THE LINK BETWEEN GROUP EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE AND GROUP
Steven B. Wolff Vanessa Urch Druskat
Innovative Systems Associates The University of New Hampshire
199 Jericho Hill Rd. Whittemore School of Business
Waltham, MA 02451 McConnell Hall of Graduate Study
Phone: 781-899-2198 Durham, NH 03824
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 603-862-3348
Elizabeth Stubbs Koman Tracey Eira Messer
United States Navy Weatherhead School of Management
Human Performance Center Case Western Reserve University
2025 Tarter Ave., Suite 100 10900 Euclid Avenue
Virginia Beach, VA 23461-1924 Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Phone: 757-492-7629 Phone: 216-368-2664
THE LINK BETWEEN GROUP EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE AND GROUP
In a period of about fifteen years, participation in work teams has become a standard in
most U.S. organizations (Lawler, 1998). In fact, the Wall Street Journal’s rank of the criteria
used by recruiters seeking to hire MBAs placed “the ability to work well within a team” second;
it was right behind “communication and interpersonal skills” (Wall Street Journal, Wednesday,
September 16, 2003).
The speed with which the “team revolution” took over the workplace is one way to
explain the results of a recent survey that asked the leaders of 100 of the most innovative
companies in the United States (as defined by the Work In America Institute) to name the
workplace challenges they most wanted researchers to address. Ninety-five percent of the
respondents identified -- creating and sustaining effective work teams -- as their #1 challenge
Yet, group dynamics and group effectiveness have been studied by academics for over
six decades. Some scholars argue that existing theory and research are not behaviorally specific
enough to be useful for practicing managers searching for the best way to develop and sustain
effective work groups (Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, & Volpe, 1995; Cohen & Bailey,
1997). Others have argued that scholars can increase understanding of team dynamics and team
effectiveness through research and theory on the roles of emotion and relationships in teams
(Edmondson, 1999; George, 2002; Keyton, 1999).
We agree with both arguments. Thus, this chapter is about a behaviorally specific model
of team effectiveness that emphasizes the role of emotion and relationships on team
effectiveness. It is built on our knowledge that social interactions create emotion and that the
frequency of required interactions in a group amplifies the need for emotional intelligence in a
group setting. It is also built on our understanding of groups as social systems in which
interactions among members are the basic building blocks (Morgeson & Hofmann, 1999). This
means that group outcomes are determined not by the competence of individual group members,
but by the competence evident in the patterns of interactions among all members (Poole, 1999;
Weick & Roberts, 1993). Therefore, we argue that to be most useful in a group setting, behaviors
consistent with emotional intelligence must be manifested at the group level. In other words, a
group must have norms or informal rules that support actions and behaviors that acknowledge,
recognize, monitor, discriminate, and attend to emotion, and that respond constructively to
emotional challenge (see Holmer, 1994; Huy, 1999). We refer to these as emotionally competent
norms. We refer to groups that hold such norms as emotionally competent groups.
In this chapter, we will define and discuss our theory of group emotional competence and
present our research journey as we test the theory, refine our measure and work to refine the
theory. Specifically, we present the results of on-going research being conducted to test parts of
our theory and research begun by Christina Hamme (2003) to develop a reliable and valid survey
to measure group emotional competence. Finally, we discuss the implications of our theory for
addressing five critical gaps in current knowledge about how to build and sustain group
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Before we begin we need to define a few terms we use consistently throughout this chapter.
We use the terms group and team interchangeably. We define a group or team as “made up of
individuals who see themselves and who are seen by others as a social entity, who are
interdependent because of the tasks they perform as members of a group, who are embedded in one
or more larger social systems (e.g., community, organization), and who perform tasks that affect
others (such as customers or coworkers)” (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996: 308). Emotion is defined as the
personal display of affected states or emotional arousal (e.g., joy, love, contentment, fear, anger, or
embarrassment), and is differentiated from feelings, which involve awareness of the arousal
(Fineman, 1991). Group norms are defined as standards or informal rules that groups adopt to
regulate and regularize member behavior (Feldman, 1984). As will be discussed, norms grow out of
repeated interactions through which members come to an implicit agreement about the unique
values and expectations by which members of this particular group will operate (i.e., appropriate
THE CORE OF THE THEORY:
LINKING EMOTION-FOCUSED AND TASK-FOCUSED NORMS
Despite decades of theory and research suggesting the importance of the role of emotion
focused norms and processes to group outcomes, (e.g., Bales, 1950; Homans, 1950; Tuckman,
1965) current theories of group effectiveness (see, Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Guzzo & Dickson,
1996; Hackman, 1987) emphasize the rational task-focused processes and strategies associated
with effective work groups (e.g., coordination). They give little explicit attention to the
emotional and social norms and rules that must underlie the effective execution of task-focused
activities. The following two examples of teams we have studied provide an illustration of the
relevance of both emotion-focused and task-focused norms in work groups and show how tightly
they are coupled. In one high technology company, the teams devised an effective task process
strategy in which teams would work together to ensure on-time delivery. When one team fell
behind schedule, those teams who were ahead of schedule helped it to catch up -- without
managerial intervention. This strategy required task-focused norms such as managing the task
boundary (i.e., who does what) and pooling knowledge and resources. It also required a parallel
set of emotion-focused norms. As one team lagged behind and had to request help from another,
it had to develop norms for managing the emotion team members felt when it had to admit it had
fallen behind by requesting help. Similarly, those teams providing help had to manage their own
displeasure and emotion at having to work harder and longer to lend a hand.
In a second manufacturing firm, self-managing teams decided that to improve their
effectiveness all team members would have to become multi-skilled enough to complete all tasks
conducted by a team. This required members to learn new skills through training sessions, peer
coaching, and the giving and receiving of feedback. In most situations, learning new skills,
especially from peers, is known to involve feelings of vulnerability and the fear of evaluation
(Schein, 1993), therefore, the groups had to build a sense of trust and safety (see Edmondson,
1999) to enable members to admit mistakes and to feel comfortable providing and receiving
honest feedback. In sum, group task and emotional norms were tightly connected.
Our theory of group emotional competence (Druskat & Wolff, 2001a, 2001b; Wolff &
Druskat, 2004) contributes to current knowledge on team effectiveness by clarifying how
emotion and relationships underlie engagement in effective task-focused processes (e.g.,
cooperation, effort; boundary management). Specifically, we argue that engagement in effective
task-focused processes is facilitated by constructive group member relationships (i.e., social
capital: trust and safety, efficacy, networks), which are supported by a set of emotionally
competent group norms (ECG norms) (See Figure 1). We elaborate on our theory below.
Insert Figure 1 about here
GROUP EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE
An Emotional Structure
Behavior in groups is not random; it is structured through norms defined as standards or
informal rules adopted by group members to ensure predictability in member behavior (Feldman,
1984). The interpersonal interactions and behaviors necessary for group work are the source of
many emotions, e.g., joy, contentment, fear, anger, and embarrassment (Kemper, 1978). This
means that emotions have an unavoidable and pervasive effect in groups (Barsade, 2002). In
group settings, just as patterns of behavior and interactions are labeled group dynamics; patterns
of behavior and interactions that arouse, display, or address emotion are labeled emotional
dynamics (Huy, 1999). Like all behavior in groups, emotional dynamics are not random, they
emerge through member interactions, which are restricted by the social context and the range of
actions considered admissible by contextual and cultural factors (Morgeson & Hofmann, 1999).
Over time, group member back-and-forth interactions, actions, and reactions cause certain
emotional dynamics to become routine and to emerge as a collective emotional structure or a set
of rules and resources that influence the experience of emotion in the group.
To define the specific norms or rules within a group emotional structure, we draw from
two relevant theories. The first is the cognitive appraisal theory of emotion, which delineates the
process through which emotion influences behavior (referred to as the emotional process)
(Lazarus, 1991). The second theory is the complex systems theory of small group dynamics,
which suggests that dynamics within groups occur at multiple levels including the individual
member-level, the group-level, and the cross-boundary level because groups are open systems
(Arrow, McGrath, & Berdahl, 2000).
The cognitive appraisal theory of emotion, (see Plutchik, 2003) suggests that there are
two phases in the emotion-to-behavior process. Phase one of the emotional process begins with
an event that stirs emotion and ends with the arousal of specific emotion(s), e.g., anxiety and
excitement. The link between the event and the arousal is moderated by awareness and
interpretation of the context surrounding the event, which enables the individual to label the
emotion (Ilgen, Fisher, & Taylor, 1979). Phase two consists of the choice of a response to the
emotion. This response is moderated by one’s belief about the appropriate action in that situation
Anthropologists and organizational scholars have found that cultural norms influence: 1)
an individual’s interpretation and awareness of emotion and 2) the individual’s belief about the
appropriate response to specific emotions (see Ekman, 1980; Martin, Knopoff, & Beckman,
1998). For example, in Tahiti the emotion interpreted as sadness by Western cultures is
interpreted as fatigue and the expected appropriate response to this emotion differs (Levy, 1984).
Also, research on culture in organizations has shown that newly hired employees watch
interpersonal interactions to learn how to interpret emotion-eliciting events and to learn the norms
and “display rules” that define socially acceptable responses to specific emotions in that
organization (e.g. Louis, 1980; Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978).
Group cultural norms also influence individual awareness and response to emotion in
groups. We label the aspect of group culture that influences awareness of emotion and response
to emotion-- the emotional structure. Furthermore, because dynamics in a group occur at
multiple levels including individual, group, and cross-boundary, (Arrow et al., 2000) the
emotional structure contains norms that influence awareness and response to emotion at each
level. In sum, we propose that the emotional structure has six categories of norms. Each category
influences either: (1) awareness of emotion or (2) response to emotion at one of three levels: (a)
individual, (b) group, or (c) cross-boundary.
Emotionally Competent Group Norms
The emotional structure a group adopts determines a group’s level of emotional
competence, which has been defined as the willingness to acknowledge, recognize, monitor,
discriminate, and attend to emotion and the ability to respond constructively to emotional
challenge (see Holmer, 1994; Huy, 1999). As part of a collective emotional structure, emotional
competence exists in the behaviors and interactions among group members and in those between
members and relevant individuals outside the group.
Emotionally competent norms are rules and expectations within the group emotional
structure that have beneficial emotional consequences through their positive influence on the
development of group emotional competence and social capital (see Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998).
Below we will define specific ECG norms in each of the six categories of norms we use to define
an emotional structure (that is, (1) awareness of emotion and (2) response to emotion --at each of
three levels: (a) individual, (b) group, or (c) cross-boundary). Our theory proposes that these
ECG norms are linked to group effectiveness through their positive influence on the
development of group social capital and effective task processes. Thus, before we present the
specific ECG norms in our theory, we present a brief explanation of social capital and our
definition of group effectiveness.
Social capital represents the value added by the structure and quality of social
relationships (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). Unlike other forms of capital (e.g., financial or
human), social capital is jointly held by the parties in relationship, (Burt, 1992) yet, “like other
forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends
that in its absence would not be possible" (Coleman, 1988: 98). For example, a group within
which there exists a psychological sense of safety (an element of social capital) is able to
accomplish more than a comparable group in which safety does not exist.
Nahapiet and Goshal (1998) organize the elements of social capital into three dimensions:
(1) structural, (2), relational, and (3) cognitive. The structural dimension represents networks of
connections; for example, network ties and the configuration of those ties. The relational
dimension represents factors related to the quality of relationships. An example is group
psychological safety, defined as the degree to which the social climate in the group is conducive
to interpersonal risk (Edmondson, 1999). The cognitive dimension refers to “resources
providing shared representations, interpretations, and systems of meaning” (Nahapiet & Ghoshal,
1998). An example is group efficacy, defined as the collective belief that a group can be effective
(Lindsley, Brass, & Thomas, 1995). Two features are common across all three dimensions of
social capital: (1) each constitutes some aspect of the social structure, and (2) each facilitates
interactions that lead to desirable outcomes (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998).
Measures of group effectiveness should consider both current and future performance
(Sundstrom, De Meuse, & Futrell, 1990). Groups focused exclusively on current performance run
the risk of ignoring team and member well-being and development, which in the long-run can
impair a group’s viability and performance (Hackman, 1987). Hackman (1987) proposed a
multidimensional definition that defines team effectiveness as considering both customer
satisfaction and a team’s ability to continue working together effectively. In the studies reported
here, we define group effectiveness as a multidimensional composite of productivity, work
quality, performance compared to other groups, the group’s ability to be self-directed, and the
group’s ability to continue working together effectively in the future.
THE LINK BETWEEN EMOTIONALLY COMPETENT NORMS AND GROUP
In the early conceptualization of our theory of ECG norms, we define thirteen norms that
fit into the six categories of behaviors that represent an emotional structure (see Druskat &
Wolff, 2001a, 2001b). However, our research, thus far, has examined six norms – one from each
of the six categories. Thus, below we define more clearly these six emotionally competent group
norms that influence awareness and response to emotion at the individual, group, and cross-
boundary levels (interpersonal understanding, confronting members who break norms, team self-
evaluation, proactive problem solving, and organizational understanding). We discuss why we
believe each norm will be directly associated with group effectiveness.
Group Awareness of Members’ Emotion
Interpersonal understanding. A group norm of interpersonal understanding promotes
group awareness of emotions at the individual member level. It encourages behavior that seeks
awareness of individual member talents, preferences, needs, and feelings. Research has found
that team members who feel their teammates know and understand them receive higher
supervisor ratings of creativity and self-report lower levels of absenteeism than members who
feel they are not known or understood (Thatcher, 2000). Another recent study found that
interpersonal congruence, defined as the degree to which team members feel other members
accurately know and understand them personally, was linked to high levels of social integration
and group identification within the team, and low levels of emotional conflict (Polzer, Milton, &
Swann, In press). The same study also found that in teams with high levels of interpersonal
congruence, team member diversity enhanced creative task performance. McAllister, (1995)
showed that interpersonally attentive behavior within a group helps build interpersonal trust and
safety, which have been found to trigger the cooperation and knowledge sharing (Larkey, 1996;
Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998) that increase group effectiveness (Campion, Medsker,
& Higgs, 1993).
Group Management of Members’ Emotion
Confronting members who break norms. A group norm of confronting members who
break norms promotes group management of emotion (i.e., response to emotion) at the individual
level. It encourages constructive feedback and the candid confrontation of individuals whose
actions disturb group operations. The norm helps build the emotional competence and capacity
(i.e., the willingness to deal with difficult emotion, see Holmer, 1994) to cope with the difficult
feelings that might result from candid feedback. Groups that ignore inappropriate member
behavior in an attempt to avoid conflict decrease their ability to solve problems that are often
conspicuous. Avoiding conflict frequently results in hostility and reduced performance (Nemeth
& Staw, 1989). Murnighan and Conlon, (1991) found that members of successful string quartets
confronted rather than avoided problematic member behavior. When done skillfully, confronting
members who break norms builds trust and safety in the team by promoting honest, trustworthy,
predictable behavior, which increases group effectiveness (Campion et al., 1993).
Awareness of Group-level Emotion
. A group norm of team self-evaluation promotes group awareness
of emotions and issues at the group level. It encourages behavior that seeks awareness of group-
level strengths, needs, preferences, and resources. It helps build the emotional competence to
address the discomfort or anxiety that often accompanies self-evaluation. A norm of team self-
evaluation encourages the surfacing and evaluation of routines or habits that may be
compromising team effectiveness. Evaluating the “status quo” is a prerequisite for positive team
development and team effectiveness (Gersick & Hackman, 1990; Louis & Sutton, 1991). The
self-correction and improvement that can come out of a norm of team self-evaluation also helps
build a group’s sense of efficacy and stimulates group effectiveness by encouraging behavior
that makes group efficacy self-fulfilling (Lindsley et al., 1995; Shea & Guzzo, 1987).
Management of Group-level Emotion
Proactive problem solving. A group norm of proactive problem solving promotes group
management of emotion (i.e., response to emotion) at the group level. It encourages coping with
problems, potential problems, or impending difficulties in a "can-do" way. It helps build the
emotional competence and capacity to address potentially tough situations proactively, rather
than rigidly or reactively as often seen in human systems (Staw, Sandelands, & Dutton, 1981).
Research has demonstrated a link between proactive behavior in teams and team effectiveness
(Ancona & Caldwell, 1992). Proactive problem solving contributes to a group’s sense of control
over its future and its sense of efficacy, thereby facilitating group effectiveness (Campion et al.,
1993; Shea & Guzzo, 1987).
Awareness of Emotion in the External Boundary
Organizational understanding. A group norm of organizational understanding promotes
group awareness of emotions and issues at the cross-boundary level. It encourages behavior that
seeks information from the larger organization and that attempts to understand the needs,
preferences, perspectives, and behaviors of important individuals and groups outside of the
group’s boundary. These preferences and feelings may be very different from the group’s needs
and concerns. Therefore, such behavior helps the group learn the conceptual frameworks and
language used by important organizational members, a crucial step toward building networks of
external relationships (Tushman & Scanlan, 1981) that can provide information, resources, and
support from the larger organization (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Yan & Louis, 1999). Theory
building research with self-managing manufacturing teams found that the highest performing
teams exhibited a norm of organizational understanding (Druskat, 1996).
Management of Emotion in the External Boundary
Building external relationships. A group norm of building external relationships takes
the awareness gained as a result of organizational understanding and promotes management of
emotion when dealing with individuals and groups outside of the group’s boundary.
Specifically, it encourages emotionally sensitive actions that build relationships with individuals
and groups that can help the group achieve its goals. Such actions have been directly linked to
team effectiveness (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Yan & Louis, 1999). Research reveals that team
effectiveness is highest in teams with strategies that involve engaging and working with
colleagues in the larger organization to acquire information, resources, and support; effectiveness
is lowest in teams with non-aggressive and non-existent external boundary strategies (Ancona,
1990; Ancona & Caldwell, 1992).
TESTING OUR THEORY
We conducted two studies designed to test our theory. The first study was conducted
using three hundred and eighty-two full-time Masters of Business Association (MBA) students,
comprising 48 groups. This study tested the relationship between team effectiveness and the six
ECG norms discussed above (that is, Interpersonal Understanding, Confronting Members who
Break Norms, Team Self-Evaluation, Proactive Problem Solving, Organizational Understanding,
and Building External Relationships). The norms were measured with a questionnaire we
developed, piloted and revised with two previous classes of MBA students. Performance was
rated by the instructor one month after the norm data was collected and again six months after
the norm data was collected. The performance rating form asked five questions about the quality
of the team’s work, its performance relative to teams doing similar work, and the team’s ability
to continue working together effectively in the future.
The results revealed that all ECG norms except Confronting Members who Break Norms
were correlated with team effectiveness ratings at Time 1 (one month after the norm
measurements were taken). Correlations between ECG norms and team effectiveness ratings
ranged from .36 for Team Self-Evaluation to .56 for Organizational Understanding. Correlations
between ECG norms and team effectiveness ratings at Time 2 (six months after the norm
measurements were taken) showed similar results except that Team Self-Evaluation was no
longer significantly correlated with performance at Time 2.
In the second study we examined the influence of ECG norms in 119 teams in six
organizations located in the Midwestern United States, including four Fortune 1000 firms. The
sample represented diverse industries including industrial and consumer goods manufacturers,
financial services, transportation, and product design and development. The average number of
teams per organization was 20.7 with a range of 8-40. Teams had a mean of 11.95 team members
(Range = 4-29; Median = 8).
In this study, we examined the second step of our theory. That is, we examined whether
group social capital would mediate the relationship between the ECG norms and team
effectiveness. Specifically, we examined a structural equation model that included 5 ECG norms
(the same as study 1, but Building Relationships was not included) leading to a latent variable of
social capital, that predicts the observed social capital components (trust/safety, group efficacy,
and networks) and team effectiveness. The norms were measured using the same scales used in
Study 1 and team effectiveness was measured using two measures: 1) the subjective performance
rating scale used in Study 1 was completed by team managers two levels above the teams, and
2) objective performance scores (e.g., percentages of team goals met). The model was a good fit.
All ECG norms predicted social capital, except Confronting Members who Break Norms had a
negative relation to social capital. Social capital predicted team effectiveness. The squared
multiple correlation for performance was .25, indicating that a quarter of the variance in
performance was explained by the model.
The results of these two studies partially support our group emotional competence theory,
with the exception of Confronting Members who Break Norms. However, we are not yet willing
to give up on this hypothesis. We believe that Confronting Members effectively may require
training that was not provided to the teams in either of our sample. In the absence of such
training group members may have instinctively avoided confrontation or may have
inappropriately confronted members.
REFINING THE THEORY AND ITS MEASUREMENT
Since conducting the research discussed above, we have worked to refine our theory and
to improve and validate a survey to measure Group Emotional Competence. Although our
chapter has, thus far, discussed our examination of six specific ECG norms (that is, Interpersonal
Understanding, Confronting Members who Break Norms, Team Self-Evaluation, Proactive
Problem Solving, Organizational Understanding, and Building External Relationships), as
discussed above, our original theory proposed thirteen ECG norms (see Druskat & Wolff,
2001a). The additional seven norms include: perspective taking and caring behavior (individual
level), seeking feedback, creating resources for working with emotion, and creating an optimistic
environment (group level), and inter-group awareness and ambassadorial orientation (cross-
boundary level). Thus, our first step toward theory refinement was to develop a questionnaire to
measure the thirteen norms and to determine, through factor analytic methods, whether they fit
within the six proposed categories of norms, that is: (1) awareness of emotion and (2) response
to emotion --at each of three levels: (a) individual, (b) group, or (c) cross-boundary.
The survey development and validation was carried out by a graduate student from
Rutgers University, Christina Hamme Peterson, under the supervision of her Dissertation Chair,
Cary Cherniss (Hamme, 2003). To develop the survey, Christina began with the items we had
used in the two studies discussed earlier. Then, in close collaboration with us to ensure
uniformity with the theory, she developed items to test all thirteen norms. Factor analytic
methods confirmed that, as expected, each of the thirteen norms fit within their appropriate
category. Again, these categories were composed of (1) awareness of emotion and (2) response
to emotion --at each of three levels: (a) individual, (b) group, or (c) cross-boundary. Eight of the
thirteen scales were found to be reliable. The statistics suggested that we should collapse the
thirteen norms into nine clear and reliable norms. These nine scales also passed tests of
convergent and discriminant validity when compared to other already validated scales examining
similar and different team norms and processes. In other words, the ECG norm scales were
moderately correlated with scales measuring similar but different group-level constructs, thus
confirming the convergent validity of the scales. They also were weakly correlated with scales
measuring very different group-level constructs, thus confirming the discriminant validity of the
scales. Figure 2 presents the nine norms emerging from Christina’s analyses (Hamme, 2003).
More recently, we have further refined and tested the nine ECG norm scales. Those interested in
the survey should contact the first or second authors of this chapter.
Insert Figure 2 about here
Three Additional ECG Norms
Thus, three ECG norms have been added to the original six ECG norms defined earlier in
this chapter and examined in the studies presented above: Caring behavior, creating resources for
working with emotion, and creating an optimistic environment.
Caring behavior. Caring behavior is defined as communicating positive regard,
appreciation, and respect to group members. Through a caring orientation, team
members communicate that the team values the presence and contributions of the
recipient member. In a study of 67 work groups, Wolff (1998) found that norms of
caring behavior in a team contributed to team effectiveness by increasing members'
sense of safety, cohesion and satisfaction, which in turn, facilitated member engagement
in the task. Kahn (1998) argues that a caring orientation builds workplace relationships
that provide a "secure base" for individuals, which allows them to take risks that
facilitate personal learning and development. Both Wolff (1998) and Kahn (1998)
indicate that caring does not necessitate close personal relationships. It requires member
validation and respect.
Creating resources for working with emotion.
A group can facilitate effective
interpretation and response to emotional stimuli by providing resources that legitimize
the recognition of emotional stimuli and that help members to discuss feelings (e.g.,
tools, time, clear mechanisms such as open discussion periods) (Levy, 1984). Levy (1984)
argues that individuals draw upon cultural resources for their ability to process feelings
-- without such resources the emotion is likely to be ignored or suppressed. In
individuals, suppressed emotions lead to dysfunctions such as depression (Kleinman,
1988). In groups, suppressed emotion manifests itself as apathy or lack of motivation.
An emotionally competent group accepts emotions as an inherent part of group life. It
legitimizes discussion of emotional issues and creates a vocabulary for discussing them.
Creating an optimistic environment. Once a team has created resources for
accessing and working with emotion, it must channel its energy to create an optimistic
and affirmative environment. Emotions are contagious in a group setting (Barsade,
2002). Thus, constructive, positive images can have an important impact on how
emotions are experienced in a group setting. Optimistic environments are defined as
those who favor positive images over negative ones, which according to Cooperrider,
(1990) can result in positive affect, positive behavior, and positive outcomes. For
example, in an optimistic environment team members are likely to interpret an
unexpected obstacle as a challenge rather than a difficulty and, thus, are likely to
mobilize positive energy to manage the obstacle. For example, research by Isen and her
colleagues shows that a sense of optimism toward the future predisposes people toward
acts that would likely support continued positive affect, e.g., helping (Isen & Baron,
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: HELPING TEAMS DEVELOP AND
We now examine six major outcomes of augmenting current perspectives on team
effectiveness and development with an understanding of group emotional competence. These
outcomes include: 1) reducing dependence on a manager for health of the team; 2) reducing
dependence on a facilitator for development of the team; 3) interventions that are better able to
integrate task processes and emotional processes; which leads to both 4) reducing the time teams
must devote to interventions, and the degree to which the interventions artificially separate task
work from emotional work, 5) the degree to which a team focuses on symptoms of problems,
(e.g., resolving conflict) rather than building a sound emotional foundation that naturally results
in the group’s ability to effectively address problems, and finally --the last outcome, 6) enhanced
long-term sustainability of the benefits from interventions i.e., as the proverb goes, the degree to
which they will be able to fish rather than rely on outsiders to throw them a fish when they are in
need. We examine each of these outcomes below.
Dependence on a manager
The current paradigm of team effectiveness focuses primarily on the role of an external
manager or team leader for maintaining the health of the team. Certainly, an external manager or
team leader has a large impact on the team; however, team’s must realize that every team
member has the responsibility for his or her team’s effectiveness. Knowledge about how a
manager can create effective teams is vitally important, however, when this is augmented with an
understanding of how every team member can help guide his or her team toward greater
effectiveness, the leadership ability and energy of every team member is augmented. Group
emotional competence theory provides a framework that guides the behavior of every team
member including the team leader. When an understanding of group emotional competence is
integrated with our understanding of the role of managers and team leaders, we reduce the team’s
dependency on the leaders for its effectiveness. The behavior of each member contributes to
building a set of norms that influence the emotional dynamics in the group, and thus, the ability
of the team to effectively accomplish its task.
Dependence on a facilitator for team development
When a team encounters a problem or becomes dysfunctional, the predominant paradigm
places an external facilitator at the center of the process of bringing the team back towards
health. Certainly there are many cases where issues are so difficult and team members so
personally involved, that it takes a neutral third party to help the team through its problems.
Even small issues may require a neutral facilitator when the team does not have the emotional
competence to address them. For example, small differences can get blown out of proportion
when the team has not developed the emotionally competent norms of caring and respect. On
the other hand, a team that has developed its emotional competence could work through many
issues on its own, and thus be much less dependent on an outside facilitator to resolve its
Integrating task processes and emotional processes
In today’s extremely fast-paced business environment, we have repeatedly seen that
teams are not willing to devote time to team interventions that are not directly related to task
accomplishment. The current paradigm of teambuilding generally separates team development
from task accomplishment. In other words, teams learn “soft” skills such as conflict resolution
or giving feedback in isolation from their actual task. Such skill building is certainly important;
however, when isolated from actual task performance, team members may not fully grasp the
relevance and may not be able to transfer the skills to actual task performance. Group emotional
competence theory provides a perspective that suggests that behavior in pursuit of the task
influences the development of norms that guide emotional experience. The results of building
emotionally competent norms are similar to the outcome of “soft” skills training, i.e., more
effective interaction and stronger relationships but they are achieved by focusing team members
on behavior that occurs during task accomplishment rather than developing them in isolation
from the task. Thus, interventions are better able to integrate task and emotional processes.
Focusing on the task not the intervention
One result of integrating task and emotional processes is that improving task
effectiveness becomes synonymous with improving emotional processes. It is not necessary, nor
desirable, to divert the team’s attention from the task to teach them “soft” skills. Instead, we can
teach them task behaviors that simultaneously help them build group emotional competence.
This is not necessarily different from current perspectives of teambuilding, however, group
emotional competence theory more strongly highlights and reinforces the importance of focusing
on the task.
Getting below the surface
Many current teambuilding interventions focus on helping a team improve task processes
such as decision-making or problem-solving. In the process, teams may be taught skills in
conflict resolution, negotiation, and integrating diverse perspectives. The current paradigm for
building team task skills is useful; however, it must be complemented with an understanding that
a team first needs to build an emotional foundation. Current interventions, although helpful, tend
to focus on the mechanics of task processes but tend to ignore the underlying emotional
processes that form the foundation required for a team to use them effectively. For example, a
team can be taught the mechanics of decision-making and the importance of openly sharing
information; however, the effectiveness with which they can carry out these processes depends
on their emotional competence. Sharing information requires a degree of trust and safety that
results from emotional processes in the group. We believe much training is not sustainable and
fails to meet its potential because the group does not have the emotional competence necessary
to make it successful over the long run. Group emotional competence theory helps us understand
that we must first build the necessary foundation that task processes need to take hold.
Teaching teams to fish
When we create dependence on a manager, team leader, or facilitator and teach task
processes without providing the emotional foundation, we fail to provide the team the tools it
needs to sustain an ability to continually learn, improve, and address obstacles that get in its way.
We also fail to harness the responsibility of all team members to move the team in an effective
direction. When something goes wrong, a leader or facilitator is expected to provide an
intervention. It is a reactive process rather than a proactive one. A proactive process would
expect the team to be responsible for understanding and working through its issues. It would
teach the team the skills to understand its obstacles and move through them on its own. It would
teach the team to take responsibility for its own effectiveness. In essence, when the team is
emotionally hungry, our current perspectives lead to the proverbial equivalent of throwing it a
fish. The theory of group emotional competence helps us understand how to focus the team such
that it can satiate its own emotional hunger, i.e., it helps us understand how to teach them to fish
in the emotional waters inherent in group life and become self-sufficient in meeting its emotional
needs. We teach them to recognize their emotional processes and how to build norms that help
them build effective task processes and deal with obstacles that hinder performance.
We believe our theory takes knowledge of group effectiveness one step closer
toward explaining how to build and sustain effective teams. Although several current
theories describe the kind of behaviors a group needs to display to be effective, they
have not been fully useful for practicing managers interested in knowing how to build
those behaviors (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995; Cohen & Bailey, 1997). We propose that
building effective groups requires building group trust/safety, group efficacy, and
group networks. We further suggest that the emotional structure a group produces is
critical to building these effective emergent states.
Our theory of group emotional competence has clear implications for team development.
We define a set of norms that form an emotional structure to guide behavior such that the
emotional experience of the group builds social capital. Norms are developed through the
behavior and interaction of each and every group member. This implies that every member has a
responsibility for the health of his or her team.
Our theory and research suggest that understanding the mechanics of task processes may
not be sufficient for developing and sustaining team effectiveness. We reveal that social capital
(group trust/safety, group efficacy, and group networks), underlies the ability of the team to
efficiently perform the task. Since ECG norms facilitate the emergence of social capital, the
interventions required to build team effectiveness become clear. Specifically, our theory and
research suggest that before training a team in the mechanical processes necessary for task
completion, team members must understand how to build an emotional structure conducive to
Training a group to develop ECG norms involves training team members to influence
group norms. As discussed throughout this chapter, norms represent a habitual way of operating
in a team. This means that training should focus on helping teams build effective habits. One
means of doing this is to provide them with tools that capture attention and focus behavior on
desired patterns of behavior.
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Simplified Socio-emotional Model of Group Effectiveness (Druskat & Wolff, 2001)
FIGURE 2: Dimensions of Group Emotional Competence
DIMENSIONS OF GROUP
Group Awareness of Members
• Interpersonal Understanding
• Caring Orientation
Group Regulation of Members
• Confronting Members Who
• Team Self-Evaluation
• Creating Resources for
Working with Emotion
• Creating an Optimistic Env.
• Proactive Problem Solving
Group Social Awareness
Group Social Skills
• Organizational Awareness
• Building External Relationships
• GROUP EFFICACY
• GROUP NETWORKS