How to spot a successful team – Tara Swart

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Tara Swart

From Forbes

In this post, I’d like to return again to my Organizational Plasticity Index (OPI), introduced in my post “Why Business Is Like The Brain.” We’ve already expanded on one aspect of the model, and here, I’d like to explore another, synaptic connection, which equates to the systemic organization of the relationships and communication channels within a business.  The OPI model that compares businesses to the brain, using key aspects of brain function as a metaphor to help make sense of the healthy, or dysfunctional, running of a business. The model is useful because it helps me work with clients to identify the unseen “pathways” within their business that go beyond chain of command diagrams, workflow models, and mission statements. The OPI rating helps me to measure the long-term resilience of the businesses I work with.

The “synaptic connections” within a business relate to the way relationships function: both linear and lateral; hierarchical and “official” and informal. If I were to map these out, they would appear more like constellations or complex webs of connections than hierarchical family trees. The more closely I have studied these connection-maps, the more I became convinced that they mimic the similar lattices and asymmetrical cross-hatching of connections that appear between neurons in the brain. The similarity is uncanny.

At the moment, this complexity is compounded by the incoming and fast-evolving impact of AI on teams, and the fact that managers must now evolve to manage teams that marry AI and human roles and expertise. This requires a sophisticated combination of computational thinking and a manager’s most human qualities: emotional intelligence, intuition and creativity.

When I attempt to “map” the synaptic connections in any business, it immediately becomes apparent that some departments and roles are more comprehensively ‘connected’ than others. This is likely to be a consequence of necessity, precedent and individual and team personalities. It’s an evolving picture, of course, and at times, the breakdown of a key connection (let’s say the marketing and sales director fall out), will have a host of ripple-effect consequences, strengthening allegiances lower down, creating back-channels for communication and potentially leading to fissures elsewhere in the business.

When mapping the synaptic connections, it’s important to think of the way individuals function within “units” or groups of people. All units are made up of people that group together to perform certain functions, much like the whole brain is made up of neurons and glial cells that group together to perform certain functions. Some of these groupings are process driven and have been set out in the chain of command. Others are less “visible” in HR terms, but still, are crucial to identify in order to understand the organism of the organization as a whole.

Read the full piece at Forbes.

Tara Swart is an executive leadership coach, medical doctor, neuroscientist and frequent keynote speaker. 

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