By now, most executives have accepted that emotional intelligence is as critical as IQ to an individual's
effectiveness. But much of the important work in organizations is done in teams. New research uncovers
what emotional intelligence at the group level looks like -- and how to achieve it.
WHEN MANAGERS FIRST STARTED HEARING ABOUT the concept of emotional intelligence in
the 1990s, scales fell from theft eyes. The basic message, that effectiveness in organizations is at least as
much about EQ as IQ, resonated deeply; it was something that people knew in theft guts but that had
never before been so well articulated. Most important, the idea held the potential for positive change.
Instead of being stuck with the hand they'd been dealt, people could take steps to enhance their emotional
intelligence and make themselves more effective in theft work and personal lives.
Indeed, the concept of emotional intelligence had real impact. The only problem is that so far emotional
intelligence has been viewed only as an individual competency, when the reality is that most work in
organizations is done by teams. And if managers have one pressing need today, it's to find ways to make
teams work better.
It is with real excitement, therefore, that we share these findings from our research: individual emotional
intelligence has a group analog, and it is just as critical to groups' effectiveness. Teams can develop
greater emotional intelligence and, in so doing, boost their overall performance.
Why Should Teams Build Their Emotional Intelligence?
No one would dispute the importance of making teams work more effectively. But most research about
how to do so has focused on identifying the task processes that distinguish the most successful teams-that
is, specifying the need for cooperation, participation, commitment to goals, and so forth. The assumption
seems to be that, once identified, these processes can simply be imitated by other teams, with similar
effect. It's not tree. By analogy, think of it this way: a piano student can be taught to play Minuet in G, but
he won't become a modern-day Bach without knowing music theory and being able to play with heart.
Similarly, the real source of a great team's success lies in the fundamental conditions that allow effective
task processes to emerge--and that cause members to engage in them wholeheartedly.
Our research tells us that three conditions are essential to a group's effectiveness: trust among members, a
sense of group identity, and a sense of group efficacy. When these conditions are absent, going through
the motions of cooperating and participating is still possible. But the team will not be as effective as it
could be, because members will choose to hold back rather than fully engage. To be most effective, the
team needs to create emotionally intelligent norms- the attitudes and behaviors that eventually become
habits -- that support behaviors for building trust, group identity, and group efficacy. The outcome is
complete engagement in tasks. (For more on how emotional intelligence influences these conditions, see
the sidebar "A Model of Team Effectiveness")
Three Levels of Emotional Interaction
Make no mistake: a team with emotionally intelligent members does not necessarily make for an
emotionally intelligent group. A team, like any social group, takes on its own character. So creating an
upward, self-reinforcing spiral of trust, group identity, and group efficacy requires more than a few
members who exhibit emotionally intelligent behavior. It requires a team atmosphere in which the norms
build emotional capacity (the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations)
and influence emotions in constructive ways. Team emotional intelligence is more complicated than individual emotional intelligence because teams
interact at more levels. To understand the differences, let's first look at the concept of individual
emotional intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman. In his definitive book Emotional intelligence,
Goleman explains the chief characteristics of someone with high EI; he or she is aware of emotions and
able to regulate them -- and this awareness and regulation are directed both inward, to one's self, and
outward, to others. "Personal competence," in Goleman's words, comes from being aware of and
regulating one's own emotions. "Social competence" is awareness and regulation of others' emotions.
A group, however, must attend to yet another level of awareness and regulation. It must be mindful of the
emotions of its members, its own group emotions or moods, and the emotions of other groups and
individuals outside its boundaries.
In this article, we'll explore how emotional incompetence at any of these levels can cause dysfunction.
We'll also show how establishing specific group norms that create awareness and regulation of emotion at
these three levels can lead to better outcomes. First, we'll focus on the individual level -- how emotionally
intelligent groups work with their individual members' emotions. Next, we'll focus on the group level.
And finally, we'll look at the cross-boundary level.
Working with Individuals' Emotions
Jill Kasper, head of her company's customer service department, is naturally tapped to join a new cross-
functional team focused on enhancing the customer experience: she has extensive experience in and a real
passion for customer service. But her teammates find she brings little more than a bad attitude to the table.
At an early brainstorming session, Jill sits silent, arms crossed, rolling her eyes. Whenever the team starts
to get energized about an idea, she launches into a detailed account of how a similar idea went nowhere in
the past. The group is confused: this is the customer service star they've been hearing about? Little do
they realize she feels insulted by the very formation of the team. To her, implies she hasn't done her job
When a member is not on the same emotional wavelength as the rest, a team needs to be emotionally
intelligent vis--vis that individual. In part, that simply means being aware of the problem. Having a norm
that encourages interpersonal understanding might facilitate an awareness that Jill is acting out of
defensiveness. And picking up on this defensiveness is necessary if the team wants to make her
understand its desire to amplify her good work, not negate it.
Some teams seem to be able to do this naturally. At Hewlett-Packard, for instance, we learned of a team
that was attempting to cross-train its members. The idea was that if each member could pinch-hit on
everyone else's job, the team could deploy efforts to whatever task required the most attention. But one
member seemed very uncomfortable with learning new skills and tasks; accustomed to being a top
producer in his own job, he hated not knowing how to do a job perfectly, Luckily, his teammates
recognized his discomfort, and rather than being annoyed, they redoubled their efforts to support him.
This team benefited from a group norm it had established over time emphasizing interpersonal
understanding. The norm had grown out of the group's realization that working to accurately hear and
understand one another's feelings and concerns improved member morale and a willingness to cooperate.
Many teams build high emotional intelligence by taking pains to consider matters from an individual
member's perspective. Think of a situation where a team of four must reach a decision; three favor one
direction and the fourth favors another. In the interest of expedience, many teams in this situation would
move directly to a majority vote. But a more emotionally intelligent group would pause first to hear out
the objection. It would also ask if everyone were completely behind the decision, even if there appearedto be consensus. Such groups would ask, "Are there any perspectives we haven't heard yet or thought
Perspective taking is a team behavior that teamwork experts discuss often--but not in terms of its
emotional consequence. Many teams are trained to use perspective-taking techniques to make decisions or
solve problems (a common tool is affinity diagramming). But these techniques may or may not improve a
group's emotional intelligence. The problem is that many of these techniques consciously attempt to
remove emotion from the process by collecting and combining perspectives in a mechanical way. A more
effective approach to perspective talking is to ensure that team members see one another making the
effort to grapple with perspectives; that way, the team has a better chance of creating the kind of trust that
leads to greater participation among members.
An executive team at the Hay Group, a consulting firm, engages in the kind of deep perspective talking
we're describing. The team has done role-playing exercises in which members adopt others' opinions and
styles of interaction. It has also used a "storyboarding" technique, in which each member creates a small
poster representing his or her ideas. As team members will attest, these methods and others have helped
the group build trust and increase participation.
Regulating Individuals' Emotions
Interpersonal understanding and perspective taking are two ways that groups can become more aware of
their members' perspectives and feelings. But just as important as awareness is the ability to regulate
those emotions -- to have a positive impact on how they are expressed and even on how individual team
members feel. We're not talking about imposing groupthink or some other form of manipulation here --
clearly, the goal must be to balance the team's cohesion with members' individuality. We're simply
acknowledging that people take their emotional cues from those around them. Something that s