Five Ways Smart Teams Build Collective Intelligence

How well does your team share insights and knowledge to help collectively solve problems? It could be the difference between good and great.

Research by MIT has found that Collective Intelligence is on of the best indicators of a team’s success. Collective Intelligence is a better indicator than factors such as group satisfaction, group cohesion, group motivation and the individual intelligence of team members. So what is collective intelligence and how is it developed?

MIT’s research suggests that Collective Intelligence emerges from the coordination and collaboration of team members. They have identified five ways smart teams build this Collective Intelligence.


Great minds think alike right? Well actually, they don’t. Great minds think differently which is why you need a diverse group of people on your team.

“Group intelligence is not strongly tied to either the average intelligence of the members or the team’s smartest member.” –Thomas Malone, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence have found that diversity of the group was a better indicator of collective intelligence than the IQs of individual group members. This is true in broader social networks as well.

They also found that collective intelligence increased if the a group had more women, though not exclusively women. This may be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which is related to collective intelligence. Studies show that women tend to score higher on social sensitivity than men. Which leads nicely on to …

Social Perception and Sensitivity

MIT’s research has found that it is really important is to have people who are socially sensitive, whether they are men or women. As we noted above women tend to have higher levels of social sensitivity.

The research also highlighted the importance of egalitarian norms in a team. Collective intelligence was positively correlated with groups with higher average social sensitivity and equal distribution of conversational turn–taking. In essence where a few people dominated the discussion and there were no stars.

There is also ongoing research into the impact of technology and more remote working on collective intelligence. Initial indications are that equality and sensitivity are equally important with online communication. A personal view is that it is possible technology allows more people to contribute by sharing articles and ideas, without having to wait for a turn in a team discussion.

Sharing and Connective Intelligence

No one is as smart as everyone. The best teams have individuals that openly and actively share knowledge. It is hard to read everything or stay updated as an individual but within a team and with the right tools you can leverage members to scan and research the environment and share information.

Stephen Downes prefers the concept of connective intelligence to collective intelligence. This is because individuals must be enabled and empowered to seek out information and to share. A good model for teams and individuals is Harold Jarche’s seek, sense and share model. In this model members actively seek out knowledge and information, which reinforces Stephen Downes point about empowerment, they then validate, synthesise and share information that is relevant to their team. By commenting and opening up a discussion they can also provoke a collaborative discussion which leads to joint attention.

Joint Attention

It can be difficult to make sense of our environment by ourselves. Joint attention is a cognitive mechanism that enables individuals to share views, ideas and attitudes when focusing on issues together which produces forms of collective intelligence. It produces something which cannot be easily replicated by individual attention.

This does not always mean sitting and spending time together discussing an issue, it can be contributing to a discussion online and bringing in different viewpoints and information. Remote teams arguably need more collective intelligence to build joint attention and cohesion.

Hire Positive, Collaborative Team Members

MIT’s research found that bringing people into a team who are negative or domineering can significantly reduce a team’s collective intelligence and drag the team down. Thus whilst you want to recruit good people, when hiring you should also look for positive people, with high social sensitivity and people that openly collaborate and share. These may seem obvious criteria but it can be easy to overlook their importance in team performance, a bad appointment can significantly reduce a team’s collective intelligence and performance.

How does you team measure up?

How diverse is your team, including a balance by gender?

How much does your team seek out new information and share relevant findings with the group?

How socially sensitive is your team and is their an egalitarian attitude to contributions?

Do you give issues joint attention, either online or in person?

Do you hire positive, socially sensitive, collaborative people that seek out, sense and share new information and ideas?

For those interested we have been building an app, Anders Pink, to support teams in building collective intelligence. You can create custom briefings for your team on any topic, refreshed every few hours, which allows teams to easily comment, share, save and alert each other to relevant content. We would love your feedback.

About the author – Steve Rayson 

Non-Executive Director of BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo is a social search tool designed to support content marketers, journalists and anyone interested in finding great content and understanding influencer amplification.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRayson

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