The Key to Any Collaboration Is…

The greater the emotional intelligence of the leader, the better the team performance, Daniel Goleman says.

Emotional intelligence remains a key ingredient in the development of corporate leaders. In this series, best-selling author and Korn Ferry columnist Daniel Goleman reveals the 12 key skills behind EI. This is an edited excerpt from his introduction to Teamwork: A Primer.

Teamwork is the ability to work with others toward a shared goal, participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team. You empathize and create an atmosphere of respect, helpfulness, and cooperation. You can draw others into active commitment to the team’s effort. Leaders skilled at teamwork build spirit, positive relationships, and a pride of identity on the team. And it’s not just teams. This competency holds the key to collaboration of any kind.

I know of a global organization where people are hired for their technical expertise, not their interpersonal skills. When a key team started to have a lot of friction and constantly missed deadlines, they brought in a leadership coach for the leader of that team. The coach found that the leader was only focused on his own perspective of what was going wrong with the team. He had no sense of what people on the team thought or felt.

He never tried to learn how they saw things, let alone get to know them. What this leader lacked was skill at teamwork, a competency of emotional intelligence. 

There’s a Japanese saying: All of us are smarter than any one of us. Research says the same thing. Studies find that groups make better and more effective decisions than any individual on that team.  Research on teams from Indiana to India finds that the greater the emotional intelligence of the leader, the better the team performance.  Emotional intelligence also displays at the group level; the more emotional intelligence a team has, the better that team’s effectiveness. Every team creates and reinforces habitual ways of operating that can be seen as norms. Top teams, according to research by Vanessa Druskat at the University of New Hampshire, have norms like addressing members’ negative habits openly, candid self-evaluation of team operations, and outstanding organizational awareness.

Some norms build understanding among team members, the group equivalent of self- awareness. Others help manage how members feel and act. That’s team self-management. Another set helps the team tune in to other parts of the organization that it depends on. This is empathy at the team level. Finally, there are norms for how to relate to others outside the team.

Take a moment to think about your own team, whether you have a traditional work team or a more unconventional one if you work remotely. You could even think of your sports team or your family. If you can zoom out beyond your own perspective, what comes to mind as a team challenge, something everyone can participate in improving for the benefit of the group or for reaching goals better and more quickly? Often, such challenges come in the form of poor communication or inefficient systems.

Well, what can you do to address this in the way you communicate or improve the systems you are a part of? How can you shift the way that you operate in order to be a better team member?

Being skilled in teamwork could entail modeling good collaborative behavior yourself, or suggesting that everyone comes together to discuss how they see a particular problem, and to brainstorm, collectively, how to resolve it going forward. Keep in mind that you don’t want to point fingers or get too personal. The emphasis should remain on the team itself and how everyone can contribute to the team working better. Above all, you should practice teamwork even if you sense that others on the team aren’t doing the same. Sometimes, over time, others will come around as they see that your teamwork capacity elevates the whole.