About this podcast episode

Why is emotional intelligence so important for agile teams?

Dr. Tan Trung (John) Luong, Sr. Expert Consultant at Orianda Solutions AG, will help answer that question.

Having written an essential article on Springer Media and pulling from years of personal experience, Dr. John shares stories and expertise with Bill Raymond to help you learn:

✅ The definition of emotional intelligence (or EI)

✅ Why EI is important within agile teams

✅ Why is Emotional intelligence important

✅ The four dimensions of emotional intelligence

✅ How you can lead EI initiatives in your organization


(transcripts are auto-generated, so please excuse the brevity)

Bill Raymond: Can you define what you mean by emotional intelligence?

First, we have appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself. Second, appraisal and recognition of emotions in others. Third, use of emotions to facilitate performance. And fourth, regulation of emotions in oneself.

Bill Raymond: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. Today, I’m joined by Dr. John Luong, senior expert consultant at Orienta Solutions AG.

Bill Raymond: Hi, Dr. John, how are you today?

Tan Trung Audio: I’m great today. Thank, very much for having me today here and it’s just, it’s big honor for me, you know, to be now part of your very great podcast.

Bill Raymond: Well, thank you, and I’m excited to have you here too. Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of emotional intelligence for successful agile teams. I think this is a really important topic because, as most of our listeners know, if you’ve been listening to this podcast, we do talk about agile and we talk about frameworks such as Scrum and things like that.

What we need for agile

Bill Raymond: But the other thing that’s really important, that we need to recognize, is that in order to really use agile and get the promise of agile, is that we have these small, tight-knit teams that work together, and they need to work together effectively. And to work together effectively, yeah, we can just say, sit in a room and work togetheror meet together frequently. However, we know that it’s much more than that. We have to take into account a lot of personal interactions, and how we work together as teams is very important. That’s why we’ve had people like Lisa Adkins talking about how executive leaders can create the space for agile to flourish.

Bill Raymond: And that’s why we had Alla Weinberg on talking about building a culture of psychological safety.

Today on the podcast

Bill Raymond: So today, what we’re going to do is talk about emotional intelligence with Dr. John. And I’m really excited about this topic because it’s yet another important element of having successful teams.

Introducing Dr. John

Bill Raymond: But before we get started, Dr. John, could you please introduce yourself?

Tan Trung Audio: Yes, of course. But before I talk about myself, I would just like to use this opportunity to say big thank you to the two co-authors of that research and the paper you’re going to discuss today, which is Professor Sanka Sarajah, the current Dean and Professor Vision we are Kudi, the former Dean of the School of Management at the University of Bradford.

Tan Trung Audio: Thank you so much for your help over the last couple of years. And yeah, so my name is Dr. John Luong. I’m originally Vietnamese. I’ve been living and working in many different countries in Asia, in US, and also in Europe, currently based in Germany. And as said, I’m currently working for Orienta Solutions AG, which is a Swiss company.

Very strong expertise in real or locomotive industry, andbefore that, I was working for a couple of major airlines and armed forces, so I’m almost 20 years in the IT consulting business. So that’s me in a nutshell.

Bill Raymond: Let’s go ahead and talk a little bit about this article. And the article, this is actually how we found you. And the title of the article, is, “Do Agile-Managed Information Systems Projects Fail Due to a Lack of Emotional Intelligence?

Could you tell me a little bit about what got you interested in writing this paper?

Emotional Intelligence

So that paper is basically the summary of the research I did when I did my doctorate at the University of Bradford. And it started with, I read this book from Dana Goldman about emotional intelligence, and it’s quite, it’s a best-seller, it’s quite famous. And in that book, he argues thatemotional intelligence or EQ may transform into IQ.

Tan Trung Audio: And this quite interesting but provocative statementgot me curious, and I just wondered whether this statement actually applies to my working life, which is working agile teams. So this is where my whole academic journey started, which probably took me five years.

You’ve talked about emotional intelligence and the fact that, this could actually apply to the agile teams that you work at.

From your perspective, what are agile teams?

Tan Trung Audio: That’s a good question, actually. So when I started my career, we used these classic waterfall approaches. You know, with this long project phases, blueprint, build, deploy, it takes months or years to accomplish. And in these waterfall management projects, the roles and responsibilities are very clearly defined.

Tan Trung Audio: But with agile, things change, right? Especially for developers. You now have these agile practices like, daily stand ups, sprint planning, retrospectives. And to participate in all these new different kinds of meetings, you need more than technical skills.

Tan Trung Audio: So you need to estimate your assigned tasks, which you are now accountable for. You need to report on a daily basis. And all this requires a new kind of skillset that might be challenging for some of these special developers, because they’re not used to it. It might create different kinds of good or even bad emotions.

Tan Trung Audio: And now we need to be able to handle these new kinds of emotions. And this is how the whole concept of agile for me, relates to emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Bill Raymond: Right. Okay. So let’s get into that topic then. Can you define what you mean by an emotional intelligence?

Tan Trung Audio: Well, there are different kinds of definitions, models and even different ways to measure emotional intelligence. What I did, I used the WLEIS. W L E I S. It’s warm and low emotional intelligence scale. it’s a scale and a model that is quite commonly used in academic research.

Dimensions of emotional intelligence

Tan Trung Audio: And in that, we use a model that has four different dimensions of emotional intelligence that I want to now briefly discuss.

Tan Trung Audio: So first, we have appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself. We have second, appraisal and recognition of emotions in others. Third, use of emotions to facilitate performance. And fourth, regulation of emotions in oneself.

Tan Trung Audio: So let me briefly discuss one by one what it actually means.

Appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself

Tan Trung Audio: So first one, appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself. So it’s about your own emotions, right? It’s about understanding and expression of my own emotions. The ability to understand whether I’m in a good or in a bad mood, whether I’m happy or sad, or angry.

Understanding and predicting other people’s emotions

Tan Trung Audio: The second is understanding and predicting of other people’s emotions. Okay.

Use of emotions to facilitate performance

Tan Trung Audio: The third one, use of emotions to facilitate performance. This is really very related to motivation. Okay? So people with this ability are good in creating and using their emotions to achieve their own personal goals.

They do understand their emotions in a way that they know how to intentionally trigger these kinds of positive emotions. Could be like, I know when I’m listening to a certain kind of music or what I do, I monologize. So I talk to myself sometimes, like when I run the marathon, after like three hours and still 10K to go, I just talk to myself and tell like, John, you can do it, keep going. So this is about how you intentionally create your own emotions or positive emotions.

Regulation of emotions in oneself

Tan Trung Audio: And the last one, regulation of emotions in oneself. So this is the ability to control and regulate your emotions, okay? To be able to quickly return to a normal psychological state. Like, if you are upset, right? The ability to calm down very quickly, and people who are high in this ability, they just seldom lose their temper.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, that’s something that I’ve had to work on over the years myself. I remember I used to, you know, I think every day we have different emotions, right? We don’t have some set emotion. There are certain styles that we all have that make it easier or harder to work with different people, but you know, we can wake up one day getting some bad news and we have that in our head. So, of course we’re going to bring that to work.

Bill Raymond: Or we wake up in a great mood, and of course, we’re going to bring that to work too. We’re going to be more upbeat and things like that. But yeah, I mean, it’s certainly interesting. After having worked on some pretty large projects where things go wrong frequently, I remembered I was starting to have some breakdowns and you know, I didn’t realize that I was treating other people poorly because I had these emotions going through my head that I was kept thinking that things were going poorly.

Bill Raymond: And what I noticed with that, was that I was bringing the team down. We had harder times communicating, they were maybe afraid to talk to me, and you could see it. And for a while I kept thinking, well, that’s their problem, not mine. And it took me a long time to realize that no, actually, you know, this is something I need to work on. I need to stop raising my voice. I need to stop using those big exclamation marks in emails that I send, getting rid of the big bold letters and start asking more questions. So, I think that’s what happened with me, when we talk about this, I think very clearly about some of those moments in my early career where I stopped getting angry, and instead, stepped back and started asking more questions to understand the situation and understand where people are coming from. And that has definitely helped me through my career. So I completely understand that one.

Tan Trung Audio: Regulating your emotions is difficult because sometimes, you don’t know how you are emoting to other people Exactly, but you know, just being aware that there is this kind of ability that you need to work on really helps.

Why emotional intelligence is important

Bill Raymond: Yeah, absolutely. Can we talk a little bit about, why EI or emotional intelligence is important in terms of communication? Of course, I just shared a personal story, but I think that when you were doing this study, you really thought a lot about this topic.

Tan Trung Audio: Yeah, it’s, I think emotional intelligence is very related to communication, as you just shared with your personal experience. And,so for me, communication is a reside or of a final step in, in a large, long, complex thinking process happening in your head, you know, and at the end, you will send information to someone else, either by body language, talking or even writing. And in this whole thinking process,they maybe perceive, express and control our emotions. Okay, I give you an example. In order not to offend people by writing a stupid email or talking to them using the wrong voice, I need to understand what kind of psychological state someone currently is, okay?

Tan Trung Audio: So if I see that someone is very anxious or even angry with something, I should be more careful and sensitive, right, at what I’m saying and what kind of words I’m using when I approach them. This is about perceiving other people’s emotions.

But if someone is like smiling at me, I can understand this with a kind of agreement with what I’m saying.

Tan Trung Audio: It’s not only about perceiving or indicating other people’s emotions. It’s also about understandingmy own emotions. As I said, if I know I’m currently very angry at someone, I should be very cautious what I’m saying or what kind of actions I’m going to take, in order not to regret it later.

So in this kind of situations, maybe also for you, Bill,as you say, English, right? Sometimes, talk is silver and silence is golden. And yeah, so this is how you can see how emotional intelligence is so important in order to properly communicate, not only major things, but in general in life.

Work involved in creating the document

Bill Raymond: Before we start talking about the importance of EI and getting a little bit deeper into that, can we talk about what some of the work was that you did in this particular document that you worked on?

I think it’s important because you came to some conclusions, but in order to come to those conclusions, you also surveyed people out there in the world, working on agile projects. Is that correct?

Tan Trung Audio: That’s correct. Yes. You know, the academic research, there are basically two ways of doing it. You can do it in a qualitative way, that is, you do interviews or you can take what I did, I took a quantitative approach, or in your words, I designed a survey and then I reached out to a couple of thousands of agile practitioners around the globe, contacted them mainly via business networks like LinkedIn, and at the end, around 200 were willing in participating in my research.

Designed a survey

Tan Trung Audio: So I designed that survey which actually had two parts. The first, I asked them to measure their emotional intelligence using their WLIES we have discussed before. And the second, I wanted to understandwhat kind of human related challenges are they perceiving when working in agile teams?

Tan Trung Audio: And I found these four different dimensions in the existing academic literature that were, anxiety, mutual trust, motivation, and communication.

Tan Trung Audio: Yeah.

Tan Trung Audio: So we’re asking question on these four dimensions and, yeah, so at the end, I had a good set of data around 200 participants. I did my statistics, and got some amazing findings.

As a researcher, I do know thatcorrelation does not imply causation, right? But still, we did not only find many, many correlations between different dimensions, but they were also very, very significant. So, even we cannot really prove anything, okay? But the results were so amazing that we couldindicate at least that something, that there’s something emotional intelligence in agile teams, and we definitely could give more attention to emotional intelligence when working agile teams.

Of those people that you interviewed, where are they from?

Tan Trung Audio: Actually, from many, many different countries. I mean, I contacted them by LinkedIn. I didn’t really pay attention where they’re located. So there are people from Germany, from India, from US, from China, from like everywhere.

When you asked these questions about anxiety, mutual trust, motivation, and communication, what were some of the commonalities that you found?

The 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto

Tan Trung Audio: So let me answer your question usinga more structured way, okay? And relate my argumentation to these official published 12 agile principles. There’s this website, agilemanifesto.org that the founders of Agile Manifesto Published, andI have it with me, actually.

Tan Trung Audio: So if I look at the website, these official 12 principles behind the agile manifesto, then one of the principles I am sighting here, business people and developers most work together daily throughout the project.

Tan Trung Audio: So what does it actually mean? So these people, business people and developers will sit next to each other every day, okay? So if the developer’s assigned a task he’s comfortable with, then it’s okay. But if it’s a task that he’s not familiar with, because it’s the new technology he needs to apply or he has difficulties to understand the business background, because he never worked in that industry, we see, then he needs this ability to regulate his emotions and control his emotions. Let’s take the next principle that you can read on the website. Build projects around motivated individuals. So in the project, there’s different kinds of tasks. Some are more fun, some are less fun, some are challenging, some are not challenging because we are using old technology or they are, they’re repetitive. But in order to complete your sprint or task, whether you like it or not, it has to be completed, Okay?

Tan Trung Audio: So what you need is people with high emotional intelligence so that they can use their emotions and create positive, emotions to motivate themselves, right? So that they can use these emotions to direct their actions in order to complete their assigned tasks, whether they like it or not. And this is how the whole thing agile relates to motivation. I give you another example. So I’m starting again. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.

Tan Trung Audio: So this is about trusting, right? As a Scrum master or solution architect,sometimes I’m reluctant to assign a task to a developer because I just don’t trust them that they can deliver tasks on time, or with expected quality. But in order to trust him, it’s more than just being convinced in his technical skills.

But we need to have emotional bonds to someone in order to trust them, okay? And in order to create this emotional bond, you need to be able to perceive other people’s emotions. Like, if someone feels sad, I can comfort him. Okay? If I see that someone feels anxious because he struggles with some tasks I assigned to him, I can offer support.

So I can react, but only after I can read their emotions and trust is always emotional, right? So first, I need them to trust me. By helping them, I’m able to read their emotions and react accordingly. And once they understand that, they can trust me, and they will be more open and honest to me.

Tan Trung Audio: And this will make me trust them even more. And this is essentially how emotional bonds are created, okay? And as a result of this, better emotional bonds. If you’re in a team, there is just more trust in the whole team. Okay? So this is how people with high emotional intelligence can support this principle.

Tan Trung Audio: And I give you a last one. So I’m citing, “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team, is face to face conversation. So we’ve already discussed the importance of managing your emotions in the context of communication, but if agile communication gets even more direct and personal, right, or the word we’re using is, it’s getting face to face. The ability to express and control your own emotion becomes even more important, right? If the person that you’re talking to is just sitting in front of you and staring at your face, okay? And so, yes, communication’s so important in agile teams because without communication, how are we going to share knowledge, to learn from each other, express and discuss our opinions? So I was just taking four different principles from this agile manifesto, to give why emotional intelligence is so important for agile teams to be successful.

If you’re listening to this podcast and maybe you’re not familiar with software development and how that works, a lot of times people are just writing code and then they’re having someone review their code, and then they’re getting some feedback on that code.

Bill Raymond: You could just as easily relate that back to collaborating on a document, maybe a scope of work for a proposal that you’re creating or a legal document that you have to collaborate on. You know, anytime we get these documents where people are just scratching things out that you wrote with no comment, that leaves someone with a bad, taste because they don’t understand why you did that. Also, of course, if someone went and, scratches out a bunch of words and says, I don’t like this. How is that useful? And that’s a lot of what developers have to go through every single day. They write code, they check it in, someone reviews it and they give some feedback.

Bill Raymond: And imagine if you have to do that every day, maybe even multiple hours during a day, think about that document you might be working on. After a while, you’re going to get burned out and angry and upset if someone just keeps on giving you bad feedback without any explanation as to why.

Bill Raymond: And I think all of these points that you just made, relate back to that. It’s about thinking about, you might not like what that person wrote, but you have to think of a positive way of spinning it. The worst thing you could do is just rewrite everything that person does without giving them an opportunity to do it again.

Bill Raymond: And it’s the same thing with software development. And I think that’s kind of what it comes down to, isn’t it? It’s about treating people with respect and thinking about how people are going to receive your feedback and thinking about how the other individual is when you work with them on a daily basis.

Tan Trung Audio: Yes, it’s about finding a way to work constructively together, very closely, daily, directly. And this, yes,this triggers emotionsall the time. And this is why we need to make sure that the people we work with, the people we hire, that they justhave at least a good emotional intelligence.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s something that we sometimes miss, is that we see that there is a person that we’re going to, and I know I’ve done this in the past. I see the person that checks the box for everything that I’m going to hire, right?

Bill Raymond: I want this person to have this skillset. They need to be a good communicator. They need to be able to do these different things. . I want them tocome into the organization with a set of skills. But sometimes, we don’t always step back and say, How is this going to impact the team? And sometimes people will say, You know, I’m not so sure I like this person.

Bill Raymond: And sometimes when you get so excited that you’re going to hire the person that has the skills, you can sometimes even talk a person out of their argument that they may not be able to work with them. And that’s a really bad thing because usually, it’s so easy to bring in one person that just does not fit with the team. And maybe not a bad person. They’re just not a good cultural fit or a good emotional fit with the rest of the team. And they can change the entire trajectory of your team and bring it all down.

The importance of emotional intelligence is not just thinking about that person you’re going to hire, but also, how is it going to impact the rest of the team that has to work with that individual every day.

If I’m an executive, what are some of the things that I need to think about in order to build EI, emotional intelligence, as a consideration for my teams, what are some of the arguments that you can share that would make this important for me to think about?

Well, I would not go as far as Daniel Goldman, right? I wouldn’t say that EQ matters more than IQ, but there’s some academic evidence that EQ, emotional intelligence, is actually a strong predictor for performance. Okay? So if you look into agile teams, of course they need to be technically excellent, right?

Tan Trung Audio: And being highly technically-skilled is very crucial for the success of IT projects, there’s no doubt on that. ButI do strongly agree, based on my academic research, what you found that most intelligence is so far very neglected and underestimated, but a very critical factor for the success of agile teams. And we just discussed it, right?

Tan Trung Audio: It’s really about your staff, your teams, how you do recruiting, okay? So I think this is maybe one of the takeaways. When organizations recruit the employees for agile development teams,they should be more selective, not only focused on their technical skills, but also look into their emotional abilities.

Tan Trung Audio: And maybe we should have both, you know, an IQ and EQ assessment. And then based on both results, you can decide whether or not to hire someone.

Tan Trung Audio: Butit’s also important that we train and develop the emotional intelligence of our people. Also, there’s academic evidence that emotional intelligence actually can be increased by special EQ awareness training.

But this training, I think should not be limited only to professionals that are already in our organizations. We should start much, much earlier. At universities, at college, and maybe should include this emotional intelligence awareness training as part of the academic education.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, it does get left out, depending on the direction that you take at university, doesn’t it?

Bill Raymond: Maybe you can share some takeaways. If I’m an executive looking to invest in emotional intelligence and I want to make sure that this is an important topic that gets brought up, how do I go about doing that? Are there some takeaways that someone listening to this podcast right now might be able to use?

We can you know, offer training, we can hire someone to do these trainings. We look in the recruiting. I don’t think there’s anything else we can do. We need to ensure that once people come into organization, we select the right people and for the people in our organization, that we constantly increase emotional abilities. I think that’s all we can do.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, and I think sometimes what I’ve seen also be useful is team building efforts. working with teams to help them learn more about each other, where you can maybe tell some stories about, who we are, where we came from, that’s sometimes useful, I think. Sometimes we’re in this world of Zoom meetings and we forget there’s a whole life going on outside of that rectangle that they’re looking at.

And getting to know people better at a more personal level is always useful, wouldn’t you think?

Tan Trung Audio: No, I totally agree. Actually, I have one team building next week. And this is related to what I said about trust and creation of emotional bonds. You know, so this team building is when you as a team try to achieve some challenging task. This creates rich emotional bonds, when later will help you to collaborate even more closely if people want to learn more about this topic, would they be able to reach out to you?

Bill Raymond: Yes, of course. Just reach out to me at my LinkedIn. Great, and I’ll make sure that I provide that link in the agileinaction.com website, and I’ll also make sure that it’s in the show notes. So if you’re in a podcast app right now, just scroll down to the show notes and you’ll find a link there. Also, I’ll provide links to the article, which is titled, “Do Agile-managed Information System Projects Fail Due to a Lack of Emotional Intelligence?” And that’s a link that’s readily available, it’s a pdf, you can open it up and take a read. It’s actually a very interesting read and it provides some history of where we came from over the years, from how we used to manage work to how we manage work today. And then it talks about some of the challenges that we discussed here in this podcast and how we can summarize the importance of emotional intelligence. And it’s a great article, I highly recommend you go ahead and review that.

Bill Raymond: And you also collaborated with some other individuals as well, and I will make sure those collaborators are provided in the links if anyone is interested. Thank you so much for your time today, Dr. John. I really appreciated it.

Tan Trung Audio: Yes, thank you so much for your time, Bill today. I reallyenjoyed the conversation we had today.