Is there a Group Intelligence Factor and Does it make a difference in Problem Solving?

Quote: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. The achievements of a team are the results of the combined effort of each individual” Vincent Lombardi

For many years there has been an explosion of using teams to increase productivity from software conversion projects to employee problem solving and innovation. Many questions remain about how and why teams are successful and why other task forces or teams fail. For some researchers it is all about team make-up and group dynamics. Many questions remain that need answers. One important experiment was recently completed by Anita Woolley at Carnegie Mellon University to examine if there is  general intelligence in teams. The results of the research suggest that “individual brainpower contributes little to collective team smarts as measured by their ability to solve problems.  Dr. Woolly was motivated to conduct these studies because she felt there is a lack  of agreed to  criterion in predicting which groups will perform well and which won’t. Addition she wanted to test she the hypothesis of whether groups behave as individuals in having the  an underlying factor (intelligence) that seems to drive how individuals perform in multiple situations and different cognitive domains. 

To determine whether something similar also operated in collective minds, Woolley’s team divided 600 test subjects into groups of two to five people, then had each group complete a variety of problem-solving tasks. Afterward the researchers interviewed the groups and each participant. They measured group cohesion and motivation, individual intelligence and personality, and other factors previously associated with group performance. Their analysis was reviewed in Wired Science which reported that researchers found several characteristics linked to group performance — and none involved individual intelligence. What mattered instead was the social sensitivity of individual members, the proportion of women (who tend to be more sensitive) in each group, and a balanced participation of interaction and “air time” for conversing and discussing the problem to be solved and appropriate solutions.  Gender and social sensitivity are linked, said Woolley, making emotional intelligence and conversation balance the most important factors in group performance. Not only was individual intelligence irrelevant, but group cohesion mattered little. Neither did motivation or happiness — a finding that most workers would find disconcerting.

The results for the study are not that surprising for team leaders and experienced facilitators-it’s emotional intelligence and social awareness — the ability to pick up on emotional cues in others — that seems to determine how effective and smart a group can be. What do you think ? Does this research square with your experience? Let us know your thoughts.



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