I just read an article about group performance in the October issue of Science Magazine. A group of academics from Carnegie Mellon and various MIT entities studied whether there is something called collective intelligence that exists in groups of people - just as it exists in individuals -- and makes it possible to predict the group's performance on a variety of tasks. The results of two studies they conducted support their hypothesis that collective intelligence - the authors call it the "c factor" - exists in groups.
Then the authors-Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher Chabris, Alex Pentland, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas Malone-set out to examine what causes the c factor. They found that some factors they thought might be a good predictor of collective intelligence were not, such as group cohesion, motivation and satisfaction. What they did find were three factors that significantly correlated with group performance and the c factor:
The average social sensitivity of group members
The variance in the number of speaking turns by group members
The proportion of females in the group
The article notes that the number of females in the group was correlated with the social sensitivity factor, since women in their sample scored better on social sensitivity than the men. So, groups with more women, where social sensitivity was high and where there was a more equal distribution of conversational turn-taking did better on their group tasks.
This has important implications for the formation of future groups to perform tasks. Will organizations in the future use a collective intelligence test (as they might administer an individual IQ test in the past) to determine the best make-up of a group and to raise the intelligence of groups that are formed? Will electronic collaboration tools be created that can help increase group performance? And will more women be asked to take on greater roles in selecting and managing groups, utilizing their skills in social sensitivity and collaboration, to achieve higher results?
These are topics that organizational behaviorists will be considering as they come up with new ways to manage actual and virtual teams for higher performance.