Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Build collective intelligence for excellence

Team members in effective agile teams can excel thanks to each other’s alertness, such as the football players of Barcelona with their tikkie-takkie football, the jazz musicians in their joint improvisation and the management team at Sri developing business models. Collective intelligence is an important predictor of team performance in the future with sensitive team members who interact mindfully with each other. These capabilities are key for excellence in teams at all levels. Interacting team members are in a permanent learning process creating so-called collective meaning structures. This requires intensive interactions in action and in after-action reviews. Agile meetings can be used to build collective intelligence. Managers should facilitate and agile learning advisors support.

I start my argument on what has been studied in the area of group intelligence, and then I would like to go to bat for the concept of collective meaning structures. Is collective intelligence (CI) able to adequately predict the performance of a team? The answer is yes. According to Woolley & Pentland (2010) it appears that general collective intelligence explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. It is not correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members (IQ): 1 + 1 = 3. A football team with star players is not just a top team. It is no coincidence that just an inventor introduced the concept of Collective Intelligence: Doug Engelbart with the computer mouse. It is also no coincidence that the building of collective intelligence is a priority in research of MIT.

The usual definition is:
Collective intelligence (CI) is the ability of a group to perform a wide variety of tasks, to collaborate and effectively coordinate a number of tasks, which in turn are predictive of the performance of the group in the future. 
This definition raises questions:
1. How does a team with a high collective intelligence (CI) develop?
Teams with a high collective intelligence show a constant improvement in performance and they seem to better internalize information and apply it to work over time.

2. How sensitive is CI for the communication between the team members?
Very. Woolley (2015) states that collective is closely correlated to the amount of communication, to an equal contribution in the interaction and to the degree of social sensitivity of group members. Social sensitivity is about the ability to read in the eyes of the other how things are going with the other person; it is about the ability to 'read' between the lines what someone says.
For excelling you need sensitive team members 
The number of women in a team is not surprisingly also a significant predictor, the more women the better and that could be related to sensitivity ... Some diversity between the team members is important and that also determines the quality of interaction between team members (Woolley, 2015).
Do you want to excel as a team? Invite women to your team ... 
3. Do top-down and bottom-up measures affect the CI of a team?
CI is affected by both. Top-down is about structures, norms and routines in which collective behaviour is organized in such a way that it increases the quality of coordination and collaboration. In the study by Woolley (2015) it was perhaps surprising that CI in well functioning groups is not predicted by bottom-up processes in the field of group satisfaction, social cohesion or psychological safety. CI is therefore slightly different from a measurement about the quality of relationships in a group. Besides, large differences in age within the team have a negative effect on collective intelligence (hierarchy), while it has a positive effect on the level of satisfaction (the mentor).

4. Is the definition culture-related?
According to Engel (2015) not. The cultures of America, Japan and Germany are all equally susceptible to it. Cultural diversity within a team promotes collective intelligence.

5. Should you be able to see each other?
It is striking that CI also applies to people who can not see each other (telephone conversation, video conferencing, etc.).

In a team with a high degree of collective intelligence, team members show corresponding facial expressions: non-verbally they sub-consciously tune into each other. So-called physiological synchronicity is an indicator of CI (Kim, et al, 2017)

Organizations will increasingly ask themselves how to raise their IQ together with learning computers or with the use of artificial intelligence. The organization IQ will increasingly be determined by the human-machine interaction and by human x machine intelligence. Artificial intelligence and learning computers gives the concept of collective intelligence an extra dimension with opportunities. Collective intelligence is also concerned with the question:
How can people and computers (machines) be connected, so that they can operate collectively, more intelligently than any person, group or computer did before? 
Recently I contributed to the  publication of Sogeti: AI (artificial intelligence) first; learn from the machine.

Collective meaning structure (CMS) 
So far Collective intelligence for now. I would like to say below that we may be better able to speak of collective meaning structures. These structures arise from group interactions, which are unique to the team and are the result of a joint interaction. They can include ideas, concepts, argumentations as well as behavioural patterns, styles and problem solutions. From social constructivism it is assumed that a kind of mutually cognitive contamination process starts in groups where the diversity of perspectives, knowledge and experience of the participants become interrelated. The team process leads to the creation of Collective meaning structures. Interpersonal skills are not a luxury but a bitter necessity.

A CMS mainly develops when there is so-called task dependence (interdependence): team members need each other to achieve something. You see it well with project teams, where team members need each other to handle the complex reality. This also means that managers with support from the Agile Learning adviser will try to promote the interdependence between team members as much as possible.

Each team member brings his or her own capabilities and skills, combined with his own assessment of the situation. This assessment is based on his own image of that collective reality and his or her assessment of which action best contributes to the realization and maintenance of the collective field of meaning. It is also unlikely that one person has the total collection of collective meaning fields in his head. It is precisely the variety of images that makes it possible to respond flexibly to environmental variations. A system, a team, is indeed viable as long as it is able to handle that external variety (Beer, 1972). And the handling capacity is the greatest where the variety comes in, according to Beer, must the outside world(management) therefore rely on the team(trust), you should not disturb a breeding chicken and you should not want to disturb a collective meaning structure. Interaction between teams, on the other hand, might require smart intervention of management.

Shared reality construction 
In 1983, Weick & Roberts presented the collective mind model for group intelligence. They argue that group intelligence arises and manifests itself in the collective behaviours and interactions of the team members, from which a global structure emerges. The emergence of group intelligence is a process in which the group comes to a so-called 'shared reality construction', a CMS. Group intelligence arises through and in the behaviour itself. An engaged or mindful interaction stimulates a rich set of individual images and contributes to the richness of images that can be brought to the table and processed in the collective sense field. The collective sense field is always linked to a specific social context that is unique to that context. It is that specific combination of people who activate cognitions together in a certain situation, which ensures that a collective image of reality arises. She is unique to the team and can not be transferred to another team. The emergence of group intelligence is a process in which team members interact with each other and with the phenomena or problems that people are working on, through different stages before arriving at a shared reality construction.;

Below I give a number of examples of a collective meaning structure.

Personnel on an aircraft carrier
On an aircraft carrier many people are involved in placing aircraft on deck before departure, landing and 'storage' below decks. It is clear that a small mistake can have disastrous consequences, the loss of an expensive plane speaks for itself. Also a delay of a few seconds is out of the question. It is crucial in such situations that all actors are alert and very well-tuned to each other; that they have a collective meaning structure (Weick 1983).

Tikkie takkie football from Barcelona
It is quite clear that players in a football team need each other to score. Interestingly, the example of Barcelona's tikkie takkie football is that a player at the moment of the ball shooting to a fellow player, immediately changes position. With every shot, the situation actually changes and is responded to. 

Jazz musicians
A group of jazz musicians does the same, when playing every note, one anticipates the contribution of the others. The question is how a jazz orchestra from an unknown music score creates a meaningful piece of music. Of course by playing the score a couple of times and gradually forming a picture together of what the end result should be. This is the process of organizing on which Weick wants to get an intellectual grip. He asks himself with a certain sense of wonder how it is possible that people discover meaning in their chaotic reality together (Weick 1983, Schön ....). Part of the answer must lie in the concentrated attention with which one creates an CMS together.

Theatre group
A theatre performance requires the utmost concentration of all involved. You can do this during rehearsals by carefully following the rehearsals of your fellow actors, even in scenes where you are not involved. Just then the play can become a whole and bring the purpose to live.

Medical Team around the operating table
Medical surgery requires teamwork. It is precisely in more complicated surgeries that mindful communication with all those involved is literally vital, and everyone involved will have to respond incredibly well. Hierarchy can frustrate and hinder listening and cooperation for collective intelligence and equal and balanced communication is crucial.

Top kitchen
The kitchen in a top restaurant is also a working environment where it is crucial that people are well attuned to each other. Joris Bijdendijk, the top chef of Rijks restaurant, sees the kitchen team as a family that constantly helps each other: "the bond created by working together in a kitchen is immensely intense". Dependence is of great value, you have to be able to trust each other blindly. 

Value creation and development of business models with weekly pizza sessions
The history of SRI shows a good example of working with a CMS. Curtis Carlson, former CEO of SRI, the developer of Siri that was finally sold to Apple, was aware that the top company SRI was not clear about its value proposition. He put a (MT) team of about 15 people together with the requested skills, values and credibility. Every Monday evening they organized a pizza session for 1.5 years (!) In a session, usually a team member presented a short value proposition and then the discussion started. It was a great learning process and the first 18 months there was not much progress, he says retrospectively. Under water, however, much happened: Carlson and his team were working hard to develop a collective meaning structure, with an intensity whereby members crept into the client's needs and gradually started to interact very mindfully with each other; team members became very skilful at throwing the ball in each other’s courts. A salient detail is that Carlson managed to keep the urge to develop something on hold for 18 months.
It is clear that team members cannot constantly perform at the top of their ability, you cannot be mindful or alert all the time, you have to make an effort and it falls under system 2 of Kahneman. One is really not practicing 8 hours a day with coming and going of fighter aircrafts on an aircraft carrier. The football players of Barcelona may play 2 matches a week and the jazz musician may play a few times a week. In the kitchen of a top chef top performance is asked for every day. Of course a lot is practiced on the aircraft carrier and every extensive exercise is discussed intensely, on the football training and the follow-up discussion after the game, the jazz musician who drinks a beer after the concert and back at home, so to speak, replays the session but now on his own. It may be clear that a management team does not build collective intelligence with the half-yearly awayday in a conference venue.

According to Weick & Roberts, the collective meaning structure evolves organically. It is not there as such, but is always being reconstructed. Group members view a situation, measure it against the collective field of meaning and then take action, with everyone complementing each other and anticipating each other. This also means that team members will have to maintain it; after a holiday the football team or the MT may have lost part of its meaning structure; it is no longer in the foreground and the antennas are less sharp.

Be mindful and becoming aware for ecollective intelligence
In a group behaviour feeds the collective meaning structure. Attentive or mindful interaction is a crucial condition for the emergence of group intelligence (Weick & Roberts, 1983). The team members should be motivated to invest time and energy in understanding each other. Noteworthy interaction means that the team members have dedication and involvement for other team members, monitor critically and alertly what is happening and are attentive to what the other members say and do. By paying close attention to each other, they gradually discover which group images translated into behaviour are in line with each other. Subsequently one can add to each other's behaviour by observing at what is happening and who does what and what not in the context of the collective sense field. It is precisely the combination of the shared collective meaning field, looking at and complementing each other when reality does not match the collective sense field (behavioural pattern), that teams are capable of carrying out complex and flexible behavioural patterns: on the football field, in the boardroom and in the jazz orchestra. Communication with each other develops a complex breeding ground that is better able to deal with complex situations than smart but isolated individuals. Attention is important for top football players, artists, excelling teams and it appeals to mindfulness or mindful awareness (Varela, 2003). Attention to the other is finally linked with attention for yourself, alertness starts with becoming aware. Social perceptiveness in the (work) process focuses on the intimate connection between activities and their consequences; that means less attention for the plan and much more attention to the activities in the now.

Whether the potential of teams is fully exploited depends on the interaction between team processes, collective meaning structure and quality of leadership / holding environment (Klimoski and Mohammed, 1994).
As far as team potential is concerned, it is illustrative to quote Johan Cruijff: the difference between a good and bad football team is in technique, discipline and character (Winsemius, 2017). It is about individual and team technique or the skill of the team game; not for nothing Agile uses so many rules. It is also about team discipline, the other team members must be able to count on you to perform agreed tasks (see the strict structure of scrum) and that you jumps in when someone else needs help (value cooperation). And the final piece is team character (resilience); you do what you need to do, you remain calm and steadfast, even if you are behind with nil to one score ten minutes before closing time.

Agile and collective intelligence 
In an agile working environment, the ingredients are present through which teams can develop a collective meaning structure. The interdependence between team members is strengthened especially by the daily stand-ups and also by the two weekly retro and review meetings. During a sprint meeting something can happen collectively; team members will become more and more conversant and intuitive in passing the ball to each other and will respond to each other better and more mindfully. The daily collaboration between people from different disciplines and the anticipation of customer demands reinforces the collective meaning structure. Programming in pairs at Menlo Innovations is a good example of this. For example, through day-to-day collaboration, people from customer service will better understand the IT dilemmas and vice versa. It is not yet the case that one is able react immediately in the action, like in a football match or during a jazz concert and yet it comes close.  

Mindful interaction
In a pleasant learning and interaction climate, conversations will increasingly develop from the third dialogue phase to conversations with 'presencing', in which a generative joint flow arises. You could also call it team flow.
Figure 1 Socratic conversation phases supplemented by Scharmer
In the fourth phase of the conversation, the subconscious can become aware with a chance that teams build up collective intelligence or meaning structures. It may be clear that you use a different language with football players or maybe do not communicate, but you are looking mindful for the team flow. Of course, team flow does not just happen, you work with each other to develop it and the agile learning advisor supports it. It is useful that team members, for example, experience the precensing or theory-U methodology and gain insight into what it can deliver. When there is a lot of attention at team level for mindful interaction with each other and team members are familiar with a few useful methods, this will have an effect on the other (informal) interaction moments between team members. During the follow-up discussion at the end of the meeting, you discuss with each other whether there were opportunities for a 'presencing' conversation or if the team missed these opportunities and what the reason was. When something of precensing and 'flow' arose, it is useful to discuss how it went, how the 'presencing' conversation could be fed even more, what disturbances there were and how to avoid it next time.

Mindful preparation and evaluation 
For a collective meaning structure, it is crucial that people talk to each other before and after the high impact event. On an aircraft carrier you cannot write an extensive reflection message when the planes arrive, the footballers at Barcelona cannot take a time-out. Jazz musicians will not take a break in a separate room to have a try and the medical surgery in the hospital cannot be stopped for several hours. And this also means that the two-weekly retrospective sprint team meeting must take place in peace and with intense attention for good conversation. All actors then trust that everyone is fully aware that nobody is distracted. All actors are therefore so attuned to each other that the smallest non-verbal signal is often enough for the other person to anticipate.

In the army or in a professional sports team, preparing and evaluating the exercise or competition is high on the agenda. In the kitchen of the top chef, thorough preparation is also very important. It requires a lot of practice, guidance and team discussions to achieve that top performance. Important matches are to a large extent won on the training ground, emphasized Johan Cruijff (Winsemius, 2017). Creativity is a matter of hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, tenacity and perseverance (Csikzentmihalyi, 1996). Picasso made also many dozens of sketches and trial paintings for his master piece Guernica. You see this working practice less in many work contexts; such as after a huge disruption in the factory or after an important negotiation of the team with an external party. Often a performance is barely prepared, the coaching of employees is limited and team meetings rarely discuss the way of playing and the team process. Often you may observe that after the high impact meeting a project team members immediately rush on to a next appointment, or all disappear with a firm step to their own car or flee to all those messages on their smartphone. This is a shame, because immediately after the high impact event, all the antennas are still out, everything is still in the foreground and then it takes much less effort to become aware. Where there is a lot of room in the sport for personal development, training, learning from each other and looking back on delivered performances, there often seems to be little time for this in work, it is just what you choose.
When it is about life and death(army) and when a team is in the spotlight (sport), we take the conditions of excellence seriously. When it comes to work, it seems less important ......... How come?

Collective intelligence is built up in action with each other. It requires discipline, intimacy and it also takes time for nothing (slack time). This can be organized. For excellence, you constantly create situations in which collective intelligence can grow in teams at all levels. The agile learning advisor seizes every opportunity and managers facilitate it. Social perceptiveness is of decisive importance for the building of collective intelligence. That means paying attention to small crucial signals of your discussion partner; becoming aware is an art and you can practice that. And then do something with it, a mindful interaction is important. In addition, pay a lot of attention to the after-action review. You need an adequate and tailor-made organizational structure through which collective intelligence can grow, use for example the agile meetings through which a collective meaning structure and a new mindset of mindful work will develop. This increases the chance of team flow and collective creativity.

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