Group Intelligence

Working in an academic medical center often means working in teams. Some teams seem to problem solve quickly while others get bogged down. What makes for an effective group interaction?

Scientists have studied the dynamic of work teams. An NPR story last week featured the results of a research project designed by Anita Woolley, an organizational behaviorist at Carnegie Mellon. She had groups of up to five people work on tasks that required brainstorming, arriving at the right answer, or engineering a novel solution.

The data showed that groups where conversation was evenly distributed and multiple perspectives shared performed better at the tasks. Somewhat provocatively, Woolley also found that the higher the proportion of women in the group, the better it did. This reflects less any innate intelligence of women but rather their sensitivity to social environments.

Woolley and her collaborators published their findings in Science. It’s encouraging that group efficiency rests not on the intelligence of its members but on their democratic problem-solving. I’m not sure if the findings indicate that an all-female team is the most efficient of all, but it does prove the power of listening to your colleagues.


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