How to Raise a Group’s IQ

The smartest groups are composed of people who are good at reading one another's social cues

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What makes a group intelligent? That is: What enables a team of people to effectively solve problems and produce solutions? You might think a group’s IQ would be simply the average intelligence of the group’s members, or perhaps the intelligence of the team’s smartest participant. But researchers who study groups have found that this isn’t so.

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Rather, a group’s intelligence emerges from the interactions that go on within the group. A team’s intelligence can be measured, and like an individual’s IQ score, it can accurately predict the team’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. And just as an individual’s intelligence is malleable and expandable, a group’s intelligence can also be increased. Here are five suggestions on how to guide the development of smart teams:

1. Choose team members carefully. The smartest groups are composed of people who are good at reading one another’s social cues, according to a study led by Carnegie Mellon University professor Anita Williams Woolley and published in the journal Science. (Woolley and her collaborators also found that groups that included a greater number of women were more intelligent, but the researchers think this is because women tend to be more socially sensitive than men.)

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2. Talk about the “how.” Many members of teams don’t like to spend time talking about “process,” preferring to get right down to work — but Woolley notes that groups who take the time to discuss how they will work together are ultimately more efficient and effective.

3. Share the floor. On the most intelligent teams, found Woolley et al., members take turns speaking. Participants who dominate the discussion or who hang back and don’t say much bring down the intelligence of the group. Alex “Sandy” Pentland, an MIT professor who studies group dynamics, has found that in smart teams, members connect directly with one another — not just with the team leader — and they’re constantly engaging in “back channel” or side conversations that supplement the main discussion.

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4. Foster informal social connections among members. The smartest teams spend a lot of time communicating outside of formal meetings, says Pentland. He tells of a call center where team members’ coffee breaks were staggered across the workday. Changing the schedule so that all members had a coffee break at the same time led them to do their work more efficiently and feel more satisfied with their jobs.

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5. Be open to external influences. In the most successful groups, Pentland discovered, team members regularly take off on their own to explore and discover. They then bring that information back to the group, invigorating the group’s work with fresh insights from the world outside the conference room.

This article is from the Brilliant Report, a weekly newsletter written by Annie Murphy Paul.

10 comments
SteveKruckheimmer
SteveKruckheimmer

Actually, the best ideas emerge from individuals, not groups.

RickFromTexas
RickFromTexas

I know how to raise the IQ of the United States, just deport all the republicans.

SarahLaMerePedersen
SarahLaMerePedersen

@anniemurphypaul @sianbeilock Hi Ms. Paul- where did you get the research from in this piece? I'd like to use it for some of my graduate school work.