Monday, March 13, 2006

Ranting about Organizational Intelligence 1.0

Have you ever been in a stupid group made up of intelligent people? I mean, each person in the group is pretty smart and creative, but when they get together they seem to get in each other's way? They can't seem to make decisions, they fight, they can't get things done.

Or maybe they make decisions that are unimaginative - or even destructive. Or they just go round and round as the world passes them by.

Or maybe the teams you know have a strong leader. If the leader is good, maybe the team acts intelligently - makes good decisions, gets things done. But maybe the leader is bad... or maybe people are rebelling against a good or so-so leader... or maybe a good leader burns out and the team flounders.

Or maybe some group you know has a unifying ideology or belief that holds them all together - until someone tries to do something creative or different...

Have you experienced these things? Have you ever seen them among activists in social change movements?

I have.

And I've also experienced a few rare teams where everyone's a peer, where leadership is shared, where a special kind of energy among them allows them to explore and solve problems together, successfully.

Working with and leading web teams, I've watched people with very different ideas, backgrounds, aptitudes and knowledge using that diversity creatively. They come up with brilliant solutions and proposals - better than any of them could have come up with alone. The group seems more intelligent than its individual members.

Seeing these extremes, and observing what a large role these dynamics play in efforts to make a better team, I've chosen to study them, to see what what social technology does to add or destroy value.

I call these dynamics "collective intelligence" -- which manifests as "group intelligence" in groups and "societal intelligence" in whole societies.

Intelligence refers to our ability to sort out our experience in ways that help us respond appropriately to circumstances - especially when we're faced with new situations or new solutions.

Organizational intelligence, then, refers to the ability of a whole organization to learn and cope creatively with its environment.

Although I first got interested in this subject by observing dysfunctional communications teams, I soon realized that these groups simply manifested the dynamics of our dysfunctional organizations.

Our society as a whole doesn't know how to solve its problems intelligently, doesn't know how to use its diversity creatively, and is moving inexorably towards its own self-destruction (OK - that's a bit much but you know what I am trying to say..).

Was it any wonder that many departments displayed the same characteristics within an organization?

It seemed to me almost axiomatic that, if we don't improve the ways we communicate or share knowledge - our collective problem-solving, responsive capabilities - none of our other organizational and environmental problems would get solved.

And, if we could achieve some breakthrough in the way we use technology or other tools to communicate or share knowledge - well, all the other problems would, in a sense, solve themselves in the natural course of socially-intelligent living.

You don't have to solve all a person's problems for them if you increase their ability to solve their own problems. The same goes, I suspect, for organizations.

Traditions (like instincts) usually evolve from experience, so they're appropriate and workable as long as the environment doesn't change. But a society may find that old tradition hampers their creative responsiveness when they're faced with novel circumstances.

This is where we come in. This is our environment. We are interfacers, mediators, negotiators and facilitators. Believe me, we are!

Internet, web, communications convergence - whatever you want to call it - is a new field and there are definitely challenges. How do we deal with change? What is our individual role within this changing environment. How can we help, lead, support and nurture change.

We (that is, we within the communication technology world - we who have a stake in this field) need to clarify what we need to do - and how to do it - to enable efficient communications - online AND offline.

But there's a significance to all this that goes beyond communicating and saving our jobs.

It seems to me that we will help shift our organizations. The evolutionary leap may be equivalent to the evolution of individual intelligence. We may reach a state in which our organizations become intelligent entities - neither a monolith unified by conformity nor a machine made of fragmented individuals, but a thinking organism made of discrete participants, each contributing their unique and essential creativity into the dynamic wisdom and power of the whole.

Or maybe not. Maybe it will just be a good organization to work in. Either way, it seems to me worth working for.


Blogger Håkan said...

So true man!
Experiencing those moments when the group trancends the individual are mind-blowing. Doesn´t happen that often, I think you see more of Kennedy group-think in meetings nowadays, but when it does happen - wow!


3:02 AM, March 15, 2006  

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