What makes some groups perform better than others?
A new study published in Science found that three factors were significantly correlated with a group’s collective intelligence — in other words, its ability to perform a variety of tasks collectively, from solving puzzles to negotiating.
The three factors are: the average social sensitivity of the members of the group, the extent to which the group’s conversations weren’t dominated by a few members, and the percentage of women in the group. (The women in the study tended to score higher on social sensitivity than the men.) In other words, groups perform better on tasks if the members have strong social skills, if there are some women in the group, and if the conversation reflects more group members’ ideas. The groups studied were small teams with two to five members.
The study was conducted by Anita Williams Woolley of Carnegie-Mellon, Christopher F. Chabris of Union College, and Alexander Pentland, Nada Hashmi and Thomas W. Malone, all of MIT.
Interestingly, the researchers found that collective intelligence wasn’t strongly correlated with the average intelligence of the individuals in the group — or with the intelligence of the smartest person in the group. They also found, as they wrote in Science, ”that many of the factors one might have expected to predict group performance — such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction — did not.”
For more on Thomas W. Malone’s ideas about collective intelligence, see MIT Sloan Management Review’s Spring 2010 interview with Malone.