Could there be a science to group success?

If you had to form a team to work on a problem, what kind of team members could ensure your group’s success? What sort of “skills” from its members would make for a really good team, whether face-to-face or online? Should they all have the same kind of smarts? Should they be homogenous in terms of gender?

While there is no shortage of studies measuring, characterizing, “brain scanning” people so we could understand “individual intelligence” more, there don’t seem to be as many studies on “collective intelligence”. But as many of our modern problems increasingly require creative collaborations, I think this is the insight that our collective lives are aching for – whether in school, at work or even in our recreational or works related to the causes we choose.

That is why the study that came out last December 16, 2014 may just help us negotiate the collaborative lives we live, whether these lives are carried out face-to-face or online.

By “ a really good team,” I mean being effective as a group, achieving the task laid out for them. Studies refer to this as “collective intelligence.” In the study I mentioned, the researchers tested 272 persons divided into 68 4-member teams. The teams were either placed in an online group or face-to-face. Then they were given a battery of tests that involved several tasks that “speak” of intelligence, such as: generating tasks (example: figuring out the many uses of a brick), choosing tasks (selecting specific correct answers), executing tasks (involved typing a set of text or list of numbers), remembering tasks (storage and retrieval of a memory of a video or image) and sensing tasks (where they have to identify patterns in a noisy environment). The resulting scores were processed to yield a score for each group’s collective intelligence.

But what followed were the crucial parts of the study – they asked each of the participants to take two known tests:  One Reading the Mind in the Eyes (RME) and the other is the Five Factor Personality Inventory (FFPI). RME involved identifying mental states of another based only on the image of their eyes. FFPI measures the aspects of adult personality in terms of ranges in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and neuroticism.

The study showed that RME was a good predictor of group intelligence better than individual intelligence or personality type. The better the group members are in reading other people’s emotions through their eyes, the better the chances for the group’s success. And this was true even in the groups who undertook the battery of tests as an online group and not face-to-face.

I have tried RME myself a couple of years ago. I did it online. Among my family members and my close circle of friends, I would never be voted the most social so imagine my own shock when I aced the 36-item test. Apparently, RME is not simply about being sensitive to what the eyes express but figuring out what they may think or feel. It is called ToM or Theory of Mind. It turns out that people who are good at this would most likely contribute to a successful group. I have not really thought about my RME score in relation to my own track record in “group success” but this study is changing that.

And that is not all that the researchers learned about group intelligence.  It turned out that having a lot of intelligent people in the group did not necessarily mean that your group will have sure success. Not unless they have scored well in RME.  The other is that the groups who only had a few members in command of the group did not exhibit as much collective intelligence as those who facilitated a conversation among all the members of the group. In terms of gender, those groups who had more females in the group scored better in group intelligence than those with the fewer females. This is I think something that my male classmates in college have always known when we were to pick members for group work back then.

The most astounding revelation was that the results were the same for the groups who worked face-to-face and for those who worked only online. Even without the cues from the eyes, the group intelligence of the online groups was significantly affected by RME scores.

But we don’t now how far we can take the results in terms of online collaboration. It may have worked for certain tests but how about for generations whose social interactions are largely online, far from the  “ordinariness” of face-to-face conversations that previous generations have had? How will they hone their REM capacities if face-to-face encounter is the rarity and online engagement is the norm? How do we improve their ToMs?

The study was right in citing that reading fiction has been proven to show that it can improve the way you sail your social ship but I think there is still something contrived about being raised for the most part by characters in a book, no matter how wide-ranging their emotions swing in each great story you read.

So if you are in the middle of a project right now, collaborating in a group, you may want to consider these new insights from science and kick out some of your members or maybe invite some others. – Rappler.com