Running a tech company means you’re probably thinking about OKRs, MVPs and your P&L. But are you thinking about your PFC? Chances are the answer is no. But perhaps you should…

  • Do you employ technical experts and other knowledge workers?
  • If they were always able to do their best thinking would that create business success?


Well, this is where the PFC comes in. Your prefrontal cortex [PFC for short] is the executive functioning part of your brain that allows you to do your best thinking. Your PFC gives you the the ability to:

  • collaborate and co-create with other people
  • think creatively and have insights
  • problem solve
  • juggle multiple priorities
  • reflect, consider and make informed decisions

Your team is making decisions all the time, decisions that impact your business. So, it’s important to understand where those decisions are coming from. If it’s not from a fully connected PFC, then your team and your business is in trouble.

Furthermore, to simply function well in an fast paced agile tech company we need our PFC to help us:

  • focus our attention and zone out distraction
  • context switch between multiple tasks
  • plan for the future by anticipating the consequences of our actions
  • regulate our emotions and choose appropriate behaviour. 

So, let’s take a closer look at the prefrontal cortex and how it works.

A fussy part of our brain that likes balance

The PFC has been described as a fussy part of the brain; it needs a certain level of stimulus to function fully, but can quickly become overwhelmed and shut down. When we are bored and disengaged the level of neurochemicals released by our brain simply isn’t enough to fire optimal usage of our PFC. 

However, when stressed, under pressure or working outside of our comfort zone the neurochemicals released can overbalance the PFC. At a certain point these chemicals shut off access to our PFC. Which means we can’t do our best thinking or work effectively.

What happens when we cannot access our PFC?

Without access to our PFC we move into protection mode which means we are less empathetic and socially minded. We become focused on convincing others we are right, rather than listening; and on protecting our turf. 

Without full access to our PFC:

  • our perception narrows and we make more errors  
  • our IQ drops
  • we become more reactionary
  • we focus on negatives
  • we revert back to habitual and automatic, so our best intentions can go out the window. 

Do you recognise any of these behaviours in yourself or others? Can you identify the situations where you witnessed these behaviours?

Common situations in tech companies that can be challenging

There are lots of things that make rapidly growing fast paced tech companies challenging for our brains and raise the possibility that access to your PFC might be limited. Do you recognise any of these:

  • Rapid growth brings change in team structures, membership, roles and responsibilities
  • New managers and leaders may struggle to step from doer to leader, creating difficulties within the teams they lead
  • Investors seeking fast return on investment will look to project teams to deliver results quickly and efficiently
  • Complex issues and innovative offers at the leading edge of technological change will ask teams to work cross functionally and to solve problems that may not have been solved before

You may have hired the best experts, but if the culture, the way they are managed and their work environment is triggering a stress response, you are not getting the best return on your investment.

Old ways of working don’t work

In the past the key to business success was efficiency and compliance. The leader was often the expert and trained their teams to follow the most optimal processes steps without deviation. Profitability and market edge came from faster and more cost efficient production.

Today efficient processes and standard operating procedures are still important, but they have been superseded by the ability to rapidly learn and apply new thinking through interdisciplinary collaboration, problem solving and innovation.

The successful leader now delivers a competitive edge by their ability to create high trust environments that support inter-team cooperation.

Nowhere is this more true than in a scaling tech company.

Technical skills are not enough

Our cognitive ability heavily relies on the healthy functioning of the prefrontal cortex. Companies that focus solely on technical skills development are missing out on the benefits that effective brain friendly people skills bring.

So how can we work in a way that supports your people’s ability to access our PFC?

Two things you can do:

  1. For individuals – boost self-awareness and a basic understanding of the brain
  2. For your leaders – develop brain friendly leadership skills

1: Boost self awareness

Self-awareness might surprise you, but it is the No 1 people skill for your tech business.

By helping your people understand their brain and have greater self awareness you can support their ability to:

  • recognise their stress triggers and how to self-regulate
  • recognise cognitive bias and unlock better decision making
  • understand the key aspects of focus and how to better manage their attention
  • understand the impact their communication has on other
  • build connection and create a more positive social impact on others
  • Innovate and unlock insights in themselves and others
  • boost memory and learning.

2: Create brain friendly leaders

Brain-friendly leadership skills are essential for all your people leaders so they can deliver strategic priorities and growth in a way that maintains engagement, collaboration and best thinking in others. By raising awareness of how the PFC functions and how to keep people fully connected to their PFC, leaders can become experts in enabling their teams to do their best thinking, no matter what pressures they are under.

Interested in learning more?

The team at Northern Value Creators are experienced in developing brain friendly leadership skills across tech companies. Our coaches make a difference through talks, workshops, coaching and training programmes. 

We’d love to start a conversation with you about how brain friendly leadership could boost your business.