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  • Toby Sinclair

Summary: The Social Brain by Tracey Camilleri, Samantha Rockey, Robin Dunbar


📚 Should You Read This?

👋 Hey - I'm Toby. This summary wasn't written by AI. I'm a real leader, managing teams in large organisations. I read to solve tough problems. I share book summaries weekly to help other leaders tackle scary challenges.

Toby's Rating: 7/10

Everyone is obsessed with High-Performing teams. Rightly so. They deliver great business outcomes and they are also enjoyable to be a part of. The Social Brain provides research and case studies to validate why social teams are the best teams. A practical and engaging read for anyone involved in organisational design and managing teams.


✅ Toby's Top Takeaway from The Social Brain

I don't trust you

Our team has been together for several months. Feedback from teams we manage and clients is positive. In our minds, we are the definition of a high-performing team.

Today is our quarterly offsite. We met to plan our OKRs and bond as a team. We have an external facilitator helping us reflect on our team performance.

What came next, we didn't expect.

The activity is simple.

Try it yourself. 

Picture yourself in the room, with your current team members, what would you do?

The activity:

I want you to walk over to the person in the room you trust the least. Share the reasons why and discuss actions you can take to change it.

We all froze in our seats.

The lesson.

If trust had been higher, we would have felt comfortable to share feedback. We would have trusted our ability to deliver the feedback, and the feedback would have been received with respect.

In the resulting team discussion, we shared: Why didn't we move?

A common theme. We couldn't articulate what trust is. So we were not entirely sure if we did trust each other.

How would you describe trust?

This week I finished The Social Brain. Fascinating book about the psychology of successful groups.

It stated the obvious, Trust is essential.

What helped most, is that it described the observable ingredients of Trust.

Trust is cultivated through:

  • Consistent behaviour

  • Obligation and reciprocity

  • Common ground and shared values

  • Matching words with deeds

  • Self-disclosure

  • Quiet confidence

Knowing this now, I would have been better prepared to stand up.

To share with a colleague how our trust could be improved.

  • Lately, your behaviour has not been consistent. You have done X, Y, Z.

  • I did X for you, I was expecting you to return with Y

  • I heard you say X, but you ended up doing Y

Now it's your turn. 

Reach out to the person you trust the least in your team.

Give the feedback that will take your performance to the next level.

💡 3 Big Ideas from The Social Brain

Big Idea 1 - The Six Integral Elements For Achieving Both Group Performance And Overall Well-being.

Social connection is fundamental to human well-being and productivity. The Social Brain explains that our brains are wired to form social bonds, which are crucial for both individual and group success. Leaders can harness this understanding by fostering an environment where team members feel connected and valued. There are six factors leaders should focus on to improve team performance and well-being.

The Social Brain - The Thrive Model

Big Idea 2 - The Role of Trust and Empathy

Trust and empathy are the cornerstones of successful teams. The authors highlight that trust reduces stress and promotes a sense of security, while empathy helps in understanding and addressing team members' needs and concerns. Leaders should focus on building trust by being transparent, and consistent, and showing genuine concern for their team’s well-being. Empathy can be cultivated through active listening and providing support during challenging times.

The Social Brain Parameters of Trust

Big Idea 3 - Optimal Group Size and Dynamics

The author, Robin Dunbar is famous for his research around the "Dunbar's Number," which suggests that humans can maintain stable social relationships with around 150 people. For leaders, this means recognising the limits of group size to maintain effective communication and cohesion. Smaller, well-structured teams tend to perform better as they allow for stronger bonds and clearer communication. Leaders should aim to create sub-groups within larger teams to maintain this optimal dynamic.

The Social Brain Team Sizes


💬 Best Quotes from The Social Brain

Pitch Anything Big Idea

"Our brains are hardwired for social connection; it’s the bedrock of human experience and essential for effective teamwork."
"Trust is the currency of any successful group; without it, collaboration falters."
"Empathy is not just a nice-to-have in teams, but a critical component of understanding and responding to the needs of others."
"The optimal size of a group is one that allows for personal connections and clear communication, typically around 150 people."
"Leaders who understand the social brain can better navigate the complexities of group dynamics and drive their teams to success."

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