(This is the one version of the blog I wrote as the Executive Director of Research for VitalSmarts).
Congratulations. You’ve just been asked to assemble the smartest team in your organization. This will be the Einstein, Ninja, Go-To, Delta Team that will have to solve the toughest problems you face: How to increase growth by 70%, how to cut costs by 25%, how to rebrand the company, and what to do if the CEO’s spouse repeatedly staggers up to monopolize the Christmas Party Karaoke machine again next year.
Who would you choose to be on your Brainiac Committee? You could line everybody up by their IQ scores and pick the ones at the head of the line, or you could pick people who have a cool British-sounding accent, or you could pick that one person on the second floor who was a runner-up nominee for the Supreme Court. But according to an article in the journal Science, if you really want the smartest team that was going to make the best decisions, you should use a different approach.
The article dives deep into collective intelligence. The authors analyzed 699 people who were working in teams of two or five to solve a wide range of problems like brainstorming, moral judgements, and negotiation.
As it turned out, two things differentiated the teams that made the smartest decisions from the rest. First, teams where one or two people did most of the talking made less intelligent decisions than groups where everyone spoke up.
Second, teams with higher percentages of females made better, more effective decisions. They were more sensitive about getting input from everyone; they were better able to reach compromises, and they were generally more effective. This is consistent with an earlier 2006 study by Wellesley professor, Sumur Erkut, who showed that having two or more women on a corporate board brings “a collaborative leadership style that benefits boardroom dynamics by increasing listening, social support, and win-win problem solving.”
The research shows women are less polarizing, more collaborative, and more likely to reach a solution that makes everyone happy. The New York Times columnist, Bruce Feiler, recounts a story of having dinner with a Google executive who said, they always make sure there is more than one woman at a meeting. Their decision was based on this study. Turns out “diversity” isn’t just a fair word, it’s also a smart word.
The high-performing teams in the Science study tended to weigh options, encourage everyone to speak up, and to compromise better. These may be skills that come more naturally to some people than others, but they are all skills we can learn. In fact, they’re skills we’ve been teaching for 30 years. And yet, we just can’t assume they come naturally to everyone. Find ways to enable your people to learn the dialogue skills the enable everyone around the table—regardless of power, position, or authority—to speak up. And look carefully at the makeup of your teams. Be sure they are diverse enough, in gender and experience, to create a dynamic where thoughtful and smart decisions are made.
If you get it right, that diverse, dialogue-armed team of yours might also be able to solve that Christmas Party Karaoke problem. More karaoke, yes. More eggnog, no.
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I'm Brian Wansink, and I've been lucky to work with lots of wonderful researchers to discover insights on how to help people become more effective, happier, and more meaningfully connected with each other.
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