Rich and Co.

How Groups Can Succeed – New Research

Researchers are finding hints about how individual people contribute to make a group creative and successful.

  • Teams of people display a collective intelligence that has surprisingly little to do with the intelligence of the team’s individual members
  • Group intelligence is not strongly tied to either the average intelligence of the members or the team’s smartest member
  • Collective intelligence was more than just an arbitrary score: When the group grappled with a complex task it was an excellent predictor of how well the team performed.

Boston Globe: Group IQ — What makes one team of people smarter than another? A new field of research finds surprising answers. By Carolyn Y. Johnson

….The new work is part of a growing body of research that focuses on understanding collective behavior and intelligence — an increasingly relevant topic of research in an age where everything from scientific progress to entrepreneurial success hinges on collaboration. 

“Intuitively, we still attribute too much to individuals and not enough to groups. Part of that may just be that it’s simpler; it’s simpler to say the success of a company depended on the CEO for good or bad, but in reality the success of a company depends on a whole lot more.  Essentially what’s happening as our society becomes more advanced and more developed is that more things are done by groups of people than by individuals. In a certain sense, our intuitions about how that works haven’t caught up with the reality of modern life.”

The new research suggests it may one day be possible to give a test to a sales team and predict how well it will sell in the following year, or to pick a management team with a good sense of exactly how it is likely to respond to an array of challenges.

What the researchers found was that:

  • groups’ collective intelligence strongly predicted how well they did evidence that something called “collective intelligence” did in fact exist
  • What was more surprising, however, was that neither the average intelligence of the group members nor the person with the greatest intelligence strongly predicted how well the group did.

Other tenets of group success also seemed to fall by the wayside: 

  • A group’s motivation, satisfaction, and unity were unimportant
  • when a group had a high level of collective intelligence, the members tended to score well on a test that measured how good they were at reading other people’s emotions. 

They also found that groups with overbearing leaders who were reluctant to cede the floor and let the others talk did worse than those in which participation was better distributed and people took turns speaking. 

And they also found that the proportion of women in the group was a predictor of collective intelligence — a factor they believe was likely influenced by women’s generally superior social sensitivity.

The tendency to assign credit to a discrete individual, not a group, runs deep. People gravitate toward stories of individuals who matter, despite the fact that much of human history has been shaped not by one person at a time but by networks of people, whether they are bands of hunter-gatherers or corporations.

Instead of seeing groups as nameless and faceless affiliations that swallow up an individual’s identity, the new work on collective behavior suggests that in company lies opportunity. 

The field of intelligence testing has long been controversial, in part because of concerns that such scores were crude and biased, pigeon-holing people as stupid or smart. In contrast, collective intelligence offers a new spectrum of possibilities. Instead of pronouncing a person’s intellectual engine good or bad, the research suggests that group intelligence is highly malleable and that concrete steps — such as mixing newcomers into an established team or not allowing a single leader to dominate — could fundamentally alter the group’s intelligence.

More broadly:

  • groups and the complex social structure of human interactions may help account for how people got “smart” in the first place
  • The dramatic changes in science, culture, art, language, technology, and music over the past thousand years are not due to the development of brand-new mental or physical capacities. Instead, it is a particular kind of group benefit in which human progress bootstraps upon itself through a collective cultural memory
  • Knowledge ratchets up in successive generations without our having to reinvent technologies, discover laws of nature anew, or risk tasting all the mushrooms in the forest.

An additional item:

Collaborators Do Best If They Are Nearby

Research papers whose authors were located together in the same building are cited 45% more often than papers whose authors were in different buildings, and citations decrease as the physical distance between the first and last author increases, according to a study led by Isaac Kohane of Harvard Medical School. “Physical proximity still matters for research productivity and impact,” Kohane says.


Written by Rich and Co.

December 21, 2010 at 10:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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