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Building Team Emotional Intelligence

A workplace team coming together to focus on building group emotional intelligence
The Emotional Intelligence of a Team

Emotional Intelligence (EI) and having a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) are often associated with an individual’s social skills, particularly their empathic communication style, collaboration, relationship building abilities, active listening skills, healthy sense of otherness, and the like. But EI has a group or team analog, and it likely plays an even greater role in organizational performance because much if not most work emanates from teams.

The concept of “emotional intelligence” first came to light in the early ‘90s, and since then, it’s been viewed mostly as an individual competency.  In Daniel Goleman’s definitive book, Emotional Intelligence (1995), he outlines the chief characteristics of someone with high EI: (1) the individual is aware of his or her emotions and is able to regulate them, and (2) this awareness and regulation are directed both inward (“personal competence”) and outward toward others (“social competence”). But what about teams?  What norms of behavior work well for teams so they can build and develop a stronger EQ and avoid so much of the dysfunction that stems from emotional incompetence, like cliques, favoritism, and cube warfare?

The Premise of Team Emotional Intelligence

Most of us would agree that high levels of team cooperation and collaboration lead to greater team performance and output. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for “creative friction” on diverse teams, that virtuoso teams can’t work extraordinarily effectively even though members may be constantly at each other’s throats, or that too much cooperation (i.e., not rocking the boat) can hinder team output. But, all else being equal, cooperation, agility, collaboration, accountability, and a strong diversity orientation will likely result in more informed decisions, actions, and recommendations. And that's what team emotional intelligence is all about and why it's worth focusing on.

The Characteristics of an Emotionally Intelligent Team

Emotionally intelligent teams possess certain characteristics that, like their individual employee counterparts, involve group awareness, regulation of emotions, and a healthy sense of otherness.  Specifically, teams with a high EQ are often found to possess or demonstrate a high level of:

(1)  Open communication and collaboration.

(2)  Empathy and understanding, demonstrated by active listening, empathy, and a sense of having one another’s backs.

(3)  Conflict resolution skills that allow them to navigate their differences constructively.

(4)  Trust and respect for one another, as evidenced by recognition for a job well done and celebrations of achievements and extraordinary effort.

(5)  Adaptability, agility, and flexibility by learning from mistakes and adjusting accordingly.

Other factors include remaining accountable to the team—not just to the immediate manager—and sustaining a learning culture. When combined, these attributes help teams soar and individual members thrive.


A Way Forward to Build Team Self-Awareness and A Strong Sense of Otherness

This may all sound well and good, but how do you get your team there?  How can a team develop greater EI and, in doing so, boost the team’s overall performance and productivity? It all begins with sitting around the campfire (i.e., conference room table) conducting an honest self-assessment of team strengths, areas for development, and goals. It then moves to the leader communicating expectations regarding appropriate norms of behavior that strengthen and augment team output while respecting and maintaining members’ individuality. 

An Initial Assessment of Team Emotional Intelligence

The initial self-assessment may be conducted initially as a numeric exercise that all team members participate in. Assuming there is a fairly healthy level of trust and respect on the team to make a meeting like this viable, the leader can introduce the exercise—which can be done confidentially in writing beforehand or as part of a larger team dialogue—like this:

“Let’s measure our team’s EI using a simple scoring methodology of 1-10 (with 10 being highest). Then let’s discuss why we assigned those initial scores and how and what we can do to improve them. We’ll cover ten basic areas of “Team EI” and see what ah-hah moments and takeaways we can glean from this. Be brutally honest and err on the side of being overly critical for this initial exercise:










1.    Appreciation and Respect for One Another




2.    Trust and Support of One Another




3.    Our Demonstration of Active, Engaged, and Focused Listening  




4.    Our Level of Caring for the Team as a Whole as Well as Its Individual Members




5.    Our Commitment to Sustaining a Learning Culture




6.    Our Willingness to “Cross Pollinate” with Other Departments and Learn from Them




7.    Statement: “We Genuinely Like One Another”




8.    Statement: “We’re Not Afraid to Rock the Boat or Raise Contrary Ideas”




9.    Statement: “We’re All Held Equally Accountable and Benefit from Equal Opportunities"




10. Statement: “We’re Able to Do Our Very Best Work Every Day with Peace of Mind”




 *Score: Use a scale of 1-10 with 10 being highest

**Why: Why would you assign that particular score?

***How: How can we improve what we’re doing and how we’re doing it?


Completing an exercise like this can take minutes or hours, depending on the amount and tenor of feedback that’s shared. In this self-analysis lies your team’s current performance snapshot. Allow it to serve as a mini climate survey of sorts, and then develop three focus areas that everyone is willing to commit to. 

Resetting Leadership Expectations Regarding Team Emotional Intelligence

At that point, the leader can close the meeting by resetting his or her expectations for the team as follows:  

“Thank you all for the candid feedback. I’m looking forward to partnering with you all on next steps, including ‘putting more meat on the bones’ in terms of what success will look like in these areas. Please give that some thought before we meet again next week for our team check in. Before we wrap, though, allow me to outline my expectations going forward, emphasizing the commitments that I intend to make for the greater good of our team. Note that I’d like your feedback and recommendations as well next week so that we can round out this list and finalize our top go-forward commitments as a team:

1.    Always have one another’s backs and bring out the best in each other.

2.    Publicly recognize exceptional work or outstanding effort.

3.    Follow the rule, 'What you want for yourself, give to another' (especially trust, respect, and the benefit of the doubt).

4.    Listen with your eyes and your heart in addition to your ears. Listen to hear rather than to respond.

5.    When in doubt, err on the side of compassion and assume good intentions unless and until proven otherwise.

6.    Hold yourself accountable for your own “perception management,” meaning that you’ll raise your awareness of and become more sensitive to the effects of your behaviors and actions on others.

7.    Teach what you choose to learn. Become the role-model for others to follow by paying things forward and sharing your superpowers.

8.    Praise in public, censure in private. Couch constructive feedback in the interests of the other person’s career and professional development.

9.    Foster an achievement mentality, a sense of mutual accountability, and a willingness to help everyone do their best work every day with peace of mind.

10. No drama. Follow the ‘Life is too short’ wisdom and lighten up: lightheartedness and laughter should be our new normal going forward.”


Conducting a simple self-assessment is a challenging but healthy way to build team EQ. Think of this exercise as team coaching and a team turnaround strategy. Clarifying your expectations regarding EI norms of behavior is a logical way to end your initial meeting. And inviting others to share their suggestions at your next meeting creates a healthy sense of mutual respect and ongoing commitment to the group’s wellbeing.

EI grows and thrives when team members at all levels pay attention to it and make it a priority. Holding your team to new behavioral standards keeps things fresh and allows you to live your values at work, invite healthy feedback, and build stronger leaders in turn. You may just find that a healthy team intervention like this, combined with well-planned follow up on the topic, reignites a team’s energy, lowers the proverbial temperature in the room, and helps everyone reengage with a fresh start on a healthy footing.

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