For the past thirty to forty years, much research has proven the superiority of group decision-making over that of even the brightest individuals in the group (Alan B Krueger, Economic Scene, NYT, 7 December 2000). There is one exception to this rule: if the group lacks harmony or the ability to cooperate, decision-making quality and speed suffer. Research at Cambridge University found that even groups comprising brilliant individuals will make bad decisions if the group disintegrates into bickering, interpersonal rivalry, or power plays (R Meredith Belbin, Team Roles at Work).

Daniel Goleman, Primal Leadership, notes: “Groups are smarter than individuals only when they exhibit the qualities of emotional intelligence. Everyone in the group contributes to the overall level of emotional intelligence, but the leader holds special sway in this regard. Emotions are contagious, and it’s natural for people to pay extra attention to the leader’s feeling and behaviour. So, very often it is the group leader who sets the tone and helps to create the group’s emotional reality – how it feels to be part of the team. 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 is not emotionally intelligent can wreak havoc in a team situation, e.g.:

  • Unwittingly create factions or opposing groups
  • Cause unnecessary competition and power plays
  • Force feelings to be bottled up from fear of the consequences of expressing them
  • Engender distrust, caution, and self-protection
  • Disempower others to boost self
  • Display intolerance for new ideas and maintain the status quo, etc.

The list is probably endless. At the root of the above is the leader’s insecurity and inability to handle and manage the silent language of both emotion and norms. Many take norms for granted but they are hugely powerful. They represent “implicit learning at the group level – the tacit rules that we learn by absorbing day-to-day interactions and that we automatically adopt so they can fit in smoothly” (Goleman)

Ultimately, 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. Goleman notes further: “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. In other words, norms dictate what ‘feels right’ in a given situation, and so govern how people act.”

Leaders need the emotional intelligence to address the group reality and raise team interactions to more productive levels. Collective emotional intelligence sets top-performing teams apart from average teams.

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