Know thyself: How emotional self-awareness boosts team performance

Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to understand and manage emotions - both our own and others'. High EI has been linked to high team performance in numerous studies, but what exactly is the mechanism through which EI facilitates better collective decision-making? Researchers set out to answer this question in a study of 350 respondents working in 108 student teams.

The respondents were first asked to individually rank 15 items in order of importance for survival in a scenario where they were stranded in the subarctic wilderness. Some example items were a compass, flashlight, axe, and sleeping bag. After completing this task individually, the students were placed in teams of 3-5 members. Each team was given 15 minutes to discuss the items and come to a consensus on how to rank the 15 items as a group. The task was used to assess how well the teams collaborated and resolved any differences of opinion on the ranking. Their team performance was scored by comparing it to a ranking provided by survival experts. The researchers measured the students' emotional intelligence before the task using a questionnaire. They then observed how well the teams collaborated and resolved conflicts while working together.

The results were illuminating. Emotional intelligence didn't predict how well students performed individually on the task. But teams with higher average emotional intelligence did perform significantly better together. Specifically, their ability to manage their own emotions appeared key. Teams with members lower in this ability were more likely to avoid conflicts and thus fail to realise the benefits of healthy disagreement and open discussion.

These findings have important lessons for scientists in laboratory teams. Managing emotions, especially staying calm under pressure, allows team members to listen, find common ground and solve problems. In contrast, avoiding conflicts leaves issues unresolved, hampering team success. Emotional self-awareness helps scientists regulate frustration when facing setbacks, so they can persist and learn from mistakes.

The takeaway? Emotional skills help teams collaborate. Labs should consider emotional intelligence when forming teams and provide training to improve these skills. This can enhance how scientists work through inevitable conflicts and challenges together. With collaboration so vital for scientific progress, emotional intelligence may offer a key to better teamwork.


Jordan, P. J. and Troth, A C. 2004. Managing Emotions During Team Problem Solving: Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution. Chapter in Emotion and Performance. CRC Press.

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