How to Improve Your Organization’s Group Intelligence

Leaders and managers worldwide are struggling with a common challenge: how to expedite innovation, achieve efficiency and reduce process cost at the work group level versus the individual level. Whether called group productivity, team effectiveness or simply by the over-used moniker ‘collaboration,’ the issue is the same. Is this really worth the worry?

With a focus on productivity, global competition and the need to innovate, the average company can’t afford these kinds of statistics:

  • In some organizations, workers spend up to 40 percent of their time on personal Web surfing
  • Nearly 14 million meetings occur in the U.S. each day; more than 50 percent are considered a waste of time by attendees
  • At least 31 hours per month are wasted by professionals in useless meetings – that’s more than four days – and this is a conservative estimate
  • In New Jersey alone, commuting costs $7.3 billion in lost productivity and lateness
  • Individual workers are over-worked, to the tune of nearly 50 hours per week in the U.S., yet team productivity appears to be on the decline

Finally, ponder this: IBM’s Global CEO Study (2006) revealed that innovation, the imperative for survival and growth, is the CEO’s number one focus. One central finding is the growing importance of innovation through non-traditional paths; innovating through business models, in addition to traditional paths.

However, because a vast portion of the computer revolution since 1985 has focused on individual or desktop worker intelligence, leaders and managers are accustomed to looking for ways to achieve greater yield or output from individual workers. In fact, keep a close eye on wikis, social networking and instant messaging because these emerging technologies mimic group collaboration but in fact represent individual actor or worker capabilities. Clearly it’s time for a change from individual to group intelligence.

To improve group intelligence instead of solo worker productivity, organizations should:

  1. Embrace an understanding of what group intelligence means
  2. Master five fundamental ways to innovate through effective group sessions
  3. Take concrete steps to begin testing how group intelligence can be jump-started within the organization and across value chain partners.

Group Intelligence Defined

We are all familiar with the intelligence quotient or IQ measure derived from standardized tests, to estimate cognitive capabilities. More recently leaders and managers were introduced to the notion of emotional intelligence or EQ as a means of shifting focus onto the ability, capacity or skill to manage emotions – either of one-self or a group. While EQ represents a vast improvement over IQ for getting at group effectiveness, its essential focus remains on the solo worker and his or her capacity to influence the achievement of goals. What’s missing is a focus on the group. Group intelligence is a measure of the aggregate ability of a group or entity. Group intelligence pertains to any situation where the problem solving or innovation capability of a group can exceed the capabilities of an individual group member. There are several key requirements for group intelligence to thrive or reach high levels in any organization:

• The number of engaged members in a group
• The degree of engagement by individual members
• Strong group membership feedback, often aided by anonymity
• Adherence to a small set of fundamental rules
• Promotion of creative thinking
• Critical review of ideas for quality control
• Deeply documented group memory
• Some measure of group moderation or facilitation

A growing number of organizations actively practice solid group intelligence hygiene. The Walt Disney Company recently engaged in a highly productive group intelligence exercise to rethink its entertainment park business. Proctor & Gamble’s idea room enables teams to create new products and marketing campaigns. SAIC’s strategic services center seeks to overcome traditional hurdles in military organization thinking. And the U.S. Capital Police have developed group intelligence disciplines to improve security, safety, and logistics at our nation’s law-making body.

In 2006, GroupSystems Corporation introduced the Group Intelligence Quotient or G.I.Q. to assist organizations in their shift from individual worker to group effectiveness. As the research base on group intelligence grows, organizations will be able to compare their G.I.Q. to industry benchmarks, leverage proven methods to establish group intelligence hygiene or improve it, and borrow best-practice techniques and templates for group innovation Learn more at www.groupsystems.com starting in July 2006.

Group Intelligence at Work

Highly innovative groups develop a shared memory and a shared way of solving problems, innovating or improving ideas. This happens to be true whether they work face-to-face, virtually or both ways simultaneously. So what’s the secret sauce? Structure.

Group intelligence requires a measure of structure or an architecture of interaction in order to flourish. Imagine the Boston Marathon without a race course, without a set time to start, or basic rules of etiquette and
competition. Imagine the America’s Cup sailing race with the ability of each crew to devise its own course provided the same distance is covered. Is their any doubt about the chaos that would ensue?

This very kind of chaos is what is quite common in the utilization of wikis, instant messaging, chat rooms and threaded electronic mail. What passes as rich group collaboration in fact is little more than unstructured communication that connects individuals without elevating group intelligence.

Organizations that are serious about group intelligence develop or acquire structured ways of working to address five mission-critical processes for innovation and growth: discovery, ideation, teaming, leading and learning.

  • Discovery - Uncovering who knows what, who knows whom and who knows how to do tasks or projects better, anywhere in the world and outside the native organization
  • Ideation - Generating ideas and ways to innovate, grow or solve problems, thus, projecting the possibilities for the future
  • Teaming - Converging on a few important choices or possibilities that the group may be capable of further developing and supporting
  • Leading - Achieving high levels of consensus by means of complex, rich voting so that all group members are confident that their voices have been heard, their votes counted and that an effective voting methodology was employed
  • Learning - Documenting group work or group memory for subsequent work, for members unable to attend work sessions or for inclusion in other artifacts

Whether the group is responsible for strategic planning or product design or organization development, some or all of these processes are essential to achieve high group intelligence; and each of these processes rests upon:

  1. Some measure of structure
  2. Anonymous contribution so that all voices are heard
  3. The promotion of creative, daring thinking to get outside the
    proverbial box of common possibilities.
  4. Group moderation and facilitation can help a great deal, whether
    it takes the form of a team leader or a third-party consultant

Jump-Starting Group Intelligence

What’s at stake is nothing less than innovation and growth of your
organization. So how do you get started? You should focus on five aspects
of group intelligence hygiene:

  1. Right Group: It is probably best to entrust initial group intelligence sessions to a work group that has a working history and sense of trust and respect, therefore, group focus is on the tasks and outcomes and not on group politics.
  2. Right Challenge: In Europe, just about every organization stages an August or September strategic planning retreat with top management and key workers. Portions of the retreat could incorporate group intelligence methodologies and technologies.
  3. Right Outcomes: At the outset define the nature and types of outcomes that might represent unusual group intelligence, so as to set a benchmark for the work group (e.g., at least five new product
    names, or, at least three new product concepts for the retiring worker population).
  4. Right Place: Make decisions about how essential face-to-face work is, how much virtual contributions are suitable and where (either physical or virtual) the meeting will be conducted.
  5. Right Technology: Many of the most commonly known technologies
    such as WebEx, web-conferencing, wikis and instant messaging or
    email are incapable of enabling group intelligence because they lack
    the structure or workflow capabilities you will need.
    a. Find the right structured collaboration technology for your organization
    b. Ensure that your choice possesses presence control, agenda management, anonymous contribution, various voting tools and capabilities to auto-document the group’s memory or work products. Graphing and charting is also quite helpful.
    c. Finally, a browser-based technology will make a world of a difference for ease of use and instant access by remote members.

Luis F. Solis, CEO/President of GroupSystems Corporation
(www.groupsystems.com), is a well-recognized business leader and venture
investor in collaboration technology, supply chain, and global logistics
management. A graduate with honors of Stanford Business and Law School
(JD/MBA), he is a licensed California attorney who started his career at
McCown de Leeuw & Company in leveraged buyouts. Career positions at GE
Capital and GeoLogistics Corporation have contributed to his expertise and experience in group
intelligence as he has consulted or managed outsourcing programs with numerous Global
1,000 organizations. He resides in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two sons.