7 Ways to Make All Teams Smarter

Teams, like individuals, can be smart or stupid.*

Three factors impact team intelligence:

  1. Social sensitivity. Be aware of emotion. Bring it up when someone seems detached, disturbed, excited, or curious. “Barney, this idea seems to interest you. What’s going through your mind?”
  2. Diversity. It’s seems self-evident that heterogeneous groups are smarter than homogeneous groups. 
  3. Turn-taking during the meeting.

Teams are stupid when one or two people do all the talking.

How to promote turn-taking:

#1. Safety.

People are afraid of saying something stupid. Get dumb ideas on the table.

  • Let’s make a list of dumb ideas.
  • How might a dumb idea be made smart?

#2. Keep teams small.

Engagement goes down as numbers go up. Large teams allow drifters to hide. Shoot for five or six people around the table, no more than 8.

#3. Preparation.

You’ll miss the wisdom of introverts if you expect extrovertish spontaneity from them.

  • Publish agendas a day or two before the meeting.
  • Assign agenda items to individuals. “”Wilma, would you be prepared to speak to item 3?”

#4. Invite quiet members to speak.

  • “Wilma, what might you add, if anything?” It should be safe for Wilma to say, “I don’t have anything to add at this time.”
  • “Barney, what’s coming to mind for you?” This question makes space for imperfect spontaneous response.

#5. Set a social tone.

Banter creates connection.

  • Begin meetings with a personal question. “What did everyone do over the weekend?” If this question seems uncomfortable, you need to ask it.
  • Outlaw cell phones and email.

#6. Notice team dynamics.

  • Honor participation. “I’m really glad you jumped in, Fred.”
  • Notice energy. “This was a lively conversation.”

#7. Meet in the morning.

Most of us are dumb and lethargic between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Tip: Define the win. “What will be different if we succeed?”

What prevents vibrant conversations during meetings?

How might leaders get their teams talking to each other during meetings?

*Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups

*What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team