What Makes a Group Stupid?

What reduces a group’s collective intelligence? Well, the Carnegie Melon University research I mentioned last week suggests that a dominant, even abrasive person can do exactly that. “In groups where one person dominated, the group was less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed,” says Anita Williams-Woolley, the lead researcher.

Frankly, this is not surprising, is it? You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself!

When people are afraid of someone, they become risk averse. They shift into survival-and-safety mode. In this mode, creative problem solving is inhibited and conformity reigns.

You may have noticed that this problem is magnified when the abrasive person happens to be the formal leader, one who has real power to actually `punish’ people. So what do people do when the boss is abrasive? They stop innovating. They resign. They go on sick leave. They speak badly of the company. And that’s a very partial list.

So you – yes, you! – the one sitting quietly in your chair while this is going on and behaving like it doesn’t concern you…. what are you going to do about it the next time the dominant person gets control and everyone retreats into their protective shells?

As the French author Anais Nin’s put it: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. We all have a choice in how much we want to impact the environment around us for the better.

(PS  Speaking of abrasive behaviour, I’m in the early stages of launching a unique program designed to help organizations turn around the behaviour of abrasive managers. It’s called “Boss Whispering”. I’ll tell you more about it when it’s fully rolled out, but do feel free to contact me anytime for assistance or inquiries.)

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