The Group Mind or The Team Advantage

By Carl Robinson, Ph.D., copyright 2005

In today’s business it’s obvious…or it should be, that each of us has only a part of the expertise or information we need to get our jobs done. As a result, we are more dependent on each other than our “American” independent spirit may want to acknowledge. We were raised on the myth of the “individual” who can rise to the top and do anything if he or she only tries hard enough. That only gets us so far anymore.

Robert Kelly of Carnegie-Mellon University has been asking people for over 20 years “what percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind?” In 1986 the answer was about 75 percent but by 1997 the percentage had slid to between 15 – 20 percent. (1)

According to Howard Gardner of Harvard in “Frames of Mind,” “intelligence does not stop at my skin.” “My network of associates -- office mates, professional colleagues, others whom I can dispatch electronic messages and my computer and other databases (web)” are important.

We need each other.

And… believe it…the group mind is frequently smarter and can generally make better choices. For example, in one experiment, students studied and worked in groups while taking a college course. For their final exam, they first took a portion of the exam individually. Then, after they turned in their answers, they were given an additional set of questions to answer as a group (they hashed the questions out together). Results from hundreds of these groups showed that 97 percent of the time the group scores were higher than those of the very best individuals. (2, 3). Have you ever noticed that in the television show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” that when the contestant asks the audience to pick an answer, the audience choice is right more often than the so-called expert that the contestant queried over the telephone.

For the executive and leader, not surprisingly, an even more important point is that we’ve discovered that some groups/team out-perform others because of some very important reasons. Superior intellect and technical talents alone do not make people great team members. All things being equal the team that works better as a team will out score and out perform teams where the members do not function well together.

In a study of group IQ by Wendy Williams and Robert Sternberg at Yale, the interpersonal skills and compatibility of the group members emerged as key to their performance. (4) They found that those team members who were socially inept, out of tune with others’ feelings, were a drag on the whole effort – especially if they lacked the ability to resolve difference or communicate effectively. “Social effectiveness of the group predicted how well it would do, more than did the individual IQs of its members!” There conclusion: “Groups perform better when they foster a state of internal harmony. Such groups leverage the full talent of their members.”

Now, internal harmony does not equate to complacency. I’ve help some highly motivated, assertive teams improve how they work together and they didn’t miss a beat. In fact, they got more done because less time was spent on dealing with interpersonal B.S. that undermined how they functioned. According to Daniel Goleman of Harvard, “lubricating the mechanism of the group mind so that it can think and act brilliantly demands emotional intelligence.”

So, how do you build internal harmony? The primary task is to engender trust. Once you develop trust, you can work toward collaboration. Then the fun begins. Because team members who trust one another can collaborate to help each other develop. Your fellow team members are in the best position to provide developmental insight, encouragement and reinforcement to you and each other. And, through mutual accountability, you can keep each other on task. The team that holds each other to your developmental commitments grows together.


Books and articles cited in this briefing:

  1. “Working with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman
  2. “Group Versus Individual Performance” by G. W. Hill
  3. “Interactive Minds” by Roger Dixon
  4. “Group Intelligence: Why Some Groups are Better Than Others” by Wendy Williams and Robert Sternberg