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FEBI, Brain Chemistry, and the New Science of Teamwork

The New Science of Teamwork – Understanding how to meld different work styles will help you manage your team – and yourself – better.  So reads the cover of the Mar-Apr issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR).  I couldn’t have been the only person to notice this isn’t exactly new – reconciling or leveraging different personality styles on teams is well known in the assessment field and certainly to anyone who uses FEBI.  What is new is being able to connect 4 personality patterns to 4 systems of brain chemistry. Pairing Helen Fisher’s work on the neurochemistry of compatibility with models of personality traits in business, Deloitte has come up with a Brain Chemistry model of 4 work styles: Driver, Guardian, Integrator and Pioneer, that map respectively to systems for: testosterone, serotonin, estrogen/oxytocin and dopamine/norepinephrine.

In our FEBI terminology, we know these patterns as Driver, Organizer, Collaborator, and Visionary, and now we know they link not only to movement, but to specific biochemical systems.

The match between models isn’t perfect. Pioneers in the Brain Chemistry model are vested with more extroverted energy than our factor analysis would associate with Visionary, and probably represent more of a Visionary-Driver or Visionary-Collaborator style. And the HBR article distinguishes a subclass of “introverted Integrators”, which in FEBI would be the pattern combination of Organizer-Collaborator or Visionary-Collaborator. But set aside a few details and the models are remarkably close. Good to know. Given how much we value the brain in our culture, as compared with the body, one could argue that once we can connect personality to brain chemistry, there’s no need to have a FEBI model to connect it to movement, the body, and the rest of the nervous system.

Yet I would say there’s more reason than ever. First because there’s a strong tendency to label or type in the Brain Chemistry model – even though they acknowledge we all have all four chemistry systems. But, for goodness’ sake, the model is used on Match.com to find your “right type.” It’s not being used to build your agility. And the fact that two of the types are associated with hormones that are distinctly masculine and feminine lends itself to stereotyping. The truth is, our hormonal systems change throughout our lives, just as our bodies do. Typically, an 18 year-old male has more testosterone than he will have in 30 years, and a 50 year old woman has more than she had in her 20’s.  Moreover these systems are in flux as a function of habits, relationships, exercise, and the drugs we take. Yes, we seem to have enduring “preferences” among these systems, much as we have a Home pattern. And yes, it’s good to know what they are and what we’re looking for in picking a mate, much as it’s good to know our strengths in picking a career. But we don’t have to be prisoners of personality.

The second reason we still need FEBI is that it’s the physical connection of FEBI that makes it so trainable, so useful. 

No other model, including the Brain Chemistry model, can tell you how to move to be more of a Driver.  Or how to shift into Guardian/Organizer mode. FEBI can. And not only can FEBI tell you, but you can tell others, you can show others – your clients, colleagues, students, whomever.  Maybe the day will come when we’ll be able to measure how your testosterone levels spike when you enter Driver mode, or how oxytocin increases when you swing into Collaborator, and these models will be reconciled as pointing to the same truths. Even then, it will be useful to have one that lets us train the physical body to bring out the right chemical at the right time.

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Published on Mar 16 2017

Last Updated on Jun 09 2022