A Revolutionary Emotionally Focused Approach to Board & Team Effectiveness
Our approach is based on the works of Carl Rogers, Salvador Minuchin, John Bowlby, and research of Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Les Greenberg. The approach focuses on creating emotional safety in the boardroom. It is particularly effective in creating board cohesion and improving board decisions.
As humans, we are designed to thrive in safe environments. Cooperation and trust come from having a secure bond with each other. If you know you have each other’s back, that board members will respond to your concerns, and you feel valued and important to your board, you will feel more confident in addressing challenges that come at you. Research shows that the more secure and safe you are in your group, the stronger and more cohesive, as a board, you will be.
By using an emotionally focused approach, we help board members identify their underlying emotional signals, naming them and formulating clear messages so emotions never become too overwhelming. Emotion tells us what really matters to people, along with their needs, in a relationship. Emotions organize how people interact with each other on a very basic level. When we get overwhelmed, the cognitive part of our brain slows down, making it difficult for us to collaborate and work together.
Emotion comes from the Latin word “emovere,” which means “to move.” Research shows us that emotion is a basic motivating force. It sort of pulls us to move in particular kinds of ways. By paying attention to emotional cues, board members are able to maintain their interaction in a collaborative and engaged style, creating safety for themselves and others on the board. We’ve used these concepts to develop a consulting experience unlike any other.
“With BDP, our trust level has increased – we were able to create an atmosphere of genuine respect and appreciation for each other’s ideas, and as a result, we have become a more effective and progressive working group.” -Julia Rappaport, Ed.D., Board Member, Hospitality and Education
Frequently Asked Questions with our CEO, Dr. Lola Gershfeld
Serving on a board sort of led me to it. I was a director at a private company where we had a total of eight directors. Our board meetings were often long, draining, and unproductive. At first, I was a little dismayed at how harrowing our board interactions seemed to be because we were kind of stuck. I found it quite difficult.
But after a while, I started to pay attention to the interaction pattern that we had and began to experiment in ways to make a change. This experimentation started to get really fascinating.
Imagine yourself sitting in one of your board meetings and observing how people interact with each other. By paying attention to the emotional cues people use when they communicate, you begin to notice patterns in your meetings and how emotions immediately organize the communication and engagement among board members.
Research now shows that emotional engagement and communication is what defines people’s trust in the relationship.
If you look across cultures, there are certain basic emotions that are seen everywhere. Researchers have come up with six basic emotions across cultures: happiness, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, and surprise. But how they are expressed, and the rules around expression, are different. For example, some cultures use shame more in their interactions than others, and some withhold from sharing emotions altogether.
Our emotionally focused approach is a highly collaborative method. We work with the client to help identify, slow down, and name the interactional cycle. Just naming it, helps people to get unstuck.
There are three stages and nine steps of the Board/Team Dynamics Process. In the first stage we focus on identifying the roles that board and team members play and the pattern by which they interact with each other. In this stage we also focus on identifying areas where they get stuck and how each board member contributes to the cycle.
Stage 1: Identifying Board’s Current Interactional Cycle
In this stage we look at the emotional realities that underlie and organize board interaction. We then, with the help of the client, get a sense of the issues that board members are experiencing, access underlying emotions, re-frame the problem in terms of the negative pattern or a cycle, and help to slow down the process to start to create safety. There are four steps in this stage:
Step 1: Understanding current process and interaction difficulties.
Step 2: Identifying and developing awareness of the ineffective steps in the cycle.
Step 3: Understanding the underlying emotions that contribute to the negative cycle.
Step 4: Becoming aware of the problem in terms of the negative cycle and identifying safety needs.
Stage 2: Restructuring Interaction – Developing Board Cohesion
The second stage is about restructuring the bonds and trust by creating a new kind of responsiveness. In this stage, we help the client identify fears and triggers that cause the emotional disconnection. We start to create new patterns of interaction by helping the client to stay accessible, responsive, and engaged. This acts as an antidote to the negative cycle – and new patterns of interaction start to emerge, creating a more secure and trusting bond. The second stage of the process consists of three steps:
Step 5: Aligning the board and the team through deepening each member’s active engagement.
Step 6: Promoting to be accessible, responsive, and engaged, creating new interactional responses.
Step 7: Facilitating new interaction through open emotional engagement and bonding moments.
Stage 3: Integration and Validation
The last stage is consolidation and integration. In this stage, we facilitate the emergence of and consolidate new solutions to differences and challenges. We also note the changes that the board members have made throughout the process, bringing awareness to how they have aligned themselves to the common vision, mission, and core values of the company and created a new, secure bond with each other. This reinforces the idea that together we are stronger. The third stage consists of two steps:
Step 8: Practicing new interaction responses to address differences and challenges.
Step 9: Validating new effective interaction, reinforcing safety, and maintaining emotional connection.
Going through these three stages, board and team members are able to experience a real coherent image, story, and a new version of how they managed to move from a negative cycle that caused so much emotional distress for them into a more positive cycle of safety, bonding, and trust.
It usually takes about 8 – 12 sessions to start seeing the shift, but it depends a lot on the board culture, its leaders, the size of the board, the level of distress and functionality, and the leap of faith that board and team members are willing to extend to the process. Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two boards are exactly alike. We offer a personalized experience to each client by being flexible and sensitive to the needs of each board.
Some of the more distressed boards may take between 20 – 30 sessions. Those boards often have additional in-depth issues to deal with.
Assignments might include mindful observation for board members to notice when they get stuck in a cycle or if they notice a time when it’s very hard for them to interact. We might also use surveys and tools that help directors become more aware of their emotional experience in the boardroom.
Well, if you look at the basic techniques, what you’re going to see is that we identify the emotion behind their concern and reflect it back to create unity and understanding so that they can feel safe expressing their concerns. It helps people organize their experience so that they grasp it, deal with it, and put shape and form to it.
Sometimes, we might take a particular emotional response and work to help them become more aware of it. We try to use a familiar language: using relatable images and metaphors whenever we can and asking questions to help the client expand their emotional experience.
During the board meeting, we track interactions, identify their cycle, and then create a new positive and safe cycle of interaction. With those steps we help board members process the emotions they experience and work to maintain positive cycles.
The research on emotions is very promising and encouraging. Right now we are trying to focus on impasses in interactions. We’ve identified a certain impasse that we call an attachment injury, where someone has basically been abandoned at a time of need. Instead of withdrawing and abandoning the board, we are looking to understand how that impasse comes up in interaction and how we can help directors work through it so they can reconnect to their board.
The way we understand it is if you do actually help people create a more secure emotional bond, it has a self-maintaining effect on the company, as a whole. Secure emotional bonds are an antidote to dysfunctional boards, and it helps board members maintain the change that they have created as well as make positive impact on the company’s culture and performance.
When we evaluate the interaction cycle on the board, we view each interaction through the lens of attachment theory. When a person is unable to send clear messages about their feelings or identify their internal emotions, we help that person to expand their narrow, rigid, or angry responses into talking about other feelings so they can create new kinds of interactions with their fellow board members and the executive team.
In other words, if a person sees every problem as a nail, all he is going to do is use his hammer. When the person feels safe to experience other ways to look at the problem, they begin to be more open and flexible in their views. Research shows that angry, coercive people are less able to recognize their emotions and get easily overwhelmed with a sense of fear and anxiety. The way they deal with it is by becoming angry or shutting down to regain a sense of safety.
So, what we do is follow the sequence of interactions and find the point that throws the board into a negative cycle.
Then we move into the contributing factors: how safe they feel or don’t feel with each other, how they can connect, if there is there any security in the relationship, and identifying underlying feelings. We work particularly close with those who feel insecure, to see if we can expand that into some of the feelings that they can’t talk about, some of the more vulnerable feelings.
We end up moving people past the reactive emotional stances into their softer, more vulnerable, trust-related feelings and needs. This process restores safety to the boardroom and trust among all board members.
“Through the Board/Team Dynamics Process, our communication has improved and our meetings have become more productive.” – Rebecca Pearman, President Irwin Naturals, Manufacturing