In High-Stress Environments, Group Emotional Intelligence is Often the Difference Between Success and Failure

by Tracy Cox on September 7, 2012


Whether you are referring to athletics or business, you often hear that winning begins with building a cohesive team, not just collecting the best talent. The goal of every successful coach or manager is to build a team of individuals that can anticipate one another’s moves and operate as a seamless unit. This is one of the benefits to group emotional intelligence and it can be the difference between success and potential disaster in mission critical environments.

The ‘intelligence’ in a group is very different from individual emotional intelligence. Group emotional intelligence is developed over time through training and simulation to create a better understanding of group behavior. By establishing patterns of performance during simulated conditions, the group is better prepared to perform and improve outcomes in critical situations. For example, consider a cardiac surgeon – especially one newly assigned to a hospital with an unfamiliar staff – and his or her team. How will they all work together seamlessly when a patient arrives having a heart attack? Having group emotional intelligence training means that the staff is not questioning each other’s actions, barking orders, not misreading charts, and instead everyone knows where to stand, what to do and what the expectations are. The results look and sound different from an untrained effort. The team is calm, confident, and focused on the patient. They aren’t nearly as likely to make a costly mistake.

Group emotional intelligence can be taught in many ways. In the example above, organizational barriers were removed and replaced with cohesive group roles. Instead of the hierarchical doctor vs. nurse dynamic, the whole team is attuned to the mission critical goal or situation at hand. In this situation, communicating information clearly, at the right time and in meaningful context has proven to reduce errors, increase efficiencies, and deliver desired outcomes. While we chose to focus on healthcare for this example, group emotional intelligence is vital across many high-consequence industries. Imagine for a moment a team working an offshore drilling rig, where there is potential for crisis on a daily basis. Here, lives depend on the team’s ability to make decisions and execute critical tasks quickly, effectively and with a clear understanding of every team member’s role. By having trained for potential scenarios in advance, these teams are better prepared to react and perform under difficult circumstances.

As stress levels rise in critical situations, the ability to remain calm and execute the job at hand is paramount. When the team is working as one towards a common goal with clear assignments and responsibilities, the chances for a successful outcome are greatly enhanced. Similarly to athletes training to improve performance on the field, organizations that place emphasis on training for critical conditions are much better prepared when a situation arises.

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