Sean Gallagher is the founder and president of Influence Success, a Boston-based consultancy that helps business teams work better. Gallagher and his firm leverage social science and practical experience to turn low-performing teams into high-achieving ones that drive business success. One of the key concepts that the founder and president uses to help his small business clients and their teams is something called Team Emotional Intelligence (TEI). We recently spoke with him about unleashing the potential of teams.

Q: What Is Team Emotional Intelligence?

Gallagher: People don't check their humanity at the door when they come together to work. TEI is about exploring, embracing and ultimately relying on the emotions that are at the core of teams. Good or bad, teams are hotbeds of human emotion. But when we think of emotions as information, we can better manage those emotions to achieve team and personal goals. TEI is actually a set of nine norms and expectations that help build a productive social and emotional environment. Building trust and team identity are part of that.

If a team is skilled at treating each other with respect and consideration and takes the time to get to know each other, as well as learning how to collectively manage complex team emotions, team members are more likely to be at their best. It's not about group hugs and other sappy stuff. For example, if some people are acting in a way that's not helping the team, someone will confront that counterproductive behavior and refocus the team on its goals.

Q: How Is Team Emotional Intelligence Connected to Business Results?

Gallagher: Research has shown that teams high in TEI are much more likely to achieve their goals, and team members will also have higher levels of job satisfaction. Businesses with high TEI also are more likely to perform at higher levels in operations, finance, customer service and innovation. Why is TEI linked to higher performance? It has to do with trust. High TEI means that team members feel that the team values them for who they are. Members feel as though everyone else on the team "has their back." Team members aren't afraid to disagree with each other, because they trust that the disagreement is based on doing the right thing for the organization and the team. The best ideas are brought out, debated, improved and adopted. This drives team and organizational success.

Q: What Happens to Teams With Low TEI?

Gallagher: In teams with low TEI, where there's sarcasm or no concern for human emotion, people share less, are afraid of being creative and don't share what they're really thinking and/or feeling. It's so tough running a small business, and low levels of TEI mean that you won't get the best from your employees. The best ideas won't get shared. Debate is seen as personal criticism and people get defensive. Team cohesion breaks down. Costs go up and innovation declines. If you want the best from your people, everyone must feel that they are valued, cared for and respected.

Q: What Can Small Business Owners Do Immediately to Improve TEI?

Gallagher: Start making sure people feel psychologically safe. Make sure that team members treat each other sincerely, respectfully and thoughtfully. There are so many ideas to share, but the best place to start is [the] Harvard Business Review article called "Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups" by Druskat and Wolff, the two pioneers of TEI.

Q: Can You Offer an Example of How a Team With Low TEI Turned Things Around?

Gallagher: A small change can become the seed for great improvement. I once worked with an eight-member team working in an organization that had experienced years of dysfunction. Two members were new and the team leader had just been elevated into that role. The leader asked me to evaluate the team dynamics and recommend changes that would improve both the team's effectiveness and team member satisfaction.

We measured TEI using a standardized assessment and found lots of challenges. At the heart of the problem was a lack of trust among team members. Even though they had known each other for a long time, they were from different functions. So they really didn't know each other on a personal basis. As a result, members didn't freely contribute, and when debate occurred, it was taken as a personal affront. The leader and I agreed that a good place to start was by scheduling 10 minutes at the start of the weekly meeting to go around the table and have everyone share what was going on with their lives. It was awkward for the first several meetings, but the leader stuck with it.

Soon it was a natural conversation that would lower tension at the start of the meeting and increase the team's effectiveness. Eventually, the meeting took less time because information started freely flowing back and forth. This wasn't the only change the team adopted, but it was an important start. They eventually became a high-performing team that achieved their goals and whose members even began enjoying working together.

What's clear after talking with Gallagher is that focusing on the emotional intelligence of your team is a great way to drive better organizational performance, get the most out of your employees and positively impact your bottom line.

Tags: Employee Well-Being employee management