We The North: How Emotions Can Impact Team Performance

3 minute read

It’s the day after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, and it still feels like a dream for some Canadians. After a grueling 24 games in 61 days, the Raptors ended their historic playoff run with a 114-110 victory. However, the road to victory has not been an easy one. They rose to the challenge in the final game, “responding to a tough loss with an inspired performance”. This kind of resiliency is essential to both business and athletic contexts, as the ability to “positively adapt alongside significant adversity”  is an important part of dealing with the stress of competition and the pressure of being the best in a certain field. Athletes are role models in resiliency, and the Raptors are no exception – despite the increased risk of injuries, performance issues, and illnesses athletes face that can render them incapable of playing, studies have shown that they “recover from setbacks very easily”, and that this mental strength allows them to “remain afloat when others sink”.
Resiliency has been a constant factor throughout the Raptors’ title run, but especially within its players. Truly the underdogs of the series, not one Raptor was a lottery pick in the NBA draft and yet the team succeeded in beating the Golden State Warriors, NBA champions for three of the past four years. The Raptors’ unshakable resiliency served as a solid foundation for success during the final game, allowing them to remain poised, calm, and confident. Many attribute this as Raptors’ leader Kawhi Leonard's “unflappable ways rubbing off on his teammates”, as the way leaders handle these emotions can have a great impact on their teammates. A leaders' ability to manage his emotions will determine team morale and motivation...critical in determining whether the outcome for the team will be positive or negative.'' 

Just how to leaders handle these surges of emotions?

Research suggests that people can regulate their emotions through two strategies: suppression or reappraisal. Suppression is the most common strategy, occurring when individuals “hide their feelings and pretend not to feel upset”; yet suppression can lead to fewer close relationships, more negative emotions, less social support, lower satisfaction with life, poorer memory, and elevated blood pressure. Even if a leader attempts to mask their negative emotions, studies have shown that the blood pressure of their team is likely to rise, even though they may not be consciously aware of their team leader's true emotional state. 

Consequently, reappraisal, or reassessing an emotional situation, may be the most effective strategy to constructively deal with negative emotions; leaders who use reappraisal to regulate their emotions have “the ability to both manage and influence the emotional states of those they work with,'' acknowledging negative emotions, but also emphasizing an optimistic point of view. Reappraisal of emotion differs from fully expressing it; it involves reflection and a separation from immediate, rash reactions.

This time to reframe and reassess the situation can mean the difference between a positive and productive team performance, and one that becomes derailed. In fact, a study conducted by Harvard Business Review on 15 varsity coaches and their athletes found that, “coaches who tended to reappraise more often experienced less negative emotions overall than coaches who tended to suppress their emotions.'' The study also revealed that the coaches who reappraised had “more positive team climates, characterized by trust, communication, and motivation.”

Understanding the impact that our own emotions can have on the emotions and behaviour of others is a “key competence demonstrated by successful leaders.” Through various research, it is clear that the relationship between emotions and performance is integral to all coaches, managers, and leaders alike.

This work has been funded by Viewpoint Foundation.