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Cold fish and drama queens: how to use emotions to increase team effectiveness

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Emotions are an excellent radar for team effectiveness. Nevertheless, emotions are often anxiously avoided. They are supposed to reduce effectiveness and waste precious time. However, letting emotions flow freely can have an huge positive impact on the effectiveness of a team.

What are emotions?

Emotions are the inner experience of feeling. This inner experience can have a stimulating or an inhibiting effect on the entire team. Undigested resentment in one individual, for example, can cripple a team completely. Free, uplifting emotions push the team to greater heights. The eagerness to work together will be higher and the results will soon follow.

The importance of emotions for teams

Emotions have a measurable energy (cf. the work of David Hawkins, MD, PhD). And here is a direct link to the output of a team. Indeed, in physics, energy is defined as "the capacity to perform work". So imagine what becomes possible if you can free up the energy of your team, which is sometimes solidified in emotions, to accomplish the organisational mission. Or if you find ways to keep the team's energy high by learning to nourish emotions in a constructive way.

Cold fish and drama queens

It is important to know that everyone in the team deals with emotions in a different way. To start with, everyone has a different emotional bandwidth. Someone with a narrow emotional bandwidth, exhibits little distinction between the whole range of emotions. This person can quickly come across as numb or uninterested. Someone with a wide range of emotions, on the other hand, can be considered unstable, or a drama queen. This sometimes leads to misunderstandings in the team when 'cold fish' have to work together with 'drama queens', in a culture without room for emotions.

Emotions reflect what is really going on in the team, so it is crucial to learn how to use them to increase team effectiveness.

How can you use emotions to increase the effectiveness of your team?

In order to use the positive effect emotions can have on the effectiveness of your team, it is important that you create the context in which they can flow freely. Only then, the energy can be released and used to accomplish the team mission efficiently. But how do you do that?

Below you will find five steps that can be a starting point for this.

Five steps for catharsis:

1) Slow down and create space

Create space for each other's story and experience in the team on a regular basis. It is important that you do this with the entire group. Make sure that at those moments there is no pressure from the operational agenda. Meet each other in an inspiring setting. Ideally, in the vicinity of nature: open space literally gives air to emotions.

2) Listen out of curiosity

Listen to each other's stories out of curiosity, question each other as objective interviewers. Investigate: what feeling is beneath that experience? What effect does it have on the person?

3) Let the emotion circulate in the team

An important step in the emotional growth of your team is to translate the emotion of the individual into the emotion of the team: what happens to the team when the experience is described from that individual angle? What reactions and emotions does this provoke in the other team members?

4) Distil the growth lesson for the team

Crucial at this stage: it is by no means a question of apportioning blame. Rather, focus the attention on the growth lesson for the team. What can you collectively learn from this? What agreements do you have to make? What do you still have to pay attention to?

5) Catharsis

When the emotion has been sufficiently filtered by the whole team and a collective story has been created from the individual emotion, there is catharsis. This can range from a feeling of relief: "Hey, glad this was said!", to a complete purification of the whole team. The collective consciousness is then deepened and a more solid foundation is laid. Everyone's individual mission becomes a little more firmly anchored in the collective mission.

Finally: Make a habit of it

The catharsis itself is not the goal. Make it a habit to set a relational agenda - besides the operational agenda. What is going on in the team? How is everyone doing? How effective is the collaboration and communication?

When patterns become visible, it is time to do something about them. For instance, let's say there are recurring frustrations because the roles and responsibilities in the team are not clear. Deal with this frustration with the necessary attention! A team chartering session could be an effective way forward (more info under team).

Good luck creating a context in which emotions can flow freely!

Do you have any questions? Don't know where to start? Feel free to contact me. I am happy to help you on your way.


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