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From Individuals to Teams: the Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Ask any person what makes for a great leader, and you’ll likely get as many answers as people you ask: confidence, humility, empathy, vision, communication skills, self-awareness, and so on.

Ask any person what makes for an emotionally intelligent person, and you may get some of these same answers.

Ask any person what makes for an emotionally intelligent group, and you may be met with a look of surprise.

Wait. Backtrack. Can We Review Emotional Intelligence?

Yes. Author, psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence (EI), also called emotional quotient (EQ), in the 90s. EQ dethroned the reigning king of intelligence, the IQ, and since then EQ has became an integral part of leadership development in the business world. In Daniel Goleman’s words:

“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, understand them, and use this information to constructively guide one’s thinking and actions.”

In addition to the element of managing one’s emotions, emotional intelligence calls upon us to be self-aware, motivated, empathic, and socially skilled.

As teamwork has become the driving force in modern business, making effective collaboration the key to achieving business outcomes, a team’s emotional intelligence has become one of the main differentiators between high performing teams and less effective ones.

Hold On. Can a Team Really Be Emotionally Intelligent?

Yes. Inspired by Goleman’s work, researchers Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolff looked at emotional intelligence at the group level. They found that “just like individuals, the most effective teams are emotionally intelligent ones,” and that “a group's Emotional Intelligence isn’t simply the sum of its members.”

Instead, if you think about a group as one entity, a group’s emotional intelligence is its ability to create a shared set of norms that manage the emotional process. These norms help a group build trust, establish identity, and achieve results. By establishing norms at three levels of interaction - the individuals within a team, the team itself, and the team interacting with other teams - leaders can help their teams build awareness of and manage emotions.

Team Emotional Intelligence: The Three Levels in Action

If you’ve been reading the Meeteor blog and applying some of the best practices, congratulations! You’re already on the way to building an emotionally intelligent team. If you just came across this article, know that it doesn’t take an offsite retreat or full-day teambuilding activity to get started. Start in your team meetings. Here are tips to increase emotional awareness and manage emotions at three levels.

For individuals within a team:

  • Hold a 5-minute check-in at the beginning of a meeting. Check-ins can be professional or personal concerns or triumphs, and can be big or small. Ask questions like, “What’s on your mind?” or “What’s new this week?”

  • Get everyone’s voice in the room. Be attentive to less vocal meeting participants and invite them to share their ideas with the team so all perspectives are considered.

  • Be transparent. Share your thinking and how you’re feeling with your teammates so they can understand you and what you’re working on more fully.

  • Avoid assumptions. Don’t assume everyone has the same level of interpersonal understanding, especially when you have team members with different backgrounds.

  • Establish ground rules for interaction. For example, if you have a ground rule like, “Be present with the people you are meeting with,” you can gently remind someone of this shared norm if they check their phone or otherwise get distracted.

  • Acknowledge team members’ contributions and let them know their value. Demonstrating care and support for the team builds trust and strengthens bonding.

  • Encourage feedback seeking and giving. Providing timely, specific feedback to each other not only helps team members grow but also builds self-awareness by learning how others perceive your behavior.

For the team as one entity:

  • Schedule periodical team review meetings. Team review meetings allow your team to reflect on how it collaborates, to learn from this reflection, and to get better at working together as a team.

  • Acknowledge the mood in the team. For example, when you notice lower energy level or tension among team members, share your observation. Saying something like, “I notice that the energy level is a bit low and I wonder if anyone else feels the same way” can help the team open up the conversation instead of suppressing emotions.

  • Provide vocabulary to help team members express their emotions. Consult this chart of The Six Families of Emotion and use it as a tool at the start of meetings. Ask each person to place colored stickers that represent their current mood on the chart. As a team, reflect on the mood patterns and ask questions like, “How can we increase our awareness of our moods?” and “How do moods affect our decision making as a team?” These questions help the team increase emotional awareness and surface challenges.

  • Be optimistic when the team encounters difficulties. You’ve likely been told to “stay positive” when facing a difficult situation, because a mood affects motivation and creativity. The same is true for your team. Encourage the group by saying things like, “I know this is challenging, but we can solve this problem together as a team.”

For cross-group interactions:

  • Identify the concerns or needs of other groups in the organization. This helps the team be aware of issues facing other groups and informs decision-making.

  • Recognize that your team culture and processes might be different from the rest of the organization. When interacting with other teams, seek understanding and common ground. For example, the marketing department may have different communication norms than your team. When you have cross-team meetings, it’s helpful to clarify what communication practices will be used in cross-team collaboration.

  • Create opportunities to network or interact with other teams. How about joint “lunch and learn” programs, happy hours, athletic events, or volunteering opportunities?

  • Get to know people from other teams as individuals. Reluctant to deal with the fill-in-the-blank department at work? Connect with a few of these individuals so that when it’s time to work with them, you can think of a specific friendly face to trigger positive instead of anxious feelings. This will improve the work culture for everyone, and even benefit your physical health!

Small Acts Yield Big Results

As Druskat and Wolff concluded,

“Group emotional intelligence is about small acts that make a big difference. It is not about in-depth discussion of ideas; it is about asking a quiet member for his thoughts. It is not about harmony, lack of tension, and all members liking each other; it is about acknowledging when harmony is false, tension is unexpressed, and treating others with respect.”

When you start taking actions to enhance group emotional intelligence at the three different levels, you build trust within the team, enhance team cohesion, and develop the team’s skills to manage relationships with others in the organization. Improving your team’s EQ can lead to great things for your team culture.

What’s your experience developing EQ in your teams?



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