With the rise of enterprise social networks and various other digital workplace tools, we’re increasingly interacting with colleagues and peers online as much as we are in face to face.
Whilst there have been attempts to measure the effectiveness of teams in a physical setting, the digital world has received no such exploration.
Anita Woolley was one of the academics to explore team effectiveness, and she has recently led a team looking to explore whether the same kind of factors that influence effectiveness in face to face teams also apply online.
“Our previous research was able to identify factors that correlate with collective intelligence,” she says. “For instance, we found that having a lot of smart people in a group does not necessarily make the group smarter.
“However, we also found a significant correlation between the individuals’ ability to reason about the mental states of others—an ability called Theory of Mind—and the collective intelligence of the group.”
The Theory of Mind
One of the more well known tests for measuring the Theory of Mind is called Reading of the Eyes. The test asks participants to try and judge the mental state of others through nothing more than looking at a photo of their eyes.
To test the online/offline performance, the participants were split into 68 groups, some of whom could only communicate digitally, some of whom could only talk face to face.
Participants had to do the test individually, before then coming together in teams to perform a series of tasks designed to measure their collective intelligence.
“Our findings reveal that the same key factors predict collective intelligence in both face-to-face and online teams,” Woolley says.
“Theory of Mind abilities are just as important to group effectiveness in online environments as they are in office environments. We hope that this insight will give organizational managers a new tool in predicting the success of online teams.”
Previous studies have suggested that women tend to score higher on Theory of Mind tests than men, and this correlates with findings suggesting that the more women you have in a group, the higher it’s collective intelligence.
It mirrors a study I wrote about at the back end of last year that explored the role emotional intelligence plays in innovation. The study found that it equips people with the judgement required to know when to be radical, and when not to be. In other words, it gives us the judgement to know which battles to pick.
It found that whilst it’s generally a good thing to be proactive and to be seen as something of a doer in the workplace, it’s crucial that we understand the right time to do so or run the risk of being branded a pain in the backside by our bosses and our peers.