Some Groups Actually Are “Smarter” Than Others – What Does This Mean for Your Workplace Teams?

Researchers in social and cognitive science have long been able to show, experimentally, that some people are inherently more intelligent than others in terms of handling certain tasks and types of problems, such as locating patterns, using language to communicate and accessing visual and spatial data about problems. But what about groups? Can one group really be “smarter” and more capable than another one? If so, what does that mean? How can it be quantified? And how can such information help business owners and leaders develop better methods and ensure profitability?

A recent study published in Science Magazine set out to begin to answer these questions. During the study:

  • Researchers assigned 120 people to 40 different groups at random.
  • Each group was instructed to work on a diverse set of simple tasks and a single complex task for a period of up to five hours.
  • Tasks included allocating limited resources, making moral decisions, brainstorming, solving puzzles and playing checkers against a computer.
  • Researchers also tested the individual intelligence of each participant for use in future calculations.

Researchers found that:

  • A “collective” intelligence factor does exist, and it can be calculated based on a group’s performance on various tasks.
  • Collective intelligence is not correlated with the average intelligence of individual group members.
  • Collective intelligence is not correlated with the maximum individual intelligence in the group, either.
  • Knowing a group’s collective intelligence level helps predict how the group will perform on a complex task, but knowing a group’s average individual intelligence level or the intelligence level of the smartest person in the group will not help to predict performance.

Based on these results, it stands to reason that some groups can actually be more capable and effective than others. Furthermore, the ability of the group to perform well doesn’t necessarily depend on the intelligence of individual members. Thus, it is possible to have highly intelligent people in a group that doesn’t perform well. It is also possible to achieve remarkable success leading a group of people who are not exceptionally intelligent or capable on their own.

Furthermore, the research suggests that, in order to be successful, every group needs a competent leader who knows how to play to the strengths of the group’s members and maximize the group’s collective intelligence.

What does this mean for the teams and leaders in your workplace?

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