Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups

Maximize your team's effectiveness by taking aim at the heart of the matter: your group's emotional intelligence. The result will be greater collaboration, creativity, and productivity


How does IDEO, the celebrated industrial-design firm, ensure that its teams consistently produce the most innovative products under intense deadline and budget pressures? By focusing on its teams' emotional intelligence—that powerful combination of self-management skills and ability to relate to others.

Many executives realize that EQ (emotional quotient) is as critical as IQ to an individual's effectiveness. But groups' emotional intelligence may be even more important, since most work gets done in teams.

A group's EI isn’t simply the sum of its members’. Instead, it comes from norms that support awareness and regulation of emotions within and outside the team. These norms build trust, group identity, and a sense of group efficacy. Members feel that they work better together than individually.

Group EI norms build the foundation for true collaboration and cooperation—helping otherwise skilled teams fulfill their highest potential.


To build a foundation for emotional intelligence, a group must be aware of and constructively regulate the emotions of:

•individual team members

•the whole group

•other key groups with whom it interacts.

How? By establishing EI norms—rules for behavior that are introduced by group leaders, training, or the larger organizational culture. Here are some examples of norms—and what they look like in action—from IDEO:

Emotions of…

To Hone Awareness…

To Regulate…

IDEO Examples

Individual Team Members

•Understand the sources of individuals’ behavior and take steps to address problematic behavior.

•Encourage all group members to share their perspectives before making key decisions.

•Handle confrontation constructively. If team members fall short, call them on it by letting them know the group needs them.

•Treat each other in a caring way—acknowledge when someone is upset; show appreciation and respect.

Awareness: A project leader notices a designer's frustration over a marketing decision and initiates negotiations to resolve the issue.

Regulation: During brainstorming sessions, participants pelt colleagues with soft toys if they prematurely judge ideas.

The Whole Group

•Regularly assess the group's strengths,weaknesses, and modes of interaction.

•Invite reality checks from customers, colleagues, suppliers.

•Create structures that let the group express its emotions.

•Cultivate an affirmative environment.

•Encourage proactive problemsolving.

Awareness: Teams work closely with customers to determine what needs improvement.

Regulation:"Finger-blaster" toys scattered around the office let people have fun and vent stress.

Other Key Groups

•Designate team members as liaisons to key outside constituencies.

•Identify and support other groups' expectations and needs.

•Develop cross-boundary relationships to gain outsiders' confidence.

•Know the broader social and political context in which your group must succeed.

•Show your appreciation of other groups.

Regulation: IDEO built such a good relationship with an outside fabricator that it was able to call on it for help during a crisis—on the weekend.

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