It’s official: Collective intelligence trumps the combined intelligence of individuals. That’s what researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon found out. This has implications for leadership as leaders need to shift from 1:1 solution finding to leading from the system.
The researchers assigned tasks to different groups of people who had similar IQs. The groups of people who collaborated well on assigned tasks demonstrated a higher collective intelligence than groups of people with individually higher IQs. This is especially true in the context of complexity. Conclusion: The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts! In this particular case, much higher. We’re looking at a performance gap of 40%. If you want more IQ on your team, leading from the system might be your growth edge.
Cultivating collaboration amongst your team is your lever to drastically increase your team’s creative problem solving and innovation capacity as well as its combined productivity. If that makes you think: “Sounds great. Where can I start?”, then Systems Inspired Leadership is for you. The book is all about tapping into the collective wisdom of your team.
What is a systems inspired leader?
One of the authors, Marita Fridjhon, answers to that question: A leader who has reached the awareness that s/he cannot have all the answers but that s/he can shift to asking questions which invite the team to find better answers together than any one individual could possibly come up with.
What to expect
This book gives an overview of systems inspired leadership and dives into the principles for leading from the system, such as:
Every member of a relationship system (say, your team) is a voice of the system. In applied terms, this means that every voice has some information that is relevant, and has part of the truth. That’s why a systems’ inspired leader invites input and allows every voice to be heard.
The leader’s new role
The leader’s new role is to reveal the system, say the team, to itself, to make the unconscious conscious, and the invisible visible. As the team becomes aware of itself, it is able to adjust and evolve based on that collective awareness. Thus, change happens from within the team and from what wants to emerge, rather than top down. If you want to learn how to do that, then this book is for you.
What we love about it
This is a hands-on, actionable book. You can literally try everything out yourself. Let me share one exercise to demonstrate how simple it can be to reveal the system to itself:
You can write down a topic (e.g. Work Life Balance) on a sheet of paper and put it on the floor (or in the centre of a jamboard if you work on this remotely). Then you ask all team members to evaluate their Work Life Balance and to position themselves closer or further away from the topic to indicate how they assess how well they’re doing with it. Once all team members have positioned themselves, the differences within the team appear. There might be people who are standing right on the paper, and there might be an outlier far away from everyone else.
This then is the entry point to a conversation about different experiences of work.
And the authors even offer you questions to guide this conversation so as to guide a group conversation around this topic.
Why it matters to leadership in organisations
Making sense as a group is much more enlightening than having 1:1 conversations. It fosters social awareness, relationships, and a sense of belonging. It also leverages the group’s collective intelligence, so that solutions to any given challenge can emerge from within the team. As everyone has had their voice heard, the team is ready and keen to implement this solution. It also is the antidote to lonely, cumbersome top down leadership in a complex environment.
Top leaders are aching under the responsibility of having to come up with answers to complex problems. Employees are frustrated with bad top down decision making, their lack of agency, and with not being seen and heard. Leading from the system addresses both and is needed more than ever.