Some teams feel uncomfortable making important decisions. The team members rely on the wisdom of the manager to direct them, their goals, and their targets. They wait to be told what to do and don’t plan their approach to tasks that need to be accomplished. The resultant dysfunctionality leads to necessary micro-management from the leader and, for the employees, seeing work as an accumulation of activities which tire one out. A lack of understanding of the emotional realities of each of the team members and no attempt to include all the strengths of each of the players in team life result in confusion, frustration, and a growing angst. The team is not a team – just individual players under a banner with a team name, but no cohesion, direction, or loyalty.

In emotionally intelligent and self-aware teams, however, all members take responsibility for:

  • Keeping themselves on track with set milestones
  • Facilitating input from all players
  • Raising questions about quality and procedures to develop shared understanding and find solutions to any discrepancies
  • Using good listening skills to build on ongoing discussions

In their research on teams, Susan Wheelan of Temple University and Fran Johnston of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland point out that very often it is an emotionally intelligent team member – not just the leader – who is able to point out underlying problems and thus raise the self-awareness of the group. In fact, it seems that social awareness – especially empathy – is the foundation that enables a team to build and maintain effective relationships within the team and with the rest of the organisation.

Daniel Goleman (Primal Leadership) insightfully notes: “A team expresses its self-awareness by being mindful of shared moods as well as the emotions of individuals within the group. In other words, members of a self-aware team are attuned to the emotional undercurrents of individuals and the group as a whole. They have empathy for each other, and there are norms to support vigilance and mutual understanding.”  The team has become astute emotionally and works on reducing dissonance and restoring resonance.

Goleman notes further: “Since emotions are contagious, team members take their emotional cues from each other, for better or for worse. If a team is unable to acknowledge an angry member’s feelings, that emotion can set off a chain reaction of negativity. On the other hand, if the team has learned to recognise and confront such moments effectively, then one person’s distress won’t hijack the whole group.”

Team leaders have a role to play in modelling empathy and raising awareness on issues of mood, focus and energy. It may also mean creating norms such as listening to everyone’s perspective before a decision is made or recognising when a team member feels uncomfortable in learning a task and stepping in to offer support. When people feel “we’re all in this together”, trust is built, and the team’s mission becomes shared. The team then commences to manage itself – self-regulation, not only of activities and outputs, but also of relationships and behaviours.

When a team is self-aware, emotionally in touch with each other and the pressures the team face, this intelligence translates into self-management for the team. As Goleman concludes: “When core values and norms are clear to people, a leader does not even need to be physically present for the team to run effectively – this is of special importance to the thousands of managers who work with virtual teams and whose team members are located all over the globe. In self-aware, self-managing teams, members themselves will step up to the plate to instil and reinforce resonant norms and to hold one another accountable for sticking to them.”

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