Effective Teams and Collective Intelligence

Effective teams require more than brainpower. They need emotional intelligence and collective intelligence that allows each team member feel safe to express thoughts and ideas, even if they are disruptive – and perhaps because they are disruptive.

Effective teams require more than brainpower. They need emotional intelligence and collective intelligence that allows each team member feel safe to express thoughts and ideas, even if they are disruptive – and perhaps because they are disruptive.

Working in teams is a new norm in business, but all teams aren’t created equal. Google has conducted research to find out what makes the best teams click. One of the attributes is a bit surprising.

Google has identified five forms of collective intelligence that enhance team success. The most important, Google says, is providing a safe-zone for team members to say what’s on their mind and share ideas.

Google has identified five forms of collective intelligence that enhance team success. The most important, Google says, is providing a safe-zone for team members to say what’s on their mind and share ideas.

Project Aristotle was started by Google to study the effectiveness of teams. The research found two key characteristics – everyone contributes to the conversation and team members have an above-average ability to read other people’s emotions.

If emotional intelligence is a key factor in determining team success, how do you go about forming effective teams? The first instinct is to bring in the brightest lights in the categories relevant to the team’s work. You can ask everyone to bone up on emotional intelligence – and get some mentoring if they are deficient.

But Google kept digging and discovered other factors are important to team success. Julia Rozovsky, Google’s people analytics manager, realized that smarts and emotional intelligence weren’t enough to ensure success. How the team functioned and group norms were critical factors – “traditions, behavioral standards
and unwritten rules.” You might call it the collective intelligence of the team.

As Rozovsky told Inc., the five top factors include:

  1. Dependability – team members fulfilling assignments on time and meeting expectations.
  2. Structure and clarity – teams have clear goals and team members well-defined roles.
  3. Meaning – work holds personal significance to team members.
  4. Impact – team members buy into the team’s purpose and foresee positive impacts.
  5. Psychological safety – security to say what you think and take risks.

The last factor is the most interesting, and evidently the most significant factor, because taking risks can mean disrupting a team. But Google’s research found creating a judgment-free zone at team meetings unleashed ideas and opinions that otherwise might not have been expressed, enhancing chances of overall team success.

The finding reinforces the old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” but takes it a step further by underlining the importance of respecting all the brains in a room.