Do Women Really Raise the Collective Intelligence of Groups?

August is typically a month I take a break with Written by Hand but something’s on my mind…

According to MIT research, the collective intelligence of a group is determined by three things: (1) the average social perceptiveness of the group members; (2) the evenness of conversational participation; and (3) the proportion of women in the group. The conclusion? Women raise the collective intelligence of groups.

I indulged a smug smile for a moment or two. I may well indulge again.

But candidly? I bet this is less about women in the group and a lot more about the other two attributes listed that we characteristically encourage and bring to the table: evenness of conversational participation among group members and social perceptiveness.

Let’s look at this in a “typical” work scenario. A senior executive engaged me to work with his senior leadership team to reduce conflict and to move the team to consistently high performance. The talent was there. The appreciation, respect, and hopefulness were also there. So what was contributing to the conflict and hindering performance? Two things:

  1. The senior executive needed to increase his social perceptiveness. His style of communicating inhibited the very type of participation and input he sought.
  2. The team members weren’t aware of the behaviors they already knew and engaged in that contributed to high performance. These behaviors were soft-side skills– tied to participation and social perceptiveness as well.

Addressing both elements led to an immediate improvement and steady improvement thereafter, which had a direct, positive impact on day-to-day productivity, on the team’s well-being, and on the customers they served.

Yes, I’m on the side of women. Women still face challenges: the percentage of women CEOs is small and there is pay disparity at all levels of employment. In some countries, women cannot get credit, own property, or even be born because females are not valued.

But I’m also on the side of men. If you want the benefits of more intelligent teams and groups, go beyond gender. Let the focus be on ensuring that everyone cultivates the attributes of collective intelligence in their team and group interactions!


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