Harnessing the Power of Collective Intelligence in the Workplace

Today’s marketplace doesn’t just demand talented leaders—it requires leaders that amplify the talents of others. I recently had the pleasure of reading Liz Wiseman’s excellent book, Multipliers, in which she presents the results of two years of research into the type of people she calls “Multipliers.” She uses this term because these leaders manage to multiply the intelligence and talents of everyone around them.

Wiseman explains, “Multipliers are genius makers. Everyone around them gets smarter and more capable. People may not become geniuses in a traditional sense, but Multipliers invoke each person’s unique intelligence and create an atmosphere of genius—innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.”

Most of us have had the experience of working with “Diminishers”—managers who seem to drain the life out of every meeting room they enter. Too few of us have had the fortune of working with a true Multiplier. But, thanks to Wiseman’s research, we can all put some basic principles into practice that can help us be amplifiers of the intelligence of others.

In this post I’ll focus on the concept of collective intelligence. The basic principle of collective intelligence is that more heads are better than one, i.e. we are more intelligent when we put together our unique skills, experience, and knowledge than we are alone. At its most basic level, leadership is about harnessing collective intelligence.

One of the first things leaders must do in order to build collective intelligence is to determine the skills and talents that each individual brings to the table. This requires an attitude of looking for the best in people instead of focusing on their flaws.

If you’re unsure of where to start, consider conducting a skills inventory with each employee. Ask questions that focus on positive rather than negative qualities, such as:

  1. What aspect of your job do you feel you exceed at?
  2. What problems do you enjoy solving the most?
  3. What skills or attributes are you often praised for?
  4. What would you like to learn in the future?

Maximizing collective intelligence requires leaders to make smart decisions about how to allocate tasks. Before making decisions, spend time observing your team. Pay attention to when they are most engaged and excited about their work. When in doubt, consider hiring a coach to help you carry out and analyze these observations.

How are you working to maximize collective intelligence in your organization? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached via my website, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.

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