Understanding the impact of emotional intelligence across your organisation

We can explore EI across three interdependent levels in your organisation:

  1. EI at the organisational level. The mindsets and behaviours of senior leaders have a powerful effect on shaping culture and working practices throughout the organisation. As we saw in the Practitioner Programme (4.1.1 The Emotionally Intelligent Leader in the Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice module), there can be a clear relationship between a leader’s emotional intelligence and the ways in which work is organised – for example, a leader with low self-regard and low regard for others is likely to generate a climate characterised by pressure and stress whilst endorsing limited autonomy in the workplace, micro-management and rigid functional separation.

Low Emotional Intelligence and Disconnected Leadership

Conversely, a leader with high self-regard and who values others’ contributions is likely to build a climate of trust and shape the creation of more empowering workplace practices.

  1. EI at team level. An extensive body of research (and our own practical experience!) shows that front-line managers, supervisors and team leaders exert the greatest single source of influence on employee performance, engagement and wellbeing. Of course the behaviour of line managers – whether effective or dysfunctional – isn’t determined by personality alone. The amount of latitude available to managers – in other words the degree of choice available to them in how they manage – can vary enormously between (and even within) organisations. In some the role is very tightly defined by targets and KPIs, as well as by organisational cultures characterised by stress and pressure emanating from the top. In others, the role focuses on achieving high performance through coaching, and a culture of innovation and improvement. These organisational factors are addressed in the Practitioner Programme’s Structures, Management & Processes

Yet line managers’ personal attributes do play a key role in team performance. Managers with low self-regard and low regard for others are more likely to preside over ‘pseudo teams’ (see the Jobs, Teams & Technology module) characterised by an emphasis on reporting upwards and by limited peer-to-peer collaboration; managers with high self-regard and high regard for others are more inclined towards interdependence and collaborative decision-making amongst team members.  A manager who is self-aware and aware of others is also better able to build good working relationships, coach individuals and teams to achieve their best performance, and lead their team effectively in any situation that may arise – in other words, creating a positive, empowering culture in which bullying and blame are wholly absent.

  1. EI at individual level (everyone in the organisation!) Teams in which members demonstrate strong emotional intelligence individually – and therefore collectively – are strongly linked to collaborative behaviours and consistently outperform those with lower average levels (see, for example, Druskat, Sala & Mount, 2006). Geher, Betancourt and Jewell (2017) demonstrate that high levels of emotional intelligence are also associated with innovation behaviours.

Google’s Project Aristotle found that psychological safety was a key characteristic of top performing teams. It defined psychological safety in the following terms:

“. . . an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”

Thus the behaviours associated with EI become a shared norm, continually reinforced by the group as a whole.

“Group emotional intelligence is about the small acts that make a big difference. It is not about a team member working all night to meet a deadline; it is about saying thank you for doing so. It is not about in-depth discussion of ideas; it is about asking a quiet member for his thoughts. It is not about harmony, lack of tension, and all members liking each other; it is about acknowledging when harmony is false, tension is unexpressed, and treating others with respect.” (Druskat and Wolff, 2001).

Such behaviours can be learned collectively – remember DS Smith’s morning meetings described in the Practitioner Programme? Day-to-day decision-making is delegated to daily meetings of front-line representatives from each of the production teams; each meeting receives coaching feedback to help participants improve the quality of their interaction, focusing on behaviours such as inclusiveness, shared decision-making and the avoidance of blame. Although not described in terms of EI, the aim is certainly aligned with principles and behaviours associated with emotional intelligence.

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