Successful Teams Are Emotionally Intelligent


The most productive teams can recognize each other’s emotional needs.

Every growing business needs productive teams that work well together. And one of the core traits of a successful team? Emotional intelligence, say social science and business researchers.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and express one’s own emotions and to recognise and empathise with the emotions of others. According to the landmark study “Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups,” emotional intelligence underlies the effective processes of successful teams. The researchers found that strong teams tend to have a high degree of trust, group identity, and group efficacy. Key traits of an individual with high emotional intelligence include sensitivity, curiosity, emotional stability, and altruism, reports Harvard Business Review.

In recent years, Google analysed its nearly 100,000 employees and found that some of the best indicators for effective teams were strong emotional intelligence and a high degree of communication. Simply put, they found that “being nice” and “joining in” elevated a team’s chance of success by promoting creativity and productivity.

A lack of emotional intelligence within teams can also have serious consequences for the bottom line. A study by Hogan Assessment Systems found that poor-performing teams were comprised of individuals who were 100% “pragmatic” and lacked relationship-building skills.

When hiring, businesses can be tempted to emphasise a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and experience. But, for new hires to excel in their positions, they need to know how to work well with others—no matter the industry or the job function. One study found that merely being able to read one another’s facial expressions could affect team performance by as much as 40%.

Kenyan firms are recognising the importance of emotional intelligence and are looking for it in their candidates. A recently released study found that Kenyan recruiters are prioritising intrapersonal and interpersonal skills after only business skills. It is becoming more and more common for hiring managers to evaluate candidates’ emotional intelligence thru questions that assess communication, collaboration, and adaptability.

Gary Burnison, CEO of global consulting firm Korn Ferry, believes that emotional intelligence becomes increasingly essential as you progress in your career. “Technical skills are important early on in one’s career, but the higher you go, technical expertise is assumed, and you need more right-brain skills to help build meaningful and motivating relationships with others,” he writes in CNBC.

The challenge is that emotional intelligence is not something that can be faked or imitated in real-time work situations. Individuals must have genuine self-awareness of their own emotions and the ability to recognise and respond to the emotions of others.

Fortunately, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and enhanced. Burnison recommends three specific practises for professionals who want to strengthen the creative and emotional side of their brains: develop learning agility, practise coping with uncertainty, and put your social leadership skills to the test. Doing each of these will encourage you to operate with more openness and prioritise relationships with your colleagues.

Having fair and clear processes can also encourage teams to operate with more emotional intelligence. Jeff Boss, principal and senior advisor at N2 Growth, advises managers to regularly communicate norms and expectations, encourage curiosity and listening, create safe spaces for expressing opinions, and prioritise learning. “At the core of every team are the relationships that make that team great, or contribute to its demise,” he writes in Forbes.

No matter where you are in your career, we encourage you to take some time to assess your level of emotional intelligence. Harvard University recommends free online assessment tools offered by Psychology Today, Mind Tools, and the Institute for Health and Human Potential. Each will evaluate your current level of emotional intelligence and provide suggestions for improvement.

Your ability to recognise the needs and emotions of your team members, and to manage and support them appropriately, will make you a stronger manager and leader. And, whenever you want to change jobs, your emotional intelligence is what can make you truly stand out from the field.