Emotional Intelligence — the secret ingredient behind high performing teams.

Much has been said about forming and maintaining high performing teams. Instead of preaching a new approach to get there, I am going to take a stab at explaining what helped me understand the necessary steps needed for building such teams. I hope this gets you thinking as well.

Behind a successful company stands a great hiring process.

Say you manage to hire a bunch of A+ players and the resulting cult came together as a high performing band of brothers and sisters. Great! But what is the glue binding this team together? What’s the secret sauce that let’s them keep churning out awesome features at breakneck speed? The folks at Google did a whole study. The ingredient they zeroed in on was Psychological Safety. As Wikipedia puts it, Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In everyday words — “There are no stupid questions.”

Is putting together A players sufficient to create Psychological Safety? A researcher armed with solid data, Daniel Goleman asked this question way before Google, and found that it is largely the result of high levels of Emotional Intelligence or EQ. ¹ Additionally, Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolff, experts on the links of Emotional Intelligence and teamwork, found that teams with members scoring high in EQ, performed better than teams whose members had lower EQ. They write:

Research tells us that three conditions are essential to a group’s effectiveness: trust among members, a sense of group identity, and a sense of group efficacy. ²

Team EQ is not something that comes easily. EQ is developed over the course of your personal and professional lifetime, not overnight. So when anyone new joins your team, they bring a certain level of EQ with them as part of their independent evolution.

Can EQ be “increased” in a person or an existing team? Yes it can be, but it takes work. A key part of how individuals and teams can gain EQ is through an objective coaching program. Richard Kasperowski, an expert Agile coach and a teacher at Harvard University, offers one such technique — The Core Protocols. These are set of practical behavior patterns, commitments and rules of communication that a team can adhere to in order to develop empathy, mutual trust and ultimately emotional intelligence. Based on the work of Jim and Michele McCarthy, this book is a concise guide on how teammates should connect with one another when there is high level of interdependence on daily basis in a agile environment.

Psychological safety in organizations is a result of Team Emotional Intelligence.

Everyone who works in a team, will need support. And asking for support begins with trust. Absence of trust is often the first obvious dysfunction of team. ³

Higher individual EQ can lead to higher team EQ. Higher team EQ leads to higher trust. Higher trust leads to higher psychological safety. And psychological safety leads to higher performance.


  1. Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ . 2005
  2. Druskat, Venessa U., and Steven B. Wolff. “Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 15 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
  3. Lencioni, Patrick. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership fable.” Jossey-Bass. 2002