Unlocking Collective Intelligence

Unlocking Collective Intelligence

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By Christian Greiser, Jan-Philipp Martini, Liane Stephan, and Chris Tamdjidi

Does mindfulness foster an organization’s collective intelligence? A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Awaris demonstrated a connection: 31 teams (totaling 196 people) that participated in a ten-week mindfulness program showed an average increase of 13% in collective intelligence, as measured by tests developed by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

The concept of collective intelligence—the capability of a group of people to solve complex problems—is not new. But the increasing interconnectedness of knowledge work and the growing variety of problems have raised the profile of collective intelligence as a competitive differentiator. So, companies need to understand the concept more systematically and scientifically. 

One key to unlocking the potential of collective intelligence is mindfulness—a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge. Leading companies have introduced programs to unleash the power of mindfulness among their employees. But most of these companies have not focused explicitly on the opportunities to use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence. 

Solving Today’s Complex Problems Requires Collective Intelligence

Companies today must manage rapid innovation cycles and the deep interconnectedness of knowledge work. To address the challenges, many companies are investing in setting up cross-functional, agile teams. But to transition to truly dynamic ways of working, a company must fundamentally transform how cross-functional teams interact and collaborate. This requires bringing forth an emergent property of their system: the collective intelligence of their teams

We define collective intelligence as a group’s ability to perform the wide variety of tasks required to solve complex problems. Collective intelligence is not dependent on team members’ IQ, knowledge, or ability to think logically or on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence (people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others) and emergent properties such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation. This description is supported by studies conducted by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Google’s Project Aristotle. BCG’s experience across a large number of transformations to new ways of working and agile methods also points to emotional and noncognitive factors as the key drivers of collective intelligence. 

Tapping into the Power of Diversity

Diversity is among the foundational elements of a team’s collective intelligence. In this context, 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. 

To tap into the power of diversity—with respect to both expertise and world views—a company must create an environment in which individuals are willing to risk stating their opinions and to be receptive to listening to others. This requires integrating a team’s diversity. 

Teams whose members are not well-integrated exhibit many dysfunctions. Members often lack a sense of joint purpose and struggle to engage in teamwork. The failure to properly integrate a team’s diversity can actually diminish its collective intelligence. 

Mindfulness Provides a Potential Solution 

Companies already apply approaches that foster collective intelligence. They are increasingly proficient at setting up diverse teams, breaking down organizational silos, and implementing open information systems. However, companies often do not explicitly recognize how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.

Most notably, 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.

Mindfulness provides a potential solution for meeting these challenges. Many companies have introduced mindfulness into their organizations, primarily to help their employees maintain well-being and improve their clarity of thinking, cognitive abilities, and ability to stay calm. However, only a few organizations (progressive entities including the European Commission, Google, Hilti, and SAP) have also applied mindfulness to transform the collective capabilities of teams. 

Most people who regularly practice mindfulness have an intuitive understanding of its connection to collective intelligence. What’s more, the effect of mindfulness practice on collective intelligence is objectively measurable. Awaris and BCG conducted extensive research to confirm the hypotheses of this article. We measured the collective intelligence of 31 teams, totaling 196 people, from a large German automotive company and a political organization. We took measurements twice—before and after a ten-week mindfulness program. (See the sidebar “About the Study.”) After the mindfulness program, the teams’ collective intelligence—measured through four diverse problem-solving tasks—increased by an average of 13%. (See the exhibit.) Moreover, we found that mindfulness is significantly associated with emotional intelligence and that individual and group mindfulness scores predicted a team’s collective intelligence.

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Mindfulness practice fosters collective intelligence by allowing us to redirect our mental attention skills (for example, capabilities of the working memory or our ability to focus on the task at hand) toward more expansive, awareness-based skills. More specifically, mindfulness practice strongly influences a person’s self-awareness of the body’s internal state (interoception) and mental processes (metacognition). Interoception and metacognition help us regulate our reactions to emotions and behaviors. By improving our ability to get in touch with our own emotions, we also enhance empathy—our ability to vicariously share the experiences of others. 

By increasing self-awareness and empathy, mindfulness impacts two areas that directly promote collective intelligence: 

  • Communication and Prosocial Behavior. Team members who embrace mindfulness are better listeners and can react in an emotionally intelligent way when tension or disagreement arises. Their style of interaction encourages other team members to speak up and participate in creative processes and allows them to integrate their diverse cognitive styles. 
  • Leadership. Mindfulness training helps leaders improve their ability to self-reflect. Mindfulness is also associated with important leadership capacities such as flexibility, authenticity, and humbleness.

Three Steps to Applying Mindfulness 

To use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence, a company must take three steps. 

  1. Provide mindfulness training. Mindfulness practice comprises a set of mental and emotional exercises that affect the functioning of the brain in a measurable way. Several proven methods of mindfulness training can help team members and leaders establish a personal mindfulness practice.   
  2. Anchor mindfulness in teams. Mindfulness can evolve from a practice to a state and eventually become a trait—when the various underlying skills have become embedded in a person’s mental and emotional makeup. Team interactions provide valuable opportunities to embed these skills. To promote mindfulness, organizations must clearly state that teams should practice three simple types of habits that foster psychological safety and collective intelligence: 
  • Attention and Focus. Teams need to establish specific habits that promote attentiveness. For example, a team can observe one minute of silence before the start of each meeting. In addition, how team members deal with devices, listen to each other, and speak can significantly affect the degree of presence and openness in the meeting.  
  • Care and Positivity. When people feel trust, efficacy, and appreciation, they engage and contribute. When they do not, they hold back and divert their energy to other things. As a result, demonstrating care and positivity in teamwork—noticing what colleagues have achieved and done well and appreciating their contributions—can be very important to improving the sense of bonding and community. 
  • Emotional Awareness. Allowing emotions to surface and be expressed becomes a natural part of what it means to work together. Processes for surfacing emotions include having check-ins during which team members share how they feel emotionally before a meeting, as well as regular retrospectives in which members share their feelings on the interactions within their team. 
  1. Establish metrics and track behavior changes. Just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments. As a starting point, companies can 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. 

Learning more: About the Study 

Thirty-one teams, composed primarily of people with managerial responsibilities, participated in a ten-week mindfulness training program that was specifically adapted to the work context. The study focused on investigating whether a team’s collective intelligence can be enhanced by mindfulness training of its members.

To measure collective intelligence, we used a set of four diverse tasks developed for this purpose by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence: 

  • Moral Reasoning. Teams received a case study of a problem that presented conflicting interests among several parties. We asked the teams to determine, from an ethical perspective, the most suitable solution for all parties. Responses were scored by the degree to which the groups considered the balance of competing perspectives in the problem.
  • Creativity. Teams had to build a complex Lego structure while taking into consideration tight constraints relating to size, quality, and aesthetics. The resulting Lego structure was scored on the accuracy of meeting those constraints. 
  • Output Optimization. Teams were scored after performing a shopping exercise in which they had to maximize the quantity and quality of goods purchased while minimizing the costs of goods and time spent shopping. 
  • Judgment. Teams had to estimate and agree upon quantities for 20 diverse questions (for example, “What was the highest recorded temperature in the US?”). Teams were scored based on the accuracy of their estimations. 

The selection of the tasks was based on Joseph McGrath’s model of group tasks. This ensured that we covered major aspects of collective intelligence, such as decision making, task execution, generation of innovative ideas, and negotiation. 

In the first session of the program, we randomly assigned one, or in some cases two, of the tasks to each team. We scored each team’s performance of its task. During this initial session, we also conducted an individual assessment of each team member’s mindfulness (using the “Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire”) and emotional intelligence (using the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test). 

In the final session of the mindfulness program, we repeated the process. We asked each team to perform one or two of the tasks that it had not previously performed. We then scored its performance on the new task and conducted another assessment of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. 

At the conclusion of the study, we used the arithmetic mean of the improvement of teams’ performance scores for the four tasks to determine the increase in collective intelligence. We also correlated the results of the individual assessments of mindfulness and emotional intelligence to determine the extent to which these two attributes are associated and predict collective intelligence.  

About the Authors

Christian Greiser is a managing director and senior partner in the Düsseldorf office of Boston Consulting Group. You may contact him by email at greiser.christian@bcg.com. Jan-Philipp Martini is a consultant in BCG’s Düsseldorf office, supporting clients around the world on enterprise-wide agile transformations.  You may contact him by email at martini.janphilipp@bcg.com. Liane Stephan is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris. You may contact her by email atliane.stephan@awaris.com. Chris Tamdjidi is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris and is responsible for the organization’s efforts relating to neuroscience research and technology. You may contact him by email at chris.tamdjidi@awaris.com.

Next Normal.

Next Normal.

One possible next normal is that decisions made during and after the crisis lead to less prosperity, slower growth, widening inequality, bloated government bureaucracies, and rigid borders. Or it could be that the decisions made during this crisis lead to a burst of innovation and productivity, more resilient industries, smarter government at all levels, and the emergence of a reconnected world. Neither is inevitable; indeed, the outcome is probably more likely to be a mix. The point is that where the world lands is a matter of choice—of countless decisions to be made by individuals, companies, governments, and institutions

Unlearning & Relearning.

Unlearning & Relearning.

By Deb Geyer | Chief Responsibility Officer, Stanley Black & Decker

The benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) draw closer. They’re starting to feel real, almost within reach, promising greater value that extends across the business community and touches all levels of society. Which means we’re at the point where we could take them for granted and miss out entirely. Fully realizing the potential of 4IR will require a more inventive, inclusive approach to talent development, and some serious unlearning of outmoded ways, paired with learning contemporary methods. Today, even as 10 million global manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to gaps in skills and education – gaps that will only widen as Industry 4.0 technologies advance – the 4IR future requires all of us to unlearn and relearn in order to create new paths forward.

As you think about the changes your organization will need to make to compete and grow in this shifting environment, here are a few insights based on our own journey.

Make unlearning and relearning part of your talent roadmap

Any upskilling roadmap today must build human capital through personalized learning and continual development. Learning needs to be ubiquitous, part of the job. In our case, the learning mix includes advanced vocational training, STEAM education, a certification programme specifically designed for our workforce, and new maker spaces – hands-on innovation environments that offer a wide range of equipment for training, upskilling and hackathons.

But we have found the paired “unlearning and relearning” opportunities we are creating are in some aspects more powerful, and are accelerating overall growth in unexpected ways. For example, at our Lighthouse Facility in Jackson, Tennessee, we are pairing people who are early in their career with experienced employees to accelerate mutual unlearning and relearning in areas such as human-machine interfaces, connecting digital and engineering disciplines across generations. It’s a collaborative model worthy of replication in the 4IR future.

The multiplier effect from such an intensified focus on development is clear. A shop-floor operator named Lana, who works in a different area of the Jackson facility, stands out in this regard. Lana not only embraced her training, she also began training the other operators in her area. She also took it upon herself to optimize the way all of the machines were set up.

Imagine collaborative co-mentoring models and employees like Lana emerging at scale, and you begin to see how an unlearning-inspired talent roadmap could empower 10 million makers and creators to thrive in the 2030 economy.

Align development efforts with next-generation curricula

As the pace of change accelerates, organizations will increasingly need to invest more learning and development resources not only in their own workforces but in the broader labour markets and surrounding communities – and do so for the long term. Partnerships with public and private organizations offer compelling solutions that both strengthen today’s workforce and reshape curricula for the next generation of students.

For example, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a partnership model designed by IBM in 2011, provides local high school students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a vocational field. Students graduate with both a high school degree, a no-cost, industry-recognized associate degree, and relevant experience they can immediately apply in a high-paying “new-collar” job.

By investing both in the current workforce and in tomorrow’s, organizations can ensure that we are strengthening the talent pipeline and our communities for the long run.

The coming decade will be a pivotal time for organizations to establish successful 4IR trajectories. This requires a willingness to unlearn, learn and relearn the concept of accountability.

The way we think about our own 4IR prospects is best expressed by our new 2030 corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, which specifically aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and represents the most material issues for our organization.

Pursuing that strategy on a global enterprise scale has required us to develop a rigorous governance structure and process, and keep improving it. For the past two years, our CSR strategy has been supported by multiple levels of oversight across the company, all the way up to the executive steering committee, which includes the CEO, CFO and senior vice-president of HR; it is also championed by the corporate governance committee of the board of directors.

Now we’ve taken another step, adding an external advisory panel consisting of expert stakeholders who advise on CSR strategy. The enhanced governance structure provides board-level rigour and best-practice guidance to ensure that the company continues to meet its stated goals not only in terms of product and environment, but also from the standpoint of talent and governance. While we are in the early stages of rolling out this new structure, we believe that organizations will need to continue to raise the governance bar and take a more comprehensive approach to ensure accountability.

On the path to 2030

I sometimes think about this process of unlearning, learning and relearning as a kind of cook book – a living repository of successful recipes to transform business models in collaborative ways.

The ambitious goals of 2030, combined with the unmet societal needs we encounter every day, favour such an approach. You cannot progress and succeed in the 4IR without advancing the people who brought you there. The next decade, and the many innovations it holds, will come at us fast. We must be bold and seize this moment, both with a willingness to invest in talent and in our communities in completely novel ways, and with a recognition that greater governance is not a check on progress but a catalyst for positive change.

7 Questions to change your Daily Meetings.

7 Questions to change your Daily Meetings.

By Florian Lefebvre

Holding a daily meeting early in the morning is often considered one of the first steps of “becoming Agile.” You get your team together, and everyone says what they’ve done the day before, what they plan on doing today, and mention any issue they might have faced.

The problem is that, more often than not, when you get to it the magic just isn’t there. You find yourself with a group of people standing up together and talking aimlessly. You might even start being mad at them for not having things happen the way you see them in your head.

Here are simple questions to ask yourself to help you improve your daily meeting.

Why do you have a daily meeting?

When you set up this practice in your company, you might know precisely what you’re expecting to get out of it. Or you might have heard that it is a great practice, that it will help make your company more Agile.

You might want to try to use this daily meeting as a way for everyone on a team to synchronize, make sure the project is on track, and have an opportunity to help each other.

Now, whatever your reason is, you need to have one. If you can’t find one good reason for taking people’s time every day, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to simply put an end to it.

Is it a ritual?

The best way to anchor a daily practice in everyone’s mind is to make sure everything happens in the same setting every time. You want to make it a habit for people to be there daily.

Do you have the right space for holding your meeting? You need a place where you can fit your whole group. If the location you choose, may it be behind a desk or in a dedicated room, can’t hold your entire group at the same time, then you might have to rethink your choice.

Have the meeting happen every day at the same time. Your daily meeting should be a ritual, which means starting right on time, but also being timeboxed. It should never last longer than the maximum amount of time allocated to it. A maximum of fifteen minutes usually prevents from becoming a full-on meeting.

Do you have visual aids?

Talking as a group about what is going on with the project is great. But it might be hard to keep every task’s current status in mind. What is being worked on? Is this feature completed? Have we fixed this production issue?

One way to help get everyone on the same page is to have a visual aid. It might be a wall with post-it notes holding everyone’s tasks, or a Trello board on a screen. Maybe it’s your internal ticketing system or even a list on a whiteboard.

Whatever you choose to use, adding a visual component to your meeting can help make the various discussions more concrete in people’s minds.

What are people working for?

People will feel more invested in their daily meeting, and the project in general, if they feel they have a reason to. Yes, they are paid, that’s why they’re there and why they do the work.

But being invested is more than that. It’s about finding meaning in your work, knowing that you give a part of yourself for something. People must have a goal that they can get behind.

If your team members really are trying to accomplish something, they will use the daily meeting as a tool to reach that goal.

Do they work together?

It might seem like a weird question, but if you put people together and have them talk about what they’re working on, they better be sharing work at some point.

It’s not enough that they are in the same team or company. If they work on different projects that have nothing in common, then they aren’t really working together.

If you’re in this situation, you have one of two choices. Either you have people work together more, or you split your meeting in two or more meetings.The Power of TeamworkThe benefits of being an actual team for you and your companymedium.com

Do people know what is expected of them?

Going back to the first point, where you have this perfect vision of a meeting in your head. Have you shared that vision with your team members?

For people to participate and do well in their roles, they need to understand the role. What are they supposed to share? When are they suppose to intervene during other people’s speeches? What liberties do they have? What are the do’s and don’ts of the meeting?

Make sure the rules are clear for everyone so that people can be at their best.

Have you asked others for their opinions?

You have a vision for what this daily ritual should be like. Whether it happens how you want it to or not, remember that you are working with human beings.

People participate in this meeting every day. That makes it their meeting too. How do they like it? What issues can they see? What would they change to make it better? Having people share ownership of the meeting by being allowed to make it better will definitely make them more invested. It will matter to them on a whole different level.

Feel free to experiment

Rome wasn’t built in one day. The right recipe for your daily meeting won’t be found in one day either. You have to allow yourself and your team to experiment. Make sure you’re honest about how things go, what works, and what doesn’t. Only through regular improvement will you find what works for you and your team.

You don’t have to know it all.

You don’t have to know it all.

“Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn more than they teach.”
~Rosabeth Moss Kantor

By Chatsworth Consulting Group

Somehow, we think that, as leaders, we need to know everything, and then bestow this wisdom on those around us. We are afraid to show our foibles and concerned that others might think less of us if there is something we’re not sure of. We struggle to look good (and smart) at most, if not all, times.

But I think, and I’ve noticed through my own experience as well as through observing clients for quite some time now, that we are actually stronger leaders when we do just the opposite. When we show our foibles, let others know that there are things we’re not sure of, and let ourselves look not so good (or smart) at times, we become more powerful role models because we’re role modeling learning. And learning – and being open to learning – is a tremendous leadership skill.

When we admit our humanness and are willing to show that we’re willing to make mistakes, to learn and to grow, we offer those around us the opportunity to admit their humanness as well. When we push back against the misconception that a leader must be all-knowing and must have an answer in every situation, we make it okay for those around us to not have answers as well. And when we can admit that we might not have all the answers, we are more open to perspectives and solutions that might have been closed off to us.

I practice this willingness to not know with my clients as well. There are times when my clients ask for my opinion on a situation or my thoughts on what they should do, and while I may give them my perspective and thinking, I always preface whatever I say with the acknowledgement that I do not know their best answer and that I most likely could not know their best answer. I am not them. I am not as close to the situation (or people) as they are.

Being willing to not know – being willing to not have the ultimate answer – opens us up to curiosity, and curiosity opens us up to innovative approaches to complex situations and compassionate interpretations of tense relationships.

And when we can model this innovation and compassion to those around us, we model a powerful way to lead and a thoughtful way to be.

How have you expanded your leadership by being open to learning?