Knowledge Exchange Insights: Emotional Intelligence for Teamwork

Highlights from the third session of the Knowledge Exchange training series , facilitated by Yvonne McLean, as part of the ESRC Collaboration Labs Programme, The University of Manchester.

Working in a team environment can be challenging for many researchers who are used to working independently and have so far developed their paths by making individual choices. In this highly interactive session, our training lead facilitator Yvonne Mclean, Director of Inkling Training & Consultancy , guided our Collaboration Labs teams to explore practical ways in which emotional intelligence can improve collaborative teamwork, performance and project success.

In this blog, we share some of the underlying theories and methods that were at the basis of the practical activities led by Yvonne. We highlight some of the models and processes through which you can create positive and effective teamwork, which is something useful for the success of any Knowledge Exchange initiative or collaborative project.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence underpins our ability to collaborate and communicate in a team, to manage differences of opinion (conflict) and to keep the team focussed on developing the desired project results. It can be defined as the ability to monitor your own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide your thinking and actions.

According to Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who helped to popularise this model, Emotional intelligence is made up of four core domains - self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management - that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence. Within those domains are twelve EI competencies, starting with emotional self-awareness in the self-awareness domain.

Naturally, we all have strengths in some more than others and having this individual self-awareness is the foundation for succeeding as a team. Before embarking on a collaborative project, it may helpful to reflect on previous experiences where you’ve worked as part of a team. Take a look at the four qualities above: where do you feel there might be room to develop your skills?

Challenging your thinking: "Align the body and mind"

Raising your awareness of your feelings in response to a challenging event will help you to manage them more effectively in the future. Reflect on a time where you have felt challenged or experienced difficulty when working as part of a team. You may also wish to consider a particular element of teamwork that you tend to find most difficult.

Yvonne explored how disruptive emotions often arise through a conflict between what you feel and what you think. "The brain does not want an emotion that is inconsistent with the physiology of the body." As such, it helps to align the body and mind: "When you are feeling a disruptive emotion ask yourself what you want to feel, and your body will behave consistently. For example, a breathing exercise can help to lead your physiology".

Another way to challenge your thinking is through the ABC Model. This is a Cognitive Behavioural practice that places the onus and power on you to take control of your difficult feelings.

A - Activating event - This can be anything from a short comment, tone of voice or topic of conversation.
B - Attributed belief or meaning - This is always dependent on us; our own fears, anxieties or insecurities.
C - Emotional reaction to the belief - This depends upon the meaning we have attributed to the event, and our emotional response to it.

This model asks us to reflect upon the meanings we attribute to challenging circumstances. As such, Yvonne noted the need to "Look for contrary evidence to what you believe, is there an alternative explanation from the one you jumped to? ... Try to de-catastrophize by arguing (with yourself) that the consequences might not be what you anticipate."

A helpful framework to keep in mind furthers the ABC model, focusing on an active approach through disputation and energisation.

D - Disputation - Challenge the irrational beliefs.
E - Energisation - How are you feeling now?

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as part of a team

Collaboration is a crucial part of working successfully and learning how to be a positive force for your team is vital. When you aim to be a great team player, others will follow. A team player is someone who actively contributes to their group in order to complete tasks, meet goals or manage projects. They actively listen to their colleagues, respect ideas and aim to improve the product or process at hand. Team players understand that their team’s success is their own success, and they share responsibility when their team experiences difficulties along the way.

Crucially, a good team player is aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and consciously works to develop them.

A well-established model to better understand your approach to teamwork and the role you play in a group is offered by the Belbin Team Role profiles. Take a look at the table below, which profile do you most relate to?

about how these profiles can help you to create a balanced team. However, as for every behavioural-based model, one should always consider that we all tend to adopt different roles and behaviours in different situations and that if we might have a preferred working style, ultimately our functioning in a team is based on the interrelationship with others and the task at hand. This makes Emotional Intelligence even more important, as it gives us the ability to understand, adapt and respond to any given situation.

When trying to understand which areas we need to improve for becoming a more effective leader and team player, a comprehensive 360-degree assessment is always the best choice, since it collects both self-ratings and the views of others who know you well. External feedback is particularly helpful for evaluating all areas of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness (how would you know that you are not self-aware?).

The GRIP model

Another useful tool to create a well-balanced team is given by the GRIP model. The primary role of a research consultancy team is to combine resources, expertise and skills. The underlying assumption of a well-functioning team is one of collaboration, which is to say that the output of a team will be greater than the sum of each individual’s contribution without a team architecture in place.

Each researcher will have their own expertise, strengths & weakness. Th is can be a strength or weakness of the team, depending upon whether these differences are truly understood and harnessed. Intentionally developing all of these components will be helpful when building new teams, changing old teams, understanding team limitations and creating solutions.

Ultimately to build a highly functioning and emotionally intelligent team, more is required than a sum of emotionally intelligent members. It requires a team atmosphere in which the ground rules and norms agreed as a group build emotional capacity (the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations) and influence emotions in constructive ways for the whole team. In an era of teamwork, it’s vital to figure out what makes teams work effectively. There is extensive research that shows that, just like individuals, the most effective teams are the emotionally intelligent ones. The good news is that any team - and individual! - can attain emotional intelligence. It is a skill, and as such, can be developed or improved upon over time.

Further resources
  • Read about five models of Understanding Team Dynamics
  • Discover the Six crucial behaviours of collaborative leaders
  • Follow us on Twitter for updates on our academic knowledge exchange activities.

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