If you’ve been seeking answers to the question of how to build the most effective and happy teams, “Primal Teams” by Jackie Barretta is a great place to start, whether or not you currently own a business.

It’s packed so full of useful information, references to studies, examples, and well thought through analysis, that you’ll get a very fleshed-out version of how to help the people you work with achieve great results.

The idea is that by tapping into the primal emotions of your team members, you will be able to inspire them to achieve great things.

Outlining everything Jackie reveals would literally take a book, so, for the purposes of expediency, I’ve only reviewed the first couple of chapters, hoping to give you a knowledge base you can build on, and of course to encourage you to read the rest of the book, which truly did inspire me!

Even if you can just internalize these few tips and techniques you’ll be on the right path to building happy, creative and inspired teams.

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of the book, enter the giveaway below, otherwise keep reading.

Primal Teams Book Giveaway

But first, some background information and a bit of context.

Who is Jackie Barretta?

Jackie BarrettaJackie Barretta has a 25-year history as a successful Fortune 500 C-level executive and Big Four consultant in the Information Technology industry. She has led large organizations with hundreds of employees through challenging times and major transformations. She is a founding partner of Nura Group, a consulting firm dedicated to enhancing team innovation and performance and specializes in defining the super-energy of elite teams and helping organizations create it in their own teams.

I want to start a small business—is Primal Teams for me?

At the outset I wondered the same thing. So many of our Bplans readers are solopreneurs or only have a few employees. Before offering the book as a giveaway I thought it best to check in with Jackie to find out  the answer this exact question. Below you will find her answer to this question and a couple of others:

1. Is this book relevant to me, or is it just suited to those running large organizations?

Smaller companies are just as interested [in team dynamics]. And one thing I find for sure is that more startup type organizations—especially where you’re trying to bring something to market that’s new and different—need to have a lot of creativity. And a lot of innovation.

Underlying everything that I talk about is the fact that teams need to be more creative everywhere, not just if they’re a startup, but really anywhere they need to be more creative.

The entire book is centered around this question: how do you get teams to think more creatively?

2. Should I read this book before I start my business or only once I’ve had a go at running a business?

It’s applicable to entrepreneurs and managers in both phases. For small and large companies alike.

One of the things you’d want to look at if you’re starting a business is the make-up of your team. Another major thing is emotional energy in a team. What creates that is hiring the right people. Often we don’t really have the opportunity to bring in the right people that have that energy, that are going to work well together and create that special bond. But when you do have the ability to create that from the beginning and be mindful about what kind of people you’re hiring and their emotional energy, that’s really beneficial. I think as much as you can be prepared with this kind of knowledge, the better off you are.

3. Does the advice, and do the techniques mentioned in the book apply to every industry?

I find that in general all industries have a need to be more creative.

One of the studies that I like to cite in my book, as well as when I’m speaking, is one that was done by IBM in 2010. They asked CEOs all across the globe, “What is the number one thing your teams need to do or need to have in order to be more successful in the future?” The majority of those CEOs responded, “creativity.”

They basically said: Our companies are faced with situations every day that are new and different. So, our customers have become more demanding, we’re operating in markets that have new government regulations, we have so much data being thrown at people, we can’t even decipher all of it.

Again, they’re just very, very challenging situations. And, this is CEOs speaking from every industry. They’re saying that the number one thing they need to do in order to really be successful in these kinds of environments is to create people that can adapt and solve problems on the go.

They have to be so fast on their feet. Teams have to react so quickly to customers’ needs that there’s not enough time for a team member to kind of float the idea or float the problem all the way to the top of the company and get an answer and then have it come back down again. They have to be able to come up with solutions, right there on their feet. All levels of the organization need to have the ability to be more creative.

And really, that’s what it’s all about. Below you will find a series of quotations, tips and techniques, all taken from Primal Teams. If you have any questions about the book, please leave a comment and we will do our best to answer it, or to find out more from Jackie.

Creativity is ground rule number one


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Open the book and you’ll see we get right down to brass tacks. At the core of everything is creativity.

“The success of an organization depends on those key moments when teams develop creative ways to provide greater value to customers and perform more efficiently in increasingly demanding situations. Too often, a team under pressure falls prey to negative emotions like fear and anxiety and formulates an unimaginative solution that barely gets the job done, takes an eternity to implement, and requires constant repair.”

Before you begin working through the techniques mentioned in the book, the first thing you’re going to need to do is maximize your team’s potential for creativity. Jackie says, “you must instill creativity at every level.” And the fastest way to do this is to draw on positive emotions.

“Most businesses today focus intently on enabling data-based decisions and streamlining their processes, but these tactics will never spark the creativity needed to get and stay ahead of the competition. Creativity and innovation require the right state of mind.”

The question then is how do you actually get your teams to take a more creative approach to the things they do? What kind of methods can you—the team leader—employ to help accomplish this?

1. First, apply positivity and tap into appropriate levels of arousal

Remember, the reason you’re doing this is to reshape people’s emotions. After all, you can’t force someone to be creative if they are unhappy. Creativity comes most easily when people feel relaxed and at ease.

“Primal team leaders take specific steps to help people experience the appropriate levels of arousal and the optimal level of positive emotions because they know that such a state releases the utmost creativity. They pay close attention to the emotions running through their team, and whenever necessary, they take sure steps to reshape less than optimal emotions. While they can’t force an individual or team to think creatively, they can help them open the door for creativity.”

The techniques and methods mentioned in this book all contribute toward making creativity a more natural part of everyday ongoings in the work environment. Read on to find out more, and, if you get some time, take a look at Jackie’s blog. It’s packed full of additional, useful little tips that you can quickly action.

2. Get into the habit of drawing on “heartfelt emotion”

Drawing on your own, genuine emotions doesn’t just keep things positive. Ultimately it deepens the impact of positive interactions. Creativity is going to come that much more easily.

“Strong heartfelt emotions can halt our rational mental processes and connect us to people in a much more profound way than relatively mild feelings, such as relief or satisfaction or thankfulness. Heartfelt emotions make our hearts sing, and they set fire to our cognitive and perceptual abilities – traits that every business prizes.”

It seems obvious—at least to me—that heartfelt emotion should create more positive feelings and therefore drive creativity but truthfully, few of the companies I’ve worked for have taken this approach, most likely out of ignorance.

“When team members experience heartfelt emotion, their creative ability ratchets up a notch. That’s why primal team leaders try to deepen team emotion.”

Have you ever worked for someone who exhibited such heartfelt emotions?

3. You’re going to need to do the unthinkable…

Jackie puts it perfectly, “explode the myth of the happy workplace,” because the truth is, you can’t make everybody happy. If you labor under the illusion that you can, you’re only going to disappoint yourself. Everybody wants different things.

“…leaders should not try to achieve happiness in a whole team or organization. Rather, they should concentrate on simply optimizing the more primal emotions we all share, such as playfulness, and the desire for new experiences. These emotions arise from the lower regions of our brain…and get passed along naturally. They exist regardless of our unique experiences…Happiness may mean different things to different people, but optimal heartfelt emotions don’t.”

As emotional beings, we still respond best to emotional interactions. Hardly a surprise. But, in the business world, we often still perpetuate the myth that leading by logic and reason is best.

“Those leaders who practice the lead-by-logic approach mistakenly believe that reason drives emotion. In fact…you can more effectively create the state of mind you desire by working directly with emotion.”

The takeaway then? Lead by tapping into primal emotions.

Do you think leading by logic or emotion is best?

4. Take time to revel in the good things

Or, as Jackie says, “let the good feelings roll.”

“The inclination to ordinize events comes so naturally to us that we seldom give it a second thought. Primal leaders understand this human tendency and look for opportunities to encourage a team to revel in the joy of accomplishment. When your team does something wonderful: rejoice…celebrate…exclaim!”

Our customer service team at Palo Alto Software does just this. Team leader Teri Epperly seems to know exactly how to strike the balance between work and play and is very good at stepping aside to let her team have a bit of fun. While they’re working hard 95 percent of the time, you can often hear them all the way across the office, dissolving into laughter, pulling out nerf guns and just generally having fun. We don’t have table tennis, or a rock climbing wall, but that hasn’t stopped anyone and I can always tell that the customer service team has the most fun by far! All it takes is a little laughter, a manager that understands the need for such an outlet, and a chance to revel in the good times!

Learn to shift, or help your team shift into an optimal emotional state by learning emotional self-management techniques. If fear and negativity have consumed a team, no amount of cold, hard logic can undo it. To raise morale you have to learn to channel positive emotions first—ultimately to override the negative feelings.

This brings us to the next technique you should master: the art of shifting emotions at the source.

If creativity is ground rule one, shifting emotions at their source is number two. But, how to do it?


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In this section, we will cover a few things you can do to build optimal emotions amongst your team in order to boost drive. What it comes down to is really finding a way to motivate people at a deeper level. You can shift into these positive, heartfelt emotions by knowing some of the techniques that make it that much easier.

1. Welcome laughter and play to boost energy

An easy way to move emotions into the more positive realm is to bring real joy back into the workplace. And what better way to do so than by tapping into the things we enjoy doing, and our natural responses to those things.

According to Jackie, “Vigorous play and joyous laughter can quickly revitalize energy and create more vigor for work in the whole team. Rather than waiting until a team reaches burnout to pep them back up, primal leaders incorporate play and laughter into their daily leadership practices.”

Do you ever do anything that has the power to rapidly turn your emotions around? Can you think of a way to apply this to others?

2. Remember, it seriously is all about the chase

When it comes down to happiness and energy, don’t think you have to provide a constant slew of rewards for a job well done. Sometimes, the real reward really is in the journey.

“Jaak Panksepp’s research indicates that we get a bigger thrill from the chase than from the capture. The very act of chasing, seeking, or pursuing the wild boar motivates us much more powerfully than cooking and eating it.”

“You get a thrill out of pursuing or seeking a goal, but once you achieve it, it doesn’t seem so attractive. What does this mean for the team leader? First, you should bear in mind the extreme pleasure people derive from activating their seeking emotional system…when a stimulus arouses our seeking system, it activates our frontal neocortex, prompting us to work out innovative strategies and solutions.”

What does this mean for you as a team leader? It’s an easier solution than you might think. It means use novelty to motivate.

3. It also means it’s about new chases!

“Now this is the cool part: when a stimulus arouses our seeking system, it activates our frontal neocortex, prompting us to work out innovative strategies and solutions. Logic doesn’t make us do that; emotions do. The brain’s neocortex, the source of our human analytical intellect, serves our emotions, not vice versa. A team that embarks on an exciting new journey not only feels strongly motivated to succeed but also works smarter. When our seeking system comes to the party, we feel as though we can accomplish anything. Negativity evaporates; fear takes a vacation. We feel confident we can conquer the world.”

A fairly easy way to create novelty within your team is to switch up their responsibilities.

“If I took charge of a team working at a warehouse, I’d try to keep people fresh by periodically shifting their responsibilities. I’d transfer Don from driving a forklift to running the shipping/receiving desk and move shipment expediter Tom into that slot. The change of scenery and routine will spark a little more energy. Yes, each much learn a new role, but learning itself fulfills the appetite for seeking novelty, and the extra enthusiasm sparked by doing something new should more than make up for any loss of productivity caused by traveling the learning curve and getting up to speed in a new job.”

Another thing you can do is give people opportunities to get involved in improving company processes. This is a good idea if you don’t feel like there’s a huge amount of variation in roles and it still gives them an opportunity to do new and different work.

4. Start organizing work in creative cycles

Just as the movie industry has phases—choosing actors and building the set, followed by shooting, editing, and so on—so too should the way you work.

This “project style” system of accomplishing a task makes things more interesting and allows people to switch things up so they don’t get bored. They’re not simply doing one thing the whole time.

This is yet another great way to keep things fresh as members of a group or team don’t have time to get bored.

5. Get real about play time

Playing for the fun of it is a good way to reduce stress. It also keeps people feeling positive and alert, “It fuels the seeking system ensuring keen motivation and emotional resilience.”

But, it’s not just any type of play. It’s about the type of play that doesn’t leave you feeling exhausted. The play that energizes and doesn’t sap your energy. And, most importantly, it’s not about winning. In fact, the most competitive players can actually do more harm than good. It’s pretty important to get everyone to realize that it’s not about winning but about having fun.

“The most effective type of play involves physical repetitive actions with certain variations, such as throwing or batting, that challenge us enough to attract and hold our interest but that do not overly tax our minds and bodies, as training for a marathon does. Ideal play should enhance rather than sap our energy. Contrary to the old cliche, winning is not everything. The mere act of playing the game for the sheer fun of it, without excessive pressure to win, is everything.”

Also, be careful about turning work into play—for example by giving a team member a day off because they were the first to do something. This can have the opposite effect as there are clear winners and losers.

Gamification techniques also rarely qualify as play—awarding points or badges for problems solved or new ideas.

“Even though optimal play does involve multiple players it should not prompt competition for rewards, achievement or status. For optimal play to work its magic, the strongest players should willingly handicap themselves to make sure everyone can enjoy playing on a level field. When the strongest players don’t exhibit this kind of reciprocity, the fun drains out of the game for the other players.”

The best thing to do is to keep things casual—don’t create too much structure, be spontaneous and remember that “playing” is as important to adults as it is to children.

Keep going!

I’ve only given you a very brief glimpse into Jackie Barretta’s book and what it takes to create a primal team. Other great topics we haven’t even begun to get into—but that the book covers in depth—include:

  • Processing fear and negativity
  • Spreading coherence in a team
  • Detecting emotions
  • Connecting to a deeper purpose
  • Activating insight and intuition
  • Building emotional bonds
  • Restraining runaway egos

If you’d like to find out more, you can download the first chapter of the book or enter the giveaway above. We have five copies to hand out to anyone based in the USA.

AvatarCandice Landau

Candice is a freelance writer, jeweler, and digital marketing hybrid.