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Collective Intelligence (CQ) – or group intelligence – describes the phenomenon that occurs when individuals are present in the here and now, working with a clear and aligned group purpose. When these energies are aligned it enables the harvesting and harnessing of the wisdom of diversity.
Nice concept. But what is its impact when it shows up in the world of work and why is it the X factor most organisations are missing out on? Let us shed some light on that that by sharing a story about a restructure process involving one of our large Spanish clients.
The economic context at the time wasn’t great. After exiting the global financial crisis in 2010 Spain had fallen back into recession in the first quarter of 2012. Dealing with high levels of unemployment, increased taxes, ongoing cuts in essential service spending, S&P credit rating downgrades, it had been forced to seek aid from Eurozone finance ministers to shore up its struggling banking sector.
In the midst of this our client was told by their US head office to conduct a major restructure and cut staff by 12%, while at the same time reducing OPEX AND CAPEX allocations. This meant the remaining staff would have to contend with less resource and pick up the slack left by the departure of their colleagues. In other words: “Do more with less.”
The rumour mill was running overtime, there was a 3 month deadline in which to complete the restructure and the executive team had a historical reluctance to share information with their next layer of management, comprising 14 senior leaders.
This unwillingness to share was acerbated by the fact that four of the senior leaders would be directly impacted by significant career path changes and the roles of at least 2 of the team were undecided so they potentially didn’t have a home.
The executives knew they needed deep, company wide buy in if they were going to get the best outcome from the restructure, but without the input and support of the 14 senior leaders the odds were stacked against them. It was a classic catch 22.
When the CEO explained his plan and asked for our perspective, our coaching to him was to try something different, stand for collective intelligence (CQ) and include the 14 senior managers in the restructure process. One, because it was what he had promised to do. Two, because he said he valued trust. Three, because trust was part of the company values.
Despite the CEO’s misgivings – he was only 60% behind this approach at the time – he took a leap of faith and made the decision to open up the restructure process for involvement by senior management. In doing so he was also planting the seeds of trust and collaboration fundamental to CQ.
With this decision made the focus shifted to the process and how he would involve the wider team. Time was a scarce commodity and workloads were already at prohibitive levels. They had three months in which to complete the restructure plan but we knew from experience when something like this is spread out over time it runs the risk of becoming a sporadic and disjointed process.
To activate CQ you need to bring everyone together and make sure you are in the right environment. Then people will naturally come together and collaborate. Our suggestion was instead of trying to piecemeal it over three months let’s bring everyone together and do it over a dedicated three day period instead, and let’s spend part of the process walking a famous coastal track.
Armed with this information the CEO was willing to take another leap of faith. Next step was to align the executive team and of course they had fears and concerns of which there were many, but after hearing the rationale they too agreed to take a risk and go on the journey.
The session was planned, the invitation extended and two weeks later we found ourselves in front of a group of bemused executives and senior managers who were probably wondering what they had let themselves in for.
The set up to get CQ is critical because you first need to align everyone’s intention and then focus attention on what needs to be tackled. As part of this it’s essential to create a non judgemental space where powerful listening can happen, perspectives can be shared and insights can emerge. To do this we used foundation Zone tools and models that helped align the group on how they were going to be with each other, and the process they were about to go through.
What took place in the first stage of the coastal walk was a series of conversations that happened in pairs, functional teams and as the larger group. During the first half of the day all 24 members of the group had spoken to everyone at least once on the key restructure topics. At the halfway mark they had lunch, sat on the beach and took some time to reflect on the unanswered questions. These formed the basis of another round of discussion and perspective sharing on the walk home.
When they came together in the evening to check in, debrief and find out where people were at, everybody was asked how comfortable they felt moving to the next step – which was to create the restructure plan in their functional teams.
The process had been easy, fun and energising. The outcome was everyone had clarity on the issue and the answers they needed to move onto the next stage of the restructure planning. It was the perfect level of group alignment.
With CQ being activated the group needed to come back together to receive input, refine, gain alignment, complete and celebrate together. The following day they moved into their functional teams and created their transition plans for the restructure. In the afternoon they shared with the wider team, received input, refined and then the entire group aligned on the restructure plan.
The session was concluded with a celebration.
This is just one of many powerful examples we have witnessed while supporting clients to work with Collective Intelligence. We call it the X factor that most companies are missing out on because it has the ability to help organisations transcend the ordinary and create breakthrough solutions to the challenges they face.
While the theory of collective intelligence can be learned from books, the activation takes a special blend of ingredients and the courage to operate outside of the norm. If you’re interested in understanding how to activate collective intelligence inside your organisation we’d be happy to show you how.
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