At the heart of it, product management is about bringing people with the right skills together and creating the right environment to develop products that solve problems for users and businesses.

Bringing people together with varying personalities, experiences, and views, within a team can enable you to make great products. But these teams are wonderfully complex, and emotional entities, and you need to create the right environment for these teams to do their best work.

This is why team psychology and emotional intelligence in product management was the theme of our 3rd round of Let’s Talk Product meetups which were held earlier in the year, before COVID-19 changed how we all work and made this topic even more complex and pertinent.

Importance of feeling safe in a team – by Jeremy Katz

The first talk was from Jeremy Katz, a product lead at Kainos, who spoke about why safe spaces are so important for teams.

In order to have psychological safety, the right conditions need to be in place. Team members need to have mutual trust and feel that all members are treated fairly. If there is an absence of trust or a fear of conflict and people are not willing to engage in debates about ideas, this will create dysfunction in the team. If you get this right then it results in cooperation, participation, commitment, creativity, and innovation – good decision-making behaviours.

Some ways you can enable an environment of psychological safety

  • Do create a team charter – create this as a team so that everyone has a chance to contribute and owns the charter.
  • Do not standardise your processes – Strict processes do not allow for individual creativity or the differences in how people work.
  • Do smile, be friendly – we are all just people, separate out the work from the individual.
  • Do invite people to disagree and be open to hearing it.
  • Do start on time – our time is the most precious thing we have in life, show value of other people’s time and don’t be late.
  • Do not ask “how are you?” and not mean it.

The cost of complexity – by Martin Corbett

Next up we had a talk from Martin Corbett, an agile delivery manager at Kainos, who spoke about the cost of complexity and how complexity theory can help us to know ourselves and our teams better, boost emotional Intelligence and combat the perils of change fatigue.

Modern product development is complex, where we are seeking to solve user and business problems that have not been explored before. Following agile development practices, we work on smaller iterations where we probe, sense, and then respond in smaller faster cycles. The side effect of this is the rate and frequency of potential failure (“fail fast”) also increases. Periods of uncertainty trigger periods of rumination and deep thinking, however this becomes an issue when it descends into brooding, circular, negative, and unproductive dwelling on failure. This is extremely damaging to our emotional balance and affects our cognitive control and self-awareness. As a product manager you need to have the ability to recognise when your team or members of your team are experiencing the warning signs (procrastination, indecision, resistance to change or withdrawal from the team) and work on combating this within your team by staying outward-focused, leading by example, being kind, keeping problems in perspective, and reassuring and educating people that this is the natural cycle.

Developing emotional intelligence – By Beth King

This topic is complex and we are most certainly not psychology experts, so we invited Beth King, founder of centrepath UK, who is an organisation development consultant and business psychologist. 

Beth spoke about developing emotional intelligence across the 4 different levels within an organisation; within a person, between persons, within groups, and ,within an organisation.

Emotional intelligence is developed on all levels by starting with the individual psychological conditions: meaningfulness, psychological safety, and emotional mental and physical availability.

  • As an individual knowing your own personal purpose and values, having those in alignment with your work and the organisation objectives creates meaningfulness.
  • As an individual having confidence in your skills and contributions, as well as that of your team and organisation leadership creates trust.
  • Being present and understanding your own needs, a culture of collaboration with colleagues, regular communications, and visibility and engagement with senior leaders creates connection.

Developing emotional intelligence within all levels results in: an effective team, employee engagement, comfort with uncertainty, resilience, and innovation.

Look out for our next Let’s Talk Product

During lockdown we hit the ‘pause’ button on our Let’s Talk Product meetup events to allow everyone to adjust to the new ‘normal’ and get some breathing space. We have started ramping back up again and have some exciting events planned. Watch out for our next event in Autumn, likely in a virtual format. We will announce further details in due time.

If you would like to share a talk at any of our future Let’s Talk Product events contact us at LetsTalkProduct@kainos.com.