3 ways to increase your team’s smarts

by | Mar 18, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

LEAFIf you have a STEM team, make sure it includes at least one LEAF.

Even if your team’s area of expertise is other than STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), you can still bolster the team’s collective intelligence by making sure you add some special attributes.

A LEAF will help.

As I defined it several months ago, a LEAF is a team member who:

  • Listens well.
  • Engages others in conversation and actions.
  • Articulates team goals, tasks and other important issues.
  • Facilitates problem solving, decision making and team dynamics.

These LEAF attributes can help mitigate the challenges teams often face: innovating, solving problems, making decisions and executing.

These tasks can be challenging for teams of all sizes, shapes and IQs. In fact, having the smartest people in the room/team doesn’t guarantee high team performance.

Research supports the concept of adding a LEAF to your team.

More specifically, Anita Williams Woolley, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at The Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, and her team found evidence in how to improve a team’s collective intelligence.

In their report, Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups, published in Science October 2010, they said that teams can be smarter than their individual team members when the teams undertake these three steps:

1. Select team members who are at least average or higher in social intelligence.  This involves being socially aware, including being attuned to others, being empathetic, and putting yourself in others’ shoes.

2. Ensure that team members take turns in conversation. In other words, don’t let a few team members dominate the team’s discussion and proceedings. Get others involved, especially if the team has introverts who don’t live to talk. Also be aware of a strong team leader who may stifle the rest of the team. (That can be more challenging for the team’s long-term health and success, especially if team members view speaking up about this as a career-limiting opportunity. It may be more palatable to the leader and the team members to bring in an outside facilitator for meetings, at least special meetings.)

3. Include females on the team. Females generally have higher social intelligence than males. This is especially in terms of being aware of the importance of this for keeping team harmony. See “Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men?”  by Dan Goleman.

Some team leaders form smart teams intuitively. Take my sister the engineer who’s just assembled a special team for a specific client project at the engineering consulting firm for which she works.

She told me she selected the members of her “A” team for their focus on clients, their technical skills and their soft skills. The latter included their reliability, speed, task-orientation, their ability to work well and play well with others, commitment to deadlines, communication (talking, writing and listening) and facilitation.

She was pleasantly surprised to recognize that her STEM team has LEAF qualities in all its members. And it also happens to be an all-female team!

How’s the collective intelligence of your team?

Do you have enough LEAF qualities? 


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