The team with three brains

James Thornton in “You Have Three Brains” for reports on research by Paul D Maclean on the ‘triune’ brain. Apparently Maclean’s research suggests that we each have, not one but, three brains nested within our skulls – a lizard brain, a dog brain, and a human brain. This research got me thinking – if teams are really living systems then they might have 3 brains too?

The Evolution of the different brains

The lizard brain evolved first – it is very small and just controls the basics such as breathing, vision and bodily movements and very elemental emotions such as anger or lust.

Then came the dog brain (limbic system) which grew on top of the lizard brain – and controls the basic functions (in a more advanced way) and adds in emotions such as love and loyalty.

Then finally came the human brain (neo-cortex) and with it all the sophistication with goes with language.

The brains don't have much to do with each other

James goes on to say:

“This neo-cortex is functionally semi-independent from the lizard and dog brains. That is why our experience is so odd. Consider this: language lies in the human brain, but emotions lie within the separate dog and lizard brains. So the emotions are in a different world from language entirely. Not only that, reason too lives in the new human brain while emotions live in the older brains. The lizard and dog brains are running their emotion programs while the human brain is running its thinking programs. They don’t have too much to do with each other. “

So do teams have 3 brains?

Teams would use their Lizard brain for the fast instinctive reactions.

They would use their Dog brain for all the social, relationship and networking aspects of the team.

Finally they would use their Human brain for all their planned, reasoned and strategic work.

If this is true how would it be organised?

There are two main options:

Certain team members playing certain brain roles?


The three brains being an emergent property of the team as a whole?

My sense would be the latter is much more likely.

So how many brains does your team have?

This could be a useful quick diagnostic for a team

Question 1: How many of the team brains are functioning?

Question 2: Are the team brains which are functioning working together or is one dominating the others?

A good objective for bioteaming is to create teams where all three brains are not just functioning but also working in harmony.

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Mohit (Max) Bhanabhai

Then finally came the human brain (neo-cortex) and with it all the sophistication with goes with language.
[correction not with but which goes with language]


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