How to Make Your Team Smarter

Nano Tools for Leaders—a collaboration between Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management—are fast, effective tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes, with the potential to significantly affect your success and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.

The goal

Adam Grant is the Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management at Wharton; host of the podcast WorkLife; and author of five New York Times best-selling books. This Nano Tool is adapted from his latest book, Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things (Viking, 2023).

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.”

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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.

Putting people together in a group doesn’t automatically make them a team. Neither does convening a group of individual experts and giving them a problem to solve. Research reveals that the smartest teams aren’t composed of the smartest individuals. The best teams are aligned around a common goal, evaluated on a collective outcome, organized around a unique role for each member, and motivated to share their knowledge and coach each other regularly.

He knew that considering ideas from a range of people was key to success because there was no one “super leader who had all the answers.” He set up a brainwriting process, gathering ideas from around the world via a website and enlisting a team to vet the submissions. Then, he created a lattice system that allowed a young engineer delivering drilling equipment to come directly to him with an unconventional idea for accessing the miners.

Contributor to this Nano Tool

Published: Monday, January 22, 2024 – 12:02

Every team has hidden potential. Sometimes people’s strengths aren’t recognized; other times their voices aren’t heard. Unlocking the hidden potential in groups requires leadership practices, team processes, and systems that harness the capabilities and contributions of all their members.

Action steps

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Surface and leverage the collective intelligence of your team with the right leadership practices, team processes, and systems.

3. Create a lattice hierarchy rather than a ladder. Most organizational hierarchies are set up to reject unproven ideas. They give one person the power to shut down suggestions. Conversely, a lattice system uses an organizational chart with channels across levels and between teams, providing many possible paths to the top. Different from a matrix, which puts a number of different bosses or managers above you who can hold you back and shoot you down, a lattice system’s goal is to produce multiple leaders who are willing and able to help move you forward and lift you up.

How leaders use it


How to Make Your Team Smarter

Wharton’s Adam Grant discusses unlocking hidden potential

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