Build emotional intelligence of your team

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

From Aug. 5 until Oct. 20, 2010, 33 Chilean miners successfully endured their hellish conditions because each individual was willing to put his own needs aside and keep his emotions in check for the good of the group. They selected a leader, assigned sub teams for tasks such as searching for an escape, and established a decision-making process. From the very beginning, the men looked for ways to create an affirmative environment based on hope and caring for one another.  They played practical jokes to lighten the mood. There is no doubt that teamwork was the key to their survival.

Working with many different teams has taught me the importance of strengthening the emotional intelligence (EQ) of groups.  Most of the dysfunction I have experienced as a team member and facilitating teams is rooted in poor EQ skills. The “meeting after the meeting” results from a lack of trust and inability to respond to one another constructively in emotionally sensitive situations.

Compliance results when team members do not feel respected, valued and understood. Without commitment, team members place blame and find excuses rather than demonstrate ownership and a positive “can-do” spirit. Egos and personal agendas blind team members from seeing how their behavior is negatively impacting overall performance.

An exercise I like to facilitate with team members is called, “What’s Your Team’s M.O. (Modus Operandi?) Additional details and exercises can be found in Adele Lynn’s book, Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers.

I ask team members to pretend they are outside observers commenting on their own team. From this perspective, they individually answer the question, “What would you say about your team’s performance when there is intense pressure and insufficient resources?” or, “What happens to your team when there is internal conflict and disagreement among members?” and, “How does your team typically respond when it experiences a large setback?” Each team member shares his individual response with the group. From the discussion, we paint a picture of the group’s emotional health, identifying how to build on strengths and eliminate weaknesses.

There are four elements of team emotional intelligence – emotional awareness and management along with internal and external relationship management.  These factors positively correlate with a team’s ability to make decisions, engage in open communication, influence stakeholders, maintain high morale, build cohesiveness, overcome obstacles and achieve extraordinary results.

To build a team’s self-awareness, start with getting to know team members as people. What are their communication-style preferences? What talents do they bring to the team? What is important to them in a work setting? How do they relax outside of work? It is important to look for what is right in a person rather than nitpick about blemishes.

Another step to build self-awareness in a group is to take time to check the mood in the room.  For example, say a project team has been working 24/7 for the past two weeks to meet a newly revised customer deadline. The project team leader comes into the room and begins to reprimand the team for not getting the final presentation to the customer in the proper format. Eyes begin to dart feverishly around the room. Some team members lose eye contact and bury themselves in their laptops. Others slouch in their chairs, thrown their pencils down and stare in disbelief.  An emotionally intelligent team would recognize the dismay and frustration being demonstrated in the room and actively take a stand to address the issue, openly with the group.  A team member would state what she has observed in the team’s reactions, ask questions and encourage everyone to listen openly believing the best and expecting the best from her colleagues.

Emotional management in a team is enhanced by establishing core team values and meeting norms, protecting team members from attack and validating all team member contributions. Paying attention to the little things such as always being respectful in communications, expressing what is right with an idea before offering a contrary opinion and demonstrating common courtesy help to build positive relationships where team members can be open and transparent with one another.

Another important element in building team EQ is developing an affirmative environment. It is important to help the team focus on what it can control and influence what it cannot. Members need to be reminded of the bigger picture, keeping the team’s purpose in mind. It is important to focus more on solutions and take ownership for situations rather than lay blame or make excuses. Windshields are bigger than rear view mirrors for a reason!

Internal relationship management is about developing feedback, conflict resolution and decision-making skills. It is important for the team to understand its group style (constructive, passive, aggressive) and implement techniques to eliminate negative patterns of behavior.  For example, if a team has a passive group style where team members “go along to get along” it may be helpful to use a structured brainstorming technique to get everyone involved in the discussion or to encourage uncensored brainstorming before evaluating.

In the end, every team member must take ownership for how she contributes to the overall emotional intelligence of the group. If I frequently engage in negative gossip, do not actively participate in team meetings, prefer to share doom and gloom about team goals and lose my temper when stress levels are high, I am negatively hurting the team.  I have a choice to make, just like the Chilean miners.  I can be there for the good of my team or not.  The results speak for themselves.

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at