Complex Made Simple

Interview: ‘Companies are not doing enough to enhance their collective intelligence’

With high collective intelligence, a team can rapidly develop solutions that one person probably could never come up with independently, even with an unlimited amount of time

Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment and leave behind one’s tendency to judge Mindfulness correlates with emotional intelligence - people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others Most companies do not understand how unconscious factors influence team performance

The brightest minds and sharpest intellects have always spearheaded innovation and redefined the business landscape. In recent years, however, the “power of many” has been shown to be more powerful and more impactful, particularly in the way organizations work and arrive at crucial decisions. Called ‘Collective Intelligence,’ this refers to the combined power of a group of people to solve problems and arrive at goals. To understand this better, Jan-Philipp Martini a consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Chris Tamdjidi, co-founder and managing director of Awaris, speak to AMEinfo about the findings of a study called ‘Tap Your Company’s Collective Intelligence With Mindfulness’, which they conducted recently:

Why is collective intelligence important for businesses?

Collective intelligence is a team’s or organization’s ability to perform the wide variety of tasks required to solve complex problems. Different to many other performance indicators that organizations use (e.g. productivity), collective intelligence correlates with a team’s or an organization’s future performance. With high collective intelligence, a team can rapidly develop solutions that one person probably could never come up with independently, even with an unlimited amount of time. Collective intelligence is nothing new, but becomes increasingly important due to the growing variety and complexity of problems to be solved as well as with growing opportunities which arise from complex technologies like Artificial Intelligence.Chris Tamdjidi

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What is the difference between collective intelligence and mindfulness?

Collective intelligence is a key factor that measures a team’s ability to solve a wide variety of problems. Mindfulness is the capability of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge.

Collective intelligence is neither dependent on team members’ IQ and knowledge, nor on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence and emergent properties within the team such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation.

Jan-Philipp Martini 

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In the BCG-Awaris study, it was shown that mindfulness correlates with emotional intelligence – people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others. We also measured collective intelligence of 31 teams with 196 individuals before and after ten-week mindfulness programs and proved that mindfulness practice improves collective intelligence by an average of 13% after ten weeks.  

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How does collective intelligence differ from concepts like brainstorming and roundtable discussions?

Brainstorming or roundtable discussions are useful formats to generate ideas within a diverse team. Diversity of the team is among the foundational elements to create innovative ideas. In this context by the way, diversity should not be limited to gender or functional and educational backgrounds. What’s required is a diversity of cognitive styles—that is, different ways of thinking about, perceiving, and remembering information or simply different ways of solving problems or seeing the world.

Diversity in itself however is not enough. To tap into the power of diversity—with respect to both expertise and world views— it must be integrated. This means that the team or the organization must create an environment in which individuals are willing to risk stating their opinions and to be receptive to listening to others. Integrating diversity, or in other words creating an environment in that team members feel safe to state their opinions and are willing to truly listen to the opinions of others, is the key element to increase collective intelligence of a team.

In order to get innovative ideas out of brainstorming sessions or roundtable discussions, nurturing the collective intelligence of the group participating in these events is crucial.

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What are companies doing to improve their collective intelligence?

While companies are already applying approaches that foster collective intelligence such as setting up diverse teams, breaking down organizational silos, and implementing open information systems, they do not explicitly recognize how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.

We’d say companies are not doing enough to identify and address inadequate emotional safety and trust among team members. That is because most companies are not sufficiently aware of people’s unconscious interactions and do not understand how unconscious factors influence team performance. Most companies also lack the skills and perseverance to constructively address issues related to emotional safety and trust. We have conducted the study around mindfulness and collective intelligence to point out that it is highly relevant today to start a conversation about collective intelligence, emotional safety and mindfulness.

Still, while the importance of collective intelligence grows significantly, it remains one among multiple elements and measures that business executives have to keep an eye on. Moreover, companies and even science is only at the starting point of fully uncovering collective intelligence and ways to actively influence it.

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To start the discussion about collective intelligence, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments – just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors. Companies can for example use surveys and interviews to ask employees whether they believe the company has clearly articulated that emotional safety and psychological safety are goals and whether they understand how to create such safety.

To improve collective intelligence, executives can launch a ten-week mindfulness coaching program with their leadership team and measure the impact. The results of this pilot will likely demonstrate that mindfulness has a positive impact on emotional safety, collective intelligence and other factors like decision making or productivity. Following a successful pilot, a company can adapt mindfulness training and habits to suit its culture and roll out a program across the organization. To convince the skeptics, it is essential to apply deep expertise in mindfulness training. Those companies that succeed will fully realize their collective intelligence and thereby reap the rewards of new ways of working and cross-functional teaming.