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Improve Performance by Tapping into the Power of Collaborative Intelligence

Decisions drive performance. When making important decisions, take the time to consider multiple perspectives, facts, opinions, and feelings.

“If you rely only on your own knowledge and experience when tasked with deciding, you are missing an opportunity to get to an optimal outcome.  As smart as you may be, you can only gain by getting information, opinions, and experience from multiple sources with meaningful diverse perspectives.”[1]

Important decisions have both short-term and long-term impacts on your ability to meet objectives. The more important the decision, the more you want to combine analysis and intuition to come to the right one.

Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats approach is an example of a technique for looking at a subject from multiple perspectives, considering data and feelings with optimism, caution, and creativity, while managing the process.

Taking multiple perspectives on your own is powerful. Getting input from others increases the power. If you have access to knowledgeable people willing and able to give you the benefit of their intelligence, you augment your own intelligence.  You are still the decision-maker.

Collaborative and Collective Intelligence

Collaborative and collective intelligence are areas of study about sharing the intelligence of multiple people, machines, etc. to enhance the power of individual intelligence, with particular emphasis on decision making.  While there are differences, we will use the terms collective and collaborative interchangeably, with the focus being collaboration.

“Collective intelligence is the body of knowledge that grows out of a group. When groups of people work together, they create intelligence that cannot exist on an individual level. Making decisions as a group, forming a consensus, getting ideas from different sources, and motivating people through competition are all components of collective intelligence.”[2]

To make the power of collective intelligence a reality requires awareness, intention, sponsorship, and techniques to facilitate the sharing.

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Being aware is the starting point. Often this awareness is so natural that there is no need to discuss it. Everyone thinks “Of course I will seek out information from others to better inform my decision making.”  People regularly and informally engage peers and subject matter experts.

Is knowledge management recognized as a critical success factor? And if it is, are leaders aware that collaborative intelligence must be considered when implementing knowledge management tools and procedures. For more on Knowledge management see the paper, Managing Project Management Knowledge[3]

Whether or not those around you aren’t regularly taking advantage of collective intelligence, some evangelizing, and a program to implement or better enable it may be needed to promote awareness of the power of collective intelligence and enable them to use it.

Obstacles: What gets in the way?

As intuitively sound it is for a person or team to seek out information from knowledgeable others when tasked with making a decision, it is often not done.

Several things get in the way. For example:

  • Know-it-all-ism: The belief that there is nothing to be learned from others; closed-mindedness.
  • The belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness
  • Lack of access to knowledgeable people who are willing and able to offer input in a constructive and well-facilitated way
  • Not enough time (and there may not be)
  • A sense that the decision isn’t important enough (and it might not be).

Creating a Sharing Environment

Collective intelligence thrives in an environment that values and enables, objectivity, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. In that kind of setting, obstacles are overcome or avoided.

The first two obstacles, Know-it-all-ism, and belief, operate on a personal level, often encouraged by cultural norms. Overcome these obstacles by candidly addressing them and changing any cultural norms that promote them. This implies that there is enough organizational maturity to engage stakeholders in meaningful conversations about behavioral change, mindful awareness, emotional and social intelligence, and the personal beliefs that influence performance.

To ensure access to the right people with the time to take part in collaborative knowledge sharing, create communities of practice, and use formal techniques, sponsored by senior leadership, and embraced by the staff. Assess the need for communication skills training and facilitation and inject them into your approach to promote useful and efficient sharing.

As with any improvement program, sponsorship and stakeholder buy-in are critical to success. While collaboration and collective intelligence can operate on a local level – like, within a project team – it is best when there is a wider organizational program. But don’t wait for the organization-wide program if you can work on the local level without it.


Formal collaboration techniques provide structure to successfully address complex issues without being caught up in either-or thinking, competition over ideas, and common group communication issues such as going off-topic. Formal models include facilitation guidelines and standard agendas and questions.

For example, Wicked Questions can be used in planning sessions, retrospectives, and design sessions. It is used to address complex issues like conflicting design concepts, strategies, or “tension between espoused strategies and on-the-ground circumstance and to discover the valuable strategies that lie deeply hidden in paradoxical waters.”[4]

Mindful Life Mindful Work’s Co-development [5] brings people together in facilitated sessions to tap into the group’s collective intelligence. Groups may consist of members of an operational or functional team with a variety of roles, across different departments, and levels of experience. They might also be members of a practice group, for example, project managers or business analysts. The purpose is to enhance team members’ ability to address their issues, goals, or challenges. The group is not making the decision, which is the individual’s job. The group discussion informs the decision-maker.

o-development events might be part of a community of practice, or they may occur in the context of a business process, program, or project.

Managing Cultural Change

Managing the change in a collaborative environment can be a challenge. Particularly if there is a need to change cultural norms and values and cut through individual barriers.

If the environment is already collaborative, then collaboration can be supported and improved. For example, the skillful use of collaboration tools and methods better enables people to work together.

In any case, within your scope, promote knowledge sharing and collective or collaborative intelligence. Sponsorship and engagement at the working level are critical success factors in any change.

The next time you have an important decision to make, engage knowledgeable others to get the benefit of their perspectives and knowledge.

[3] Pitagorsky, G. (2008). Managing project management knowledge. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2008—North America, Denver, CO. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
[5] Mindful Life Mindful Work MLMW: CoDevelopmentGroups-HedyCaplan-9.25.19.mp4
Hedy Caplan MLMW

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.