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Why do we need Team Intelligence?

Working together as teams has enabled us to progress from hunter-gathers to create civilizations, democracies and global organisations. But when we look at what is happening around the world today, one may be alarmed by the ways in which we continue to make critical errors as a species.

So, I thought it would be useful to devote this blog to examining how humans think, on our own and in groups, because while scientists have discovered a lot about how and why we think, we frequently fail to apply this knowledge to the way we interact together, especially in business and our political systems. For all our sakes, I believe this needs to change.

Human Cognitive Bias

Our current understanding of how we think started to change in 1972 when Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky introduced the concept of human cognitive bias. Since then, over 180 cognitive biases have been identified that systematically affect how we think as humans. Research has shown that each of us builds our own subjective view of the world, and unless we are persuaded to think otherwise, we repeatedly use this lens to make snap decisions. Recognising and understanding human cognitive bias has been an important step in helping us explain our behaviour as a species.

The growth of technology and the internet in particular, means we now live in a connected world and we are experiencing the behavioural fallout from this. The way we organise ourselves as communities and in business hasn’t kept pace with our ability to communicate, resulting in the disruption of previous models, and nowhere is this more obvious than in politics, where events seem to be spiralling out of control.

How cognitive biases developed and become absorbed into human behaviour

Cognitive biases are the mental models that our ancestors evolved over millennia. They helped us survive in the stone age and evolution has absorbed them into our species, so that every child comes into the world pre-programmed with these biases. It is our cognitive biases that cause us to react quickly on incomplete information, often over-valuing the opinions of groups we belong to. Similarly, we simplify problems and remember events differently depending upon how we experienced them.

In business, we see repeated examples of cognitive biases, often to the detriment of efficiency and performance. For example, recruitment and promotion are areas where we know our biases influence us. When we interview someone who looks like us, we are much more likely to bond with them and believe they are the best candidate – this helps to explain for example, why Boards are full of white men from similar backgrounds!

How can we overcome the negative impacts of cognitive bias?

Experiments have shown that by imposing behavioural change, we can remove the effect of our cognitive biases, resulting in greater objectivity. For example, forward thinking orchestras now conduct auditions with musicians hidden behind screens and since this practice was adopted, female representation in these orchestras has increased by 25%.

The aviation industry has also successfully demonstrated how the removal of human biases can fundamentally improve performance – in this case by preventing aircraft from crashing. Before we understood human bias, there were many recorded instances of aircraft crashing as a result of captains not listening to warnings from junior pilots. By implementing cockpit checklist procedures to neutralise hierarchy based biases, these types of crashes are now extremely rare.

Both examples demonstrate how process can be introduced to neutralise cognitive biases, and this concept can be applied in any field of human interaction. Yet, biases remain the root cause of many of the problems we experience in communities and businesses today.

Knowing this, surely it’s time we applied our knowledge of human bias to develop effective solutions for every community and every workplace?

Cognitive biases in the workplace

While behavioural science has known about the effects of cognitive bias for decades, working practices have largely remained unchanged. The answer to most problem solving is to have a meeting, where no bias removing methodology is used, so decisions are usually driven by relationships, force of personality and our gut instincts, rather than objective, intelligent thinking.

How we behave at work is affected by the structure of the organisation we operate in. When working in a matrix of different groups with no clear hierarchy, our human biases often lead us to engage in office politics to progress particular agendas. Alternatively, we can become isolated in one team and stop listening to “outsiders”. We convince ourselves that we are right and become prone to make decisions that may seem irrational to the rest of the world – a phenomenon known as ‘groupthink’.

Web technology can amplify the impact of our cognitive biases. Social networking algorithms are programmed to deliver information that we like, so our information feeds become echo chambers that confirm and reinforce our existing beliefs.

The increasing use of collaboration software in the workplace is based on digitising work practices from the pre-internet era, but these practices were not designed to remove bias. E-mail is simply faster letter writing; online file sharing is just a shared office filing cabinet and chat software simply takes office discussions to the web.

But imagine a world where collaboration software and systems are designed to remove the cognitive biases we know hold us back. Imagine if we had the ability to put groups of people together in the same digital space, free from the constraints of conforming to the organisational systems of earlier generations. How would that feel and how would it change the way we work together as teams?

Solving the challenge of removing cognitive bias

I believe the answer is to design a new generation of digital collaboration tools. Tools specifically designed to remove the effects of human biases, to help teams interact and work together in a more intelligent, effective way.

Like screens for orchestra auditions or checklists for pilots, these digital tools will have a very different look and feel depending upon the bias-based problems they’re trying to solve. The common link is that in removing cognitive biases, they can make teams more collectively intelligent, so I have called this new class of digital tools “Team Intelligence”.

What will Team Intelligence do for us?

Imagine all ideas being assessed based on their objective value, without knowing if they came from the boss or an intern; Imagine knowing that your opinion in any debate will always count and be recognised; Imagine decisions being made in faster, better informed meetings.

Team Intelligence tools will allow teams to be more creative, plan more effectively and make better informed decisions. They will reduce internal politics, strengthen organisational culture and result in happier more cohesive teams.

Team Intelligence in the community

Team Intelligence is not limited to delivering better informed, unbiased decisions in the workplace, leading to happier and more effective team-members – it can also have a broader and valuable impact on how we live together as communities.

The digital tools that will enable us to remove human bias from the workplace can also be applied and used in communities and in politics. Political systems are just mechanisms for larger groups to solve problems, often based on centuries old practices and hugely affected by human bias.

Today, politicians and their supporters typically align themselves with specific parties in a form of modern-day tribalism. Once our identity is linked to a party, our biases cause us to think positively about anything associated with that group and negatively about anything associated with the opposition – and social media reinforces our political biases by amplifying our biased view of the world, causing us to become more politically polarised.

Nothing illustrates more the need for new tools to combat human biases than the breakdown of consensus we are seeing today on an international scale in the newly connected world. To avoid tearing societies apart and to avoid unnecessary conflicts, we must change our political systems to ensure the removal of cognitive biases. As a species, we are capable of learning to work together in a more intelligent way, but we need new tools to enable us to do this.

I believe that Team Intelligence technology can provide the tools to change human interaction in business and communities and this is why I believe it is such an important concept for the future of humanity. I will be expanding on this concept in future blogs.