The Fundamental Team Lessons We Can Learn From Kids

Kids can teach us emotional intelligence lessons about teamwork
Sisters playing together in the park

The success of a goal, a strategy or a project usually relies on the performance and collaboration of a team. However, the process of learning to work and learn together can be extremely challenging. Hard conversations, conflict, competing priorities, and different approaches to problem-solving can all surface emotions and feelings that need managing. Over the last decade, more organizations have shifted their focus to teams; therefore, teams play an even greater role in organizational success. As we look to the future of teams, it will be all about prioritizing team emotional health so collaboration can lead to engaged employees and business metrics that matter. But these fundamental lessons actually started in childhood.

Here are the fundamental team lessons we can learn from kids:

What is Team EQ?

Before understanding how to leverage team emotional intelligence, it is helpful to understand how it differs from individual EQ. Team Emotional Intelligence is about the collective chemistry and synergy of a team that can be the difference between success and failure. It is about understanding how a team handles stress, how they handle conflict, and how they collaborate together. It is the reason a successful team’s sum is often much greater than the parts.

Why does Team EQ Matter? 

High Team EQ can do wonders for company culture through heightened trust and group cohesion, improved goal achievement,  faster task completion, more successful stress management, and stronger cross-functional collaboration. 

When it comes to Team EQ, success can come from some of the earliest lessons we are taught as children. We can think back to examples of challenging team dynamics such as navigating afternoons with your neighborhood friends—a rag-tag assortment of allies, bullies and everything in between.  Or, navigating the recess dodge ball game with different ages, personalities, emotions and skills. Here are seven behaviors from your childhood that are still just as effective to increase your team’s EQ:

  1. Check-in with your team. The workplace can easily adapt to an individualistic culture where it is everyone fighting for themselves.  It is important to self-reflect and recall how overwhelmed we can all get at times. Finding a simple way to check in with a team member who is taking on a large component of a project or has been quiet in meetings creates an open-sharing team environment. Perhaps try saying something like: “I can’t wait to see the outcome of ____. How is that work going?” Or, “We haven’t had time to catch up lately, I’d love to hear how everything is going.”  These are both great ways to make sure your teammates are feeling seen and heard.
  2. Lean on each other. Pretty early on we discover that certain people are good at certain things. Some people thrive in a fast-paced, people-centric environment, while others are better at crunching numbers in a quiet room. Play to your intellectual strengths and your emotional strengths as well. If a member of your team is being impacted by something at work or at home, the team can help compensate and leverage high EQ team strategies to help keep the team on track
  3. Ask for help. When it comes to asking for help, we tend to get in our own way. We assume people are too busy or worry about how it might look to ask for help. The truth it, most people are more than willing to help when you ask for assistance on something on which they are knowledgeable. Asking for help negates feelings of helplessness, normalizes the behavior, and allows for teams to function more smoothly.
  4. Create an environment of inclusion. Inclusion, teamwork, and company culture are interdependent. Especially when working on sub-teams within a larger team, it can be easy to become a clique as you spend time in your own meetings, share experiences, and develop inside jokes and traditions. These are great benefits of a team and can increase job satisfaction and yet, it’s important to remember to grow those same types of relationships across the broader team. If you are planning a Friday team lunch with a single team, think about extending the invite across the department to increase cross-functional relationships.
  5. Mind your manners. How many times have we all been reminded to say “please” and “thank you?” These simple words can go a long way, especially when recognition on smaller tasks is not always given. By thanking someone in a setting such as a meeting, you are giving them an accolade that may have gone unnoticed. A boost of morale for one person affects the whole team and increases EQ.
  6. Make friends. In the workplace this translates to “team bonding.” Try taking a coffee break at the same time or scheduling a monthly yoga class you all take together. One team we know did a monthly happy hour with one rule: if someone talked about work, that person had to contribute five dollars toward the next month’s happy hour. Getting to really know your team increases trust, engagement, and performance, and it can also help you develop more meaningful relationships in your life.
  7. Remember to have fun. As many organizations shift permanently to remote or hybrid teams, natural connection opportunities have decreased. Prior to the rise of remote work, employees would gather for weekly lunches, attend after work happy hours, see pictures of kids and pets at the desk of their coworkers, and meet families at holiday parties. When your team members exist only over a screen or are people you see 1-2 times per week, it can be harder to organically build that connection. Team leaders should keep this in mind and make time to, even virtually, facilitate team-building activities or play a game to boost the “fun” of their organization. We know a CEO who during the pandemic hosted a zoom cooking class for her team. Each member was sent a bag of groceries with a recipe card and a private chef walked the team through an evening of cooking, conversation, and fun.

You’ll See Results

While it may seem surprising to think back to lessons we learned so early on in life, teams and their organizations can often benefit from going back to the basics. Furthermore, these core strategies of Team Emotional Intelligence will be even more crucial as we think about the teams of the future.  Start implementing these easy micro-habits into your daily workweek and watch your team thrive.

By EVP of Applied Research, Maggie Sass, Ph.D.

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