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Collective Intelligence Labs

Specialization and knowledge distribution make collective intelligence increasingly important. As society becomes more specialized and knowledge more distributed, it also becomes more complex. Specialization and knowledge distribution help us develop knowledge, but only at the prize of complexity. To deal with increasing complexity, we will need more intelligence, and under the conditions of specialization, the value of more knowledge can only be realized by integration and coordination. Our focus is the collective intelligence created as people collaborate in all the teams, groups or micro-systems that together constitute an organization. The fundamental question of our research is therefore how organizations can work systematically to support the everyday knowledge integration, and Collective Intelligence created, by people working together.

Why collective intelligence is important

Human history is built on people working together. From the free-roaming nomads, that learned to cultivate, then to industrialize and finally to connect the entire world into a complex web for wealth and survival. Yet, our understanding of the modern world is built on the idea of a society, comprised of organizations, that in turn are collections of individual jobs. A miss in the equation is the notion that almost everything is either done, or controlled by, small groups of people working together. More or less everything in our modern society is at some point dependent on the quality of how individual people cooperate. Countries are not governed by a person, nor by institutions. They are governed by groups of people and depend on the way they cooperate. The services of healthcare, schools, private enterprises, etc. are all dependent on how well small groups of people manage to cooperate. It may seem like a paradox, but as complexity in society grows, our interest in how we cooperate at the level of small groups will increase. We will become more dependent on distributed decision making, and, consequently, need intelligence in addition to efficiency in our organizations. And the source of this intelligence must be the small team, where the knowledge distributed among different experts must be assembled in practice. We need the intelligence people can create together. It is in teams that need the ability to interpret situations, define problems, creatively identify potential solutions, align them with purpose, make decisions, form efficient

Building collective intelligence

It goes without saying that the above is challenging for teams. Especially since different competencies come with different perspectives and priorities, and any complex situation is full of alternative interpretations. We thus need to think of teamwork as something challenging. As something we need to work on – hard – to achieve and improve. But for some reason this is seldom done in organizations. Instead, in most cases we expect people to engage in advanced teamwork without any particular preparation or support. We either assume that all people can work together, or that the teamwork we get is what we can get. Yet, it has long been known that there is a large variation in how teams perform. Teams can do far better, but also far worse, than single individuals. Overall, the average level of team performance seems to be just slightly above what the average individual can do on her own. A result that may surprise many readers.

So, what could we do instead? A large part of this variation in team performance is explained by factors within the teams themselves, such as: the patterns of communication, psychological safety, defensive behaviors, implicit coordination, heedful interrelating etc; Phenomena that are a result of the interaction and relations between team members. This means that the process of integrating knowledge in teams is under no ones’ control. Not the organization’s, nor the manager’s or any other single team member’s, but it is something created by all those involved. This means that it is something that the team itself must work on.