What Makes a Group Smart?

Take a guess: which of the following factors will most contribute to a group’s ‘collective intelligence’ in solving difficult problems and performing tasks?

a)   Group members’ cumulative individual I.Q. levels

b)   The number of women in the group

c)   The presence of a dominant group member

d)   The freedom to make mistakes without suffering negative ramifications

If you chose ‘B’ (did you?), you were right!

Surprisingly, according to research from Carnegie Melon University, “Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn’t necessarily make the group smart”.

These researchers had 699 people placed in groups of two to five. The groups worked together on tasks that ranged from visual puzzles to negotiations, brainstorming, games and complex rule-based design assignments. What they did not at all expect to find is this: the more women in the group, the better the group’s ‘collective intelligence’.

The exact reasons for this result require further research. However, initial analysis of the data led the researchers to conclude that “higher social sensitivity exhibited by females,” contributed to these results.

Discussion Questions

In your team, consider the following questions:

  1. What specific practices does your team have that support the ‘smartness’ of your group’s decisions and performance?
  2. Consider this:  if you were to rate your team’s collective intelligence in decision-making and performance, and ‘10’ meant that “as a group, we excel at collective intelligence”, and ‘1’ meant that “as a group, our collective intelligence is abysmal”, how would you rate your group?

Please jot down your individual responses, then share in the group.

  1. Why did each of you rate the group in the way that you did?
  2. What needs to happen in order to take your group’s intelligence one step higher on that scale?
  3.  What needs to happen in order to take your group’s intelligence yet another step higher on that scale?

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