Category: Intelligent Organizations

The secrets of high-performing teams

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 days ago

What sets high-performing teams apart? Strong leadership? Skilled team members? Shared goals? Maybe. But what if we told you some of the key drivers of team performance were bottom-up leadership, external focus, social perception--and the number of women on the team?

Looking out, not just in

MIT Sloan Professor Deborah Ancona is the founder and faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center whose pioneering research has focused on how successful teams operate. Her work has highlighted the critical importance of managing outside a team's boundaries as well as inside them. This research has led to her concept of "X-teams" as a vehicle for driving innovation and her book, X-Teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate, and Succeed.

"Part of what we do at the MIT Leadership Center is think about people who are not just great individuals themselves but create what we call distributed leadership within their organizations," Ancona shared with Forbes. "These leaders realize that true leadership is not about them individually but about what they are able to create."

In today's world, where everything can change under our feet in an instant, Ancona advises an "X-Team" approach, where the X refers to external focus. An X-team is an adaptive structure that gives individuals and organizations flexibility in dealing with changing circumstances and with different kinds of tasks that shift over time. Successful teams emphasize outreach to stakeholders both inside and outside their companies. Their entrepreneurial focus helps them respond more nimbly than traditional teams to the rapidly changing characteristics of work, technology, and customer demands. X-teams manage across boundaries--lobbying for resources, connecting to new change initiatives, seeking up-to-date information, and linking to other groups inside and outside the company.

You can learn more about X-teams and distributed leadership in Ancona’s MIT Sloan Executive Education webinar, Leading in a World of Uncertainty, in this conversation between Ancona and MIT’s Hal Gregersen, and in Ancona's Executive Education programs, Transforming Your Leadership Strategy and Neuroscience for Leadership.

Women, women, and more women

The way teams are structured is clearly relevant to performance, but what about the individuals who make up those teams? Numerous studies continue to show the value that gender diversity has proven in boosting productivity and the bottom line within all levels of a company, from entry level to the boardroom, as well as the critical role women play in enhancing the collective intelligence of groups--as demonstrated by the research of MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone.

Malone, who is the head of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), says that corporations are missing out on tremendous opportunities when they lack women in senior leadership roles and on boards. Why? Simply put, Malone's research shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group.

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Will collective intelligence change the way we work?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 11 months and 21 days ago

collective intelligence

We're in the midst of a transformation in how businesses are organized. Typical corporate hierarchies are starting to look overrated, and changes in coordination technology have the power to make work and innovation even more democratic. However, according to MIT organizational theorist Thomas Malone, most of us are still victims of a centralized mindset, the idea that in order to manage things it’s best to put somebody in charge who gives orders to other people. He urges us to look at the many new ways of organizing that allow more people to have more involvement in decisions--and for better results.

"Most people don't begin to realize how important and how pervasive and, in many cases, how desirable those new ways of organizing are going to be," said Malone, Professor of Management at MIT Sloan and the Founding Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, in a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review Editor-in-Chief, Michael S. Hopkins. "At the Center, we are looking at how people and computers can be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any one person, group, or computer has acted before." When taken seriously, this question leads to a view of organizational effectiveness that is very different from the prevailing wisdom of the past.

The new paradox of power: Give it to gain it

The most rapidly evolving kinds of "collective intelligence"--a phenomenon where a shared or group intelligence emerges from the collaboration and/or competition of many individuals--are those enabled by the Internet. Wikipedia and YouTube are the best-known examples of collective intelligence. Similarly, InnoCentive is a web community that outsources companies’ research problems and invites answers from anyone who wants to contribute, awarding a handful to cash prizes to the best of the bunch. And at MIT, the Climate CoLab uses crowdsourcing to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people all over the world in an attempt to solve the problems of climate change.

These design patterns presented in technology-enabled collective intelligence is also represented more generally in the shift from traditional hierarchies to flatter organizational structures. For years, pockets of the U.S. military have been slowly taking decisions out of the hands of high-ranking commanders and entrusting them to teams of soldiers, who are told what problems to solve but not how to solve them. And last year, Zappos adopted a controversial flat organizational structure referred to as “holacracy.” By order of CEO Tony Hsieh, the company abolished managers, eliminated job titles, denounced its organizational hierarchy and instead adopted a radical new system of self-governance. Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, only employs a couple hundred people, who all work remotely, with a highly autonomous flat management structure.  GitHub is another highly successful firm with a similar structure.

Malone's book from 2004, The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life, proposed that in an increasingly networked world, strict hierarchies would be less viable. The book also foreshadowed the decentralized “bottom-up” management model that has influenced companies like Zappos.


Another example of collective intelligence at its best is apparent in a different kind of workforce altogether--that of honeybees. As revealed by the research of Thomas Seeley at Cornell University, honeybees select the very best site at least 80% of the time--without the influence of the queen bee. By working together as a unified system, the organization (bee colony) is able to amplify its intelligence well beyond the capacity of any individual member of the group.  And they do this with no bosses or workers--with no hierarchy at all.

Louis Rosenberg is CEO of Unanimous A.I., a "swarm intelligence company" that develops technologies for collective intelligence that allow groups to combine their thoughts and feelings in real-time, to answer questions, make decisions, or just have fun. Like Malone, he believes that if there are ways for companies to make smarter decisions, it’s worth understanding them and exploring if new technologies can help us implement such methods.

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Social perception in the workplace makes organizations smarter

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 6 months and 19 days ago

Job candidates are familiar with being tested during the interview process. True, some interview processes are simply a series of meetings with company personnel, but, in all honesty, that type of candidate screening is largely subjective. Some organizations, or departments within organizations, add empirical skills tests into the mix. Highly advanced organizations may even ask candidates to take personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

At first glance, organizations may view personality testing as something only large organizations do, or something that is too advanced or complex to manage. After all, if any particular candidate demonstrates the hard skills and "feels" like a good fit, does his or her personality traits matter that much? For those organizations looking to capitalize on collective intelligence, those traits do matter—and research shows they are extremely important.

Tom Malone

Collective intelligence, as explained by Thomas Malone, Professor of Information Technology and Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), is the idea that people working in teams can achieve more than they can on their own. Add the power of computing and you have the potential for a highly intelligent, highly productive group.

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Can collective intelligence solve climate change?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 11 months and 4 days ago

Climate CoLab connected earth

Earth Day is just a few days away, and climate change and its effects are everywhere in the news. For many of us, the dire state of our environment feels overwhelming, and climate change can feel like an unsolvable problem. Which is why the key to tackling it may be to treat it not as one problem, but as many.

Climate CoLab, a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, seeks to break down the large, complex problem of climate change into a series of more manageable sub-problems. A crowdsourcing platform and virtual think tank, Climate CoLab is an online platform where experts and non-experts from around the world collaborate on developing and evaluating proposals for what to do about global climate change. The project seeks to harness collective intelligence through online contests, constructively engaging a broad range of scientists, policy makers, business people, investors, and concerned citizens.

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Corporate boards miss out when they don’t include women

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 8 months and 25 days ago

Shirley Leung, Business Columnist for The Boston Globe has written extensively—and frequently—about the dearth of women on corporate boards. In her piece, “Across Health Care Board Rooms, That’s Madam Chairman to You,” she discusses the growing role of women on health care boards (nearly a third of Massachusetts-based hospitals have a woman running the board for the first time) and she compares the trend to the fact that only three percent of Fortune 500 companies have female board chairs.

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Intelligent technology for optimum performance

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 10 months and 3 days ago

As work environments become more complex, scientists continue to search for ways to improve how technology can enhance the performance of individuals and help groups work together most effectively.

According to an interview on the Smart Planet Blog with MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, the crux of the matter is what he refers to as “collective intelligence”—how people and computers connect so that collectively they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer separately.

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