EI and high-stress remote meetings – part two

Posted in: Technical Track

How we got here

When there is a high-stress emergency, why is it not enough to create a group of the best-skilled people and let them figure out what to do? What is all this emotional intelligence mumbo-jumbo?

The classical definition of Emotional Intelligence is:

Being emotionally intelligent involves being actively able to identify, understand, process and influence one’s own emotions and those of others to guide feeling, thinking and action.”

I label a meeting as EI+ when the group uses emotional intelligence in dealing with its members, itself and its external environment. In my previous blog post, I mentioned EI+ meetings and hinted that they have better odds of getting to a resolution.

EI+ requires a facilitator

Typically people gathered to solve an emergency are on-call or have made time to be available to join remotely. They have possibly never met earlier, and know each other only by job description. Left to themselves there is a very good chance that they wait for a HiPPO to arrive! Do I need to explain what will surely follow? ( HiPPO = Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).

Instead, we need to provide a skilled EI facilitator to actively steer this group to an EI+ meeting. We have no time to waste!

There are nine Group EI factors (also called norms) that are well understood to affect group performance (see this excellent blog post by Trello). I recommend we use a short list of five factors and picture them as a Pyramid.

For our EI+ meeting to work, a facilitator builds the foundation (Caring Behaviour + Resources for working with Emotion+ Affirmative Environment) to encourage Proactive Problem Solving. She then leads a factual and reasonably frequent Team Self-Evaluation to get the group to stay focused on the solution.

Simple! Eh?

Join the call

We have had an organization-wide emergency for our client and their best people have gathered on a Google hangouts call.

As I join, I am typically asked to introduce myself. While I am doing that, I notice that a lot of people are on video and listen to me intently. I see a few people waving Hi. Some venture to say “Hi Karun!”. Thanks to social media some have done a quick search of my Linked in profile and are commenting on my experience. They take the time to introduce themselves too. Great!

I am given the ground rules by the facilitator. This is a blame-free meeting, we are expected at all times to stay respectful of our group members while being absolutely open and honest. There are no other rules!

I notice that after about 15 minutes or so the facilitator interrupts with a “Let’s go around the table please.”

She asks each participant, in turn, two questions and just two questions:
“How are we doing as a team ?”
“How are you feeling ?”

I am amazed at the responses that pour through! People acknowledge real issues up front. When describing the team’s progress so far they are fair and accurate. No sugar-coating! Yes, it makes them feel awful, yes they are wondering how this got so bad — but hey they are saying all this openly!

I begin to see the issue a lot more in detail.

After the self-evaluation I notice another thing, people “add to” the current understanding as they talk amongst themselves. They do not contradict with “No! in my opinion..” instead they say “.. to what X suggested..here is another way.” Sometimes a member waves to get attention “Hi everyone a heads up .. I intend to try this .. ” just before they launch another attempt to fix the issue. A lot of responses follow, mostly supportive “go for it!”, or even suggesting caution ” are you good with … ?” Feedback is copious and open.

I am wondering how did they all manage to reach this level of in-depth understanding? I am sure the facilitator is the key. She laid down the groundwork as people joined and is doing her job without holding up the flow! The group members are not overwhelmed by the emergency, they are performing at their peak capacity.. and having fun.

After about 30 minutes the facilitator returns with her two questions that we all take turns to answer. I notice that I am able to honestly evaluate their team efficacy because of the “safe” atmosphere that has been created. While we are proactively discussing and working on alternatives, there is a noticeable absence of blame and fear!

Do you think we found and solved the issue at this meeting?

The Group EI framework

All these factors (norms) are well documented, I have extracted the five definitions from the resource material. You may start to see the interplay of attributes that are highlighted in each.

Caring Behavior—this norm represents the degree to which a group treats its members with respect, supports them, seeks their perspective and validates their efforts. It does not imply that team members must like each other or socialize with each other.
The strength of this norm affects the degree to which members build bonds and identify with the team. It also contributes to a sense of safety in the group.

Creating an Affirmative Environment—this norm represents the degree to which a group stays positive and optimistic in the face of challenges.
This norm has emotional consequences because the degree to which members of the group remain optimistic will affect their sense of efficacy and will minimize the sense of threat caused by the challenge

Proactive Problem Solving—this norm represents the degree to which a group anticipates problems and takes action to prevent them as well as taking responsibility and working hard to address challenges. This norm has emotional consequences similar to that of Creating an Affirmative Environment. The greater the degree to which a group takes control of solving its problems the greater will be its sense of efficacy and the less threatening challenges will feel to group members

Creating Resources for Working with Emotion—this norm represents the degree to which a group provides resources for the group to address emotions, e.g., time and a language for talking about emotion

Team Self-Evaluation—this norm represents the degree to which a group is aware of how it is performing, its collective moods and seeks information to help it evaluate how well it is working. This norm has emotional consequences in that it can create emotional threats. …. One key to an effective group is to have a good sense of reality and not shy away from it when it gets emotionally threatening.

To end

Emergencies will descend without warning. There will always be some high-stress remote meetings called to address them. Not all of those meetings will have such a smooth transition to EI+ as our fictional example. The facilitator will always need to be listening, taking notes and learning more about the group. The group participants, at least those who were curious enough could be shown the five factors at play.

I do hope more meetings are EI+ and give our teams the opportunity to do what they are best at.

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About the Author

I am a Solution Architect and a Google certified Data Engineer. My interests areas include IoT, Serverless functions, Bigdata Analytics, Oracle Middleware (OBIEE, ODI, SOA, Weblogic) and Oracle Database.

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