We know that one individual is not as smart we all are collectively. However, even knowing that, leaders often have difficulty capitalizing on the collective intelligence of their teams. It is not because they do not want to; it is because they do not know how to. This article presents six strategies for capitalizing on your team’s collective competence.
1. PURPOSEFUL TEAM PROCESSES
The team’s processes should allow time for reflection, feedback, and information sharing. If all of the processes incline toward tasks, there will not be enough time or room for the team to attend to itself. Team processes should also allow time for discussing customer perspectives and feedback. The team should make a point of listening to its customers and integrating that feedback into its operations. This is true, as well, of emerging relationships that impact the team—relationships with other departments, vendors, and stakeholders. These relationships can affect the team in subtle ways. For example, if a sales department is putting increased pressure on the support organization, one or both teams are sure to have a lot to say about the new expectations.
2. REWARD EFFORT
Managers often get in the habit of only rewarding results. However, when managers acknowledge their teams’ best efforts, the team members will be more apt to continue trying. And when managers open dialogues about those efforts and ask their team members what they learned from trying, they begin to create a culture where experimentation is acceptable. This also creates a climate where failure is a learning experience. It is through such discussions that team members realize that their experiences are valuable, whether or not they are successful.
Rewarding effort also creates a more creative environment. When team members realize they won’t be penalized for failure, they are more willing to test potential innovations. And they will invest more of themselves when they feel free to innovate.
3. ROTATE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The team leader role should rotate regularly so that every team member has the opportunity to experience leadership, learn new competencies, and develop more confidence in his or her abilities. Rotation is also another tool for getting people to speak up. It is impossible to hide behind the most vocal team members when you have been thrust into a formal leadership role. Likewise, rotating roles and responsibilities also prevent the team from yielding to the will of a dominant leader. This allows the team to hear different voices to be, encourages alternate forms of expression, and prevents the communication biases associated with entrenched team leaders.
However, this kind of rotation requires advance preparation. Be sure to provide adequate education and training before putting a team member into a leadership role. This will enable him or her to be more effective in the new role. It will also prevent the team members from relying on a single individual, as they can count on each other to lead as the need arises.
4. HOST REGULAR Q&A SESSIONS
Every organization, regardless of the size or industry, has a grapevine. Sometimes information from the grapevine is accurate, but, more often, it is not. Hosting regular Q&A sessions with the entire team allows team members to ask questions about everything, ranging from policy and procedure changes to rumors about mergers and acquisitions. It positions you as a listening leader. This not only enhances your credibility, it also cements the idea that dialogue is the norm in the enterprise.
One caution for Q&A sessions: You must have at least some of the answers. If your only answer is, “I don’t know. I have to check on that,” you diminish your credibility. Certainly, you should admit when you do not know something, but go into the session with an idea of what people want to discuss. Then make sure you know enough about those topics to facilitate meaningful discussion. Whatever you do, do not give incorrect or misleading information. Your team will not trust or respect you if it cannot count on your honesty.
5. GIVE CREDIT TO INDIVIDUALS AND THE TEAM
Team members will invest more deeply and share more freely when they know that they will get credit for their contributions. If you are a glory hound and take credit for their successes, they will be less inclined to contribute their ideas and best practices. When you acknowledge their input, they will know you genuinely value them and they will see you as a humble leader.
Giving credit also creates an open environment where sharing is the norm. People are not only more willing to collaborate, they are also more willing to openly praise one another. This is the example that you, the leader, have modeled, so it becomes normative behavior for the team. Sharing credit also reduces unhealthy competition. People know they will get their due, so they have little interest in fighting each other for recognition.
6. ELICIT EXPERTISE
Every team member is an expert in some area of the operation. Encourage them to share their expertise with one another. Peerled learning is a valuable tool for raising the team’s collective confidence and competence. This can be done through informal brown-bag lunches facilitated by the topic expert, or by formal instruction where team members get to try their hands at teaching. In both cases, team members are actively sharing what they know for the good of the team and the organization.
Eliciting expertise is a vote of confidence in the team and its individual members. It says that the leader not only trusts the team to focus on its own development, but to also stay on the cusp of current knowledge. Encouraging a focus on learning and information sharing enables the leader to capitalize on the team’s collective intelligence.
Collaborative effort can yield big rewards for your organization. Use the strategies detailed here to maximize your team’s collective competence. Build an organization where free-flowing communication happens naturally. Create an environment where teams are recognized and rewarded for their efforts. Publicly celebrate the successes of individual and team contributors and the team. These strategies will enable you to get and keep your team engaged.
Joanne Smikle provides consulting and leadership education to organizations across the country. She specializes in collaboration, leadership development, and team building. To learn more about Joanne, visit