Does Status Intelligence Matter on Your Team?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Managers – does the following scenario sound familiar? You have assembled high-​performing and long-​serving employees on your team. But instead of working together on a critical project that must be completed by a key date, your team members are floundering. They’ve been coming to your office, complaining. Instead of getting the work done, they’re finding fault with each other’s work styles and output. What has gone wrong? And what can you do to guide your team back to productivity? New research from Dr. Kilduff and Dr. West, faculty members at New York University, indicates you may have a status intelligence problem.

What is Status Intelligence?

When managers create teams, they generally also assign roles to individual members. The assignment process can set team members on a collision course. Interestingly, around 32% of sales professionals told us that their managers aren’t fair when making work assignments. We can find the roots of status discontent in that number.

Dr. Kilduff and Dr. West know that “groups in which members argue over who has more status…suffer from reduced performance.” What do they mean by status and more specifically, status intelligence? The factor describes “how accurately a person can read the status dynamics of a group—how much respect and influence each team member has.”

How Status Intelligence Matters at Work

The researchers provide examples of how status intelligence reveals itself in a workplace setting. In an experiment, they assigned individuals to complete a task, without giving guidance on expected behavior, and they recorded interactions between people. It was soon clear who interrupted their co-​workers and who tended to dominate the conversations. Another group of individuals then watched the tapes and were queried, based on observed behaviors, about who had the most status.

When people have status intelligence, they may adjust their behavior. They’ll do so in order to serve their own agendas or to help the team succeed. In the case of serving their own goals, they may decide to support the individual with high status in the hopes of gaining that person’s recognition in another setting. Or an employee may choose to go along with the position taken by the high-​status person because they don’t believe they have enough power to change the sentiment on the team.

As you determine who to put on your team for your next big project, remember that the ability to work successfully with others matters. The results of a psychometric assessment will help you gauge how well an individual is able to collaborate, empathize and handle rejection. In addition, these assessments give you an indication of a person’s social awareness.

How Emotional Intelligence Differs from Status Intelligence

Drs. Kilduff and West are careful to point out that emotional intelligence is different from status intelligence. You may have a potential team member who excels at reading the emotions of others in the room. This person’s psychometric assessments may indicate that they will also be a good judge of character and make others feel comfortable through their words and actions. But these talents may not extend to understanding how to read interactions between team members and deciding to how respond.

In a famous study on team effectiveness, Google researchers found that seniority, tenure, extroversion, and individual performance of members didn’t significantly impact outcomes. What mattered? Researchers said it was all about how well the team worked together. While status intelligence may be a big factor in your team’s performance, there are other details to attend to. Specifically, team members must feel psychologically safe, know they can count on co-​workers to complete specific tasks and understand which details they are responsible for completing. First-​rate managers will actively guide team members with these details in mind.