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#Articles Alexis Niki

Collective Intelligence: building a more responsive organization

25 Jan 2020

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Meeting the challenges of today’s turbulent business environment requires a shift from a centralized mindset toward greater agility. Leaders know they need to invite collaborators to contribute insights to the decision-making process. One way to encourage more participation without loosening control is by optimizing the collective intelligence already present in an organization.

Thomas W. Malone, founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence in Boston, Massachusetts, defines collective intelligence as “groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent.” His examples include companies, families, and even entire countries. In fact, any group where people come together to share knowledge and insight could be considered an example of collective intelligence.

By this definition, your organization already benefits from collective intelligence. Your collaborators pool their insights, knowledge, and skills every day in the service of your mission and your clients. Their input adds up to a body of knowledge far greater than the expertise of any one individual. But although collective intelligence is always humming in the background of all of your initiatives, it’s not necessarily visible. What if you could facilitate bringing the collective intelligence of your teams to the foreground, the better to maximize its benefits?

Let’s say a client wants to encourage the procurement department to improve collaboration with internal clients. First, we design a session for the buyers alone. They come together to discuss their understanding of the situation before meeting with the internal clients. We then invite the internal clients to the table, and we facilitate a constructive exchange that allows each side to speak and to be heard by the other. We use a variety of creative approaches to keep the session engaging and the exchange positive, even when difficult issues are raised. During this first session between the two sides, we focus on establishing a foundation of shared meaning. As each side learns more about the challenges faced by the other, people drop their defenses and become more empathetic. Thanks to this foundation, participants become able to imagine new solutions. This is collective intelligence in action.

Depending on the length of the program and the complexity of the mission, the problem-solving phase might require multiple sessions. There may also be additional steps involving other stakeholders. This slow roll-out ensures smoothness and increases the participants’ sense of accomplishment in their own transformation.

Create a time and space for your teams to tap into their collective intelligence. This will show that your organization values your collaborators’ perspective. According to Malone, when organizations shift to a more decentralized process they’re likely to find that “people are more highly motivated, they work harder, they’re often more creative. They’re willing to be more inventive, to try out more things. They’re able to be more flexible… And often, they just plain like it better.”  (Will collective intelligence change the way we work? – From the MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog)

Get in touch with us if you’d like to know how you can optimize the collective intelligence of your organization.

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