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Women make work teams smarter, study finds

Sunday, July 17, 2011  
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There is little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises, according to a new study by Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University and Thomas Malone of MIT.

Woolley and Malone, along with Christopher Chabris, Sandy Pentland and Nada Hashmi, gave subjects aged 18 to 60 standard intelligence tests and assigned them randomly to teams. Each team was asked to complete several tasks—including brainstorming, decision making and visual puzzles — and to solve one complex problem. Teams were given intelligence scores based on their performance. Though the teams that had members with higher IQs didn’t earn much higher scores, those that had more women did.

"Many of the factors you might think would be predictive of group performance were not,” Woolley told Harvard Business Review. "Things like group satisfaction, group cohesion, group motivation -- none were correlated with collective intelligence. And, of course, individual intelligence wasn’t highly correlated, either.”

Great groups, the researchers found, are not necessarily made up of the smartest people in the room, but by members who are smart and listen to each other. "They share criticism constructively,” Woolley said. "They have open minds. They’re not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.”

There is also some evidence to suggest that collective intelligence exists at the organizational level, as well. "Some companies that do well at scanning the environment and setting targets also excel at managing internal operations and mentoring employees -- and have better financial performance,” Woolley told Harvard Business Review. "Consistent performance across disparate areas of functioning suggests an organizational collective intelligence, which could be used to predict company performance.”

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