Emotional Intelligence for High Performing Teams
By: Dr. Emily Anhalt
Have you ever worked on a project with a colleague who seemed to be completely unaware of how their emotions were affecting their work?
There is a long-held fantasy that people should keep their emotions out of the workplace, and that there should be a firmly held boundary between our personal and professional lives. There’s a reason this is fantasy though - it’s not actually possible. The harder people try to keep emotions out of the workplace, the more they get acted out in unhelpful and unhealthy ways. We are communicating our emotions constantly - in our tone of voice, through our actions, and with the particular words we choose.
If emotions can’t be kept out of the workplace, then how can a team make use of them?
In 2012, Google conducted a widespread research project, codenamed Project Aristotle, to understand why some of their teams were performing well above the rest. Their conclusion? Top-performing teams were the ones that had managed to create an atmosphere of psychological safety: one in which people knew they would be heard, and in which they felt safe to take risks, to make mistakes, and to challenge each other.
In order to create and maintain this kind of safe psychological space, team members must be able to recognize, regulate, and leverage their emotions. Emotional intelligence and resilience are key here, and they not fixed traits - they must be cultivated, practiced, and tended to on an ongoing basis. When increasing EI is a team priority, everyone in the workplace will benefit.
Here are four aspects of Emotional Intelligence that directly correlate with team performance:
1. Self-Awareness. The ability for each individual team member to recognize their own emotional strengths, struggles, and triggers is an invaluable ingredient in team success. Many people feel, communicate, and act out strong emotions without even realizing they’re doing so, and often without understanding why. Increasing self-awareness is imperative, and is the first step toward self-regulation.
2. Self-Regulation. Self-regulation involves maintaining some control over what one does with their emotions. Self-regulation does not mean that team members do not experience their emotions, it means that they work them through (or temporarily put them aside) instead of acting them out. When team members can trust each other to self-regulate, a safer space for cooperation will be fostered.
3. Empathy. Empathy is a willingness to genuinely feel someone else’s emotions in order to understand them. If there is only an intellectual understanding, it is not empathy; there must be an emotional component as well. Self-awareness and self-regulation are important prerequisites for empathy, and when a team is genuinely empathetic with each other, performance will be greatly enhanced.
4. Effective Communication. The inability to communicate effectively on a team leads to confusion, frustration, and interpersonal conflict. Once team members have awareness of their own emotions and the ability to empathize with each other, they must also learn to both listen, and to communicate in a way that can be heard. This will result in alignment, cooperation, organization, and productivity.