Can your team bounce back from lockdown?
Team coach, Maria Caterina, discusses the ‘difference that makes the difference’
2020: The year of Covid-19. A year perhaps unparalleled in the way it impacted so many of us at home and at work.
As a team coach, I am interested in what has happened to teams in the workplace during the crisis and as a result of repeated lockdowns. While some are struggling to survive, I have seen others grow stronger despite the pandemic. Why is this? What is the ‘difference that has made the difference’ to these teams? The metaphor of an iceberg proved helpful in advancing our understanding.
Above the surface of the water, the tip of the iceberg reveals the soft skills and behaviours we can observe in a team – visible things that make a team work well together. Yet what was less immediately obvious lay beneath the surface. What supports these so-called softer abilities is a team’s underpinning emotional intelligence – or EQ. I found the real differences were to be found at this level.
Making a team greater than the sum of its parts
It would be wrong to think that EQ only exists in individuals: it can and does exist at the whole team level too. Afterall, a team with emotionally intelligent members does not necessarily make for an emotionally intelligent team. If a team really is ‘more than the sum of its parts’ as Aristotle suggested nearly 2370 years ago, a team can be said to have its own disposition. To quote Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven Wolff, “It requires a team atmosphere in which the norms build emotional capacity (the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations) and influence emotions in constructive ways.” (HBR, March 2001) – and that is what is helping teams respond to Covid-19 successfully.
The six competencies of emotionally intelligent teams
So, what are these EQ competencies that help teams overcome difficult situations effectively? The GENOS’ model of EQ suggests that teams benefit from developing, and using, six fundamental and inter-related competencies. Let’s consider each one in turn.
Firstly, successful teams demonstrate empathy through an ‘Awareness of Others’. This is the ability of ‘perceiving, understanding and acknowledging the way others feel’. It is not hard to see how reading and being aware of others could help a team survive. This is a form of outward looking radar that helps a team attune to what is going on outside of itself and stay connected to change sin. Its environment. When this competency is demonstrated within a team, it allows team members to understand and support one other – to develop an attitude that we are ‘in this together’.
The related competency is ‘Self-awareness’ whereby each team member is aware of his/her own feelings and how their emotions influence their behaviours and, in turn, impact the overall team. As emotions are contagious, I see self-awareness as a sort of EQ step zero, considering the influence it has on all the other abilities. But there is also a team self-awareness to consider, when a team recognises what is happening at an emotional level to them as an entity. Are we stressed? Are we frustrated? Are we afraid? How are we dealing with these emotions as a team?
Self-awareness is connected to another EQ competency, ‘Authenticity’, the ability that creates trust. This quality is the currency of any relationship. Teams are a special type of social entity in which inter-team relationships play a primary role that enables them to reach common goals though shared effort. That is not possible without trust. Teams need to be able to share their feelings openly, as well as trust that everybody will honour commitments and keep promises.
EQ can also be demonstrated in a team while making decisions. This calls for the competency of ‘Emotional Reasoning’, which goes beyond cognitive processing and rationality by adding in affective sense. When facing crises, the trap for teams is to focus only on facts when decisions have to be made. They omit valuable data. Teams ignore the contribution of emotions at their peril. In difficult times, stakes run even higher, and it becomes even more important for teams to combine the all available data – including emotional material when decision-making.
At the heart of teams’ ability to overcome changes and face off challenges effectively, is their ability to ‘Self-manage’. When teams demonstrate that, they prove resilient. When teams are forced to respond and change and are pushed out of their comfort zone – as we have witnessed over the past year during the pandemic – teams need to find ways to bounce back before they can find a way forward.
Last, but not least, what EQ teams show is their ability to inspire. When this is present, teams become capable of collaborating not only during ‘normal times’ but especially when confronted with problems and conflicts that cannot be solved by themselves. This calls for the Emotional Intelligence competency of ‘Positive Influence’: ‘positively influencing the way others feel through problem solving, providing feedback and recognising and supporting others’ work’. I have observed how this competency has proved particularly valuable in helping teams work through the challenges they have faced during successive lockdowns. Positively influencing others has a multiplier effect that benefits not just one team but many teams and helps create a positive climate that influences the way the whole organisation feels.
The importance of effective team leadership
There is still one last aspect to consider. Teams need leadership. Research studies show that the EQ qualities of trust and engagement that managers demonstrate in the leadership of their teams directly influences both team climate and performance. Leaders with high personal EQ scores, use their emotional intelligence to engage team members around them. Sadly, the same is true in reverse with teams whose leaders have low EQ scores.
So, if you are a team looking to bounce back from being locked down, a great place to start is looking at your teams emotional intelligence – then prepare to bounce back and thrive. Make choices that connect and move you, and your team, closer together and forwards to the future.
Team coach, teamGenie®
Maria graduated in Psychology and Political Science. She is a certified team coach and author. She is based in Rome, Latium, Italy.