close

The Water Cooler

A blog of fresh ideas and findings from organizational leaders and researchers on how they’re making work better, shared regularly.

What makes one team smarter than another?

Filed under: Teams
What makes one team smarter than another?
From Olympic hockey teams to presidential cabinets, we tend to focus on the individuals when trying to predict team performance. But research shows that measuring collective intelligence is a far better indicator of success than any individual's performance.

Dr. Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, spoke at the re:Work 2016 event about why some teams are smarter than others and how collective intelligence is a key predictor of team performance.

Woolley argues that organizations need to look more closely at the value of collective intelligence and how team members perform together; her research shows that this is a much better predictor of team performance than individuals' IQs.

In one of her studies, Woolley had teams come into the lab to perform a series of tasks and measured their performances. By looking at performances across tasks, she and her fellow researchers calculated a team's collective intelligence and were able to use that to predict the team's future performance on an even more complicated task. And these predictions based on collective intelligence were far more accurate than ones calculated by simply looking at the individual team members' IQs.

Woolley finds that gender diversity and social perceptiveness (the ability to pick up nonverbal cues from others) are critical ingredients of collective intelligence. Her recommendations?

  1. Set egalitarian norms when you’re convening a team; leave no room for stars or slackers.
  2. Pay attention to the skills and collaboration abilities of the team and avoid hiring people who are particularly domineering or negative.

To learn more about team effectiveness, check out the re:Work guide Understand team effectiveness for the full story on Google's team effectiveness research as well as tools to help teams foster psychological safety.