after a day’s work) is a time saver. Connections are fast-tracked and goodwill enhanced in preparation for a productive day. · Walk-Shops not Workshops. The synchrony involved in walking and talking together is another effective way to release endorphins. The side-by-side action also releases both the listener and talker from closely observing facial responses so the pair are more easily able to traverse more difficult conversational areas. · Begin in a Circle. It may make practical sense to put people into small groups clustered around a table in a workshop or learning setting (the work to be done may indeed require a table..), but there is a reason that beginning in a circle is a fast track to connection. Having eye contact and literally ‘seeing’ each other builds trust. Being part of a circle is a marker of belonging. It is easier to engage and learn with others when there is a feeling of trust, containment and psychological safety. · Conversational Fours . Four seems to be the magic number for heartfelt and meaningful conversations where everyone can have a share of voice. This number constraint is directly related to our mentalising capability. Most of us are able to mentalise (to think what others are thinking about others) up to an order of 5 (and that includes ourselves). This is heavy computational work and our brains simply aren’t big enough for more than five orders of intentionality. For meaningful conversations to take place, groups shouldn’t be larger than four. For brainstorming and idea generation ‘more is more’ as long as there is structure and expert facilitation. Understanding team size against outcome is a key part of effective workshop design.

· Learning Space . The nature of the space in which we work or learn together contributes powerfully to outcomes. Dr Shelley James, for example, has shown a strong connection between the quality of light and learning acuity. When the shape, tone and ethos of the place is designed to mirror the work to be done, a somatic response is produced which supports the process. It is difficult to coach in a busy coffee shop and equally it is difficult to feel fully energised and creative in a basement.

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