Emotionally intelligent teams require emotionally intelligent leaders

In order to succeed, an organization must achieve measurable results. These are only as “good” over time as the teams that produce them; and in order to produce at continually high levels, those teams must serve within a climate that induces them to (want to) continue to succeed.

There is a business case to be made not only for attracting and retaining top talent, but also for getting results once you have landed them. Knowing how to recruit, then place people in the right positions to excel and drive successful business returns, is all about knowing first what makes a person tick, then understanding how best to integrate their skills, talents and goals into the greater organizational value proposition.

Put another way, to effectively capture the heart and mind of the free agent, a leader must know what motivates them.

Within the context of primal leadership, the ability to leverage one’s emotional self-awareness and respond empathically to others is key to motivating followers to respond in positive, self-affirming ways that resonate in their hearts and minds.

Immediate takeways for any team

EI leaders recognize what drives their people from within, and they connect with that emotional reservoir to provide value both to the follower and the organization at large. Because there is no externally motivating factor that taps a follower’s inner drive, EI leaders are only successful in leading when they identify with their people’s internal passion.

What Agile has taught me about team synergy

My experience with Agile teams suggests there is a formula for realizing the potential in teams — and we know how to identify it.

Teams can most grow in their collaborative capacity when team members are aware of their differences of perspective in approaching challenges, and learn how to deliberately leverage those preferences to overcome individual and collective blind spots. When teams learn how to turn energy gaps into collaborative strengths, they tend to move from adopting Agile practices to embodying an Agile mindset at a much faster rate. It is the insight into collaborative preference that helps break down team barriers and opens the door to accessing creative potential.

There is ample research, and there are many case studies, showing teams who are preference-aware and trained in a process to yield creative outcomes outperform teams that are not. Further, they are known to produce more and higher quality ideas and enjoy working with their team more than untrained, unaware teams.

While Agile is an effective framework for producing value sooner, its fullest value is not generally realized without a mechanism for creatively feeding and managing the backlog. All of the collaborative preferences I have measured within teams routinely point to Agile practices needing to grow in maturity/fluency. The sooner teams see these gaps and overcome them with a creative process, the faster they move from mastering practice (efficiency) to generating real value (effectiveness and impact).

Teams are the human equivalent of data; they are the latent source of creative potential waiting to be properly mined for customer value. If that potential is encapsulated in the fundamental question, “how do we get better?”, then the technique best suited to discovering team potential is found in the followup question: “where do we need improvement?”

Research in synergistic teaming shows breakthroughs come when teams have alignment on purpose; a creative process to engage their collaborative strengths; and a vibrant team dynamic (communication, safety, trust, creative abrasion). The quicker teams close their learning feedback loops, the sooner they can begin tapping into their unrealized potential. Coupled with creative problem solving training, I have seen great opportunity to speed up the time to value creation.

Research in creativity strongly supports drawing out the creative best in a self-directed team by putting people’s strengths together to form a greater whole, and to train for deliberate creative outcomes. This research reinforces the literal definition of kaizen: to resist the plateau of arrested development.

Immediate takeways for any team

How does your team get better in areas where it does not know it needs to get better?

The alignment of agile and innovation

Innovation is the natural outcome of an Agile culture. Or it should be. When well-structured teams adhere to both the practices and principles of Agile, they are engaging in a structured ritual of collaboration. That structure offers an opportunity for novelty, inquiry, and investigation of new ideas that can lead to breakthrough outcomes.

The Agile iteration begins with a planning session that leads to a user story backlog. These are raw ideas of a sort, generated to answer specific problems or challenges or address new opportunities. As they are assembled in a backlog they undergo sizing and scheduling exercises, to determine if they are the right work to do, how and when the work will be done, and what the sense of its impact will be.

Once sized and prioritized, user stories are committed to and managed in a rigorous pipeline of work. Only so many items can be opened and in progress at a time, to maximize focus and complete each story. As stories are completed according to their respective ‘done’ conditions and acceptance criteria, new stories move from the backlog to “work in process” until an iteration is complete. It is only at the completion of an iteration that items are stories are assessed in retrospect for their results:

  • Did we achieve what we set out to accomplish?
  • Do the stories appropriately speak to the challenges we were addressing?
  • Were the needs of our customers and end users properly met?
  • Did we succeed in delighting our consumers?
  • Are we working well as a team in our delivery?

While many of the questions may be answered in the affirmative, the retrospective ritual demonstrates how teams can always be more in tune with their customers and themselves in providing quality deliverables. So as new questions arise out of the results, new stories fill the backlog in an attempt to improve quality and value. And so the discovery begins anew.

The rhythms and rituals of Agile are remarkably similar to those of breakthrough thinking. If the meaning of life was viewed as a series of problems, challenges or opportunities to be discovered and engaged, then finding our life purpose consists of a similar pattern: understanding the challenges before us; conjuring novel thoughts and ideas to meet those challenges; fashioning a plan; and carrying it out to completion – or rather, until we assess our results and see how they measure up – and starting anew, until we reach a breakthrough. The greater the breakthrough, the more likely we have expressed innovation: that mythical end state of doing things in a novel, impactful manner.

If in our course of discovery and delivery we find a new method of achieving our goals, a more exciting or efficient way of creating value, we open up for ourselves an even broader array of challenges and opportunities to explore and engage. From a macro view, Agile presents itself as a marvelously effective mechanism for applying human ingenuity to a rigorous framework and producing tremendous value. From a micro view, the value created is found in the who infinitely more than the how.

The best expression of innovation in an Agile context, therefore, lies within the team structure.

Immediate takeways for any team

What does innovation look like? How are your teams structured to unleash it?

How misfit toys can rule the world

Or, to innovate first be creative

Creativity is the union of person, process, and environment that leads to a novel and meanzingful outcome. If creativity is defined as novelty with meaning, then innovation is the adoption of that novelty and meaning as a changed behavior. So another way of seeing innovation is as a creative product that causes systematic change.

If I see a gap between desired future state and current reality as a problem, mentally I may cast all my gaps in a negative light. But if I were to see a gap as an opportunity for meaningful change, I might begin to embrace those gaps as ways to improve my standing or way of life. Were I to then form a habit of seeing gaps as opportunities, my creative approach might take on a behavioral change in others. The potential for my novel approach to problem solving would likely influence my team to also view problems in a counterintuitive fashion:

  • How might we build trust and rapport in the face of crisis?
  • What are all the ways we can surprise and delight our users when we fix this bug?
  • What if we took advantage of this challenge as a new way to see our purpose?

The essence of creativity is novelty: asking open-ended questions, turning a conventional thought process on its head, refashioning the meaning of a current circumstance to see it from another perspective. Employing novelty as a way of doing things moves a team from a creative approach to a single challenge to an innovative culture in which it works and creates value.

Creativity is the plumb line that leads to building a common innovation structure for every new project. The more intentional a team becomes in asking questions designed to reframe the discussion, the more endemic the approach and the more likely it will apply new ways of doing things to its work routines. So much so our “routines” themselves stand the chance of becoming novel disciplines that differentiate our outcomes.

The genesis of the Moneyball phenomenon was a novel question: how does a small market baseball team compete for talent with large market teams when their operating budgets are orders of magnitude apart? By necessity, the Oakland A’s focus needed to shift from assessing talent based on traditional scouting techniques, known as the classic ‘5 tools’ (hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities), as an indicator of team success. By reframing their monetary challenge (“What if we were to buy runs to win games, not players?”), they began to see value in players who were considered liabilities to the rest of major league baseball.

The solution? For every high profile player lost to free agency, The A’s recreated the player in the statistical aggregate. That is to say, if they could not afford a player whose on base percentage is .347 (makes it on base nearly 35% of his at-bats), then they found cheap players whose collective average equals a high OBP. Why cheap? Because MLB viewed each player through a lens that suggested the players are defective in some way. To remain competitive in an unfair market, the A’s found value in undervalued players to create an Island of Misfit Toys who could be just as competitive as big money teams. Their line of thinking eventually became disruptive enough to major league baseball for teams such as the Boston Red Sox to adopt their approach – and win two world championships as a result.

A creative approach to money management led to a disruptive force in an industry. And it all began with a simple question: how do we compete in a field where we are doomed to fail?

Immediate takeways for any team

What questions best open up your team discussions for a creative approach to solving critical challenges? And how have you found those approaches turning into a way of working?

Envisioning effective leadership

You’ve got to see it to believe it.

It all starts with a vision. A way things ought to be, a way they can be. It is what inspires you.

It’s what inspires every great leader.

To connect.

That’s where you need more than management skills: you need effective leadership. And here is the key:

Leadership is communication in action.

Developing an effective leadership style requires commitment. It means you have to hone your technique. Cultivate your uniqueness. Being a people person is essential.

Effective leadership is as much an art as it is a science; it is the union of the visceral with the mechanical; words and images made active.

Effective leadership is not bound by a perpetual slavery to the tyranny of the urgent. It is proactive and intentional.

Effective leadership influences and inspires others to dream your dreams and share the journey to realization with you.

Share your dreams and visions. Inspire others. Model the way.