What Makes a Group Stupid?

What reduces a group’s collective intelligence?

Carnegie Melon University research 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.

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.

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.

Discussion Questions

In your team, discuss the following questions:

  1. As you reflect on teams that you’ve been a part of in the past (at work or otherwise), what experiences have you had with a dominant individual or leader while working as part of these teams? What impact did this individual have on the group? On you personally?
  2. When a group member was dominant or even abrasive, did you ever find yourself sitting while this is going on and behaving like it doesn’t concern you? What 2-3 factors led you to behave in that way?
  3. What are the obstacles to taking action to address the behaviour of an abrasive team member?
  4. Why is it important to take action when there’s a dominant  or abrasive member in a group?  What might the impact be on individuals, teams and the business itself?
  5. What constructive strategies can you use to deal with a group or team member who is dominant or abrasive? What are the ways in which they might be effective?

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