Management and Talent

The Secret to Smart Groups Isn’t Just Smart People – It May Be Women

By June 4, 2015 April 8th, 2016 No Comments

Meetings that accomplish little. Committees that take two steps back for every one forward. Project units that engage in wishful groupthink rather than honest analysis. Everyone who is part of an organization – company, nonprofit, parent-teacher association alike – can attest to the pitfalls of working in teams.

It defies logic, but groups of smart people don’t necessarily make smart groups, explains organizational visionary Thomas Malone. Groups don’t just need brainpower; to work together effectively, they also need social intelligence. Both are necessary for groups to have what Malone calls collective intelligence.

Malone, MIT Sloan School of Management professor and founding director of its Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), asserts that the ability to observe and correctly read the emotions of others is a key indicator of social intelligence. And women often have more of it than men.

According to Malone’s collective intelligence research – first published in Science and most recently detailed in his New York Times’ Sunday Review article, “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others” – groups with more women are more collectively intelligent. This may be because women tend to be more adept than men at “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” (RME), or identifying complex emotions (e.g. shame or curiosity rather than sadness or joy) in people’s eyes.

High RME ability is a strong predictor of group performance, both face-to-face and online. What makes a team smart, however, is not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general capacity for understanding what other people feel, know and believe – an important point shown by Malone’s latest study.

We’re often so dazzled by the long-term promise of artificial intelligence, says Malone, whose theories offer profound implications for the “Future of Work” and how to build more intelligent organizations, that we seem to be missing the clearer and more immediate possibilities presented by collective intelligence – combining people and computers to act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before.