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Jans Corner: Team Learning and Collective Intelligence

Ever wondered why is it possible that a team of highly intelligent individuals is often behaving, well, not so intelligently?

Shouldn’t it be that intelligent and competent people naturally make intelligent and competent teams? Yes, in theory, but not necessarily in practice.

Why? Because the collective intelligence, competence and performance of the team depends not just on the quality of the individuals but also on the quality of their interactions.

The quality of the interactions will greatly depend on how well they can see, appreciate and draw out the best of the strengths and differing points of view of the other team members at the right time.

This doesn’t come necessarily easily or quickly and requires a collective learning process for the team to go thorough. Not just at the beginning of their collaboration through widely known process often referred to as – forming, norming, storming and performing – but continuously though team practice and synchronisation.

To co-create something magnificent together teams need to operate like orchestras.

We know that in an orchestra, learning and great performance come not from sameness and conformity but from diversity and harmony that comes from that diversity. The more diversity of musical instruments and the more in sync they play together, the larger the repertoire of music they can play and the more powerful and beautiful the sound.

Well, why do we in business have such a hard time to learn from performing arts, like orchestra music?

I would assert that it is because we treasure performing over practicing together. Even though they go hand in hand. Moreover, we are not used to and geared to practicing and learning together. We might be used to meetings and retreats, to debates and reports yet often without the extra benefits they may promise.

Peter Senge, worldwide expert in the area of learning organisations and the author of the seminal book the Fifth Discipline, points out that teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units in modern organisations. “Unless teams can learn, the organisations cannot learn,” and of course cannot perform adequately to reflect the aspirations and intelligence of their individuals.

:: What do you do, to learn together?

:: How do you think and practice together as a team? Do you learn from every experience and improve the quality of every interaction? Or do you keep repeating the same experiences, fighting the same problems and expending energy on who is right?

:: How often do you practice? What is your practice rhythm? Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually?

Team performance can generate the business equivalent of beautiful music played by an exquisitely synchronised orchestra where everyone enjoys playing their part whilst appreciating the diversity they are part of.

How much we unlock our collective intelligence will, however, depend on how willing and open we are to continuously practicing and learning together.

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