What does it take to build an effective, motivated team that pulls together through thick and thin, good times and bad?  What does an effective team look like?  What are some of the signs that the team you’re working with is a small “t” team or a capital “T” TEAM?   Training, Recognition, Empowerment; all crucial ingredients in building a great team; but at the most basic level, great teams start with Trust, Empathy, and Happiness.

Simon Sinek, in his book Leader’s Eat Last, explores the basis of what makes some teams great while others fail to make progress.  He explores the chemical responses that drive all of our group interactions, from the earliest primal gatherings to the modern boardroom.  In his view, it’s our biology that sets the stage for our group interactions, and ultimately leads to our success or failure.

Fear is the opposite of happiness.  Fear of punishment, reprisal, judgment or failure; we all know that sinking feeling we get when we’re afraid. The stress hormone cortisol is at work in situations where we’re afraid, or “stressed out.”  At a fundamental level, cortisol prepares us to react to danger; real or perceived, physical or emotional.

On the other side of the equation, we have oxytocin and serotonin. Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone; research has shown that oxytocin has an anti-anxiety effect and is responsible for our attachment to others. Oxytocin builds over time, it helps us build stronger networks of safety and trust.  Serotonin is known as the leadership chemical, it’s the pride we feel when our teammates receive recognition, it makes us want to serve the people we are accountable for.

Enough biochemistry; you’re probably asking, “What does this mean to me?”  I think the following sums it up, “If you starve your employees they will eat your customers.”  As leaders we need to find ways to build genuine trust and commitment to each other and our teams.  I once had a boss who told me that when work stopped being fun it was time to find something new. He was telling me that happiness and fun at work makes work less “worky.”

Bringing the fun and building trust are two of the most important things we can do as leaders; it’s what we all need so we can do great work.  Stephen Colbert summed it up best: “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.  If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”  Customers know when you’re genuinely happy and engaged at work, and they’ll keep coming back to people that make them feel welcome. They like oxytocin, too!

Ask yourself, “What can I do to bring fun to my team today?”

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