Emotional intelligence

an appropriate means to enhance team effectiveness?



In this new millennium, businesses are confronted with ever-challenging factors such as globalisation, different markets sectors convergence, and a continuously stepped up pace of change. In order to achieve success, while still establishing new markets and sustaining their competitive advantage, businesses are increasingly more aware that each of these factors affect the way they build teams. Indeed, globalisation makes it necessary to build virtual as well as multi-cultural teams, market sectors convergence implies bringing together different kinds of expertise and creating multi-disciplinary groups, and the stepped up pace of change means that a collection of people have to work at speed in a effective and efficient fashion.

This paper looks at these challenging factors from a project management perspective, and more specifically, from a team-building angle. It introduces and synthesises findings of studies conducted in the emotional intelligence field.

First, this paper reviews the notion of emotions in order to introduce the concept of emotional intelligence. Second, this paper develops a team effectiveness framework and briefly recapitulates the stages of creating a team, enumerates the different team types, insisting on a particular one called the synergetic team, describes the essential skills that a team should possess as well as the different roles that should be played by team members. Third, this paper illustrates the potential impact of emotional intelligence on team effectiveness by establishing links between the effectiveness model and emotional intelligence of a team. In conclusion, this paper evaluates the eventual role of emotional intelligence as a means to go from a group of individuals not convinced to improve their performance, to a synergetic one that faces up to the current challenging factors.

A Glance at Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, A Paradox In Itself?

At first, the expression “emotional intelligence” might be deemed paradoxical because we usually oppose emotion to reason, to intelligence. The dynamic of opposing emotions to reason and intelligence dates back from the very first philosophers and reached its paroxysm with the 18th century German philosopher Kant. Indeed, he saw the moral law as a principle of reason itself, and classified emotions and passions in the realm of the pathological, in the sense that he considered our emotions and passions as obstacles holding up our moral will's ability to become not only independent but self-sufficient. After all, it is enough to refer to the usual meaning given to the term “emotion,” (Online Dictionary) such as “a moving, stirring agitation,” or (Roegt's Thesaurus, 2002) as “a complex and usually strong subjective response” to fully comprehend our perception with respect to emotions; we view them as potentially going up against reason. What is the exact share of truth in our perception regarding our emotions? The works of Dr. Joseph LeDoux and Dr. Antonio Damasio shed light on the emotions-reason or emotions-intelligence dynamic.

A Neurological Explanation, the Two Pathways

Sensory processing takes two pathways in the human brain in a simultaneous fashion (LeDoux, 1999). To put it simply, there is a pathway that transmits a given signal to the thalamus (the thalamus is responsible, among other things, for regulating the level of awareness and activities of the individual), which relays sensory information to the cortex, the higher thinking part of the brain, which creates a conscious impression of the stimulus and activates a response from the individual (LeDoux, 1999). LeDoux calls this pathway the “high road.” The other pathway transmits the signal to the thalamus, which communicates the sensory information to the tandem hippocampus-amygdala, which activates a response in the body bypassing the cortex. While the hippocampus's function is to provide a precise memory of the sensory signal's context, the amygdala attaches to this memory an emotional flavour by triggering the corresponding body state determined by the appropriate heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing and brain waves). LeDoux calls this pathway the “low road” that helps human beings to act first and think later.

Speed Over Precision

In fact, the “low road” (LeDoux, 1999) activates a body response from the individual without him or her having a conscious experience of the stimulus's nature. Speed of reaction is preferred over precision.

One of the amygdala's functions is to remember any new physical body state that it has triggered with its corresponding context. Another amygdala's function is to re-trigger the same physical body state when confronted with a new context sharing only few key elements with the previously recorded context. The amygdala's lack of precision comes from the fact that it contents itself with some key elements (not all of them) to activate the same body response. It is this lack of precision that make activated body responses reliable to a certain extent, yielding advantageous results in some cases, while in others may not only be counter-productive, but even harmful.

LeDoux (1999) stated that there is an ”unbalance between the amygdala's input to the cortex and the very sparse control of the cortex over the amygdale.” He added that “even though thoughts can readily trigger emotions by activating the amygdala, it is very difficult to wilfully turn off emotions.” Indeed, it is because the cortex physically stems from the brain emotional areas that they have greater control over it. Reason and emotions go hand in hand and can not be wilfully separated, but what happens if they are physically cut off? Damasio (1994) studied patients who suffered brain internal injuries, more specifically connections between the brain emotional areas and the cortex were severed. Damasio's findings have opened new prospects regarding the emotions-reason, emotions-intelligence dynamic.

Elliott's Case

In his book “Descartes' Error,” Damasio (1994) related the case of a patient he named Elliott who suffered from an internal injury where the neuronal circuits between the cortex and the amygdala were disconnected. While this patient retained his faculty of reasoning, he was no longer able to make decisions. Damasio explained this disability by the fact that Elliott had no longer access to his emotional knowledge through the amygdala. Damasio noticed that it is the amygdala that provides a flavour to each possible choice, making it easy for the cortex to choose the most appropriate one. Damasio noticed that this was true for all patients who shared the same disability that Elliott had. Damasio concluded that not only emotions were involved in the process of decision making but that they were essential to it.

Damasio (1994) stated that emotions are necessary for us as human beings, in order for us to pursue our long-term planned activities, and to accordingly react to situations. He also affirmed that emotions are vital to foster relationships with other human beings, relationships without whom there can be no practical rationality. This fact shuts the door to the idea that reason can be freed from emotions, and, at the same time, opens up new perspectives.

New Perspectives and a Definition

It is not about opposing emotions to reason, nor is it about advocating the domination of reason over emotions or the domination of emotions over reason (although this is physically true), it is about going from an emotions-reason unbalance to a emotions-reason equilibrium. LeDoux (1999) stated that “we will develop a more harmonious integration of emotion and thinking. They would allow us both to know our own true feelings and why we have them and to be able to use them more effectively.” It is about combining thinking (or reasoning) and emotions, about joining together an intelligence based on thinking (or reasoning), and an intelligence based on emotions called emotional intelligence.

The Emotional Intelligence Framework

Emotional Intelligence Competencies and Their Characteristics

Emotional intelligence reveals new horizons by insisting on our emotional ability to make the most out of our assets including our intellect. This is not to say that emotional intelligence is the panacea for all of our problems, after all, it is no easy task to strike the balance between emotions and reason in a continuous fashion.

The very notion of emotional intelligence has been initially conceived by Salovey and Mayer (Goleman, 1997). They defined emotional intelligence as the “ability to monitor and regulate one's own and other's feelings and to use feelings to guide one's thinking and action.” Daniel Goleman took Salovey and Mayer's emotional intelligence model and adapted it as the basis for his theory of using emotional intelligence in everyday life as well as in work. Goleman came up with five competencies, namely self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social ability. Let us call this competencies' set “the emotional intelligence framework.” Goleman classified the first three competencies under the concept of personal competencies, while the remaining two, under the social competencies.

  • Self awareness: Goleman describes this competency as the ability to comprehend one's own emotions and their impact on others, know one's own weaknesses and strengths, and have confidence in one's self.
  • Self regulation: Goleman sees this competency as the ability to manage one's own emotions and impetus, perform work in conscientious fashion, show adaptability and be at ease with new work methods, and innovative ideas.
  • Motivation: Goleman perceives this competency as the ability to push one's self forward with perseverance, optimism, dedication, excellence through the ups and downs of working life.
  • Empathy: Goleman views empathy as the ability to perceive others' emotions, to feel a real interest in their concerns.
  • Social ability: Goleman considers this competency as the ability to induce and generate positive responses from others with the help of communication, cooperation, mediation, persuasion and leadership skills.

Competencies' Characteristics

Goleman (1997) declared that these competencies can be viewed as independent since each one of them contributes in a unique fashion to the work's dynamic. He stated that these competencies can depend on each other, thus self awareness is crucial to self regulation and empathy. Indeed, we first need be aware of our emotions in order to regulate them and to relate to others' emotions. Goleman stipulated that self regulation plays a major part regarding motivation. Certainly, in order to push ourselves forward through tribulations in everyday work, we need to gather ourselves, to manage our impetus by providing it with a direction and the appropriate amount of energy. Finally, Goleman added that these competencies are sufficiently generic to be used in all kinds of tasks. Applying these findings within the project management context implies that project members can generate a positive influence in their teams provided they effectively use their emotions to excel in their work and foster relationships with their team mates. It is also interesting to notice that the social skills within the Intelligence Framework relate to project management from the team building perspective, since it covers management skills such as leadership, persuasion, mediation, cooperation, and communication.

Team Effectiveness Framework

Building the Team Effectiveness Framework

Let us build the team effectiveness framework (or TEF) in two steps. We first build the TEF's nucleus and underlying pillars using on the following two sentences stated in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (Project Management Institute, 2004) as a basis: “Individual development is the foundation necessary to develop the team. Development as a team is critical to the project's ability to meet its objectives.” We then enrich the TEF by adding Belbin's roles and Goleman's leadership types, which we will describe further.

Building the Team Effectiveness Framework's Nucleus and Pillars

The TEF nucleus consists of two components. The first component provides each project member and teams with a clear understanding of the project's scope (including the project justification, the description of the product or service to be built, the major deliverables and project objectives). The nucleus indicates where the project members and teams should go to. The second component provides a clear understanding of the values driving the project, acting as ethical beacons.

The TEF roles and responsibilities pillar: it gives each project member and teams a clear understanding of who decides what, and what is to be done by whom. This pillar is derived directly from the nucleus since “roles and responsibilities should be linked to the project scope definition” (Project Management Institute, 2004). This pillar focuses on organisation structure, job description, performance, competencies, qualifications and resources.

The TEF procedures pillar: it provides project members and teams a thorough understanding of how these roles and responsibilities are to be implemented and accounted for within the project context. This pillar describes how and when it is to be done, using what tools.

The TEF relationship management pillar: it gives a clear understanding of the interdependency between project members, making them aware they are acting as a team. It makes sure that all team members know what the others do, evaluate their actions' on others as well as other's actions on them. It encourages cooperation and collaboration implying at least two ethical values: trust and respect.

The TEF leadership pillar: it provides a clear understanding of the skills needed to lead project members to achieve the project's objectives making sure they are reached within the context of the TEF nucleus and pillars mentioned above. Indeed, leaders should commit to the project's strategic objectives, convey their expectations to their subordinates in a clear and concise fashion, make sure team members understand that all are accountable, and be able recognise and appreciate the work performed by their subordinates.

Building the Team Effectiveness Framework; Defining Psychological Roles and Leadership Types

Meredith Belbin (West, 1994) based his theory on a research that involved two hundred teams conducting management business simulations. He identified nine primary personality traits he called roles that a team must possess in order to be effective and, therefore, achieve success in a project. These roles are not functional, nor technical but psychological (West). Belbin recognized that team members have a mix of roles usually with dominant traits as well as sub-dominants ones. Another interesting point is that Belbin identified strengths and weaknesses for each role. Here is a brief description of each role (West).

  • Co-ordinator: This is a go-between person who is committed to team goals and objectives.
  • Shaper: This is a person who is very determined to achieve the goals and objectives, who drives through and will make sure that team mates achieve the specified aims.
  • Plant: This is a person with ideas, has a radical approach to problem solving and solutions.
  • Resource Investigator: This is a person who gets ideas by contacting people, from building on what people have done, and then develop these ideas.
  • Company worker/ implementer: This is a person who is very practical, looks at the processes, knows exactly what is to be done, how is it going to be put together and how it is going to be feasible.
  • Monitor evaluator: This is a person who is very detached, needs to be very dry and very objective, and is able to estimate opposing proposals.
  • Team worker: This is a person who is very supportive, diplomatic, a very good listener, tends to keep team spirit up.
  • Completer finisher: This is a person who has a sense of detail, very consistent. Simply put this person dots the I's and crosses the T's.
  • Specialist: This is a person that is knowledgeable, is a subject matter expert, always wanting to further its expertise.

If Belbin focused on the different personal traits needed in different individuals, to create and foster a team, Goleman (2002) identified six leadership types. He based his classification on a consulting firm's study based on a sample of close to four thousand senior managers. In his article, Goleman evaluated each leadership type's impact on organisations and identified situations best suited for each one. This research has shown that senior managers who obtain excellent results from the human and financial perspectives, do not resort to one and only one management style, they combine some or all of them in order to achieve specific results Here is a brief description of each type (Goleman):

  • There are the coercive managers with unilateral power who demand immediate submission. This research has also noticed that managers who systematically resort to coercion were the less effective in all but one situation, when an organisation goes through a crisis.
  • The authoritarian managers who rally their employees in a vision, and let them find their own way to achieve their work and results. The best suited situation is when change requires a new organisation's vision.
  • The affective managers create one to one relationships with their employees. The best suited situation is when bonds need to be renewed.
  • The democratic managers try to achieve consensus based on their employees' participation. The best suited situation is when there is a need to favour cohesion, consensus and involvement from members.
  • The leader-managers who strive for excellence and autonomy. The best suited situation is when there is a need of quick results with highly motivated and qualified teams.
  • The coach-managers who develop their employees' talents. The best suited situation is when there is a need to enhance performance and develop assets in the long term.

Belbin's roles enrich at least two TEF pillars, namely the Roles and Responsibilities pillar because it adds a psychological perspective to the defined functional and technical roles, and the TEF relationship management pillar since team members can comprehend others through these roles, and can anticipate their behaviour based on the weaknesses and strengths of each Belbin's roles.

Goleman's leadership types enrich at least two TEF pillars, the TEF leadership pillar and the TEF relationship management pillar. Indeed, these six leadership types provide the Leadership pillar with an accuracy that may successfully help developing effective teams, and help to better comprehend relationships among team members, and relationships between them and their managers.

Team Building Steps and Team Types

The team effectiveness framework can be viewed as a minimal requirement to develop and build cohesive teams that are effective. This implies that there are at least three different team types:

  • The team that is just a group of people. Let us call this type the “level-zero” team.
  • The team that does not apply the TEF. Let us call this type the “basic team.”
  • The team that uses the TEF as a springboard to become synergetic, i.e., a group of accountable people sharing the same team purposes, goals and objectives, sharing the same operating norms and processes, sharing the need for working together and increasing interdependency, and, last but not least attain a high level of membership awareness and commitment. The synergetic team continuously improves itself, instilling innovation at all levels, is not only adaptive to change, but may even become a change agent within its environment or industry.

Linking Emotional Intelligence With Team Effectiveness Framework

From the Theoretical Standpoint

The objective is to theoretically evaluate to which extent there is room for emotional intelligence within the context of the team effectiveness framework or from the synergetic team standpoint. It is enough to find just one link between the Emotional Intelligence framework and the Team Effectiveness Framework; however, we use the Table 1 to associate each Team Effectiveness Framework pillars and nucleus with its corresponding emotional intelligence skills.

Team Effectiveness Framework Pillar Pillar Aspect Emotional Intelligence Skills
Nucleus Values First of all, values relate to emotions, they are reference points that enhance the team's self awareness, telling it if it has been sufficiently professional to achieve the project's objectives
Leadership Coach, leader, authoritarian, affective and democratic types All these types require strong social competency such as empathy and social skills, and above all, leadership
Relationship Management Interdependency between team mates, mutual respect and trust Trust and mutual respect call on empathy one of the most important emotional intelligence social competency. In order for team mates to respect each other they must at least be aware of each other's feelings and emotions
Procedures decision making, conflict management Decision making is based on emotions as we have seen in previous paragraphs. Communication and conflict management require the emotional intelligence social competency. An emotional intelligence social skill such as mediation is important in conflict management.
Roles and Responsibilities (from the psychological standpoint) Belbin role: Team worker Although the team effectiveness framework considers roles as those fulfilled in a project environment, we focus on different roles, psychological ones, which must be present in a synergetic team. The team worker role implies to be aware of others emotions in order to use his/her listening and diplomatic skills. This refers to one of the emotional intelligence social competency, empathy.

Table 1 – Team Effectiveness Framework Pillars and Nucleus Corresponding with Emotional Intelligence Skills

As Table 1 shows, not only there is enough room for emotional intelligence to play a role in team effectiveness, but also the two converge allowing emotional intelligence to be perceived as a team effectiveness consolidating tool. Theoretically speaking, emotional intelligence can help a synergetic team improve its performance.

From the Practical Standpoint

In order for a team to be effective, it has to satisfy numerous conditions specified in the team effectiveness framework's pillars. This implies a great amount of work from all team members to keep their framework up to date, while sustaining their competitive advantage and managing an ever changing environment. It is not sufficient to build a team effectiveness framework, and to keep it up to date. The real challenge is to keep the team effectiveness framework consistent with itself at all times. There are many organisations that advocate competition among its employees, elevating it as a core value. In this case, the value is well known, reinforcing the team effectiveness framework's nucleus, but goes against relationship management pillar that encourages interdependency. In this particular case the team is no more but a collection of competing individuals. Another example is satisfying the procedure pillar by granting the team with technological equipment hindering non verbal communication thus obstructing awareness of others' emotions, affecting in turn relationship management quality. This is true for teams that are spread across geographical areas within a country, within the same cultural background, within our planet or within the solar system when it comes to astronauts.... A third and last example concerns multi-cultural teams. One of the major apprehensions is that while the values system may be known by all, these values must not only mean the same for all, but more importantly all team members must their order of importance; otherwise the team effectiveness framework's very nucleus might be in jeopardy.


This paper has shed light on the emotions-reason dynamic, confirming the crucial role of emotions in our everyday life, and has introduced the concept of “emotional intelligence.” This paper has presented the emotional intelligence and team effectiveness frameworks, has established links between them in order to show the importance of emotional intelligence in team effectiveness. This paper has shown the great potential of emotional intelligence in building effective teams, and has illustrated with some examples the real challenges in creating effective teams within the context of current challenges that businesses are faced with.


Damasio, A. (1995). L'erreur de Descartes, La raison des émotions. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob translated from Damasio, A. (1994) Descartes' Error, Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York: A. Grosset/Putnam Books.

Goleman, D. (1997). Intelligence émotionnelle 1. Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, translated from Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D. (1999) intelligence émotionnelle 2. Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, translated from Goleman, D. (1998) Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D. (2002). Impact et efficacité des différents styles de leadership. Styles de leaders, Editions d'Organisation (65-104), translated from Goleman, D. (2001), Harvard Business Review on What Makes a Leader.

Harper, D. (2001). Etymology Online, www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=emotion

LeDoux, J. (1998). The emotional brain, The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Project Management Institute. (2004). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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West, M. (1994). Effective teamwork. London: The British Psychology Society.

© 2008, Mokhtar El Mokri
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – St Julians, Malta



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