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Collective Intelligence

A recent research study conducted at CMU and MIT found that groups outperformed individuals in accomplishing tasks.  Dr. Anita Williams Woolley at CMU’s Tepper School of Business found that the Group IQ “was markedly different” than individual IQ.  She found three factors that resulted in higher performance by groups:

  • “social sensitivity” – how much do group members pay attention to each other and ask questions
  • Turn taking – if someone dominates the conversation, performance goes down
  • More women in the group, the smarter it was
Dr. Woolley attributes this last factor to women tending to have higher social sensitivity skills, often did not dominate the conversation, and were willing to ask other members of the group if they had better expertise on the discussion topic.
For those of us that frequent study groups, committees and teams, several strategies can improve group performance.  They are:
  • Make sure the right people are in the room (a good mix of communication skills and thinking styles)
  • Enhance group communications by discussing at the beginning how everyone is going to share ideas (process is important)
The research into group dynamics found other interesting conclusions:
  • When discussing racially sensitive issues, a racially diverse group will perform better
  • Using a “voice meter” to time conversations in groups resulted in group members speaking for shorter time intervals and there was less talking over others in the group.
Dr. Woolley concluded that, “As the world becomes more complex and employees skills more specialized, more and more of our problems will have solutions that lie at the intersection of individuals with specialties, so they need to be able to collaborate.”
For further information, see the article by Mark Roth in the Post Gazette or contact Dr. Woolley at awoolley@cmu.edu.

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