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Choose your team smartly

Tue 07 December 2010

, Maurice Eykman, LEAP

The collective intelligence of a team is raised by gender diversity. Not a real surprise, but this time it was a conclusion of scientific research. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor—often called “general intelligence”—emerges from the correlations among people’s performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of “collective intelligence” exists for groups of people. And if and how you can predict this ‘c-factor’. Now we know and the finding might help you in picking your team.

Margaret Heffernan published an interesting blog about it on Bnet.

Why can you put lots of smart people into a team - and they come up with lousy ideas? And why is it that our star performers do not necessarily create star teams? Is it even possible to improve the collective intelligence of a team? That’s the question that a team of academics set for themselves.

In two studies with 699 people, teams were set tasks like solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, making collective judgments, and negotiating. The same tasks were given to individuals and then to teams. The collective intelligence of the group (which they called “c”) far out-performed the average intelligence of individual participants. That makes sense; it’s why we do team work in the first place. But what the researchers most wanted to know was: what predicted “c”? What was it that might give any particular group greater collective intelligence?

Their findings are intriguing, provocative and profound.  Collective intelligence is not strongly correlated with the average or the maximum individual intelligence of group members. Packing your teams with one, or a few, super smart people may not help you. Furthermore, group cohesion, motivation and satisfaction also did not determine group performance. What did make a difference were:

  • Social sensitivity of group members
  • Equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking
  • The proportion of women in the group: The researchers thought that this finding might be connected to the other two, since women tended to do better on sensitivity tests and be good at taking turns.


These findings are important to everyone who isn’t a hermit. They have powerful implication for the skills we seek when hiring and for the tools we use for collaboration.

But most important of all, it reinforces everything everyone has ever said about the case for greater gender diversity at all levels of an organization: namely, diversity makes companies smarter. And this work wasn’t published in a magazine for managers, HR professionals or women. It appeared in SCIENCE.
In other words, it isn’t wishful thinking. It’s peer reviewed, analyzed and tested as stringently as possible. It’s based on real experiments and hard data.  There isn’t a manager in the world who doesn’t need to read it.

Read the blog

Margaret Heffernan worked for 13 years as a producer for BBC Radio and Television, has since been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom and has been named one of the Internet's Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her books include The Naked Truth, How She Does It: How Female Entrepreneurs are Changing the Rules for Business Success.