Excerpted from The Art of Coaching Teams by Elena Aguilar. Copyright © 2016 by Elena Aguilar. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Building an emotionally intelligent team takes skill and knowledge on the facilitator’s part and lots of time. An advantage in launching a team is that you can do a lot of intentional Emotional Intelligence boosting up front. The time spent on establishing a foundation for a healthy team is worth it—think of it as an investment that will pay off when team members begin having hard conversations with each other about student learning and when these conversations result in changes in practices that positively affect children. Committing time and energy up front is much easier than trying to shift or reverse unproductive dynamics once they sprout up. A leader needs to know how to build emotionally intelligent ways of interacting and how to shift ineffective behaviors.
An emotionally intelligent team requires two things: norms and routines that support healthy behaviors, and a facilitator who encourages behaviors that increase the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations. If a team doesn’t have norms, then your first task is to facilitate their creation and ensure that they are upheld. Remember that some norms strengthen the ability to respond effectively to emotional challenges and some norms don’t. For example, “Be on time” doesn’t directly address the emotional challenge we face when someone is habitually late. A norm that might be more useful in that situation is, “Speak directly to people about issues.” The best norms create resources for working with emotions, foster an affirmative environment, and encourage proactive problem solving.
Leaders also need to establish routines that foster an emotional climate that is accepting of risk taking, listening, and celebration. Routines create buckets for healthy emotional behaviors; they become a structural assurance that emotions will be attended to. For example, a routine like a check-in at the beginning of a meeting lets people know that there’s a place where they’ll be able to share an emotional state if they want. This routine can take just a few minutes and can be done in whole-group whip around, or pair share. Either way, it ensures that there’s a place for teammates to connect with and listen to each other and allows people, to build empathy for each other. Closing meetings with a space for appreciations is another structure that promotes a positive emotional climate. A leader needs to form, guide, and massage a team’s emotional experiences so that members are oriented toward healthy and resilient ways of interacting.
The great majority of groups go through a difficult stage as part of their team development. This storming phase is important as people open up and challenge each other and their ways of working together. The ability for a team to move through this stage has a great deal to do with the group’s emotional intelligence and the facilitator’s ability to support the process. When teams storm, facilitators can guide the group to reflect on how they function and strengthen their ways of communicating and relating to each other.