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Collective Intelligence is the Goal (Team Series 7/10)

Unlock The Key to High Performing Teams

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Your team is filled with highly talented individuals, yet you are not getting desired results.  How do you get your all-stars to contribute to something larger than themselves to produce excellence?

In 2008, a group of psychologists from Carnegie Mellon and MIT wondered what made teams consistently better?  The answer – harnessing the power of collective intelligence or the coming together of people to share their knowledge and insights.  Michael Silverman, MD of Silverman Research, defines collective intelligence as “something that emerges from a group that is distinct from the smarts of any single member.” 

They concluded that two factors go into fostering collective intelligence.

1. Have equal distribution of conversation.  When you have all people speak for roughly the same amount of time during a meeting, you have the presence of what researchers call “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.”  Whether people are speaking a little bit on each of the meeting tasks or more on one or two of them, as long as the balance sheet shows roughly the same amount of air time, collective intelligence can be reached.  Anita Woolley, the study’s lead author offered,“As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well.  If only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”

Executive Producer Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live, one of the longest-running and most successful shows on tv abides by two rules related to participation: give everyone a voice, and force people to listen to each other. Michaels will often keep a sheet of paper during a meeting, and make a note each time someone speaks.  He will not end the session until others talk an approximately equal number of times.  He sees his job as protecting people’s distinct voices and getting them to work together productively.

2. Foster high social sensitivity within the group.  This is a fancy way of saying that people are skilled at reading the room.  Teammates can intuit how other members felt based on non-verbal cues – body language, tone of voice, facial expressions.  Members took into account what was said and unsaid and were sensitive to all those thoughts and emotions. So, how do these behaviors of being more attuned to others emerge?  In a New York Times article where Author Charles Duhigg writes about effective teams, he answers the question by saying, “The right norms – those small habits, unwritten rules, and mutually agreed-upon ways of treating one another – could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.”  One recommendation by the Kellogg Insight would be to have more women on the team because they tend to be more socially perceptive.

When you set up the systems for all people to share openly and to really listen to each other, marvelous things can happen.  It has been shown that the quantity of ideas is where a lot of innovation stems, so nudging all your participants to get involved can advance your team’s creative purposes.

Quote: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”- Peter F. Drucker

Q: How do you ensure that each member is contributing equally?  Comment and share with us, we would love to hear.

*The next blog in this team series 8/10 will cover the importance of eating together for teambuilding.

As a Leadership Development & Executive Coach, I work with teams to facilitate the creation of norms and agreements for the best performance. Contact me to learn more.

Harness the power of the group for the most excellent results
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