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Emotional Intelligence of Teams
March 1, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

During a recent consultation, I was again reminded of the importance of emotional intelligence at a team level, and that team emotional intelligence is not simply a sum of the emotional intelligence of its individual members.

In their 2001 article in the Harvard Business Review, Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B. Wolff suggested that group emotional intelligence “comes from norms that support awareness and regulation of emotions within and outside the team. These norms build trust, group identity, and a sense of group efficacy. Group emotional intelligence isn't a question of dealing with necessary evil-catching emotions as they bubble up and promptly suppressing them. Far from it. It’s about bringing emotions deliberately to the surface and understanding how they affect the team's work. It’s also about behaving in ways that build relationships that strengthen the team's ability to face challenges.”
Here are some practical tools I have found to be effective for teams:
Set group ground rules: Not every team member has the same expectations about what productive and respectful team behavior is. Formally agreeing to ground rules and revisiting them regularly can create healthy group norms. Here are some ground rules many organizations include: 1) disagree passionately behind closed doors, demonstrate a united front outside, 2) everyone participates, no one dominates, 3) speak up in the meeting, no “meeting after the meeting,” 4) when you have strong feelings about a topic, have face-to-face discussion; don't send prickly emails.
Select a process observer in team meetings. Most groups are effective at managing the content of meetings (e.g. did we cover the agenda? What decisions need to be made?), but often gloss over the process of the meeting (e.g. two members dominated the discussion and the remaining eight sat silently with their arms crossed). Addressing the process can feel awkward. One strategy is to designate one person to take a process observer role, usually on a rotating basis. Here are some questions the process observer might ask: “Are we following our group ground rules right now?” “Is this a productive discussion?” “What might we do to assure all voices are heard in this discussion?” After the process observer asks the question, there is a group round-robin with each person either answering the question or passing.
Use personality inventories. Diverse perspectives make for better discussions and outcomes, yet significant differences in work-styles can create conflict and distrust. Group interpretation of personality inventories can increase openness about differences, give the group shared and neutral language to discuss differences, and increase a group's ability to tap into individual's sweet spots.
Druskat & Wolff (2001). Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups. Harvard Business Review, 81-90.

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