Boost Your Emotional IQ Every Day: Why Daily Check-Ins Are Great

Apr 25, 2024 | Agile Values, Mindset, Scrum Master

Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you’re gearing up for the first video call of the week with your distributed agile team. As each face pops onto the screen, you can’t help but notice the varying degrees of fatigue or enthusiasm evident in your team’s expressions. Some seem ready to conquer the week, while others appear as though the weekend didn’t quite happen.

This is where the magic of emotional check-ins comes into play. Rather than diving straight into the tasks at hand, you decide to take a moment—a simple, powerful moment—to ask everyone to rate how they’re feeling from 1 to 10. No judgments, just numbers, with an option to elaborate if they wish.

This practice might seem small, a mere blip in the grand scheme of project timelines and sprint reviews, but its impact can be profound. Knowing that Alice is at a ‘4’ today because her dog kept her up all night allows Bob at a ‘9’ to step up, perhaps offering to help Alice with a looming deadline.

This brief exchange at the start of a call isn’t just about numbers; it’s about setting the tone for collaboration, empathy, and support, transforming a group of remote workers into a closely-knit team ready to face whatever the week throws at them.

The Basics of Emotional Check-Ins

Emotional check-ins are not about intrusive probes into personal lives but are a touchstone for team cohesion and agility in the remote work landscape. They allow each team member a moment to express their current emotional state, which can significantly influence their workday and interactions.

What are Emotional Check-Ins? At its core, an emotional check-in involves each team member briefly sharing their current emotional status at the beginning of meetings. This practice helps the team gauge the overall mood and adjust their approach to communication and collaboration accordingly.

Variations of Emotional Scales: Some teams may use a simple 1-10 scale, while others might prefer color codes—green for good, yellow for okay, red for struggling. This method offers a quick visual cue that reflects the team’s emotional climate.

Optimal Timing for Check-Ins: While it’s ideal to start the day with emotional check-ins, timing can be flexible based on the team’s dynamics and needs. For instance, following up post-lunch might catch different moods as energy levels and focus shift throughout the day.

Let’s take the case of Mark, an agile coach who introduced emotional check-ins to a skeptical software development team. Initially resistant, the team soon discovered the power of this simple tool. One morning, a typically high-performing developer rated himself a ‘3’. Instead of the usual frustrations around decreased productivity, the team understood and rallied around him, offering support where possible. The developer felt valued and understood, not just as a cog in the machine but as a human being, which in turn fostered a deeper sense of loyalty and engagement with the team’s mission.

Benefits of Emotional Check-Ins for Agile Teams

Emotional check-ins provide several key benefits that enhance agile teamwork by fostering empathy, understanding, and a supportive environment. These practices lead to improved communication, reduced conflict, and a more authentic workplace.

Enhancing Communication Through Contextual Understanding

Emotional check-ins help team members understand the emotional contexts behind their colleagues’ behaviors and feedback. This understanding is crucial during technical discussions where emotions can color interpretations of critical feedback. For instance, if Alice rates her day as a ‘4’, her team might interpret her overly critical feedback on proposed architecture changes not as negativity but as a reflection of her current state. This awareness helps in contextualizing her responses and maintaining a constructive dialogue, essential for agile environments that rely on continuous feedback and rapid iterations.

Reducing Conflict by Addressing Emotional Cues

By making emotional states visible, emotional check-ins can preempt potential conflicts that stem from misinterpretations or insensitivity to a colleague’s mood or personal challenges. This preemptive understanding allows team members to approach each other more thoughtfully, fostering a more cooperative and less confrontational environment. The ability to anticipate and mitigate friction not only smooths the workflow but also contributes to a more harmonious team dynamic.

Promoting Authenticity and Ease in the Workplace

Regular emotional check-ins encourage a culture where team members feel they can be themselves, reducing the pressure to maintain a facade of perpetual positivity. This authenticity allows individuals to conserve energy that would otherwise be spent masking their true feelings, enabling them to focus more on their work and less on managing appearances. It also builds trust within the team, as members feel more comfortable sharing their true selves, which is foundational for high-performing agile teams.

Think of a scenario within a software development team where emotional check-ins have been integrated. Prior to this, technical discussions often became tense, with team members occasionally taking feedback personally. After implementing emotional check-ins, the team began to see a decline in defensive reactions and an increase in productive exchanges, as understanding each other’s emotional states led to more empathy and less judgment.

Integrating Emotional Check-Ins into Daily Agile Routines

Integrating emotional check-ins into daily agile practices is straightforward and beneficial, enhancing trust and communication within teams. This section provides practical advice for naturally incorporating emotional check-ins, ensuring they enrich the team dynamics without feeling forced or intrusive.

Simple Steps to Introduce Emotional Check-Ins

Implementing emotional check-ins doesn’t need to be complex. Here’s how you can introduce them into your team’s routine:

1. Introduce the Concept: Briefly explain to your team the purpose of emotional check-ins—enhancing mutual understanding and support. It’s crucial to communicate that these check-ins are meant to support team health and performance, not to pry into personal lives.

2. Model the Behavior: Begin yourself by sharing your own emotional state to set a positive example and demonstrate openness.

3. Encourage Voluntary Participation: Make it clear that sharing is optional and that the primary goal is to foster a supportive team environment.

Fostering an Atmosphere of Trust and Openness

To make emotional check-ins effective, create an environment where team members feel safe to express their true feelings:

  • Normalize Emotional Expressions:
    Regularly remind the team that it’s okay to have bad days and that sharing emotions can lead to better support and understanding among peers.
  • Maintain Confidentiality:
    Ensure that any emotional disclosures during check-ins are respected and kept within the team, fostering a safe space for honesty.
  • Cultivate Empathy:
    Encourage responses that show support and understanding, such as simple acknowledgments or asking how the team can help make the day easier for those experiencing low moments.

Use Check-Ins In Existing Calls

Emotional check-ins can be easily integrated into existing calls like daily stand-ups or workshop sessions:

  • During Stand-Ups:
    Start each stand-up with a quick round of emotional check-ins before diving into the day’s agenda. This helps set the tone for the meeting and gives context to each team member’s contributions.
  • Workshops:
    Begin the session with a check-in to understand the team’s emotional state, which can help improve deeply technical discussions.

Conclusion: The Transformative Impact of Emotional Check-Ins

This simple practice holds transformative potential for enhancing team dynamics. By taking just a few moments at the beginning of each meeting to see where team members are emotionally, we pave the way for deeper empathy, more effective communication, and stronger collaboration.

Emotional check-ins help us see beyond the immediate tasks and deadlines, reminding us that our teams are made up of individuals carrying diverse emotional landscapes. This recognition is not just about being nice; it’s a strategic approach that leads to more resilient and adaptable teams. When team members feel understood and supported, they are more likely to contribute openly and creatively, addressing challenges with a collaborative spirit that is at the heart of agility.

I encourage you to start your next team call with a simple emotional check-in. Ask everyone to share how they’re feeling on a scale from 1 to 10, and if they’re comfortable, to elaborate a bit. Remember, the goal is not to solve personal issues but to foster a supportive environment that enhances team performance.

Consider this: every high-performing team thrives on trust and open communication. Emotional check-ins are a gateway to building that trust, one MS Teams call at a time. They remind us that behind every task and every piece of code, there are human beings who thrive best when they feel connected and supported. Let’s make emotional check-ins a regular part of our agile day, not just to improve our workflows, but to strengthen the very human connections that inspire our best work.


Thank you for reading The Agile Compass. I’m Matthias, here to help you help those around you become agile.

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