How to Build Emotionally Intelligent, Productive Teams

There’s been a lot of talk about emotional intelligence in the last few years. Many people believe that a person’s EQ (emotional quotient) is just as important as IQ, if not more so. And there’s business data to back it up:

  • PepsiCo reported that their high-EQ executives were 10% more productive than those whose EQ was lower.
  • L’Oreal reported that their high-EQ salespeople sold $2.5 million more than their low-EQ counterparts.
  • Sheraton’s EQ program for its employees helped grow its market share by 24%.

However, because the focus tends to be on individual performance, the EQ of teams as a whole can easily be overlooked.

Does emotional intelligence affect successful teamwork? Absolutely. First, the average EQ of employees on a team affects that team’s performance. Second, we are now learning that teams can be trained to incorporate high-EQ practices into their daily activities and the ways they interact with others.

This post will explain the reasons why emotional intelligence is important for team performance, building stronger teams, and collaboration between teams. We’ll also provide steps for building the emotional intelligence of teams, which you can cascade down to your frontline managers.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Team Performance?

Imagine another type of team, such as a sports team. Much of their time is spent in practice, learning to work together. The amount of time they spend in front of paying audiences is a relatively small percentage of their working lives.

These teams spend a lot of time practicing in low-stakes environments and much of their practice centers on building emotional intelligence: trust in each other, communication, listening, self-discipline, motivation, and so on.

In contrast, your employees may spend the majority of their time in situations in which their actions can make or cost a lot of money and very little time learning to act as a team.

In the last 20 years, the time employees spend working in collaboration with others has increased by more than 50%. Since more work is being completed in teams, the ability to get along with others is vital for a team’s work to be completed successfully.

However, many high-performing individuals value their autonomy and the way they do things; it’s often what made them successful in the first place. Likewise, managers would often rather have their team members spend time on production than on team-building exercises. They assume that team members will naturally figure out how to work together—which isn’t always the case.

Teams may not automatically perform the way managers expect. When they’re put in collaborative situations, the rewards of collaboration are often offset by

  • An inability to effectively coordinate the work between individuals.
  • A lack of motivation caused by frustration and a lack of EQ-related skills.

What teams need is managers who will encourage practice in EQ-based teamwork, teaching teams to cooperate efficiently and capture the increased synergies of collaboration.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Building Good Teams in the Workplace?

Many organizations encourage their staff members to build their emotional-intelligence skills individually and offer them resources to do so. Unfortunately, explicitly helping teams to build their emotional intelligence hasn’t caught up with the individual training available. However, because well-coordinated teams will be required to solve challenges in increasingly complex business environments, team training in emotional intelligence is essential. The five areas of EQ are

  • Self-awareness
  • Internal Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills
  • Self-regulation

One of the key reasons that EQ is vital for building good teams is that it’s much easier for emotions to run high and hot during social interactions than during solitary work. A seemingly calm individual working alone can suddenly become agitated when interrupted or when a coworker disagrees with him or her.

Many great accomplishments in history come from amazing teams. Think about the businesses you look up to and the teams that were their backbones. Could they have accomplished what they did if they constantly felt frustrated during their interactions? We doubt it.

It’s vital, therefore, that your team members feel secure in knowing that their coworkers won’t lash out at them when they bring up new ideas, disagree, make mistakes, and so on.

Emotional intelligence certainly does affect successful teamwork, and there may be many more instances of this type of group breakdown in your teams than you realize. Some team members may even simply stop trying to work with their colleagues because they are tired of feeling hurt by others’ negative behavior.

To build good teams, team leaders and managers must create a team culture in which members make just as much effort to honor and build quality relationships as they do when solving business problems.

What Role Does Emotional Intelligence Play in Collaboration?

Conflicts quickly arise when people who have differences come together to work as a group. Temperament alone can cause conflict, not to mention conflicting goals, values, and social expectations. Employees who have great emotional intelligence look for opportunities to collaborate with others when they need to solve a problem or get through a conflict.

Team members need to learn the skills of managing their own emotion-based reactions toward others when they encounter differences. Criticism, blaming, and other negative reactions decrease productivity and discourage employees from collaborating with those who behave in this manner.

It might seem like employees should simply learn greater empathy, tolerance, self-discipline, and the like—and those are great skills—but team EQ requires building shared normative practices that the whole team supports and agrees to uphold.

Encouraging such social norms in the workplace can help teams develop shared habits that almost guarantee consistent respect and trust between employees. And if several of your teams establish similar norms, the collaboration between them can improve as well.

How Do You Build an Emotionally Intelligent Team?

One way to codify the habits that make up an emotionally intelligent team is to break them into nine social norms based on the Group Emotional Competence (GEC) Inventory. This particular way of organizing the social norms is laid out below. Note that the final two are especially helpful for building cross-team collaboration:

  • Understanding Each Team Member: Team members are encouraged to understand, respect, and value the different perspectives and character traits of each team member.
  • Confront Norm-Breakers: Team members should kindly remind each other when they break a social norm that can hurt others, even when they do so accidentally.
  • Caring Behavior: Teams should accept nothing less than courteous behavior, compassion, and caring treatment (i.e., treat each person as they would like to be treated).
  • Team Self-Evaluations: Managers should regularly analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their team in terms of triumphs, delays, good processes, successful interactions, and dealing with emotions.
  • Supplying EQ Resources: Leaders should supply various ways for employees to understand and work with their emotions. This can even include meetings in which employees can vent their feelings in a safe environment.
  • An Optimistic Culture: Team members should build habits and practices of reasoned positivity. An example is always first assuming the good faith and good intentions of coworkers.
  • Help Proactively: Encourage team members to feel responsible for any outstanding problems or pending work and help their coworkers with their duties proactively.
  • Organizational Understanding: Teams should continually learn about the experiences and work of other teams and departments, along with important organizational strategies and initiatives.
  • Inter-Team Relationships: Middle managers can schedule occasional meetings, events, and presentations (in person or online) in which teams get to know each other better, understand other teams’ work, and become more prepared to work together.

To develop these norms, schedule an initial meeting or two to set up the concept of building team EQ and its benefits. This will allow you to gain additional buy-in from the teams involved.

Then, help your teams select one norm to discuss and practice until it becomes a habit that is used consistently—even during crisis situations. Once this norm is habitual, help all team members move on to the next norm.

Improving the Bottom Line through Emotional Intelligence

Clearly, emotional intelligence does affect successful teamwork.  Encouraging teams to develop EQ-related norms can increase the productivity of individual teams and create better collaboration among multiple teams.

Employees who can trust their team members to consistently act in an emotionally intelligent way are much more motivated to work together effectively. They may also treat customers better, stay at your company longer, and contribute more creative ideas to the organization.

We hope you’ll plan out a way for your teams to start learning one habit at a time that will improve their emotional intelligence and their ability to work together with greater success. The health and profitability of your whole company depends on teamwork—and high-performance teamwork depends on individual EQ and the EQ of entire teams. To learn more about how to increase the emotional intelligence and productivity of the teams in your organization, contact CMOE.

About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.

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