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An Unnoticed Pandemic Solution

Working from home, a consequence of the pandemic lockdown is in fact a blessing in disguise. It has forcibly brought to mind a solution that often goes unnoticed, team intelligence. Remember it was not fish that discovered water; they are so much part of it, they don’t even know it exits. There is considerable room for improvement in the way the intelligence of a team is utilized – that is the potential for ‘collective thinking’ to improve performance. Collective thinking breeds team intelligence. A relatively widespread blindness to the importance of high quality collective thinking in teams prevails. That is, ‘thinking together’ is a purposeful and pragmatic activity that leads to or enables coordinated action rather than just being ‘warm and fuzzy’ or purposeless. It activates latent team potential. We value intelligent individuals but seem to lack ways of understanding and working with thinking in the “team-as-a-whole”. Further more, widespread awareness of the negative phenomenon of groupthink appears to have created a climate of pessimism about the potential for high quality thinking in work teams. In fact, effective collaborative thinking is the “engine room” of the modern “knowledge, and learning organization”.

What Collective Thinking Is Not – It is not some form of mindless conformity to the pressures of the group to all think the same. It is the meeting of minds where each person retains his/her individuality and at the same time contributes to a robust and diverse group-level conversation.

Four Core Principles Underpinning Collective Thinking Four dynamic principles have been developed to help provide practical guidance to leaders for building the quality of collective thinking in teams. They are;

1. Purpose; The team develops a shared understanding of the team’s purpose, why we exist or “task” amongst those involved at all times. This needs also be understood by participants to support the longer term vision of the team. It is this shared understanding that provides meaning and authority to act that is an essential part of the mental “container” for the team’s functioning.

2. Managing Self – Focus & Distraction; Participants are able to adequately manage their own internal emotional and psychological worlds. That is, the widespread need for good “self-management” that enables team members to be present emotionally and psychologically in the “here & now” in order to hold conversations that support the purpose of the team in the process of relating to others and the team as a whole. Distraction can easily divert this focus away from thinking together like a small incidence such as a judgement/comment from a member that pushes an emotional “button” for some is enough. “Emotional and psychological maturity” encompasses the ability to adequately and effectively manage one’s own emotional world.

3. Relating With Others to Create Thinking Spaces; Relationships are the catalyst for creating thinking spaces. ‘Thinking together’ occurs only in the context of a purpose driven relationship. The quality of that relationship has a huge impact on the quality of the thinking. Expectations are at the heart of relationships. The most powerful predictor of whether a particular relationship will provide a good thinking space at any given time is the kind of expectation that each party has about how safe, secure and responsive that relationship will be.

4. Shared Responsibility for Collective Thinking; The responsibility for building and maintaining thinking spaces in the team needs to be shared by members of the team and not left to the formal leader or facilitator. Consequently, the leader has two main functions:

  1. Overtly model behaviours that support building and maintaining good utilization of high quality thinking spaces
  2.  Directly create conditions (360º team effectiveness assessments) that will motivate and influence team members to take active part in creating, maintaining and using these high quality thinking spaces. That is, their input is highly valued.


Sources: Johan Cronjé, Specialist Coach Intégro Learning SA; Martin Ringer, Leadership for Collective Thinking in the Work Place; Team Performance Management- An International Organizational Psychology Journal