Author Archives: melissaburney

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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Strategies to Minimise Survivor Syndrome

Restructuring is a very stressful time for everyone involved. Often restructuring involves redundancies and can be particularly taxing for the people who make the tough decisions as well as those who come out of the process without a job. However, is it possible that the remaining employees suffer just as much in their own right? There is a tendency to count the remaining employees as “lucky” and give them little consideration, but could we be missing something?

Survivor syndrome has been defined as the physical and psychological impact of redundancies on the remaining staff who didn’t lose their jobs. According to a survey by IRS Employment Review, Survivor Syndrome can actually limit the potential financial savings of redundancies by reducing the performance and attendance of the remaining employees and increasing staff turnover.

A study published in 2008 by Leadership IQ reported that “guilt” was one of the top three words used by the surviving staff to describe their feelings. Others include “anger” and “anxiety”.  For employees suffering from Survivor Syndrome, emotions can stem from a number of places.  They may experience sadness for their co-workers who are gone, relief and guilt that they still have a job of their own, anxiety at the possibility that they could also lose their job at any moment and stress associated with an increased workload and fewer resources at their disposal.  So how can organisations minimise this impact? Three suggestions outlined by Burnham (2009) include:

  • Communicate – The way employees perceive the process of a restructure depends on how much information is shared and when. Communicating with staff throughout the downsizing process, revealing the rationale for the decision and the actions taken to prevent it may reduce the likelihood of the surviving employees viewing the restructure as impulsive or unfair.
  • Lead by example – Restructuring is part of business and tough decisions must be made. However, the light in which surviving employees view the organisation once the process is complete is crucial. Therefore, leading them towards a brighter future is essential to keeping them engaged and committed.
  • Create opportunity – Providing your remaining employees with additional training and motivating them to seek out ways to improve their skills is going to be critical in making them feel valued. Providing them with this additional support also tells them that the organisation is dedicated to their future development.

These strategies are particularly important for surviving employees as they are often expected to feel grateful to be in their position, therefore they may feel unable to voice how they are feeling.  As an organisation, attempting to understand their position and acknowledging that they have been through an uncertain and unsettling period is the first step in ensuring a positive and healthy work environment for the future.

What are your thoughts? Should we focus some attention on keeping remaining employees engaged or simply count them as one of the lucky ones?

Are Mistakes a Cause for Celebration?

We all make mistakes on a daily basis. Mistakes are inevitable in all facets of life (including the workplace); none of us are perfect but how we handle mistakes is what counts. Yes, mistakes are frustrating and less than ideal, but could there be a silver lining to this dark cloud? I recently read an article by Alexander Kjerulf, an expert on happiness at work, who argues that rather than stigmatising failure we should acknowledge it or even celebrate it. We are all aware of the importance of celebrating success but I can almost hear you all ask, “Why on earth would you celebrate failure?”

One key reason outlined by Kjerulf is that when you celebrate mistakes you learn more from them. For example, when the website of one large company crashed it was a big deal, as most of their sales were online and every hour that went by was costing thousands of dollars. The CEO was told that “John in IT” had bungled the backup system and caused the crash. When the CEO came to talk to John, everyone in IT went quiet, feeling sure they knew what was coming. Instead, the CEO walked straight up to John and said, “I want to thank you for finding this weakness in our system and thanks to your actions we can now learn from this and fix the system, so something like this can’t happen in the future”.  Needless to say, this mistake was never made again. The idea around this strategy is that when people are in an environment where they can own up to their mistakes without fear of reprisal, they are more likely to admit responsibility and learn from them. This also avoids the time-consuming process of people attempting to cover themselves and explain why the mistakes they have made aren’t their fault.

Kjerulf also suggests that when people aren’t scared to make mistakes they won’t be afraid to take risks, in turn enabling creativity and innovation. Sometimes taking risks is necessary and the sooner you make a mistake, the sooner you can learn from it and move on. As a result, putting a foot wrong every now and then actually opens your eyes up to new ideas and ways of doing things.  If you’re not scared of failure, you may just be one step closer to success. To say that “failure is not an option” is misleading.  In reality, failure is inevitable; a work environment that is constantly putting pressure on its employees to only ever succeed is creating a culture where people are going to try to cover up their mistakes, ignore warning signs, and stick with the tried and tested as opposed to searching for new improved processes. On the whole, I would imagine that the most creative, innovative ideas are the ones where people have failed and tried again and again until they find the solution. And, if nothing else, it will most definitely make success all the more satisfying in the end!

So what do you think? Is there something in celebrating failure as well as success?

Keeping Employees Engaged during Difficult Times: Communication is Key.

During an economic downturn a lack of job security can have a negative effect on employees. Not only can this adversely impact employee morale, it can have a wider impact on the culture of a workplace and, in turn, organisational performance. So what can organisations do to maintain engagement levels when change is required?

One way to maintain engagement during change is to alter the way in which employees perceive change. According to Goodman and Truss (2004) the first step to gaining buy-in for change is to effectively communicate to employees the need for change and that adaptation is necessary in order to survive difficult times. Another important component of communication is including those likely to be affected in discussions identifying ways in which to minimise the negative impact of any change. Among other things, allowing employees to explore how they can directly or indirectly add value to the service the organisation provides is likely to help maintain engagement by increasing feelings of empowerment. Aside from its positive impact on engagement, including employees in discussions aimed at increasing efficiency may also result in the identification of new ways of working that were overlooked during more stable times.

Goodman and Truss (2004) also found that both the process and the content of a communication strategy significantly impact the success of change initiatives. Informing employees of change and the need for it in advance is crucial in reducing uncertainty. Not only is the timing of the message important, but so is having a clear idea of what you are hoping to communicate through the content of the message. Goodman and Truss (2004) provide the following as common examples of the purpose of such communications:

  • Obtain individual buy-in
  • Obtain commitment to the change
  • Minimise resistance
  • Reduce personal anxiety
  • Ensure clarity of objectives
  • Share information/vision
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Obtain clarity
  • Minimise uncertainty

 So, research suggests that having open and honest communications with people is not only a useful way to maintain an engaged and motivated workforce during stable times, but even more so when job insecurity is at the forefront of many people’s minds. What are your thoughts?

Goodman, J., & Truss, C., (2004). The medium and the message: communicating effectively during a major change initiative. Journal of Change Management, 4, 217-228.