[Article] Why leaders need to work in teams

You may have read a previous article I wrote about the SCARF model. I wrote it very much as a leaders’ guide to the model and focused on what leaders can do to maintain the elements of the model for their teams.

The SCARF model (developed by David Rock) is based in neuroscience. It defines the key requirements for keeping the human brain in Reward mode and out of Threat mode. Most leaders are happy with the idea that their people respond best when provided with opportunities for






It’s simply a bonus that we know the model is backed up by leading–edge science.

Of course, when faced with the model and evaluating it against our own personal experience, it’s not surprising that we like the discovery that it matches with our own thoughts. This, after all, provides us with Certainty (we were right). That increases our Status (in our own eyes, at least) and shows that we are worthy of our Autonomy. Discussion with other leaders who also relate to the model increases our sense of Relatedness. Good job all round!

There are also different behavioural and psychological consequences associated with threat and reward:

Threat leads to:

  • Reduced working memory
  • Narrower field of view
  • Generalising of threat
  • Greater pessimism


Reward leads to:

  • Greater cognitive resources
  • More insights
  • Increased ideas for action
  • Fewer perceptual errors
  • Wider field of view


The focus of this piece is how, as leaders, we can use the SCARF model to maintain our own performance. I started thinking about this after I wrote the first piece. It was easy to give guidance for leaders on how to keep their people in Reward mode. Then I started to think, well, if the leader is the main influence on whether the people are in Reward mode or Threat mode, what is the main influence on how the leader behaves?

Of course, whether the leader is in Reward mode or Threat mode will massively affect their ability to behave in ways consistent with keeping the team in Reward mode. If the CEO has announced a big re-structure of the company and you’re worried about your position, your Status and Autonomy are under threat and your sense of Fairness is being challenged. You may feel less Relatedness to others around you as you fall into competition for new roles and any Certainty you once had is rapidly ebbing away. Your brain slips into Threat mode.

Your job now is to impart the news to the team in a way that keeps their Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness intact!

It’s a lot to ask. To succeed in this important leadership task, you really need all your cognitive resources, you need more insights, lots of ideas for action, accurate perceptions and a good overview. Instead you’ve got reduced working memory, and you’re struggling to keep track of the discussion. Your field of view is constrained and you have an awful feeling of doom. You know that if you mess this up it could count against you in the re-structuring and that only increases the feeling of Threat.

What can you do?

In an ideal world, you’d have a CEO or Director as your boss who understood this important bit of neuroscience and did their bit to keep all the leaders in Reward mode.

Most of us don’t live in an ideal world!

This is why we need to be part of a Leadership Team. A well-functioning Leadership team creates a strong sense of Relatedness. It supports every member’s Status within the team and provides an element of Certainty whatever might be going on around you. So in tough times, the leadership team meeting is important, not just to agree a common approach to difficult tasks, but as a means of keeping the individual leaders in Reward mode and better able to carry out their leadership roles.

A well-functioning Leadership team is essential to the well-being of every organisation because it keeps the Leaders in Reward mode. Which makes it easy for them to keep their people in Reward mode. Which means better customer service, more creativity, more accuracy of work.

What do you think

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.