A Focus on collective intelligence

intelligence collective MindForest Luxembourg

For several years now, we have been witnessing – in work collectives – the emergence of notions such as collaboration/cooperation, knowledge sharing, the importance of the quality of interactions between team members, and the development of the capacity for initiative creation and decision-making. All of which are becoming increasingly important with respect to corporate organisational strategies. In order to increase their efficiency and operational performance, some have succeeded in reinventing their working methods, moving from an approach based on individual intelligence to an approach based on so-called “collective” intelligence. In addition to the efficiency and performance of teams, the growing interest in collective intelligence is also closely linked to the increasing complexity of the problems encountered by companies.

Today, most authors underline the fact that this represents an important challenge to the correct functioning of organisations.

But what does this notion of collective intelligence really mean? How can it be identified? And above all, how can it be developed within organisations to improve the way they function?

What Exactly Do We Mean?

When it first appeared at the end of the 20th century, the notion of collective intelligence as applied to the business world was originally inspired by studies carried out on animal collective intelligence. Indeed, even in the 1980s, scientists were still enthusing about the collaborative intelligence of ants and bees. In a work published in 1994, Pierre Lévy[1] described collective intelligence as the capacity of a community to make intelligence and knowledge converge as a means of advancing towards a common goal and achieved on the basis of the quality of interactions between its members.

After a review of the literature, collective intelligence can be defined[2] as:

the whole of the capacities of understanding, reflection, decision making and actions within a restricted working collective resulting from the interaction between its members and implemented to face a given present or future complex situation.

How can we identify collective intelligence within the functioning of organisations?

Collective intelligence will be determined by several components. The first is defined by three elements:

  • understanding which refers to a common representation of the task;
  • collective reflection which refers to learning and therefore to the acquisition of common knowledge;
  • collective decision making which is linked to the fact that the joint knowledge of all the team members has made it possible to take a common decision.

The second component is relational. It is the one that allows the collective to forge links and thus to collaborate together.

Finally, the third component of collective intelligence is systemic and encompasses the two previous components. Indeed, if we consider an organisation functioning as a system which cares about its internal and external environment, we must not only take into account the efficiency of the internal functioning, but also that of the efficiency of the internal supervision structure.

To summarise, the main factors that enable us to identify the practice of collective intelligence within an organisation are: the autonomy of a team and that of the individuals that make it up, the capacity of the members of a group to forge links and trust each other, as well as the capacity of the hierarchical structure to know how to manage and monitor the functioning of collaborative practices.

How can this be mobilised?

First of all, collective intelligence must be desired and shared within an organisation. It is therefore necessary to abandon certain “vices” such as withholding information which, in the “traditional” belief, gives an illusion of power, or no longer believing that “others” are not capable of understanding the information one holds.

Another essential point is the implementation and sustainability of collaborative practices. Collective intelligence is developed through learning in small groups that collaborate, for example, to deal with a work situation or to solve a given problem. Collaborative practices therefore enable people to ask questions and seek answers together in order to take a decision. But before these practices can be implemented, you first need to:

  1. Take interest in the position of the individual in the collective. An individual will be able to express his or her potential (personal resources, skills, experience) if (s)he feels that (s)he belongs to the group.
  2. Create a way of working, which is conducive to the sharing of knowledge/competences in order to be able to mutualise them. To achieve this, you need to raise awareness of the need to change behaviour (so that people are willing to use their potential to serve a collective interest), build trust (to cultivate a collaborative spirit) and create links (putting aside one’s own goals in favour of common goals).

In short, setting up collaborative practices allows a work collective to: Share and mutually benefit from expertise / Benefit from other points of view / Open perspectives / Develop new solutions

No matter what your position in an organisation (CEO, HR Director or operational manager), if you would like to benefit from collective intelligence, you will need to implement tools and activate levers that will encourage collaborative work:

  • Setting up a network of change ambassadors;
  • Developing collaborative spaces (as we did in the MindForest premises with the installation of the Deck on the top floor);
  • Forming communities of practice or co-creation development groups.

More concretely, it is possible, for example, to:

  • Involve employees in improving the life of the company (e.g. contributing to sustainable development initiatives, defining the company’s values, improving its intranet, etc.).
  • Encourage interaction between staff from different departments (e.g. to set up feedback and/or collective reflection times in order to improve teamwork and increase operational efficiency);
  • Organise informal group activities during working hours (e.g. organise a breakfast from time to time, workshops on a specific theme, team building, etc.)

These recommendations constitute small actions that should be carried out on a more or less regular basis in order to maintain team spirit and encourage a collaborative approach to work.

Do you want to leverage collective intelligence?

At MindForest we can support you in identifying your existing assets, and help you implement collaborative tools and practices to make collective intelligence a real asset for your team.

Contact us via info@mindforest.com

[1] L’intelligence collective. Pour une anthropologie du cyberespace – Pierre Lévy (1994)
[2] https://www.cairn.info/revue-management-et-avenir-2007 [accessed Feb. 5, 2021]
[3] https://www.cairn.info/revue-questions-de-management-2019 [accessed Feb. 5, 2021]