Collective Thinking

Is it possible to have several smart individuals in a group, only to have them produce lousy ideas? The answer is yes!

Teamwork does not come naturally.

Can the collective intelligence of a group go beyond the abilities of individual group members? Again, the answer is yes.

If a manager wants to contribute to a team’s performance, consider that teamwork does not come naturally.

In the rush to create highly functioning teams, it is easy to assign a number of individuals with diverse talents, goals and aspirations, and label that group a team.

In reality, this action will not make a “team.” They may step on each other’s toes and create a non-friendly environment in which to work.

Psychologists have repeatedly found that a single statistical factor known as “general intelligence” usually emerges from people’s performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks (Woolley et al., 2010). Researchers studied 699 individuals working in groups of two to five people, and assigned them tasks like solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, making collective moral judgments, and negotiating limited resources.

Researchers found that general intelligence far out-performed the average intelligence of individual participants (Woolley et al., 2010). Other factors that influenced general intelligence were the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking and the proportion of females in the group.

When creating “teams,” here are some helpful hints:

1.) Try not to move quickly into launching a team.

Dr. Bruce Wayne Tuckman created a useful model for team development that has five stages:

• Forming

• Storming

• Norming

• Performing

• Adjourning

He believes that when individuals are forming teams, they need to go through all the stages as part of the group development to know other members. In doing so, participants learn about the team’s goals, and establish team processes (The Project Management Hut, n.d.). For Tuckman, the Forming stage is one of the most crucial; members meet each other, examine the goals of the project, and begin to decide if they will put all, little or none of their energy into the goals or visions of the group.

Furthermore, through interaction and influence, teams develop a number of dynamic processes, such as roles and norms — relationships that separate them from simply being a random collection of individuals. So the issue comes down to what is more important — a more cohesive team or a random collection of individuals.

Help your staff put their heads together.

2.) Consider the social sensitivity of group members.

According to Woolley et al. (2010), the manner in which individuals are able to understand others’ moods may allow for better performance than those who lack that sensitivity. This aspect may be tied to the previous point that individuals must take the time to learn about each other before trying to work as a team.

3.) Respect individuality.

Depending on personality preferences, work styles and habits, individuals process thoughts in unique ways. Some group members might prefer to think aloud, whereas others prefer more privacy with their opinions.

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