Collective Intelligence: How to Determine Which Groups Will Perform Better

Gartner Fellow Tom Austin blogged about an article in Science on defining and testing “collective intelligence”, the ability of a group to accomplish cognitive tasks. You’ll need a subscription to Science to read the article, or pay $15 to purchase the article, but lead author  Anita Williams Woolley discusses the research in Science’s podcast available for free.

In the podcast, Woolley said that the a group’s collective intelligence was higher when members took turns speaking. Groups with a few members who dominated conversations had a lower collective intelligence. They found very little, if any correlation between individual intelligence of members of the group and the collective intelligence of the group. They also found no correlation between high extrovert scores of members and collective intelligence. But there was a strong correlation between groups of individuals with high social sensitivity and collective intelligence.

Incidentally, the higher proportion of women in a group the higher the collective intelligence. Woolley explained this because women tend to have higher social sensitivity than men and she did not seem to think there was any other factor influencing this gender difference.

As we move toward technology that gives groups unprecedented ability to collaborate, how can we use this research to more effectively manage our efforts?

Can we use tools that either mandate turn taking, or allow everyone in the group to participate as she or he sees fit to lessen the impact of low social sensitivity?


One Response to Collective Intelligence: How to Determine Which Groups Will Perform Better


    But then, there’s human nature. Some are extroverted, some are introverted, some are synergistic, some are stuck in the mud. The best advice I’ve received on this (thank you, Glasers!) was to be an effective group facilitator. It’s the responsibility of the facilitator to wrangle the talkers and draw out the quiet ones. Using tools like round robin, tight time limits, and balancing individual thought with collaborative communication, you can bring about this benefit of collective intelligence. But just allowing the pack to run wild assures that the timid will follow the bold.
    Is this even possible in an online format? It seems like the talkers are the only ones talking. Using moderating tools, you can quiet the talkers. But how to bring out the quiet ones? This is really the pitfall of any online collaboration forum: Only the talkers contribute.
    To bring out someone who is disinclined to jump in, motivation must be provided. Every person’s motivation is going to be different. This is less of a hurdle face-to-face with an established team. But online, with everybody cocooned and working through the same Keyboard/Monitor filter? Seems next to impossible.

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