“In a world of increasing interconnectedness and rapid change, there is a growing need to improve the way people work together. Understanding the true drivers of human social behavior is becoming ever more urgent in this environment.”

Humans are social beings and our brain engages with social interactions as part of our survival needs, the same we do around “survival basics” such as food and water.

“SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others” an article by David Rock notes that the two main drivers of our social behaviour are to (a) minimize threat and (b) maximize reward.  If one wants to work effectively in teams and get results, then actively working to create the ‘maximise reward’ environment can have huge benefits for effective partnerships and action.

The SCARF (see key words for the acronym below) model summarises themes that can activate threat or reward responses in social situations. They are divided into 5 main domains, namely:

Status: It is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority. The brain can link potential or real reduction of status (e.g. being left out of a group activity) as a threat response with the person withdrawing in the same way as if physically hurt (same parts of the brain are affected). A leader can increase status reward by, for example, giving positive feedback when earned.  

Certainty: The brain likes to know the pattern occurring moment to moment, so that prediction is possible. Even small inaccuracies in prediction can lead to a threat response. Increase the reward: For example, stating clear objectives at the start of a meeting or discussion.  

Autonomy: Having choices, control over your surroundings and sense of independence. Micro-management for example, can create a strong threat response by making people feel there is only way ‘right’ way to do things. Increase rewards by, for example, allowing people to organize their workspace, workflow and manage working hours.

Relatedness: Linked to trust, it is the manner of connectedness with a social group. Whether someone is “in”(friend) or “out”(foe) of the group. With a lack of safe social interactions, the threat response emerges. Increase the rewards with positive social interactions. Some examples include mentoring or coaching systems.

Fairness: Just treatment without discrimination. Unfair exchanges (e.g. pay discrepancies) result in a strong threat response whereas the rewards can be increased by examples such as increasing transparency, communications and establishing clear expectations.

Of all the above, fairness is perhaps the most important and aligned to that transparency, communications and clear expectations.

The brain unconsciously processes different social stimuli as bad (that from which you withdraw/avoid) and good (that with which you interact/engage/approach). Within working environments including planning processes each stimulus we encounter can have an impact on i.e. cognitive performance, problem solving, motivation etc. (elements which are important for us to be successful in day to day functioning in our professional lives as well as social interactions).

We would argue that planning processes, or good planning processes, should actively seek to positively enable engagement through things like positive feedback, certainty of process, autonomy in implementation, partnerships and transparent communications.  Perhaps another way of defining the key characteristics of collaborative approaches.

Full article attached here.