There is nothing like harnessing the power of the mind for the greater good. Workplaces will be better off by going for collective 'mindfulness'. Image Credit: Gulf News

The digital age has profoundly changed the very nature of work. As teams are spread far and wide, collective decision-making and teamwork have become all the more essential to the success of a business.

Many companies recognise that collective intelligence — the capability of a group of people to solve complex problems — is an important source of competitive advantage. How can a company ensure that its collective intelligence is greater than the sum of its parts?

The challenge lies in creating a culture of tolerance and acceptance where all team members feel emotionally safe to share opinions and ideas and, in turn, be receptive to colleagues’ viewpoints. An effective strategy to unlock the potential of collective intelligence is mindfulness — a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge.

Subconscious contributions

Collective intelligence is not dependent on team members’ IQ, knowledge, or ability to think logically or on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence and emergent properties such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation.

A lot of organisations already apply approaches that foster collective intelligence. They are increasingly proficient at setting up diverse teams, breaking down organisational silos, and implementing open information systems. However, companies often do not explicitly recognise how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.

Companies must fundamentally transform how cross-functional teams interact and collaborate. This requires bringing forth collective intelligence through mindfulness. Most people who regularly practice mindfulness have an intuitive understanding of its connection to collective intelligence.

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What’s more, the effect of mindfulness practice on collective intelligence is objectively measurable.

Teams that practice mindfulness show an average increase of 13 per cent in collective intelligence, according to a study conducted by Awaris and BCG using tests developed by the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence. The study also validated the significant impact of mindfulness on emotional intelligence — people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others, which is essential for increasing collective intelligence.

To use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence, a company must take three steps:

1. Provide training: Mindfulness practice comprises a set of mental and emotional exercises that affect the functioning of the brain in a measurable way. Several proven methods of mindfulness training can help team members and leaders establish a personal mindfulness practice.

2. Anchor mindfulness in teams: Mindfulness can evolve from a practice to a state and eventually become a trait — when the various underlying skills have become embedded in a person’s mental and emotional make up.

Team interactions provide valuable opportunities to embed these skills. To promote mindfulness, organisations must clearly state that teams should practice three simple types of habits that foster psychological safety and collective intelligence, namely attention and focus, care and positivity, and emotional awareness.

3. Establish metrics and track behavioural changes: Just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments. As a starting point, companies can use surveys and interviews to ask employees whether they believe the company has clearly articulated that emotional safety and psychological safety are goals and whether they understand how to create such safety.

By increasing self-awareness and empathy, mindfulness impacts two areas that directly promote collective intelligence. First is the communication and pro-social behaviour as team members who embrace mindfulness are better listeners and can react in an emotionally intelligent way when tension or disagreement arises.

Their style of interaction encourages other team members to speak up and participate in creative processes and allows them to integrate their diverse cognitive styles.

Second is leadership as mindfulness training helps leaders improve their ability to self-reflect. Mindfulness is also associated with important leadership capacities such as flexibility, authenticity, and humbleness.

Finally, companies that adapt mindfulness training and habits to suit their culture will be able to fully realise their collective intelligence and reap the rewards of new ways of working and cross-functional teaming.

- Christian Greiser is Senior Partner and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group. Liane Stephan is Managing Director at Awaris.