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How Can You Develop An Emotionally Intelligent Team?

June 12, 2018

By: Crystal Spraggins

Anyone who’s read anything recently – or even not so recently – about workplace efficiency has at least heard the term “emotional intelligence.”

Everyone wants a more emotionally intelligent workplace. More and more, we’re all realizing that our emotions, or more accurately, our ability to manage our emotions, plays a big part in our ability to be successful at work.

Pages and pages have been written about what high emotional intelligence (or “EI”) looks like when in action, but in short, an employee high in EI isn’t ruled by emotion – either their own or others. Instead, they are able to properly gauge their own emotional state (and others around them) and use that insight to effectively manage themselves and their relationships.

At work, this talent is key to gaining respect from peers, coworkers, and bosses, which leads to greater influence and the power to get things done. (To be used responsibly, of course, lest one step into the dark side of emotional intelligence.)

So … no question, having a high level of emotional intelligence is a worthy individual development goal. And since we know that EI can become better with education and practice, it’s also an attainable goal for those with the will.

Now imagine what could happen when everyone on the team exhibits high emotional intelligence. Pretty awesome, huh?

Okay, time for a story about what high EI looks like – not.

“We Never Make Mistakes”

I’d agreed to facilitate a leadership development session focusing on decision making. I’d asked the members of the team to come to the session ready to discuss both one good and one bad decision they have made as a team in the past. There were five members; three employees had been with the company for nearly 20 years. The other two had been employed for an average of 5 years.

The team had consented to the session because they realized (or said they realized) their leadership was in something of a rut. New managers had a habit of leaving before their time, frustrated at not gaining the autonomy they both expected, and were lead to believe would be theirs. The team needed new blood, an infusion of fresh air to help move the organization forward. First, however, they had to understand why they were freezing leaders out. What were the day-to-day decisions that had led to this current state?

Alas, the answer to that question would have to wait, because the group refused to acknowledge any bad decisions. Every time a junior member of the group asked, “Well, what about that time …?” A senior member of the group would explain away the decision as not really “bad.” “That wasn’t our fault. We couldn’t have known how XYZ would impact 123.” One particular topic got the top executive so riled up she point blank refused to discuss it, claiming that the agency’s Board of Directors had been responsible, and we shouldn’t talk about it unless they were present.” Huh?

Finally, pressed to admit that they must have some regrets in nearly 20 years of leadership, the top executive agreed to talk about a bad hiring decision made several years earlier. Ultimately, the session was not productive, and I later recommended the executive find another facilitator to work with the group.

When viewed through the lens of emotional intelligence, this session was an epic fail in every EI quad-rant:

  • Self-awareness: No mistakes in almost 20 years. Really?
  • Self-management: When the top executive became uncomfortable about the topic that was really “the Board’s fault” (insert eye roll), she shut down the entire learning process rather than push through that discomfort for the group’s benefit.
  • Social-awareness: Watching this executive, it was clear she had no idea that she was coming across as rigid and ridiculous. (Well, perhaps not to the two “yes women” in the room, but to the remainder of us, surely.) Did she truly believe we needed the Board to discuss the group’s part in XYZ decision? More to the point, did she truly believe we believed the Board forced her into said decision? Come on now.
  • Social (relationship) management: I know I wasn’t the only person in the room to lose just a little more respect for a top executive that day.

But hey, this isn’t about me. The point is when one or more influential members of a leadership team have low EI, the entire team functions at a low level.

How to Increase Your Team’s EI

As mentioned earlier, the experts agree that over time anyone willing can increase his or her EI. What steps can you take to improve your team’s EI? Here are three:

  1. Invest in a good EI assessment tool. There are plenty of EI tests out there, and some can be quite complex. Choose a tool that works for you, and make sure your team members use it.
  2. Encourage team members to pick an area that needs improvement and practice on that area regularly for several weeks, then retest. Instruct them to ask a trusted individual to give honest feedback about specific instances that required good levels of EI to navigate. How well did the employee do? Where might he or she have done better?
  3. Hold team members accountable by pointing out behaviors that demonstrate high emotional intelligence and coaching them through situations that demonstrated room for growth.

Do these things to help your team develop higher levels of EI, and your company will reap the benefits in better communication, reduced conflict, and improved performance.

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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