Recognizing Emotions in Your Team

Key takeaways

  • The more geographically dissimilar individuals are from other members of their team (i.e. team members come from other parts of the world or the country), and the stronger the emotions they experience when they first meet those teams, together affect how influential they are in that team over time.
  • The kind of emotion felt by a team member (happiness, sadness or anger) combined with how different the team member is from his/her teammates in terms of where they come from, can predict a loss or gain in influence over time.
  • Since geographically diverse teams are assembled to utilize specific skills and knowledge from different places, leaders should attend particularly to the emotions of team members who are relatively more different from the rest of the team — so that their distinct skills and knowledge are best utilized.

As a leader, it’s important to understand where your followers are emotionally; it can have significant impacts on their contributions. Cultural or national differences  also plays a role. Especially in this more interconnected era where people have moved around the world to work in places different from where they were born. Together, these elements will make an impact on how leaders relate to thieir employees. 

Organizations assemble teams of diverse individuals to deal with complex problems. For example, entering new markets or geographic regions requires marketing, legal and logistics experts, including individuals from the home and the host countries. But these types of diverse teams do not always deliver to their potential.

Is this because individuals are uncomfortable working with people who are different from them, or do they see the value to the group of having different perspectives and skills?

We examined whether the emotions experienced in initial interactions in a team highlighted the upsides or the challenges of working when people work with others are not like them. We were particularly interested in understanding how geographical  dissimilarity from ones’ teammates combined with emotions to shape individuals' influence over time.

We studied two samples of MBA student teams working on projects that lasted several months. In one sample, teams included individuals who came to Hong Kong from different countries. In the second sample, teams comprised members from different states in India. We surveyed the teams multiple times during the projects.

We found that influence changes over time and can be predicted by the emotions people felt in the first meeting. Those who were more geographically dissimilar from their teammates and experienced positive emotions like happiness, excitement, or joy were influential in the beginning, but their influence plateaued over time. Interestingly, those who were geographically dissimilar and experienced emotions like anger, irritation or fear at the first meeting were also influential initially, but their influence waned quickly. In contrast, those who were dissimilar and experienced emotions like sadness or disappointment at the start were not influential in the early stages of the project, but their influence grew over time.

The reasons for these changes over time vary. Happy teammates are seen as energetic to start with, but they tend to be easily distracted and less focused on details. Teammates who are angry or irritated may be viewed as creative and energetic at the start, but they are seen as disruptive over time.

Those who are sad do not garner attention initially because they are not as engaged as others, but their attention to detail and potential solutions makes them more valuable to their teammates over time.

Each of these qualities become more significant when interacting with dissimilar rather than similar teammates.

Emotions shape behavior and provide information to bystanders. Although emotions are fleeting, the human tendency to be consistent can lead to their casting a shadow on human behavior over time.

Our findings highlight the importance of emotions in shaping how individuals make sense of differences in a team. Awareness of these patterns of influence can be used by emotionally intelligent team members to retain the energy of happy members, curb the disruptiveness of angry members and accelerate the contribution of sad members.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.