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What Makes Teams Smarter? More Women, Says MIT’s Thomas Malone

By August 12, 2014 February 15th, 2016 No Comments

It defies logic: an elite team of an organization’s top performers fails to deliver, falling short of expectations. It happens often, and organizational visionary Thomas Malone believes he knows why. Groups need more – and more effective – social intelligence, he says.

Just because you have really smart people in a group doesn’t mean you have a really smart group, explains Malone, MIT Sloan Management School of Management professor and founding director of its Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI). He asserts that a critical factor of group performance isn’t traditional “smarts,” but social perception – the ability to observe and correctly read the emotions of others.

Though proven to be the most statistically significant, social perception is only one of three “genomes” of collective intelligence. The others are:

  • Equality of contribution: when one or two people dominate, the group tends to be less intelligent
  • Proportion of women: because women are, on average, more socially perceptive than their male colleagues, the higher the ratio of women to men, the better the team performs

When it comes to team effectiveness, we are what we see in each other, Malone says. And if this acumen can be learned, his research suggests the performance of teams (and companies) can be dramatically improved. After all, individual intelligence is difficult to change. But businesses can heighten the intelligence of the groups they design by changing the people in them, presenting great potential to improve productivity, spur innovation and more effectively deliver other important outcomes.

The collective intelligence research – originally published in Science, highlighted in the Harvard Business Review and most recently featured in Strategy + Business– strengthens Malone’s renowned theories on technology and the “Future of Work,” and how to build more intelligent organizations. Its implications are impressive, profoundly influencing such things as the type of people we look for in collaborative environments, the conditions under which we create and run collective efforts, and the results we seek to realize by creating smarter groups.