5 Roles of Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork

Jeff Evans's picture

Effective teamwork depends on having at least one emotionally intelligent team member, and truly amazing teamwork can result by having many team members who are.

1. Trust

In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B. Wolff identify three requirements for an effective team: 

  1. Trust
  2. Group identity
  3. Group efficacy

Trust is paramount. Members, thrown together or self-formed, must trust all other members. Four emotionally intelligent techniques to build trust: 

  • Interpersonal understanding
  • Taking others’ perspectives — Honoring one another by echoing their views
  • Confrontation — Calling out behavior that damages the group
  • Caring

2. Curative Powers

At the outset of a project, any differences between a functional team and a dysfunctional team may be hard to notice. As the work progresses, dysfunction stands out for its negatives: 

  • Problems are felt personally
  • Communication is overly emotional and unregulated
  • Members are unmotivated to succeed
  • Members feel alienated
  • Members are uncommunicative and guarded

A case study showed that emotional regulation appears to have curative powers to transform dysfunctional teams. Even a single emotionally intelligent team member can profoundly influence the group. 

3. Emotion Over Intelligence

When teams are compared to measure the effect of emotional intelligence versus intellectual ability, emotional intelligence wins.

Your team performs better not by having the smartest people in the organization, but by redefining “smartest” to tap the talents of team members with “people” skills: 

  • Self-reflective
  • Communicative
  • Empathetic
  • Active listener
  • Good negotiator

Combining emotionally intelligent team members with technically smart workers generates the best results. The team feels united, accomplishes its goals, and boosts productivity. The best results are obtained when high intelligence and emotional intelligence combine within people.

4. Social Lubricant

Daniel Goleman, progenitor of the concept of emotional intelligence, says, “In teamwork, emotional intelligence is the crucial social lubricant, providing the capacity to settle disputes well, brainstorm creatively, and work harmoniously.”

Yes, manners and pleasant demeanor are small things, but the self-regulated executive and team member constantly smooths the way through projects. Awareness of others, respect for ideas, command and control of one’s own negative emotions — these all make the team’s workload easier to shoulder. 

5. Making the Invisible Visible

Joe Luca and Pina Tarricone, in their 2001 study of the connection between emotional intelligence and teamwork, compare the “visible skills,” such as technical prowess, time management, and communication skills, with the “invisible skills,” which are the realm of emotional intelligence. An easy bifurcation: visible skills are measurable and testable, while invisible skills influence but cannot be directly measured. How do invisible skills show themselves in teamwork?

Think of the facets of emotional intelligence: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Motivation
  • Social skills

When emotionally intelligent workmates are part of your team, you hardly notice their influence. Yet when starkly opposite personalities are thrust into the mix, everybody notices:

  • Passive-aggressive attitude
  • Controlling or manipulative behaviors
  • Detached, cold, unfeeling affect
  • Unmotivated

The list could go on. The invisible skills of the emotionally intelligent workers tend to be transparent, and their benefits are evident only by contrast to an under-performing team riddled with personality and technical conflicts. Having emotionally intelligent team members is crucial for inspired, productive teamwork.