How to leverage oxytocin to improve group dynamics
For instance, I recently invited twelve long-standing friends to a reunion. We often talk about the chemistry created by a group, but I could not help but be amazed at the energy and euphoria that emerged during the evening.
Then the year before last, I brought together sixteen people worldwide to collaborate on producing the Enough book. We worked together remotely over Zoom, yet still managed to generate a sense of well-being and strong relationships, as well as take an idea and turn it into a published book in seven months.
And in Lourdes last week, working together as an international group for a week led to a strong sense of companionship and trust, which is vital when working with disabled people.
There are common themes to these group activities. Friendships build and deepen, trust and generosity increase, the names of fellow members are more easily remembered, support and compassion come to the fore and stress and anxiety decrease.
If you were to look inside yourself, you would see lower blood pressure, an increased pain threshold, and falling levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”).
The external effects are a result of the internal changes in each member of the group. However, it must be the coming together of the group in the first place that triggers the internal effects. If I wanted a neuroscientific explanation, I would point to oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone”, which plays a role as a form of social cement.
In fact, oxytocin is a neurotransmitter. It is produced in the pituitary gland and works by acting on the amygdala, the part of the brain that governs emotions, motivation and the continuation of the species. Indeed, the name “oxytocin” derives from the ancient Greek word for “fast birth” because of its role in triggering contractions.
Stimulate oxytocin to build a high-performing group.
And here is why a group (even a group of two) tends to be far more productive than working alone. It is not surprising when you look at the impact of oxytocin on our feelings and well-being, let alone on the chemical’s role as a social cement.
So if you are working in or leading a group intent on creating change and making an impact, consider how you can enhance the flow of oxytocin within the group. Here are a few tried and tested methods of getting a group to work together
- Take time to introduce members of the group to each other
- Let members tell their stories
- Define a clear goal
- Ask others to contribute their knowledge and skills
- Take time out for social activities where group members can get to know each other.
You have probably experienced some of these techniques during your lifetime. It is easy to scoff, but they work because they stimulate the production of oxytocin and enhance group dynamics.
Brann, Amy. Neuroscience for Coaches : How to Use the Latest Insights for the Benefit of Your Clients. London, Koganpage, 2014.
Deedes, Jeremy. Enough: Unlock a Life of Abundance Starting Right Where You Are. Melbourne, The Right Company Press, 28 Oct. 2021.
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