Re-writing the rules on emotionally intelligent teams

Where we work as teams has shifted, but has how we work together changed too?

After a year of working from a distance, the time is ripe to re-write the rules of engagement, using a compass that points to emotionally intelligent relationships as its True North.

Maybe it’s time to re-write the rules of engagement, using a compass that points to emotionally intelligent relationships as its True North.”

I’ve recently been thinking about emotional intelligence. It’s been something at the forefront of many peoples’ minds as we learn to read each other through screens and not in person. But I wonder, what if we cast this idea out wider, and thought about it more intentionally in the context of our teams? What kind of cultures are we creating, working in and perpetuating? And do they amplify the best of who we are, together?

The benefits of greater emotional intelligence in our teams are obvious. When we feel connected, understood by one another, we’re able to experiment more freely, find solutions to problems, and support and challenge one another with trust and confidence. As individuals, and as part of a team, we flourish. A sense of belonging, collective vision, intentional relationships and feedback are all present.

Now, on the cusp of emerging from our dining tables, sofas, kitchen worktops or home offices, the moment feels ripe to talk about how we embrace what we’ve learned in the last year about ourselves and others, and re-write the rules of engagement of us, as teams, at our best.

Start with reading the room

There’s power in how we’ve reframed our relationships over the last year; and it’s this power that we can harness to grow better, grow stronger.”

It can be tricky to read the room when it comes group dynamics. Emotions and reactions flux, and we may not always know why. As individuals, we know what’s going on for ourselves in the full context of our own lives: we see the whole tapestry. But in a team, our picture is more like a patchwork, piecing together what we know from what has been disclosed, and what we feel and perceive from one another.

Working remotely has put our group and team relationships squarely on the screen, a place it’s hard to avoid. Yet whilst we’re not together in person, many of us have disclosed more of who we are. Our routines, our homes, even our casual wear, have opened our worlds up to one another. There’s power in how we’ve reframed our relationships over the last year; and it’s this power that we can harness to grow better, grow stronger.

The time we take to show appreciation is never wasted. In a year when people have worked above and beyond, and have been connected to a shared purpose, this has been so important to take to do. In our work, we’ve seen this rising to a zenith. Active listening, practising positive regard for one another, especially when the going gets tough, are all aspects that are emerging on a more frequent basis.

Seeing these connections emerge is one thing. The knack now will be picking up on the good stuff, and making sure we amplify it.

Amplifying the good stuff

In a team setting, reflection and curiosity are key: pausing to think about the drivers of how we make decisions, why we make them that way, what’s working and what would be even better, if…?

Emotional intelligence at a team level calls for intention and an open-mind.”

In an agile environment where things just need to get done, we can be forgiven for homing in on action lists and results. Sometimes this is, and has been, exactly what is needed. But when there’s a chance to stop and take the emotional temperature of the team, take it. Verbal and physical clues can show us when something’s working – we lean in, we nod, we listen – or when it’s not – we interrupt, we’re distant, we can’t see the positive.

As members of a team, we can create opportunities to surface questions around our drivers, our emotions and our decisions in a safe and confidential way. Ironically, this can work particularly well while we work remotely. With the use of breakout rooms, we can create more intimate spaces for people to connect. We can ask open questions, like:

When are we at our strongest?
What are the conditions we need to be at our most connected?
What are the traits of our team that we are most proud of?
Are there team traits that we can, or should, leave behind?

These types of questions help weave a tapestry of who we are, as a team, together. It doesn’t rely on one, two, or three people driving team culture in isolation. The trick is to open the discussion outward: collating and creating.

We use a similar technique in our work on Staying Truly Connected, to open up discussions about how people see their team, the purpose of their collective work and their vision for the impact of what they do, together. We use an exercise called ‘We are from…’. Its power is its invitation to creative expression – no right answers, just real, sometimes raw, human perspective and emotion. Embrace creativity as a way in to surface the emotional channels of your team.

In another technique we offer in our Resources, we outline how you can experiment with creating a team leadership manifesto: drafting a commitment to how you and your team work together, not the what but the why and how. Acknowledging what role your team values, balance and levity play in how you are together.

Emotional intelligence at a team level calls for intention and an open-mind. It enhances resilience, puts front and centre what it means to be a human at work, it builds professional intimacy and creates relationships that endure beyond the changing circumstances of our working relationships.

There are so many unwritten rules of ‘being at work’, and it’s easy to use these to limit what we put in, practically and emotionally. But here, as we design how we will return to working in a post-pandemic world, maybe it’s time to re-write the rules of engagement, using a compass that points to emotionally intelligent relationships as its True North.

Photo by David Maier on Unsplash

By Louise Clifton

Louise is the former Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations at Invisible Grail. Louise’s passion is to help people bring alive the stories that show the wider world who they are and why what they do matters.