Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 5.09.31 pmFrom the Desk of Nick Mills

To be effective, teams needs to create emotionally intelligent norms that build trust, group identity, and group efficacy. It’s not as difficult as it sounds — you just need to behave in ways that build relationships both inside and outside the team.


Can a group of people build their emotional intelligence and become an awesome, high performing team?  Of course they can; but there are a few elements that will make it so.

When teams are thoughtfully designed, gathering the right kinds of talent and diversity, they can operate better and more flexibly than individual performers. In fact, research in the last decade has proven that group decision-making is superior than that of even the brightest individual in the group. The sad exception to this rule is when the group lacks harmony or the ability to cooperate. Then, the decision-making quality suffers dramatically.

The important difference between effective teams and ineffective ones lies in the emotional intelligence of the group. Teams have an emotional intelligence of their own. And this is comprised of the emotional intelligence of individual members, as well as a ‘collective competency’ generated by the group as a whole.

What this means is that everyone contributes to the overall level of emotional intelligence, with the leader having slightly more influence than the other team members. The good news is that when teams develop greater emotional intelligence, they can boost their performance and productivity.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups” (March 2001), Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B. Wolff identify three conditions essential to a group’s effectiveness:

  • Trust among members Team members are open and accepting of other members, refraining from judgment and believing each has something valuable to contribute.
  • A sense of group identity The feeling among members that they belong to a unique and worthwhile group.
  • A sense of group efficacy The belief that the team can perform well and that group members are more effective working together than apart.

Their idea is that, to be most effective, the team needs to create emotionally intelligent norms — the attitudes and behaviours that eventually become habits — that support behaviours for building trust, group identity and group efficacy.

Group emotional intelligence is also about behaving in ways that build relationships both inside and outside the team. Building relationships strengthens the team’s ability to face challenges. In order to strengthen relationships, however, the group must feel safe to be able to explore, embrace, and ultimately to rely on emotions in work. And, in order for this to happen, emotions must be considered for the good of the group. Feelings count, but then there are the tasks at hand and the work that needs to be done. Team leaders must constantly balance harmony with productivity.

According to Daniel Goleman in Primal Leadership (2002), how people feel about working at a company can account for 20 to 30 percent of business performance. He’s identified a few principles that are imperative in developing and sustaining emotional intelligence in teams:

  • Good feelings keep cooperation high.
  • The focus on productivity must be balanced with team relationships.
  • Humour stimulates creativity, opens lines of communications, and enhances trust.
  • Habits do not need to control the team; the team can control habits.
  • Emotions are contagious.

When people feel good, they work better, are more creative, and are more productive. Good feelings are like lubrication for the brain — mental efficiency goes up, memory is sharpened, people can understand directions and make better decisions. Studies have shown this to be especially true when it comes to teams. Playful joking can make all the difference in how people function together. In fact, humour has been shown to increase the likelihood of concessions during a negotiation. Because of emotional contagion, when one or two people are in a good mood, it spreads easily to other members. And this is a powerful tool for strong leaders.

The bottom line? For stronger, more cohesive, more effective teams, you need to work on developing emotional intelligence, building it into the ways work is approached, decisions are made, and goals are enacted.