Building Collective Intelligence in Remote Teams — Andy Sto

Oftentimes managers focus on individual staff members’ skills and abilities to perform their jobs, and overlook the contribution of collective intelligence. Recent research on collective intelligence shows that it’s critical for good collaboration among team members, which can lead to problem solving and higher efficiency and performance.

So how then can managers help to build collective intelligence? And is it possible for remote teams to have collective intelligence? These are some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to managing team performance. MIT has been studying group collaboration for many years and have found that where staff are located isn’t as important as many assume in terms of collective intelligence. Instead it’s how the work gets done and who performs the work that really seems to matter.

Research shows that we can foster collective intelligence through remote work

Instead, how the work was actually being done and who was doing it, was more important in terms of collective intelligence and effective collaboration. Specifically, it’s important for teams to identify who is best at different tasks and then allow that person to show leadership in that area. It’s likewise important to get teams to coordinate their efforts to ensure project completion.

That means that staff need to have the right skills for the job, and also the social skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) to collaborate effectively. It also means that employers don’t need to worry about remote work preventing teams from working collaboratively and effectively together. Instead, it just means that having good collaboration processes are important and hiring people with the right skills and emotional intelligence is also critical.

How can we build collective intelligence?

1. Team Diversity

2. Social Perceptiveness

The MIT study shows that people who are sensitive to their colleagues, and don’t dominate conservations but rather allow for taking turns, had better collective intelligence.

Generally that also means that you should try to avoid having people on your team who want to stand out and always take the limelight. And it’s best to also avoid having people who slack off and don’t do any work in a team. Instead, you need committed teammates who are sensitive and collaborative.

3. Share knowledge and intelligence

That’s why it’s good for managers to actively create measures and processes that encourage teams to share their knowledge and experiences. This can be done by encouraging open dialogue discussions and brainstorming sessions that allows everyone to have their say.

Individual team members also need to be enabled and empowered to to research and look for relevant information and then share it with the group.

4. Hire positive, collaborative people

5. Encourage joint attention

Often by discussing and collaborating on issues and tasks, teams can collectively achieve better performance than they could by working individually.

How to evaluate your teams’ collective intelligence

  • How diverse is your team? And specifically, is there a good gender ratio amongst your team?
  • Are there established processes for your team to share information and collaborate on tasks?
  • Does your team have a high level of social perceptiveness and awareness?
  • Is there good team cohesion and a positive company culture?
  • Does your team work together jointly on projects?
  • Do you have a high staff turnover or high levels of staff retention?
  • Do you have a company culture of hiring people who are collaborative, cooperative, and positive? And when you hire people, do you consider how they would get on and contribute towards the team dynamics — or do you only focus on their skills?

Workplace tools to enhance team effectiveness

These include:

● Communication & engagement tools

These include tools like Zoom and Google Meet for hosting virtual check-ins and meetings. Tools like Slack also help team members to send direct messages or team messages and enables quick information sharing, opportunities for collaboration and the ability to pose questions.

● Project Management Tools

Basecamp is another great project management tool that lets you collaborate and track progress of a range of projects all in one place.

● File and Info Sharing Tools on Virtual Drives

Tools like Google Drive are great for this, as long as you have a Gmail account. Virtual drives also help teams to manage projects better and record decisions and information.

● Time Management Tools

They also help to create reminders for meetings and events and enable diary scheduling which can help you avoid getting double-booked for meetings.

There are also other tools like Timely that can be used to track how much time employees spend on different tasks, which can be useful in managing efficiency and productivity.

● Virtual team-building tools

Final thoughts on remote work teams and collective intelligence

Research has shown that teams that have better collective intelligence, tend to perform better, which is often what employers want their staff to do. This means that managers should not only focus on strengthening individual capacity and skills, but should look at team dynamics and better team effectiveness and collaboration in the workplace.

The good news for virtual employees from current research is that collective intelligence can be fostered whether the team is working at an office, or remotely. There just needs to be a focus on processes and team attributes that support enhanced collective intelligence.

Originally published at on November 8, 2021.

Digital Nomad focused in #remotework and #digitalnomadism