Better Meetings

Neurology of Meetings

How brain chemistry influences meeting culture

Douglas Ferguson
Apr 1 · 5 min read

Have you ever thought about how brain chemistry affects your workplace and performance across your teams? Of course the way our minds work impacts our effectiveness and ability to work with others. How could it not? Everyone’s brain is different. We all have unique experiences, thereby we respond to stimuli differently. We could experience the same event, yet our perception and response to it could be drastically divergent based on our unique neurological makeup.

“There are deep-seated, neurologically-based differences in our perceptions, assumptions, and selection of which stimuli we act upon and which ones we overlook.” — Karen Gordon, the CEO Magazine

This is an extremely important concept to keep in mind when it comes to working effectively with others. In order to get the best performance from each individual in a team, we must first understand that no one mind thinks alike. Secondly, it is critical to understand what drives our own impulses as well as the impulses of others in order to work cooperatively.

“When collaborating with coworkers, we must remember that people at all levels work in different capacities on different tasks, and it’s less about strengths and weaknesses than it is about identifying the areas an individual has the most energy for. This is where productive collaboration can improve, particularly in how you manage a team and build culture. By pinpointing the areas in which you and your team, staff, or managers can easily complete tasks or work together on projects (but still feel fulfilled and challenged), you can create a team environment that avoids burnout, fosters positivity and success, and offers pathways for communication between colleagues that were previously unknown.” — Karen Gordon

How does the cocktail of various brain chemicals impact how we get work done? When you have a better understanding of how the brain works, you are more skillfully equipped to design meetings that get the most out of their attendees.

Utilize Brain Science To Increase Team Collaboration

Be Inclusive

While you can’t control the way people think, there are scientifically proven ways to create the conditions necessary to foster collaboration and optimal team performance.

Brain science tells us that inclusion brings out the best in people. Being included drives trust, productivity, and collaboration with others. “Humans have a fundamental need to belong,” said Dr. Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. “Just as we have needs for food and water, we also have needs for positive and lasting relationships. This need is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history.”

Multiple peer-reviewed studies have found that the brain registers exclusion the same as it registers physical pain. “Being excluded is painful because it threatens fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem. Again and again, research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger for a short amount of time.” -Dr. Kipling Williams, Purdue University psychologist

To make your team feel included, offer ample opportunities for group cohesion, skill-building, and team development. To increase inclusion in meetings, allow all participants an equal opportunity to participate and contribute. Create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable to speak and be heard.

Pro tip: Use our Workshop Design Template for MURAL and Miro to consider everyone’s needs and maximize participant potential during your meetings.

Avoid Information Overload

Too much information delivered all at once can cause cognitive overload. Don’t overwhelm participants with too much information, too quickly. People need time to process and digest information if they are going to properly retain it. Serve meeting attendees bite-sized information. Contextualize it with a hands-on activity that allows for engaged learning and personal connections. Always be sure to debrief during and especially at the end of a meeting to make sure that everyone is on track and nobody needs further clarification.

Increase Productivity: Trigger Brain Chemicals

“Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins are the quartet responsible for our happiness. Many events can trigger these neurotransmitters, but rather than being in the passenger seat, there are ways we can intentionally cause them to flow.” -Thai Nguyen, Huffpost

Make brain chemicals work for you by intentionally stimulating them. Low dopamine levels are linked to low motivation. Increase dopamine levels in your meeting by incorporating an energizer or icebreaker for a fun blast of energy. Play uplifting music during group work sessions. Research shows that listening to music can reduce stress, increase feelings of pleasure, and improve mood.

Pro tip: JQBX is one of our favorite remote working tools at Voltage Control. It’s like a team jukebox that allows you to listen to music together with your team while working apart. Also, check out our comprehensive Design Sprint playlist to listen to while you work.

High serotonin levels are associated with confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose. They’re also crucial to combatting the stress hormone cortisol. Spike serotonin levels amongst your team by acknowledging team members’ good work. Recognition of achievement is key to creating serotonin in the body. Simply thanking your team for their work and commitment does wonders for getting the juices flowing.

Oxytocin is correlated to trust and bonding, and it reduces stress levels as well, which leads to feelings of contentment and security. Bring your team together and start your meeting with a moment of gratitude, wherein everyone shares something they’re grateful for–work-related or not. Check-in with your team during and after the meeting to see how everyone is doing. Even if no one needs anything, they’ll feel seen and taken care of knowing you’re concerned for their wellbeing.

Create Psychological Safety

Fear and anxiety can shut down the brain as people enter into fight or flight mode. Keep this in mind as you are designing your meetings. If people feel closed off, they are unable to perform at their best. In order to get all attendees optimal performance, it is crucial that they feel completely comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings in a group setting. Set ground rules at the start of a meeting to encourage a healthy environment. Let participants know that their ideas are not only welcome but essential. If an individual is speaking over other participants, gracefully remind them that the group would like to hear from everyone or simply ask “who haven’t we heard from?” Instead of putting quiet attendees on the spot by demanding their participation, invite them to join an open discussion. It can also be helpful to prompt the group with a question to consider quietly before anyone speaks, giving individuals time to think through their responses.

Intentional planning is the easiest way for you to make an immediate difference in the impact of your meeting outcomes and the experiences you deliver to your meeting participants. The use of science-backed methods will help you cater to individuals’ neurology and ultimately tease out your peak meeting performance. The more productive your meetings are, the better your team and overall business will be.

Voltage Control

Facilitation agency that helps teams work better together.

Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a facilitation agency that helps teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual.

Douglas Ferguson

Written by

Design Sprint + Innovation Workshop Facilitator | Author | Speaker | Coach | Fractional CTO/CPO

Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a facilitation agency that helps teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual.

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