Executive Coach: Good Leadership Means Improving Team Dynamics

One of the most prized leadership competencies in organizations is effective team building, a skill where emotional intelligence, or EQ, comes heavily into play. If you search on the term team effectiveness, you'll get about 34 million results. The same subject search on Amazon.com lists more than 3,500 books.

If you're an IT leader, honing your EQ can give you the leverage to catalyze the performance that only a team can deliver. But you need to be able to recognize the mood of the group and manage the conflicts inherent to even the best teams.

Calling All Great Team Leaders

How many great team leaders have you encountered? If you're like many of my executive clients, probably very few. I believe that one reason for this dearth of talent is leaders' failure to build the emotional intelligence of teams.

Recently a CEO client of mine watched his CIO facilitating a team retreat. The CIO had a bold agenda for the day. When he asked team members about their expectations for the retreat, half said they hoped to work on improving team dynamics. The CIO seemed irritated by this suggestion. He responded that given tight system implementation deadlines, there wasn't time for "team activities."

The next day, the CEO met with his CIO and asked how he planned to address the team's requests. The CIO replied that he had no such plan; his priority was to meet project deadlines. Still, his boss asked him to follow up with team members to better understand the group's dynamics. The CEO also suggested that the CIO schedule a shorter retreat for the IT department on team building within the next 60 days. My client was rightfully concerned that one of the company's critical teams had expressed a need that wasn't being recognized.

Building Team Dynamics

Still, the CIO's hesitation to focus on team dynamics is understandable. Managing the emotional needs of a team is a delicate art. If you have avoided this task with the people you manage, here are some steps to make it easier.

  1. Identify the tension within the team instead of forging ahead with your own agenda. Instead of ignoring the issues, you need to allow group dynamics to emerge and facilitate conversation. During these discussions, watch for some problem areas:

    • Emotionally loaded statements (i.e., "I dislike working with that group.")
    • Generalizations (i.e., "People won't buy into that idea.")
    • A lack of interest (i.e., "Is this really a top priority?")
    • Inherent conflict (i.e., "We don't problem-solve well.")

    Then ask team members with complaints for specifics. Ask others if there is a similar feeling within the team as a whole. The emotionally intelligent leader recognizes the need to address the tension that may run under the surface.

  2. Establish ground rules for discussion. Here are some questions to set the boundaries:

    • How will the team handle complaints?
    • How will the team discuss contrary perspectives?
    • What will the team do when energy levels run low?

If you haven't led a team, find the opportunity so you can develop this vital leadership ability. Building team EQ can create a competitive edge for you and contribute to the development of the company's future leaders.

Angie O'Donnell is an executive coach at Insight Performance in Dedham, Mass. She can be reached at EQforIT@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in March 2007

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