How Does Emotional Intelligence Relate to Teams?

How does emotional intelligence relate to teams?

Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as the ability to recognise, understand and manage the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. The concept of EI and its contribution to the effectiveness of organisations is now well researched and supported. However, as Druskat and Wolff (2001) point out this has generally been discussed in terms of the impact at the individual level and the reality is that most of the work we do and the decisions we make is in teams. Because overall performance relies so much on team cohesiveness and awareness, enhancing emotional intelligence across the team is crucial but what does this look like and how does it differ from strategies aimed at enhancing individual emotional intelligence?

The key differences between the concepts of individual and group emotional intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman suggest that someone with high emotional intelligence is aware of emotions and able to regulate them both inwardly and outwardly. However, just because a team is made up of emotionally intelligent people does not make for an emotionally intelligent group. A team must not only consider the emotions of the individuals within that group, but they must also be mindful of the emotions of the group as a whole, as well as the emotions of other groups in a broader context. According to Druskat and Wolff, establishing emotionally intelligent group norms where specific attitudes and behaviours become habits that enable trust, group identity and group efficacy is the answer for creating emotionally intelligent groups and ensuring functional team performance.

There are a range of potential strategies for enabling emotionally intelligent behaviour in teams at these three levels. Interpersonal understanding and perspective taking were two strategies that Druskat and Wolff discussed as ways that people can become more aware of their team members’ perspectives and feelings at the individual level. Interpersonal understanding refers to a team’s ability to pick up certain behaviours of its members and recognise the cause of them.  Perspective taking refers to the way teams stop and take the time to consider the perspectives of everyone as opposed to simply going with the majority. An emotionally intelligent team would query if there were any perspectives they had not yet heard or thought through fully. Therefore, a group norm of interpersonal understanding and sensitivity is established and helps to nurture trust and a sense of group identity among its members.

While establishing these norms at the individual level is important, many teams can struggle to recognise emotions at the group level. In a study of effective teams, the authors found that having a group awareness of the team’s strengths and weaknesses and means of interaction were critical in facilitating group efficacy.  Group emotional intelligence is about bringing emotions to the surface and understanding how they impact the performance of the team, then facing them in an open and honest forum. The last type of emotional intelligence that any high performing team should have is the ability to understand emotions outside of their team. Sometimes a team can become so caught up in their objectives and ways of working they can struggle to understand why other groups in the organisation don’t share their viewpoint or enthusiasm. Successful teams are not only aware of others’ perspectives but are capable of influencing outsiders simply by how they frame their own needs and perspectives.

While emotional intelligence at the individual level has been well supported, emotional intelligence at the team level is critical to ensuring the success of a team. Through establishing norms for emotional awareness and understanding at all levels teams can create a culture of trust, group identity and efficacy resulting in high performance. Training courses can be hugely beneficial in increasing emotional awareness and helping people to regulate emotions. Many companies are now choosing to invest in leadership development courses and team building workshops which can inform teams of the importance of establishing emotionally intelligent norms and provide strategies in doing so. What norms exist within your team and what does your team do to encourage a supportive and trusting environment?

Druskat, V., Wolff, S. (2001). Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups. Harvard Business Review, 81-90.

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