The role of emotional intelligence in Agile is important to understand. HelpGuide.org defines “emotional intelligence as follows:
“Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.”
“If you have high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.”
Why is that so important in an Agile environment? Because Agile relies so heavily on teamwork and open, honest, and transparent communication both within the team and with other stakeholders outside of the team.
HelpGuide.org goes on to define four key attributes associated with “emotional intelligence”:
- Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
- Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
- Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict
The easiest way to see how this impacts the performance of Agile teams is to observe the behavior of someone who has a low level of emotional intelligence. Here is an example: on an Agile team I’ve worked with, there was one particular individual who was very bright and intelligent but had a very strong and dominating personality and what I would consider a low level of emotional intelligence:
- He liked to be in control of everything and be seen as the “hero” who is leading the entire effort – there was a saying on the team that if it’s not XX’s idea, it sucks
- He was opinionated and confrontational, didn’t value other people’s perspective, and attacked other people openly in emails
- He had such a vested interest in his own ideas and proving himself “right” that he lost objectivity and wasn’t able to see different sides of a decision
How does that impact the effectiveness of an Agile team?
- It can stifle the contribution of others on the team – it’s well known that more minds can work better than one and the performance of a team is maximized when everyone on the team is fully engaged and actively contributing to decisions and the work of the team.
- It can lead to poor decisions because decisions may be biased in favor of one person’s point of view and may not objectively consider all aspects of the problem
Here’s some excellent additional reading on this subject:
How do you acquire “emotional intelligence”? I believe that the first and most important step is self-awareness – you have to be somewhat introspective and be able to look at yourself openly and honestly and also learn to be comfortable being open and transparent with others. That doesn’t come naturally to all people and requires a certain amount of self-confidence to develop. Many people have a “shell” that they operate within and that “shell” can be either thick or thin. There’s a concept that I learned a long time ago called the “Johari Window” that is still valid today. The Johari Window breaks up people’s self awareness into four quadrants:
- Open/Free Area – Personality attributes and characteristics that are known to yourself and to others
- Blind Area – Personality attributes and characteristics that are known to others but not by yourself
- Hidden Area – Personality attributes and characteristics that are known by yourself but not by others
- Unknown Area – Personality attributes and characteristics that you are not fully aware of and others are also not aware of.
Alan Chapman has created a very nice diagram that shows the relationship of these four quadrants:
People who have a high level of self-awareness and who are also open and transparent in their behavior with others have a relatively large quadrant one (Open/Free Area) and the other quadrants are relatively small. Of course, the objective of increasing your self-awareness, openness, and transparency is to increase the size of quadrant one (Open/Free Area) relative to the size of the “Blind” and “Hidden” quadrants. Another objective is to more fully develop your true potential through self-discovery of skills, attributes, and characteristics in the “Unknown” area that neither you or others you interact with are fully aware of.
Years ago, I can remember many companies made self-awareness training a key part of their management development curriculum for new managers. The principle behind that was that you couldn’t be very effective as a manager if you had a hidden personal agenda and you weren’t open and transparent in your relationships with other people. Your employees will recognize the external veneer that you put on, see right through it, and lose respect for you.
Unfortunately, over the years, many companies have cut back on that kind of training. It was perceived as too “touchy-feely” and when times got tough, it was one of the first things that got cut because it was not seen to have a direct contribution to company profitability. The relationship to company profitability may be indirect, but I think it is just as essential today for managers and even more important for people participating in Agile teams.
There are some exercises that can be done with Agile teams to develop higher levels of self awareness. For example, here’s a Johari Window self-assessment tool:
A key element for successful implementation of these exercises is creating an environment of trust where people feel comfortable with being open and honest with others in a small group. Once people have become comfortable with doing that in a small group, they can then take more risks and practice the same behavior outside of that small protected group environment.