This is an occasional blog on subjects pertaining to leadership, strategy, coaching, leadership development, and everything in between. You can sign up using the form at the left/below. © 2017 McKnight-Kaney.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (EQ) IS THE ABILITY TO BE AWARE OF one’s emotions and, consulting them, to choose responses that maintain and deepen important relationships. It is also the ability to be aware of the emotions of others and to use this knowledge to be more effective with them.
Mounting social science evidence tells us that when team members have high emotional intelligence, teams so endowed deal with conflict better than other teams. Further, teams in which members have high EQ have less burnout and are more creative than other teams.
But why? How do EQ and team performance work together?
The answer lies in an observation: Everyone knows what it means to be task-oriented in a team meeting, but few know what it means to be relationship-oriented. By these terms, I’m getting at a distinction that I learned back in the day when I was earning my PhD in organizational psychology: effective teams are both task-focused and relationship-focused. Members of such teams are effective at sensing when behaviors of both kinds are needed and can provide it. I consider this a manifestation of EQ.
The diagram below shows four groups, only one of which has both high task- and relationship-orientation. The team members in the one I’ve that labelled “Ideal” are neither task- or process-lopsided; instead, they are skilled at both task behavior and process behavior and recognize accurately when it is time to emphasize one or the other. One might say such teams optimize task- and relationship-behavior, putting both in service of the group’s purpose.
Here’s an example: If the group is floundering because it has strayed from its agenda, in teams with high EQ, one or more people will observe this and suggest returning to the focus. This is task-oriented behavior. And if someone continually gets cut off in a discussion, a person with high EQ in the effective team will notice this and draw that person out. This is relationship behavior.
Relationship-oriented behaviors induce emotions in members such as, “I like this team,” “My ideas are valuable here,” and “I feel safe offering my thoughts in this group.” Feelings like these awaken feelings of importance and significance. In turn, this stimulates the intellect and sparks creativity. Task-oriented behaviors induce feelings, too. In the best teams, people feel energized, focused, and optimistic.
Usually, individuals have a bias for one type of behavior (task) over the other, and thus so do most teams. If the team is task-lopsided, members will vie for control of the agenda, will criticize one another's ideas before they’re fully explored, and will argue over how to define problems. Groups like this can be characterized by high energy (a good thing), but there is too much competition among members to assure productivity. Meetings are exhausting and often frustrating.
On the other hand, if a team is maintenance-lopsided, members will struggle to get anything done because they can’t agree on how to conduct the meeting, can’t quite get to a decision, or waste a too much time in pleasantries. Groups like this are ineffective.
Here are two lists: one of task behaviors required in a team, the other of behaviors that maintain or build relationships. Which set of behaviors are you most comfortable with?
- Proposing an agenda
- Setting or clarifying an agenda
- Defining the task
- Offering a solution
- Summarizing agreements
- Asking for or providing data
- Critiquing an idea
- Recommending a way of approaching the task
- Spurring the group to greater effort
- Gatekeeping (“Let’s give Mary a chance to speak…”)
- Active listening
- Noticing that someone is uncomfortable
- Asking how others feel
- Praising an individual or the group
- Giving way when others are ready to move on
- Labelling tensions when they arise
- Suggesting for a way to deal with the tension
- Relieving tension (e.g., using humor)
How do you tell if your team is lopsided on one side or the other? Print this blog off and have a discussion with your team about it. (PS—To have a discussion about how you work together is, itself, a maintenance behavior.) Expect debate. Pay attention to the quiet people; they are often on the fringes and their contributions are the ones you need to draw out.