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Emotional Intelligence Can Be Your Project's Most Critical Success Factor A team with healthy, robust interactions that knows how to have fun, continuously learn and give quality feedback is set up to achieve.

By Tyler Balkin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When a high-profile project fails, news articles are quick to publicize what went wrong, but few care to explain why these projects failed.

Over the past 20 years, organizations such as the Standish Group have catalogued a wealth of information about the causes of project failure as well as identifying success factors. In the last few years, a new success factor has emerged: emotional maturity or or emotional intelligence (EQ).

According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence is made up of five key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

When EQ components are evident, a project team will act with a high emotional bank account, the buffer or shield that can protect a team and support project success on a high-risk, high-engagement project. An emotional bank account is a Stephen Covey metaphor for the amount of trust perceived in a relationship.

With a well-funded account balance, project team members feel secure in imagining and executing creative paths to success and issues that arise are remedied efficiently and maturely. Research shows that a more cohesive, high-performing team produces better results.

But an EQ-deficient environment leaves employees feeling overworked, underappreciated and unwilling to help each other. Quite simply, unhappy team members can hinder the success of a project.

When the emotional bank account is low, problems arise more easily and can cause project failures, potentially even requiring a complete project turnaround. Unhappy and unproductive teams with little change to spare in their emotional piggy banks can feel like their problems are insurmountable and will disengage from the project.

Here are a few warning signs that your team may be lacking in emotional intelligence:

Team members constantly blame others for issues.

You hear victim statements ("I can't because…").

Team members are arrogant and not open to the opinions of others.

Members of the team become overambitious and overextended, trying to solve problems they cannot or should not.

Your team is consistently unavailable.

To effectively build a team's emotional bank account, start by gauging its emotional state. A team with a healthy, robust emotional bank account knows how to have fun, continuously learn and give and receive quality feedback. If your team needs an emotional intelligence boost, consider taking the following actions:

1. Enable team members.

The most effective way to ensure a healthy team is to empower its members with resources, ensuring that they understand their roles, responsibilities and expectations. Thriving teams let their members play to their strengths, focusing on the tasks they are uniquely qualified for, as this will bring them satisfaction in their everyday work and help the team achieve its overall goals.

Here's how: Assess the emotional intelligence and health of your team. Check in regularly with team members to ensure that they feel supported. Targeted surveys can help, provided that there is a clear feedback mechanism. Once the results are compiled, share them, along with an action plan to rectify the areas of concern, with the entire team.

2. Gain leadership support.

Obtaining a buy-in and engagement from the company's leadership is a critical success factor for any type of project. Through their advocacy, leaders can make consistent small deposits to the team bank account. And when issues and risks arise, the leaders' hands-on support can sustain the emotional bank account when it's needed most.

Here's how: For leaders to fully support the emotional intelligence of the team, they must visibly demonstrate their commitment to the project's success by acting as sounding boards, encouraging creativity and calculated risk taking in the work's execution and garnering overall support from the organization to clear the path to success.

3. Create transparency and clear communication.

When transparent relationships between team members exist, communication and overall clarity of the engagement are much easier. This should include transparency about upcoming activities and decision making for the group as a whole.

Here's how: This is where solid project managers are worth their weight in platinum. Set up communication channels to inform team members about their responsibilities for activities or events that are in the project timeline. And team members with a strong, well-communicated and consistent decision-making process can function with less ambiguity and time-wasting, political maneuvering.

Working on a team with a well-funded emotional bank account is an enviable experience, one that anyone would be eager to replicate. It allows for a high-functioning team that is both effective and happy -- with a built-in buffer that helps mitigate any speed bumps.

While intelligent and competent teams are always in demand, those that carry a solid emotional bank account will be the ones that consistently achieve success.

Tyler Balkin

Senior Media Relations Specialist

Carrie Camino is a director in operations excellence practice of West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. Paul Warkins is a consultant in the operations excellence practice.

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