The neuroscience of agile leadership & teams – Jenni Jepsen

Jenni Jepsen  talks about how neuroscience can support successful transformations to Agile, and is currently working on a book about how to apply knowledge about the brain to help people shift to a more Agile mindset.

She starts by telling us that thinking happens in our Prefrontal cortex but needs things to be just right to work, not stressed, hungry or tired. The problem is we tend to use the Limbic system more. This is more the reactive part of the brain that contains long term memory, remembers old habits, rewards, pleasure, fear, prejudice.

When someone asks you “Can I give you some feedback”, this sentence causes the same chemical release as seeing a bear and needing to run.IMG_2307
The more stress you have the more performance will go down.
The Prefrontal cortex is focussed, organised, responsible if it is working if not the person becomes distracted, forgetful, bored. This is due to the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine being released.

You may need to support and encourage people to high performance or sometimes need to create a little stress. To work optimally you need to have NE and DE at the right levels.
Having an overview and just in time planning is agile. No plan is chaos which means stress!

The Limbic system can strengthens negative connections and that person will see world more negatively. If your stressed state last for 2 weeks, you will need 2 weeks to recover. If this stress lasts long term, your brain actually changes. Then you will need to focus on the positive to be able to bring people back to the ‘normal’ level, but this takes time. Naturally the brain has 5x more negative connections than positive.

People are more willing to take risks, accept uncertainty when the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is working. If you need craftsmanship, this  pushes you towards the PFC. The PFC is required for the great ideas.

How can we keep utilising the PFC
– Planning for uncertainty creates certainty
– Need pride in the work
– Need to be able to influence in your work
– Teams breaks down work and plan it – This brings autonomy
– Teams create connection – needed for people
– And creates fairness with the backlog and prioritisation

When you get a gut feeling, this is the brain recognising patterns, giving you that feeling but it doesn’t tell you why it’s making you feel this way.

Change for the brain is novel. The first time you see something it may be scary so warns you to back away. This means that humans will resist change and have lack of understanding of why they would want to change. They want to know what’s in it for me. If you help them to break down the change into small pieces this helps the brain to calm down. Run one experiment at a time, making sure that you involve and engage people. It is a lot easier for people to get on board with an idea, they may not agree but this is easier than for them to change.

If you get feedback you need to say thank you for the feedback and eventually you will condition yourself to find it not a bad thing.

There is a gene marker for stress! Work with people, empathise with them, give feedback, and then re-frame the situation (make positive). Jenni’s dad bought a new wallet at the airport and transferred money from the old one into the new one. Whilst doing this he left €20 on the side and got quite upset with himself for being so silly that he had managed to do this. You need to empathise, saying that it’s not great that he left the money behind, but wow, think about the person who found it. It must have made their day, maybe even their week. Re-frame the situation to be positive and this makes people less stressed.


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