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At the start of each year, our news feeds remind us of our potential to lead happier, more fulfilling, and productive lives.

Articles I read are usually relatable, inspiring and offer guidance on how to harness emotional intelligence to realise our full potential.

Have you ever noticed that these daily doses of inspiration are often aimed at the individual and therefore miss a key aspect of our lives?

Seeing as many of us spend 8 hours a day collaborating, how can we harness collective intelligence in order to unlock our team’s potential?

What is Collective Intelligence?

Collective Intelligence is shared intelligence that arises from human collaboration and harnessing it unlocks team potential in all sorts of ways!

High levels of collective intelligence improves engagement, performance, and productivity which impacts the success and growth of our teams.

Individuals in a more productive and engaged team are likely to be more fulfilled and happier in the workplace. Team morale is higher, project work flows more naturally, and challenges are handled with reduced friction and increased efficiency.

Harnessing collective intelligence will establish a rythm of success for your team and there’s some great research that shows this.


1) Individual IQ vs Collective Intelligence

Anita Williams Woolley and her team set out to measure the collective intelligence of teams through a series of tests. They presumed that you could measure collective intelligence in the same way we measure individual intelligence- the teams with the highest average IQ of individuals would, therefore, come out on top.

She discovered that there was surprisingly little correlation between the IQ of team members and overall team performance. Your team may be full of smart cookies, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to individuals working effectively together.

Questions to ask:

  • What implications does this have for your hiring process?
  • What role do managers and HR have in looking for team players rather than outstandingly smart individuals?


Check out The Table Group’s ‘Ideal Team Player’ interview guide to help you find hungry, humble and smart individuals.

2) Equal distribution of conversation

Research at the Kellogg School of Management identified three prototype people who do 70% of the talking in most meetings. According to Woolley, this is a big problem for collective intelligence as teams in which individuals dominate the discussion consistently underperform. On the flip side, teams where there was an equal level of discussion perform much better across a range of tasks.

Questions to ask:

  • Who dominates the discussion and why?
  • Where does each member of your team fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum?
  • How are your meetings set up and how can you get the best out of every member of your team?
  • How do you encourage collaboration and how can you improve on this?
  • What’s the hierarchical nature of your organisation?


Awareness is the first step so keep asking the right questions! Woolley recommends setting egalitarian norms where there are no stars and no loafers in order to encourage equal distribution of conversation. Consider also using instant messaging as a way to help promote an equal level of discussion.

(Check out the blog I wrote on how technology helps introverts in the workplace here)

3) Social perception and sensitivity

Woolley’s research highlighted that teams where individuals had high levels of social sensitivity also had high collective intelligence. The ability to read social cues is an essential skill for business as it demonstrates that you’re in tune with other team members’ social requirements and are able to respond accordingly.

Questions to ask:

  • Start with yourself: How socially sensitive are you? Take the test here
  • How socially sensitive, or empathetic, are the people you work with daily?
  • What could be done to raise the social sensitivity of your team members?
  • Who are the socially sensitive members of your team? How can you champion their behaviour to the rest of the team?
  • How diverse is my team?


Psychometric tests during the recruitment process enable employees to not only identify high performing talent but to spot candidates with social sensitivity.


4) Gender diversity

The collective intelligence of the team rises steeply when a minimum of 20% and up to 75% of the team is made up of women. The research shows that women tend to withhold their opinions when they are a significant minority and so gender balance and team diversity are key.

Questions to ask:

  • How gender diverse is your team?
  • If women represent a significant minority, what implications does this have on your hiring process?
  • What are you doing to avoid unconscious bias?


Check out Quartz at Work’s article on 12 things employers can do to improve gender equality in the workplace.

Final Thoughts…

In order to navigate the increasingly complex world of business, it’s essential to get the best out of your team and Woolley’s research reminds us to shift the focus from individual to collective intelligence.

Hiring a healthy mix of diverse and socially sensitive team players and giving each of them a chance to contribute are key components to unlocking your team’s potential.

The first step to change is awareness so take a moment to understand your organisation’s culture and then take the necessary steps to realise your team’s potential.

There’s no limit to the impact this can have for your 2018!