How to Use Emotional Intelligence for Enhanced Team Collaboration

Grace Windsor
By | Updated February 13, 2017 | 5 min read
Emotional Intelligence for Enhanced Team Collaboration

If you needed to improve your team’s overall productivity, what would you do?

I imagine you may develop project templates; create a collaborative project site; delegate work; help your team prioritize and communicate more efficiently, and so on.

Each activity is certainly useful and worth undertaking. But what if these endeavors don’t pay off? Developing an emotionally intelligent team could provide a solution.

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to an individual’s ability to recognize their emotions and understand how these emotions impact on others. An emotionally intelligent team relates to the ability of a group to manage and harness emotions for positive outcomes.

An emotionally intelligent team is not simply a combination of individual emotional intelligence and self-awareness, but rather, the result of active team development. Read on to learn more!


Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence

As noted by Daniel Goleman in his 1998 work, Working with Emotional Intelligence*, each of us only has part of the information and skills we need to do our jobs. We depend on the group mind – the collective experiences, skills, and knowledge within the team – to complete tasks, making collaboration essential to project and organizational success.

Indeed, research indicates organizations are increasingly dependent on teams, not just individuals, for decision-making, problem-solving, and task completion.

Group mind, as Goleman explains, helps to save time when seeking new solutions and amplifies individual capability. However, tapping into this cumulative knowledge is only possible if the team trust each other and work well together. The team must be emotionally intelligent.

Goleman refers to emotionally intelligent teams as ‘star teams’, defined by:

  • Empathy
  • Cooperation
  • Open, honest communication
  • A desire to improve
  • Awareness of strengths and weaknesses
  • Proactive problem-solving
  • Self-confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Good relationships with other teams.


Emotionally intelligent teams are also more likely to achieve ‘flow’ and outperform expectations, thus emotional intelligence distinguishes high performing teams from less effective groups. Loyalty, focus, diverse talents, and strong collaboration are just some of the factors needed to generate group flow.



Building the Emotional Intelligence of Teams

Every team has its own characteristics and norms; an emotionally intelligent team builds emotional capacity and influences emotions in positive, useful ways.

Studies suggest there are three conditions required for an effective group: trust amongst members, a sense of group identity, and a sense of group efficacy.

Team members who feel part of a worthwhile group and recognize that they work better together than apart are likely to reach higher levels of collaboration and productivity. They are also more confident when dealing with challenges and change. The desired process is illustrated below.





A deft leader who cultivates such group dynamics will find it much easier to engage and motivate teams, and in turn, make an impact within their organization. So how does this actually happen?


Three Levels of Team Interaction

Teams tend to interact at more levels than individuals so there are three areas to consider when developing an emotionally intelligent team: team to individuals, team to itself, and team to other teams.

1. Team to Individuals

As the project leader, you should establish behavioral norms to ensure that all members are on the same wavelength, and are open to listening to new ideas and other perspectives. It is also important to address conflict, even if this does lead to confrontation or difficult conversations. Individual negative emotions should be acknowledged and resolved where possible.

Suggestions for improving how teams and individuals interact include:

  • Encourage a respectful environment based on the 4Cs – Companions, Collaborative, Challenging, and Can-Do attitude.
  • Use meetings to give everyone a voice to discuss the project and any challenges or obstacles.
  • Help team members to connect to their ‘why’, both in terms of the project’s objectives and their own individual goals.
  • Ensure team members switch off from work with regular breaks and vacations.
  • Establish feedback mechanisms, for example, surveys or workshops.
  • Celebrate success and acknowledge individual contributions.


 2. Team to Itself

A strong team that understands its strengths and weaknesses, interactions, and processes at the group level, and seeks feedback from others, for example, customers, has taken significant steps towards emotional intelligence.

Team building exercises also help teams improve their communication and problem-solving skills, and more importantly, provide an opportunity to build relationships outside of the working environment. These events can create a personal connection with others, which often kicks into play during challenging tasks or unexpected issues.


3. Team to Other Teams

Teams often develop their own norms and modes of working, which can lead to unexpected clashes when working with other teams. After all, we tend to assume everyone has the same approaches and methods we do! Seek common ground when working with other teams.

Use a kick-off meeting to establish agreed approaches to communication, tracking, reporting and so on. It is also advisable to adopt an ‘ambassadorial’ role with other teams.

Recognize successes and look for ways to problem-solve together, for example, re-assigning resources or re-working the schedule to reduce the pressure on the other team.



Emotional intelligence enables project teams to reach their full potential. Use the steps and ideas above to create the right environment (trust, group identity, and group efficacy) for your project team.


Image credit


*Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998. Chapter 9: ‘Collaboration, Teams, and the Group IQ’.

Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook

Grace Windsor
Grace Windsor

Grace is a content creator within the marketing team at BrightWork. She loves creating actionable content in different formats to help others achieve more project success. Grace spent far too long at university studying English literature, which instilled a life-long love of learning and upskilling. In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.

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