A group of people will often come up with surprisingly effective solutions to complex challenges, solutions that are better and more widely supported than what any individual could come up with. In this blog post we’ll explore this idea of ‘Collective Intelligence’. We’ll touch upon its principles and benefits and show how organizations and teams – your teams – may benefit from the power of collective intelligence, even in ways that improve the health and wellbeing of team members.
The Foundations of Collective Intelligence
Collective intelligence is rooted in a remarkable observation: groups of people may weave the complementary strengths of individuals into a web of knowledge and know-how. That web may overcome challenges that would be too complex or multifaceted for a single person to handle. The use of collective intelligence is gaining traction across various domains. It is now used in business and technology and also to untangle wider social or political problems.
What if you could use it in your organization and teams? Which problems would you entrust to the collective intelligence of your people?
More Diversity, More Intelligence
Consider a scenario where a team is asked to come up with a solution for a complex problem. Each team member brings a unique skill set and unique viewpoints to the table, viewpoints and aspects that the others might not have thought of. This diversity allows the team to consider and analyze the problem from multiple angles, identify potential pitfalls, and come up with innovative approaches.
But here is the crux: to get more diverse ideas and to make the web of knowledge larger, you need a diverse team. When a group includes individuals with widely varying backgrounds, experiences, and expertise, it can approach problems from more and different angles, generating a wider range of ideas and solutions. So, more diversity of perspectives leads to more robust decision-making and creative problem-solving.
Optimal Group Size
More diverse is better. But the size of a group can significantly influence its effectiveness as wewll. Finding the right balance between size and diversity is essential. Here are a few factors to consider:
- If the problem requires a wide range of perspectives, a larger group may be more effective.
- Complex problems often benefit from larger groups, while simpler tasks may require smaller teams.
- Smaller groups can make quicker decisions and have more focused discussions.
- Well-facilitated small groups may outperform large, poorly coordinated groups.
In practice, smaller, well-facilitated core teams may work on specific aspects of a problem, while larger networks or communities may be used as source for input, feedback, or specialized expertise.
Facilitation and Technology
You can’t bring together a group in a room and hope the collective intelligence will start to flow from the get-go. It requires open communication, active listening, structured brainstorming, feedback mechanisms, and collaborative decision-making, which may not come spontaneously and may need learning, experimentation, and facilitation.
Technology may play a significant role in enabling collective intelligence. Online collaboration tools, project management software, and social networks facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge among geographically dispersed teams. With the right digital infrastructure, individuals from different parts of the world can come together to contribute to a shared cause.
Better collaboration, better well-being
Once the collective intelligence starts flowing and the result start to come in, a positive feedback loop is created. A culture of creating collective intelligence makes team members feel empowered, valued, and motivated to contribute their insights.
Using collective intelligence can also promote the well-being of team members in surprising ways. Just some of these are:
- Knowing that others are there to help and contribute to problem-solving can alleviate the pressure on any single team member.
- Collective intelligence values the input and ideas of every team member, making people feel valued and important for the team’s success.
- Collective intelligence creates a supportive environment where team members can seek help, share concerns, and offer support to one another.
- Collaboration and the pooling of resources and expertise can reduce the risk of individual burnout, as team members share the responsibilities and challenges.
The Road Ahead
If you’d consider using the collective intelligence in your organization, think of it as a journey, a journey marked by ongoing experimentation, learning, and adaptation. Maybe you want to start with reading and seeking coaching, or learn through a first, small project. Or maybe you want to kickstart the process in a grand way and hire an external facilitator.
Unleashing the collective intelligence in your organization has the potential to result in better-informed solution, more widely supported decisions, and innovative solutions. It also can improve the wellbeing and health of both your organization and its people. Too good to be true? We challenge you to start on the journey and see what happens!
Special thanks to Jan Provoost (https://janprovoost.be/) for thinking along and making sense out of my thoughts!