In honour of World Environment Day, June 5th, let’s talk about the collective. Collective intelligence that is.
There is power, wisdom and intelligence found in a said crew, aka groups. There’s even a name for it – collective intelligence.
“Collective intelligence is the body of knowledge that grows out of a group. When groups of people work together, they create intelligence that cannot exist on an individual level. Making decisions as a group, forming a consensus, getting ideas from different sources, and motivating people through competition are all components of collective intelligence.” Source: Organizational Psychology
I can hear you grumbling. Yes, working in groups, in teams, can be annoying, frustrating, and time-sucking. That’s why I created my date-your-team-members list of questions to prevent tensions up front. BUT when done well, there’s gold in them than (group) hills.
Five Benefits to Collective Intelligence found in teams and groups:
- Uncover viewpoints and perspectives that you didn’t know existed – bringing different people to the table to work together when facilitated well, uncovers a massive treasure trove of other ways to look at situations and move forward.
- Reveal hidden assumptions – one of the trickiest things is to uncover assumptions you’re making. The easiest way to do that is to involve others. Group members can be fabulous at uncovering assumptions you had no idea you were making.
- More inclusive, well rounded, and strategic – done well, involving a group, a team of people, means widening the cultural perspectives (gender, ability, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual, age etc.) and again, when done well, the work produced by said team will be more inclusive, well round and strategic.
- Building community – the collective intelligence that can be found in teams and groups means building a deeper, richer community, a community that you can both lean on for support when needed and for whom you can offer support.
- Interesting and engaging – collective intelligence simply makes life more interesting and engaging when you get to work side by side with others and gain entry into their worlds
Five skills for harnessing the Collective Intelligence found in teams and groups:
Collective intelligence doesn’t just come knocking at your door. It takes skill and patience to harness and reap the rewards. Here are five skills that help do just that.
- Empathy – teams that are more empathetic can harness more of the benefits. Being comfortable with the role of emotions in teams overall is a huge help as well. After all, whether we like it or not, we are emotional beings (why facts don’t convince people). Check out Brene Brown’s wonderful work on the difference between empathy and sympathy. “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
- Communication – you can never be too good a communicator. There’s always room for improvement and learning. Work on your and your team’s communication skills, both in stating your viewpoint and listening to others.
- Conflict – ditto. You can never be too good at resolving conflict. Consider learning conflict resolution skills as a lifelong journey for you and your team.
- Expect diversity – this should go without saying, but the whole point about collective intelligence is rising above everyone parroting one person aka group think / group talk. That doesn’t mean that working with difference is easy BUT, if you expect diversity in the first place, you’ll be ahead of the game.
- Collaboration – harnessing collective intelligence means being able to collaborate. I like to boil down the skill of collaborating to balancing your closed fist and open palm.
Fist – close your hand into a tight fist. Tight. Tighter. Now imagine your project, initiative etc. being inside your fist. This is a metaphor for “my-way-or-the-highway.” It symbolizes having so much ownership that there is no room for anyone else’s opinion or input. This is not good for collaboration.
Palm – now open your hand as wide as you can. Wider. Wider. Now imagine your project, initiative etc. sitting on your outstretched hand. It would take but a slight bump for it to be knocked off or awry. This symbolizes not caring, having no ownership at all – “Do what you want, I don’t care” kind of attitude. This also is not good for collaboration.
The sweet spot for collaboration is having your hand somewhat closed, meaning you have passion, interest and ownership, but not so closed that others’ can’t have input and ownership too.
Practice opening or closing your metaphorical hand, as the case may be.
Research shows us that collective intelligence is a sweet spot. It’s possible. And it’s good for us. The benefits include: uncovering new viewpoints and perspectives, revealing hidden assumptions, being more inclusive, well rounded, and strategic, building community, and overall interest and engagement.
And we know that collective intelligence doesn’t happen on its own. I hear more tales of teamwork angst than teams working well together. To get on the other side of said angst and get collective intelligence within your reach, get yourself and your team working on your skills of: empathy, communication, conflict resolution, expecting diversity, and collaboration.
Regarding the latter, if you face up to balancing your fist and palm, you’ll avoid a face palm.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- Read more about collective intelligence here – Organizational Psychology
- It’s definitely not easy to cooperate and collaborate, as you can see from these hamsters, but the effort is worth it.
- Talk to your team about the skills required and make a plan to work on theirs and yours.
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