Emotional intelligence is a social lubricant for teams

Daniel Goleman points to a couple of interesting studies published in Human Performance that examine the keys to a team’s survival in difficult situations, such as a blizzard. The studies both found that teams with members having high levels of emotional intelligence performed best, even better than teams with members of higher IQ.

The champion teams, both studies found, were highest in group emotional intelligence. Intriguingly, when individuals were given the same challenge, their cognitive ability (as measured by SAT scores – these were college students) was the best predictor of survival. But once people were put in a team situation, individual cognitive ability made virtually no difference – instead emotional intelligence made the difference.

This makes sense in terms of earlier findings on “group IQ,” the ability of teams to perform well. Research with high-IQ team members found, for instance, that if they did not have the skills of cooperation, negotiation and teamwork, they perform poorly (in part because individual members competed to show who was smarter). As I wrote in Emotional Intelligence (p.160), “The key to a high group IQ is social harmony. This ability, all other things being equal, will make one group especially productive and successful.”

In teamwork, emotional intelligence is the crucial social lubricant, providing the capacity to settle disputes well, brainstorm creatively, and work harmoniously.

I like the imagery of the term social lubricant. I picture Dorothy oiling the rusty elbows of Tin Man and the coating of automobile oil allowing high-performance engines to purr steadily for hours.

Friction is a natural occurrence of virtually any human collaborative effort. Business teams face great pressure from tight deadlines and high expectations for success, creating great opportunity for friction to strain teamwork.

My experience reflects Goleman’s point that, when faced with intense challenges, it helps tremendously to have team member’s who are skilled in the emotional intelligence competencies: Self-Awareness; Self-Management; Social Awareness; and Relationship Management.

Pressure tends to stress relationships and communication within teams, and EI skills serve to grease the wheels at just the right time to smooth interactions. EI helps keep conflict focused on the problems rather than people. EI helps individuals to manage their own performance and to bring out the best in others.

Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, is one of those that I find worth re-reading or referencing often, and at the top of the list for referring to those who have missed it thus far.

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4 Responses to Emotional intelligence is a social lubricant for teams

  1. Yee, I agree: “The key to a high group IQ is social harmony. This ability, all other things being equal, will make one group especially productive and successful.”

    I have seen this on a number of teams I have been fortunate to be part of both athletically and in the workplace. This togetherness definitely helps to smoothen the bumps in the road that will inevitably appear.

  2. Steve – yes, social harmony is always found in effective teams, because teams always face strains on relationship and processes. It takes real commitment and skill to work in harmony – to get along – with others for the good of the team.

  3. nkilkenny says:

    Thanks for this post. We often talk about the need for leaders to hone their EQ, it makes sense to get teams to develop this as well. I think one start is to really teach people on a team to listen to each other… this is a hard thing to do in a world where we multitask in virtual meetings or don’t even get to see each other’s faces.

  4. Natalie,

    Glad you visited! Virtual teams are truly challenged to have effective communications and to build trust. Even the occasional face-to-face gathering of team members can make a huge difference. Absent such opportunities, teams are left with working very deliberately to utilize the best of automated collaboration tools.

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