Nurturing the Team’s Emotional Culture

What emotions does the success of this team depend on?

It’s a great question, seldom asked. The teams success is usually perceived as a combination of collective knowledge, skills and behaviours, agreed purpose and processes needed to perform. And they form part of the format against which team performance is measured. In today’s fast-paced and competitive business world, team leaders usually tend to shy away from conversations about emotions. They are often perceived as fraught with potential thin ice that they are not equipped to handle. And frankly, many team leaders don’t want to ‘go there’ feeling it’s just not their job.

However, as we navigate the complexities of modern work environments, the role of emotions in teams and workplaces is gaining recognition. A growing body of research evidence from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania supports the idea that the teams emotional culture significantly influences various organisational outcomes.

Feelings at Work

Emotional culture plays a crucial role in shaping employee engagement, well-being, and overall organisational success. Positive emotional cultures lead to enhanced employee satisfaction, teamwork, and financial performance. On the flip side, negative emotional cultures, characterised by unpleasant emotions like anger and sadness, can lead to burnout, lower engagement, and reduced quality of work.

How we feel drives behaviour. Emotions are an integral part of our lives, and they don’t simply vanish when we step into the office or log into our virtual workspaces. Emotions have a significant impact on our thinking and decision-making. Even when we believe our decision-making is purely based on logic and rationale, emotions play a key role. Our cumulative experiences at work can lead to emotional decisions about ‘quiet-quitting’ or actual quitting.

And positive, or negative, moods at work can be contagious. Individuals don’t have to be hypersensitive to notice a positive vibe in the team. The reverse is also true. We communicate clues about our emotional state all the time through body language, facial expressions and gestures and the tone of our voice. These all provide useful information to team colleagues that is important for them in knowing how to respond appropriately in our social interactions.

Defining the Emotional Culture of the Team

It’s certainly true that in recent years recognition of well-being and mental health has prompted more frequent enquiry by team leaders into how their members are really feeling. The increase in emotional intelligence (EQ) training has also helped many team leaders to both understand and regulate their own emotions as well as recognise and show empathy for others’ feelings.

But exploring emotions at work can still feel like dangerous territory to navigate for many leaders. Focusing on the cognitive culture – shared intellectual values, norms and how things operate – while, undoubtedly, important neglects the seemingly ‘softer’ and more difficult side to measure in a group that regulates what feelings people might have and express at work.

Consciously and intentionally creating a positive emotional culture involves understanding how team members want to feel and not feel in their workplace. And what difference to would make to them. Exploring similarities and differences, understanding each other’s perspectives, needs and wants.

It requires nurturing of emotional literacy and equipping employees with the language to express their emotions effectively.

Developing Emotional Literacy

A shift toward acknowledging emotions encourages team members to support one another, enhances psychological safety, and contributes to a more cohesive and engaged team.

Developing emotional literacy in teams can be perceived as difficult, but emotions play a vital role in how individuals engage with their work and with one another. One way of crossing the seemingly ‘unsafe’ bridge of discussions about emotions is by team leaders acknowledging that emotions are data. They provide valuable insights into employee experiences. By normalising conversations about feelings in the team, the leaders is actually facilitating a climate that allows people to explore how they are feeling as a team. By recognizing that emotions impact how people perform, engage, and make decisions, organisations can create conditions that nurture positive emotions and minimize the impact of negative ones. But it all has to be discussed.

Creating a Future of Emotional Culture

Deciding on the emotional culture the team would like to operate in is not a consultant’s fix but rather a co-creation process involving everyone in the team. It’s the sheer act of sharing, exploring, and agreeing the feelings the team would like to experience most of the time (as well as those that they would like to avoid if possible) that solidifies understanding, appreciation and greater cohesion in the team.

Exploring the fundamental question at the start of this article is such as useful way of getting the ball rolling. Team members can explore what indicators they would notice when people were experiencing the feelings that are important to the team, as well as those indicators suggesting when they weren’t.

They can then get into the areas that most teams find a bit easier; how they should work together. In this way teams (and cumulatively organisations) can choose what type of emotional culture they wish to cultivate; proactively building an environment that supports the positive emotions they want to experience, enhancing their well-being and ultimately driving the team’s success.

What conclusions can we draw? Emotional culture is a critical yet often overlooked aspect of organisational performance. As businesses strive to create thriving workplaces, acknowledging and nurturing emotional culture can lead to enhanced engagement, teamwork, and financial performance. By developing emotional literacy, fostering psychological safety, and creating conditions that support positive emotions, organisations can pave the way for a more connected, compassionate, productive, and emotionally healthy work environment.

Just like the enthusiastic celebration of a chicken laying an egg, a workplace with a robust emotional culture encourages teams to support one another, fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and achievement. But you’ll have to listen to the podcast to learn about the chickens.

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