6 Ways to Create More Emotionally Intelligent Teams: How To Transform Your Team to Make it More Empathetic and Successful

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We’ve recetly talked a lot about how emotionally intelligent teams are more successful and perform better: they are better at managing conflict, making decisions, and creating a creative and motivating team environment.

The reasons for this are clear: when teams are aware of the emotions of their team members, they can then work to influence the mood of the teamand make their underlying structures more solid. It also allows them to be more aware of the emotions of outside groups that they have to deal with, which leads to more success.

But one question remains in our discussion of emotionally intelligent teams–how to actually go about making them. We know the underlying theory of emotionally intelligent teams, so now it’s time to figure out how to make them a reality. 

In this blog post we’ll go into the steps that are needed to make more emotionally intelligent teams. We’ll draw on the model that we introduced last week and distill from it some of the main practical lessons that your team can use. 

A brief review of the attributes of emotional intelligence

First, let’s review some of the main ideas that we introduced about emotionally intelligent teams. We discussed five attributes:

  • Awareness of individual members’ emotions
  • Influencing team members’s emotions
  • Awareness of the team’s emotions as a whole (i.e. mood)
  • Influencing the mood of the team as a whole
  • Dealing with the emotions of outside teams and groups (cross-boundary relationships)

Remember, with emotional intelligence there is a repeating pattern of awareness/influence. Once you are aware of emotions–those of individual team members, the mood of the team as a whole, or the emotions of those outside your group–you can then influence those emotions more positively. 

Keep these attributes in the back of your mind as we go through the steps you can take to create more emotionally intelligent teams. 

Steps to create more emotionally intelligent teams 

1. Be more open about emotions 

In order to create a basis for becoming more aware of your team’s emotions, as well the emotions of cross-boundary relationships, the first step to creating more emotionally intelligent teams is to be more open and share more.

Communication is the best way to understand each other and create a basis for shared understanding. While in the past many teams and organizations were hesitant to talk openly about emotions, we are in a different world now. Mental well-being and psychological safety are both critical to teams’ success and resilience, and require open and honest communication about emotions.

We have also witnessed in the past two years how important communication about stress and anxiety is for teams. So a major goal for all teams should be to not shy away from conversations about feelings and emotions. Understanding how people feel leads to greater empathy and trust and will allow teams to turn negative emotions into positive ones, such as motivation and the desire to succeed.

2. Manage conflicts

Of course, you might be thinking that by sharing feelings and emotions, you might run into more conflict. Yes that is true. But conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, conflict is sometimes necessary in order to point out problems. If conflict never arises, negative emotions may fester.The difference is that while emotionally intelligent teams still have conflict and confrontation, they do so in a managed way.

Managed conflict means that the confrontation is de-escalated so that it doesn’t affect interpersonal relationships. What does this mean? If two members have differing views on how a product should be marketed, they may get attached to their proposals emotionally. Both may feel that by choosing the others’ proposal, the team is rejecting them as individuals.

An emotionally intelligent team understands this, and the underlying emotions involved. That team would then work to find a solution that merges both proposals as much as possible, or that saves the ideas from the rejected proposal for future projects. Or it could be simply a matter of making the decision-making process as transparent and open as possible. 

There are many ways to manage conflicts, based on the team’s culture and the personalities involved. Ultimately though, managed conflict is about finding solutions to problems rather than ignoring them. Rather than putting off dealing with conflict, managed conflict looks at ways to find a path forward based on trust and understanding.   

3. Provide ways to give feedback

Connected to having managed conflict and de-escalating confrontation is providing methods for giving and receiving feedback. Having feedback mechanisms and ways of communicating positive and negative criticism are important for making emotionally intelligent teams because they add to an awareness about how people are feeling, and they can point to potential problems that are not being addressed.

There are many ways to go about providing methods for giving feedback. This could involve one-on-one chats or “check-ins”, or it could come in the form of group discussions and activities. Guided activities for giving feedback, like SWOT charts for example, may be helpful. 

Another easy way to increase opportunities for feedback is to make decisions more slowly. Reach out to everyone to get their opinion before decisions are made, and make sure that even the more quiet team members have a chance to speak and share their views. 

But really giving and receiving feedback should be made into a norm (see below) that is part of the team culture. Remember that feedback goes both ways, and that individual team members also desire feedback to let them know what they could be doing better, and so that they feel respected and cared about. 

In this way, regular feedback through both formal and informal sessions helps temas as a whole as well as individual members become more communicative and emotionally aware.

4. Find outlets for emotions

Along with providing more feedback mechanisms, finding more outlets for emotions and ways of dealing with stress will also help create more emotionally intelligent teams. As we’ve emphasized a lot, emotions are a natural part of teams and work. There are positive emotions like the desire to succeed and be a part of the team, as well as negative ones like stress.

Both of these types of emotions need outlets so that the overall emotional state of the team can be positively influenced. Team building activities are a great outlet for positive emotions. They are meant to raise the overall spirit of the team, and focus team members on succeeding and achieving something together. 

When done right, they can also be used as ways of working through collective negative emotions by opening up communications and establishing greater trust among members. 

But teams also need to be aware of individuals’ negative emotions and help find outlets for them as well. Providing resources for dealing with mental health, and making sure to listen and understand when team members are going through particular difficulties is one way to do this.  

Another is making work schedules a little more flexible so that team members can release stress and decompress through exercising, creative pursuits, or other hobbies. Even being more flexible with break times, or being more understanding when someone looks down can allow individuals a little more time to release negative emotions. 

This is becoming an increasingly pertinent point with the rise of hybrid work styles. The old (or rather pre-Covid) work-life imbalance of working around the clock seems to be cracking, and many people have discovered that they want a more flexible work style after experiencing working from home. 

5. Establish strong norms

Establishing strong and consistent team norms and behaviors is probably the most effective way to make more emotionally intelligent teams. Norms are set patterns that are part of the structure and culture of the team, and that involve everyone so that the behaviors become self-reinforcing.

As we mentioned last time, norms have different origins, including:

  • Formal leaders
  • Informal leaders
  • Organizational structure and formal culture–positional hierarchy, meeting style, performance measures, etc. 
  • Informal culture such as coworker relationships, peer pressure, social hierarchies, etc.
  • training and mentoring

Establishing norms means dealing with all of these origin points in some way. Leadership needs to be on board with understanding how to be aware of emotions on the team and deal with them productively. But the underlying structures and organizational cultures need to be addressed too, and changed if need be. This could take the form, for example, of changing how emotions are discussed, or how much flexibility team members are given to take time off.

The less formal origin points are a bit harder to deal with, but only because they won’t always be the same every time. Once informal leaders, it’s only a matter of reaching out to them for support and getting them on board. Larger social networks on teams can also be dealt with through team-wide feedback sessions or team building activities that get people talking and thinking together..  

Finally, training and mentoring are where teams have the most ability to shape norms directly. The importance of mentoring and training can’t be undervalued, and we’ve emphasized how important they are in the past. 

In the context of emotionally intelligent teams, mentoring has the ability to shape the culture of the next generation of team members and those who will eventually be in leadership roles. Giving them the tools to become more emotionally aware and positively influence group emotions is key.

Training, too, can provide the means of sharing information about emotional awareness, health, open communication, and conflict management more broadly across the team. Providing an opportunity to learn together also has the secondary effect of bringing team members closer together as well. 

6. Maintain effective cross boundary-relationships 

Finally, let’s focus on the last attribute of emotionally intelligent teams: cross-boundary relationships. Remember, teams aren’t only dealing with themselves. If they want to be truly effective and successful, teams have to reach out and interact with the wider world on some level. That could be simply interacting with another department, or it could mean communicating with a client hal-way around the world.

To build and maintain these relationships means using what you learned above in order to reach out. Understanding the emotions on your own team should give you the power to become more aware of the emotions of teams that you end up dealing with, but sometimes that shift from inward to outward-looking is harder than we think.

But you can apply the principles we talked about earlier to cross-boundary relationships. First of all, be aware that other groups have their own emotional states and moods. Then try to work on your relationship with that group through open dialogue and by providing consistent feedback. When there are problems, try to solve them through understanding and compromise. 

Furthermore, look at the norms that you(ve established–how you communicate with them, how you interact with them, whether you’ve actually formed a basis of–and think about how to improve the structures you’ve formed.  

Conclusion

Relationships take time, patience, and consistency. That’s true of relationships on teams as well. It’s often taken for granted that teams will form naturally, since members spend a lot of time together. However, as we’ve seen here, emotional intelligence offers a powerful set of ways that can help you improve that relationship-building process and make your team more effective.

Emotionally intelligent teams are better able to solve problems, deal with conflicts, and form relationships with other teams that will help support them and make them even more successful. But even without all of that, the steps outlined above can help teams simply create a more healthy, equitable and safe environment for all their team members, one that nurtures team members and that allows teams to do what they do best–combine skills to produce something great. 

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