The Emotional Life of Teams
Blog by Associate Catherine de la Poer
People know when they are working in a standout, high performing team and…when they’re not. I recently spoke about The Emotional Life of Teams, as part of Sheridan Resolutions Covid-19 webinar series. I asked my virtual audience one question - describe your peak team experience. Here’s some of what people shared in the chat…spot check the frequency of the word “feelings” or “felt”, need I say more.
“I felt connected and trusted, in flow”
“Dynamic, empowered, great results”
“Everyone cares - about the business & each other”
“Diversity, respectful; everyone competent”
“You can express your feelings”
“Energy, pace, optimism”
“Fun and collaboration”
“I felt a sense of achievement, accomplishing a goal through collaboration and a shared vision of success”
“Strong friendly feelings across team”
“Feeling of strength together - supporting each other”
Humans are sentient beings and that doesn’t change when we walk into an office. If, like me, you’ve had a career spanning more than 20+ years, you may well have learnt to hide your feelings…a work mask sat very firmly on my face for most of my early career. Emotions are unnecessary and quite frankly messy. And yet, I’ve been lucky enough to work for some incredible; fast paced, high growth companies and at the heart of extraordinary performance, passion and energy were four things: - it felt like family, we knew where we were going, I had complete autonomy over my day to day and the freedom to create something amazing.
Let’s take a moment to understand what I experienced in my working life and what our webinar delegates described as attributes of their peak team experience. Maslow's hierarchy of needs (1943/54) is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Modern perspectives on human motivation are not far removed from Maslow. In his book Drive, The Surprising Truth about what motivates us by Dan Pink, he argues that human motivation is largely intrinsic and that the aspects of this motivation can be divided into autonomy, mastery and purpose. He argues against old models of motivation driven by rewards and fear of punishment, dominated by extrinsic factors such as money.
Let’s join the dots between the theory and my experience of working in high performing teams…
It feels like family - I belong, acceptance, love, connection whatever you want to call it is #1 for all humans.
We knew where we were going - vision, purpose, a north star, everyone aligned.
My first job; launching a trade magazine in a marketplace dominated by two established publications, one the institute magazine. We were the underdog and we knew it, but we wanted to beat the competition against all the odds and we did. I worked with a hugely diverse team led by a charismatic gay owner (he’s up there as possibly my all-time favourite boss). Second job; a digital start-up, we were changing the world. I moved continents, lived and worked in San Francisco and New York; we grew the business from a seed fund of 500k up to $100M in 6 years. Third job; recruitment agency, in search of work life balance and recently a Mum to twins, I was thrown together with a team of new Mum’s we were all in the same boat, juggling, running around, trying to find our place in the world. We were reinventing ourselves and our careers. It was a hugely stressful and high-pressure job and we clung together, providing support; a shoulder to cry on when it all got too much or dinner and drinks to celebrate candidates placed and fee income in the bank. These amazing women are some of the most talented people I have ever worked with and our friendship remains to this day. It was an incredibly bonding experience. We grew as people and we grew the business.
I had complete autonomy over my day to day - I felt safe/secure; humans need autonomy, predictability and control in their lives and I had it in spades.
Freedom to create something amazing - the will to create, achievement and mastery; a desire for status and respect, to live life with dignity; this is the common thread across the human race, the stuff that connects us, that powers our energy towards good productive work.
My objective with this blog was to challenge your thinking about the part that emotions play at work/in teams. The way we think, impacts the way we feel, impacts the way we behave. I look back on my career with great pride at what I achieved because I was part of a great team; a sense of fulfilment and optimism is strong. Perhaps the most important of all has been the friendship, the fun, the connection that has powered everything. I’ve been incredibly fortunate. My final word on the subject of teams; ignore emotions at your peril, rather harness emotions - love, hope and joy are the stuff of life, they are also integral to high performing teams.
For more information about our work with teams; contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org