Uber’s board is again facing challenging times. After a shake-up over the last year or so, including Travis Kalanick’s loss of power in the company, the board has added several new openings. But there is still a concern about its negative interactional pattern.
In our past analysis, we discussed some strategies Kalanick and Uber leadership could use to repair their connection and bring stability to their company culture, but it seems that the board is not aware that they are caught in a negative cycle.
It is important to note how normal this is on high stakes boards and executive teams. Breaking negative cycles takes consistent and clear process — and while this is not an easy task, the process is essential in order to shift the pattern and improve board function.
Uber’s recent board meeting lasted less than four hours, and not every board member was in physical attendance. Considering the number of decisions made, there was likely little time to discuss and address the emotional aspect of reconnecting board members.
Boards that can break a negative cycle have higher engagement, collaboration, creativity and fulfillment among members.
Uber is not unique in its struggle — its struggle is just very public. It’s important to understand what is going on within Uber’s board so that we might learn from it and prevent it from happening on other boards.
Good Surprise Is Never Good Enough
By introducing new directors to the board without previous discussion, Kalanick also introduced surprise.
Surprise is the last thing a board needs when it is looking for stability. We know that surprise can lead to fear, which inevitably causes stress and hostility in teams and on boards.
Stress intensifies the need for secure attachment. This means that when stress is caused by the people we depend on (like our board members), it destroys our sense of safety. This safety is essential for us to perform, collaborate and address challenges when we really need to.
This affects many aspects of board function. Board members who are experiencing stress and are losing trust in their colleagues may be suspicious of other’s views, avoid cooperation and could be closed-minded. We often see disconnected board members fall out of line with the company’s values and begin to express anger in an unhealthy way (by shutting down or pushing people away).
To avoid surprise, directors can learn how to catch the emotion that is driving them to create surprise. This will help them redirect that energy and focus on open communication. With strong bonds based on trust, surprise dissipates.
It is only through this emotional connection that boards will be able to work through the fear and develop a strong governance that unites them and their need to be strong.
How To Stop A Negative Cycle
Negative cycles almost always cultivate on relationship trauma and must be addressed for the board to begin healing and functioning normally again.
Step 1: The board needs to put aside blaming any one individual. They must recognize that they are caught in a negative cycle that now takes over their relationship and leaves them in constant disconnection and a lack of emotional balance.
Step 2: Board members need to recognize that they trigger each other unwittingly. By addressing emotion, the most powerful thing in the room, they will understand the difficulties their current negative cycle has on their communication and decision making process.
Step 3: The board must stick with the process of creating a safe and secure environment for board members to share their concerns and worries without blame, shame or criticism. And that’s not easy to do when you get emotionally charged.
Step 4: The board must reset their emotional balance and start to pull each other close. They must validate each others’ feelings and reframe them in a way that makes it clear that an attack or a shutdown comes from a place of pain and concern for the company, not from a place of anger.
Step 5: The board needs to recognize when people take risks, find the strength to share vulnerable feelings and provide reassurance and encouragement to do it again. Emotion is the most powerful agent for change. Because we are bonding mammals, we need each other to feel safe and connected.
By focusing on restructuring their negative cycle, Kalanick and the rest of the board can start addressing challenges, processing some of their traumatic experiences and re-establishing a sense of safety that would help them deal with their emotions and help bring the walls down.
With multiple lawsuits, stressed investors and a negative public opinion, the Uber board has a lot of work to do and they need each other to successfully do it. Their upcoming decisions may draw public criticism and should be handled while every board member is in emotional balance.
The amazing thing is that boards have the power to make some incredible changes that add value to the company. If they simply address emotion, they can make great decisions and come out successful.
Emotional connection brings the rift closer and creates a healing process that makes a board’s relationships stronger.