Emotional Health for High Performing Teams

Why is it when we put together a group of highly capable individuals to form a team, this “whole” doesn’t necessarily exceed the sum of its parts?

Obviously, teams won’t always exceed the collective contributions of the individuals, and sometimes these teams can backfire and produce even less.

“It is relatively easy to find talent; it is hard to form teams,” wrote David Brooks in The New York Times. “In hiring I suspect most companies and organizations pay too much attention to the former and too little to the latter.”

Selecting talented individuals without consideration for how they interact with others is a risky proposition, since so much of what we do in organizations is done in collaboration with other people.

“The key to success is not found in the individual members, but in the quality of the space between them,” according to Brooks.

This space between members has to do with emotions, and individuals must be emotionally healthy to work together properly. As I’ve written about in previous posts, one’s emotional intelligence is vital to workplace success.

In fact, Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, found that 67% of all competencies deemed essential for high performance were related to emotional intelligence. Furthermore, one’s emotional intelligence mattered twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ for this high performance.

This emotional intelligence is magnified on teams since the effectiveness of team performance relies so heavily on the interaction between team members.

Effective teams are those with trust, open and effective communication, respect among members, a common goal, and interdependence. These are foundational in fostering healthy conflict, collaboration, cooperation and creativity to find innovative solutions to challenges.

Getting to this solid foundation requires the emotional health of each individual because our ability to self-reflect, self-regulate and empathize with others determines to what degree we are able to work together effectively.

Instead of using familiar and workplace-safe words such as “empowerment” and “team-based” and “motivation,” I think it’s time we accept that our feelings are not something we lock away in our private lives or keep at home during the day. Our emotions—both the positive and negative—are with us everyday and everywhere we go.

Accepting and honoring these emotions does not mean no longer acting professional or giving up all rational thought. Instead, it means embracing the gift these feelings provide us in order to work effectively with others and be more productive.

Fear, anger, frustration and other negative feelings can undermine group dynamics. For teams to function at a high level it is therefore important to shift these and harness optimal emotions such as joy, passion, even excitement to provide energy and enthusiasm.

The most optimal emotions can stimulate innovation and productivity because they enhance the competencies of quickness, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to deal with complexity, according to Jackie Barretta, author of Primal Teams: Harnessing the Power of Emotions to Fuel Extraordinary Performance. These optimal emotions can then transform any team into a high-performance engine where people function with sharper minds, find creative solutions and everyone operates at their peak.

This does not mean faking positive emotions in order to overcome negative ones. You need to remain congruent with your feelings. But it does mean paying attention to those negative feelings that may be hampering your team.

In her book, Barretta provides a “Fear Release Guide” to reduce fear and negativity. Many of these techniques rely on a high level of trust for team members to feel comfortable sharing their emotions with other teammates, and this is key in order to shift to optimal emotions.

When that fear and anxiety are replaced with joy and playfulness, a team finds it easier to dream up elegant solutions to satisfy customers and deliver long-term value. Barretta defines positive emotions as heartfelt emotions that you can actually feel by the way people speak about their job, their team and their company.

Heartfelt emotions can dramatically impact our ability to interrelate with others, and learning how to navigate them in ourselves as well as those around us can greatly influence our success on teams.

Researchers at HeartMath used sensitive magnetometers to find that the electromagnetic field emitted by our hearts actually extends beyond our physical body to those around us. We automatically and unconsciously sense the heart fields of other people. And this provides valuable information for how well or poorly we function as a part of a team.

If your team is not currently functioning at a high level, perhaps it’s time to take an emotional assessment. What is the predominant feeling in the room? Maybe it’s time to shift away from fear, anxiety or frustration in order to improve your team’s effectiveness.

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