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How to Improve Your Organizationís Group Intelligence

By Luis F. Solis, CEO and President, GroupSystems Corporation

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 Ďcollaborationí, 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 canít 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 Ė thatís more than four days Ė 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: IBMís Global CEO Study (2006) revealed that innovation, the imperative for survival and growth, is the CEOís 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 itís time for a change from individual to group intelligence. To improve group intelligence instead of solo worker productivity, organizations should:
  • Embrace an understanding of what group intelligence means
  • Master five fundamental ways to innovate through effective group sessions
  • 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 Ė 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.

Whatís 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 & Gambleís idea room enables teams to create new products and marketing campaigns. SAICís 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 nationís 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.

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 whatís 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 racecourse, without a set time to start, or basic rules of etiquette and competition. Imagine the Americaís 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.


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