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How insights from brain science help manage projects and influence change, 26th Sep 2016

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Attendees of this interactive event welcomed Carole Osterweil, a qualified project manager trained in neuroscience and psychotherapy who has managed complex change transformation in the NHS and other sectors.

Carole delivered a thought-provoking presentation about how the human brain works when faced with changing environments.  Projects always involve change and change can affect social dynamics dramatically.  Carole argued that people are not scared of change but, more specifically, people are scared of how change could affect them.

Carole explained how brain science has studied the three-part brain which she described as a combination of the primitive brain, the feeling brain and the thinking brain.  Our primitive brain focuses on survival and is unconscious of activities taking place, whilst the feeling brain is responsible for emotional actions and is partially conscious of them.  The thinking brain uses logical decision-making and it is conscious of activities taking place.

In this presentation the goal was to offer a flavour of how the brain works and provide a springboard for discussion.  Attendees were asked to share in small groups examples of situations where they had experienced the effects of the primitive and feeling brain at work.  Some examples clearly showed staff showing fear and anger when projects were being implemented in organisations.  These feelings in people clearly increase the stress within the workplace which can trigger further negative consequences such as less trust, less creativity, less effective relationships and communication, more avoidance, increase demand for data, etc…  All these elements are part of a cycle that impacts project delivery.

Carole’s mission is to make the invisible social dynamics that impact project delivery more visible as a first step.  Then, the second step will be to find solutions, and she suggested some tips to interrupt the negative cycle.  She asked the audience to discuss in groups possible ways to achieve it, but she also gave some examples.  Facilitation and dialogue was suggested, for example, by stopping unhelpful patterns and amplifying helpful patterns of behaviour.  Carole will be launching a tool that makes these dynamics more visible this autumn.   You can find out about the tool, Visible Dynamics at this link.  She has also written an article in the APM Magazine about the subject during summer 2016 and writes a blog on the subject.. For more details, please email Carole.

We will back at the University of Hertfordshire on 14th November for a exclusive student event with Vincent Hines. You can find out more here.

Maria Duncan
Committee member, APM East of England branch



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