Emotional intelligence underpins team performance

Jonathan Mills
3 min readMay 19, 2024

In terms of decision-making, teams are smarter than individuals, but only when they live the qualities of emotional intelligence. All members contribute to the overall level of emotional intelligence, but the leader holds unique sway in this regard. Emotions are contagious, and it is natural for individuals to pay extra attention to the leader’s feelings and behaviour. The group leader sets the tone and assists in creating the team’s emotional reality — how it feels to be part of the team.

Rosamund and Benjamin Zander note: “A leader skilled in collaboration can keep resonance high and thus ensure that the group’s decisions will be worth the effort of the meeting. Such leaders know how to balance a team’s focus on the task at hand with attention to the relationships among the team members. They naturally create a friendly, cooperative climate in the room, a climate that fosters a positive outlook on the future.”

Accordingly, a leader who isn’t emotionally intelligent can wreak havoc in a team situation. Daniel Goleman, Primal Leadership, emphasises that at the root of the matter, “how the leader manages the silent language of both emotions and norms should not be taken for granted as they are immensely powerful. Norms represent the implicit learning at the group level — the tacit rules that we learn by absorbing day-to-day interactions and that we automatically adopt so that they can fit in smoothly.”

In “The Wisdom of Teams”, Jon R Katzenbach and Douglas K Smith make the point that “the norms of a group help to determine whether it functions as a high performing team or becomes simply a loose collection of people working together.” In some teams, contention and heated confrontation are the order of the day; in others, a charade of civility and interest barely veils everyone’s boredom; in still other more effective teams, people listen to and question each other with respect, support each other in word and deed, and work through disagreements with openness and humour. Whatever the ground rules, people automatically sense them and tend to adjust how they behave accordingly. It seems that norms dictate what ‘feels right’ in a given situation, and so governs how people act.

Many leaders lack the emotional intelligence to address group reality and raise team interactions to more productive levels. Goleman asserts, on the other hand: “Leaders who have a keen sense of the group’s pivotal norms and who are adept at maximising positive emotions can create highly emotionally intelligent teams.” The work of Vanessa Druskat (Case Western’s Weatherhead School of Management) and Steven Wolff (Marist College’s School of Management) show that collective emotional intelligence is what sets top-performing teams apart from average teams. They argue: “Group emotional intelligence determines a team’s ability to manage its emotions in a way that cultivates trust, group identity and group efficacy, and so maximises cooperation, collaboration, and effectiveness.”

Emotional intelligence “results in a positive — and powerful — emotional reality” (Goleman). This emotional intelligence includes the capabilities of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Originally published at https://www.stretchforgrowth.com on May 19, 2024.

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Jonathan Mills

Jonathan has spent over 30 years focusing his efforts on developing people throughout the world. He believes that people have the most impact when stretched.