Emotional intelligence as a shared team quality
21 May 2021   ·   

It is a proven fact that workers’ or athletes’ emotional intelligence affects their outcomes. However, emotional intelligence has traditionally been studied more from individual than group approaches. In 2012, academics at the University of Arkansas discovered a significant positive correlation between the mean emotional intelligence in a group and its cohesion. In their research, they validated Professor Dee Fink’s thought that: “when one learns about oneself, one almost inevitably learns about others, and vice versa.” They also found that emotions and moods are contagious, so that in a group that has to achieve certain goals, when it has members with greater awareness of their emotions, there will be more effective communication between them that will have a positive effect on their performance.

In sports, US academics also concluded in 2015 that emotional intelligence affected a team’s likelihood of success. If there is an emotional load, two athletes who perform the same task can achieve very different results depending on their emotional intelligence. If the role of the coach is added to the equation, personality, motivation and expectations about performance will have a key influence on the group’s outcomes. That is why, they claim, it is so important to manage a team’s emotions properly.

From an individual point of view, there is evidence in numerous studies of the positive relationship between an athlete’s performance and their ability to recognise and deal with emotional stimuli. However, the members of a team need to cooperate and adapt to their team-mates’ emotions. Where there is interaction, and this is essential between the members of a team, there are both good and bad emotional responses.

In this context, impulsive acts can be disastrous, showing how emotional intelligence can make all the difference between success and failure. Neurology professor Josef Parvizien, in his 2009 article describing common biases in cognitive science, talks of the need to understand the neocortical and subcortical areas as two highly interconnected parts of the brain that provide each other with feedback. That means there is a dynamic interaction between cognition (neocortex) and emotions. These aforesaid impulsive acts are the result of said feedback from emotion and cognition. According to Kiverstein and Miller, the emotions that lead to impulsive actions appear instantaneously and are triggered when the current order is interrupted by a perceived event in the context. When this happens, the neocortex, amygdala and other subcortical areas communicate with and influence each other through feedback, thereby bringing into consciousness thoughts that are permeated by the emotion that has generated the disturbance. In turn, these thoughts confirm and promote these and other emotions; like a fish biting its tail, leading to impulsive action.

In sports, by nature, and especially in team sports, strong pleasant and unpleasant emotions are constantly generated, even in training sessions. In 2017, Ye Hoon Leea and Packianathan Chelladuraib noted that there are extreme cases in which the lack of regulation and control of emotions can affect, for example, the psychological well-being of youth teams. In their research, they discovered that if they are not given a space in which they can express genuine emotions, young athletes will tend to either hide or fake them as a form of adaptation, which can lead to emotional dissonance and a sense of inauthenticity that could have a direct effect on fatigue.

Regarding ways to promote emotional intelligence in groups, Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B. Wolff published a study in Harvard Business Review in 2001 that described a series of key aspects for managing a group or team whose members have different cultural characteristics, circumstances and motivations. Their study was based on the idea that there are no single systems for cooperation between individuals that can be implemented in different teams to obtain similar effects.

The conditions that make team members engage in tasks in a committed and motivated manner depend on the trust established between them, the emergence of a group identity and a sense of shared efficacy. Without these three conditions, some groups could function, but would surely do so from scenarios of repression rather than of commitment between team members. In this regard, the coach must observe a style of leadership that appeals to each individual’s own emotions and motivations, based on empathy as the key factor to, in accordance with the coach’s system, foster the necessary confidence to produce expression and the sharing of emotions among the rest of the group.

It is important for the team to have an atmosphere and rules that foster collective emotional capacity, i.e. its members’ ability to respond to emotionally uncomfortable situations that can have a negative effect on results. That is why it is much more difficult to get a group to be emotionally intelligent than an individual, because it is not only a question of addressing somebody’s awareness of their own emotions, but of the interactions happening within a group and at various levels.

To establish these rules, these researchers advocated encouraging team members to make an effort to consider the situations they face from their team-mates’ perspectives, i.e. interpersonal understanding and perspective taking. If appreciation and respect are generated among the members of a team and support among them is fostered, such an approach will generate greater trust and a stronger sense of group identity.

One situation that needs to be avoided is the emergence of cliques, i.e. groups within the team that create strong emotional ties with each other, but weak ones with the rest. These situations are not uncommon among sports squads. Robert W. Keidel found in the 1980s that in sports like American football it was common for subunits to appear within the team that end up forming hierarchies.

Likewise, a climate of trust cannot be generated without self-evaluation and getting feedback from others. Feedback from outside could even be useful. The important thing is for teams to be aware of everything that they have achieved. The assumption of evaluative opinions with regard to performance helps to boost the emotional capacity to deal with awkward information in the future and encourage proactive problem solving. As for atmosphere, the goal is for the group to respond positively to any challenges that arise. The focus of the regulation of emotions needs to ensure that the rules encourage optimism over negative interpretations. The ideal outcome is for emotions to be channelled among the members of a team, and on the team itself both inwardly and outwardly.

In conclusion, a formula to achieve these states of mind will benefit the resolution of conflicts or clashes of opinion within the group through negotiations that give rise to mutual solutions. In Human Performance, Peter J. Jordan and Ashlea C. Troth published a study that claimed that when there is a discrepancy in an organisation when tackling a task, emotional problems will arise if there is a threat to the members’ self-esteem, generally the fear of not having the right answer.

It is therefore important for the rules to be aimed at getting team members able to appreciate other points of view to their own in the search for solutions without being afraid of being wrong. It no surprise that DJ Canary and WR Cupach concluded that a team’s integration is based on the individual’s ability to listen to and digest other people’s opinions, and vice versa, in order for the result to be beneficial for the whole group.

To give an example, at the 2020 edition of the Sports Tomorrow Congress held by the Barça Innovation Hub, the Brazilian national team’s Swedish coach Pia Sundhage explained how she encourages her players to talk about everything that has gone well every day on the pitch in order to generate positive thoughts, but above all stressed the ability to adapt to other people. In her case, she confessed that when she arrived in Brazil, she was surprised to see that the players regularly arrived ten to fifteen minutes late for training, but when it came to imposing strict rules, she found she could not do the same things in Brazil as she had done in Sweden because they were different cultures. This is case in which imposing without understanding or knowing would have had negative emotional consequences for the group.

Xavier Damunt – member of FC Barcelona’s Methodology Area


Building the emotional intelligence of groups

Vanessa Urch Druskat & Steven B. Wolff. Harvard Business Review

Examining Positive Affect and Job Performance in Sport Organizations: A Conceptual Model Using an Emotional Intelligence Lens

Matthew Juravich & Kathy Babiak. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology

Emotional intelligence, emotional labor, coach burnout, job satisfaction, and turnover intention in sport leadership

Ye Hoon Leea & Packianathan Chelladuraib. European Sport Management Quarterly

Examining the Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Group Cohesion

Amanda Moore & Ketevan Mamiseishvili. Journal of Education for Business

Fostering Emotional and Social Intelligence in Organizations

Craig R. Seal, Richard E Boyatzis, & James R. Bailey. Organization Management Journal

Managing Emotions During Team Problem Solving: Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution

Peter J. Jordan & Ashlea C. Troth. Human Performance

Relational and Episodic Characteristics Associated with Conflict Tactics

Canary, D. J., & Cupach, W. R. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships

Parvizi, J. (2009). Corticocentric myopia: old bias in new cognitive sciences. Science direct.

Kiverstein, J. & Miller, M. (2015). The embodied brain: towards a radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.


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