Collective Thinking

Is it possible to have several smart individuals in a group, only to have them produce lousy ideas? The answer is yes!

Can the collective intelligence of a group go beyond the abilities of individual group members? Again, the answer is yes.

If a manager wants to contribute to a team’s performance, consider that teamwork does not come naturally.

In the rush to create highly functioning teams, it is easy to assign a number of individuals with diverse talents, goals and aspirations, and label that group a team.

In reality, this action will not make a “team.” They may step on each other’s toes and create a non-friendly environment in which to work.

Psychologists have repeatedly found that a single statistical factor known as “general intelligence” usually emerges from people’s performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks (Woolley et al., 2010). Researchers studied 699 individuals working in groups of two to five people, and assigned them tasks like solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, making collective moral judgments, and negotiating limited resources.

Researchers found that general intelligence far out-performed the average intelligence of individual participants (Woolley et al., 2010). Other factors that influenced general intelligence were the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking and the proportion of females in the group.

When creating “teams,” here are some helpful hints:

1.) Try not to move quickly into launching a team.

Dr. Bruce Wayne Tuckman created a useful model for team development that has five stages:

• Forming

• Storming

• Norming

• Performing

• Adjourning

He believes that when individuals are forming teams, they need to go through all the stages as part of the group development to know other members. In doing so, participants learn about the team's goals, and establish team processes (The Project Management Hut, n.d.). For Tuckman, the Forming stage is one of the most crucial; members meet each other, examine the goals of the project, and begin to decide if they will put all, little or none of their energy into the goals or visions of the group.

Furthermore, through interaction and influence, teams develop a number of dynamic processes, such as roles and norms -- relationships that separate them from simply being a random collection of individuals. So the issue comes down to what is more important -- a more cohesive team or a random collection of individuals.

2.) Consider the social sensitivity of group members.

According to Woolley et al. (2010), the manner in which individuals are able to understand others’ moods may allow for better performance than those who lack that sensitivity. This aspect may be tied to the previous point that individuals must take the time to learn about each other before trying to work as a team.

3.) Respect individuality.

Depending on personality preferences, work styles and habits, individuals process thoughts in unique ways. Some group members might prefer to think aloud, whereas others prefer more privacy with their opinions.

The way individuals react to their thoughts and ideas may be different as well. As a manager, do not assume that everyone will attend meetings as expected, or be as enthusiastic as others about a project.

4.) Make sure that there is equality in conversational turn-taking.

According to Woolley et al. (2010), teams in which only a few people dominated the conversation were less collectively intelligent than those in which participants shared the floor more equally. As a manager, try to maintain a balance by continuously providing opportunities for everyone to express themselves. You might be surprised by the ideas and concepts that the “quiet” member may contribute to a problem, project or team.

5.) Have enough women on the team.

Teams with more women tend to affect collective intelligence. Women are linked to better scores on sensitivity tests, and enhance equal opportunity of group member involvement (Woolley et al., 2010). Be sure to include enough women when forming your fantastic teams.

6.) Do not be afraid of conflict.

When assigning diverse individuals to a team, you may find that conflicts arise due to the different opinions, desires or goals brought to the workplace. However, differing opinions expand discussion, and enhance critical thinking.

Managers should establish team norms from the beginning. In fact, open discussion about how group members are expected to share their opinions freely and how they are expected to judge ideas and not people may help prevent arguments.

The bottom line is that arranging the smartest individuals in dynamic working teams might not help. It is easier to raise the collective intelligence of a group than the IQ of an individual. The intelligence and knowledge of a team depends on group membership.

Teams that function well create an environment for consistent collaboration. So, create a “collective intelligent” team and you may see the rewards of your work with amazing collaborative results.

Work Cited:

The Project Management Hut (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2010, from

Woolley, A.W., Chabris, C.F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T.W. (2010). “Evidence for the collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups.” Science 330 (6004), 686-688.

Tatiana Chalkidou is currently a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University. She holds an M.B.A. from the University of Leicester as well as a B.S. from the University of Athens in Greece. She has worked for the Athens 2004 Organization Committee during the 2004 Olympics. She can be reached via e-mail at

Michael Bradley is a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University studying various human dimensions of natural-resource management and participant-ethics related to outdoor activities.