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Are Your Business Meetings Productive: Lessons from a CMU Study on “Collective Intelligence”

February 21, 2011

  Recently, I met Patricia Rodella, a partner of a law firm here in Pittsburgh, Pa.  Sitko, Rodella & Bruno, LLC (SRB) focuses on commercial real estate and corporate matters.  Check out their cool website.  www.srb-law.com .  To my surprise, Pat told me that all three of the partners in her firm are women, which took me aback.   I have never personally known a law firm that has all female partners; to the contrary, in every law firm I have ever known, male partners outnumber female partners by several multiples.

     Pat told me about an article regarding a study performed by psychologists at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) regarding the systematic examination of COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE in the performance of human groups.   Pat and I talked about the synergy she shares with her partners and the productiveness of firm meetings.

The CMU Study                                                                                                                                       In two studies with 699 people broken up in to working groups of two to five, these psychologists found converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks.  THE “C FACTOR.”   To the surprise of many, the C Factor was not strongly correlated with how smart the people were who comprised the group as measured by the average or maximum individual intelligence of each group member.  Instead, the C FACTOR was more correlated with three things:

  • Average social sensitivity of group members
  • Equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking
  • Proportion of females in the group

I get the turn-taking and number of females in the group notions, but what is “social sensitivity”?  I googled it.

     Interpersonal sensitivity refers to the accuracy and/or appropriateness of perceptions, judgments, and responses we have with respect to one another.  It is relevant to nearly all aspects of social relations.   Social sensitivity includes an awareness of deception, emotion, and personality.  See http://www.socialpsychologyarena.com/interpersonal-sensitivity-9780805831641

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     I have long been a student of leadership and always cognizant of the feeling of synergy, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, doing more together than what you can on your own.   These are powerful concepts.  

     Given my experience in leadership activities, MBA school, law school, law firms, and even my family, the findings of this CMU study make a lot of sense.   I think back to team projects in which my group clicked and did not click.  I think back to Sunday family dinners during which we would discuss an issue.

     Business leaders, given these findings, how will you plan to make your group tasks more efficient and productive and your enterprises more profitable?  How socially sensitive are the leaders of your firm?  Do you encourage conversational turn- taking in your board rooms?  Are your groups gender balanced?  To what extent are your employees socially sensitive?  If they are not, how can you instill that in them?

     The CMU study also notes that these findings are informative as we communicate electronically more and more in both our professional and personal lives.   Texting, emailing, instant messaging, Skype, conference calls, online meetings.  How can electronic collaboration tools be improved based on these findings?  We shall see.

Email me at salene@mazurkraemer.com  if you would like a copy of the study.

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