Want to increase the collective intelligence of your team? Invite more women. revamp_odeqd23 October 16, 2011

Want to increase the collective intelligence of your team? Invite more women.

With all the hopes and promises of open innovation, team-based creativity, and peer-driven collaboration, effective ways to increase collective intelligence are hotly debated. One repeatedly replicated finding is that IQs of individual members don’t correlate with a group’s collective intelligence – measured by its ability to solve complex problems and to make effective decisions.

In other words, teams are more than just a collection of top talent.

This month’s recent Harvard Business Review adds a stunning piece of data to the debate about what makes a team smarter. More women!

Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone show evidence of a female factor, plotting the collective intelligence scores of the 192 teams they studies against the percentage of women on those teams. Teams with more women tended to show above average collective intelligence scores.

The point here is not so much gender itself but social attunement. Remember the example from Freakonomics? Buying books about raising a child doesn’t make you a better parent. Even reading these books doesn’t necessarily make you one. What counts is that you want to learn more about good parenting.

What makes extraordinary teams stand out is not (just) the individual talent – but the ability to listen to each other, share criticism constructively, or to build on others’ ideas. High performing teams don’t talk about diversity of thought, they live it.

Recently, while doing research on gender differences among leaders, I found the data shown in the picture above. The Center for Creative Leadership had compiled the MBTI® types of more than 30,000 leaders and found the four predominant types shown. While these four types comprise only 22% of the general population, 58% of all leaders find themselves in these categories.

But there is more: Each of these types is a lot more popular with men than with women. In fact, women are outnumbered by a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio.

The effect? Current leadership culture – or perhaps unconscious bias – mean that “thinking” and “judging” are heavily overrepresented. With it comes the emphasis on rationality rather than social attunement, on closure, on planning, on be bright – be brief – be gone rather than on process, on the exploration of options, on adaptability.

Inviting more women into teams results in breaking up this “mono-culture”.

So, after all, perhaps the finding that more women on teams increase collective intelligence isn’t so surprising after all.