How to Make Your Team Smarter

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The story of the 2010 Chilean mine collapse that trapped 33 men under 700,000 tons of rock is well known. But what’s often missing from the story is the $10 device invented by a small-time entrepreneur that enabled contact with the miners—and the 24-year-old engineer whose suggestions facilitated the rescue. Team leader André Sougarret was selected because of his “exceptional ability to listen and reach conclusions after listening to all sides.”

Published Dec. 15, 2023, on Knowledge at Wharton.


How to Make Your Team Smarter

Wharton’s Adam Grant discusses unlocking hidden potential

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Discover and enable the collective intelligence of your team with the right leadership practices, team processes, and systems.

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2. Use brainwriting rather than brainstorming. For more than half a century, brainstorming has been the go-to method for teams to surface new ideas. But there’s ample evidence that shows it rarely works well. Research shows that individuals working separately tend to generate more creative ideas than groups brainstorming together. Good ideas get lost due to pressure to conform, fear of looking foolish, and the difficulty of breaking through the noise. A more effective option is brainwriting: Team members come up with ideas on their own, share them anonymously with the group, and evaluate them separately before the whole team chooses the most promising ones. Collective intelligence requires individual creativity and group wisdom.

1. Choose the right leader. Leaders have the authority to transform a group of individuals into a team, but we rarely choose the person with the strongest leadership skills. Instead, we go for the most talkative person (researchers call this the “Babble Effect”). Mistaking confidence for competence and quantity for quality means that team cohesion and performance suffer. Collective intelligence is maximized when leaders put their mission above their egos. Their goal isn’t to be the smartest person in the room but rather to make the room smarter. They make sure every voice is heard. When someone points out a problem, instead of shooting they reward the messenger.

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