Building a Better Team


September 11, 2007

by Marshall Goldsmith

Stephen Joyce is the author of the Amazon (AMZN) best seller Teaching an Anthill to Fetch: Developing Collaborative Intelligence @ Work. An international speaker, Stephen loves to help companies develop the collaborative intelligence of their teams and organization. He and I recently corresponded by e-mail about his new book. Here is an edited transcript.

What is collaborative intelligence? 

Observe firemen fighting fires, platoons of soldiers in combat situations, sports teams playing at their best. They refer to times when they felt they were tapping into something much larger than themselves. Their description sounds as if they were talking about a field of intelligence that has been created by the group and that they can all tap into. I refer to this as “collaborative intelligence,” or CQ: the ability to harness the energy and intelligence of groups or teams.

If you Google (GOOG) “collaborative intelligence,” you will encounter over 38,000 results. There is also an explosion in the quantity and quality of software that enables online collaboration. But the technical aspect of collaboration is only half the story. At the other end of the software are real people. If they don’t know how to cooperate effectively, the investment in technology has been wasted.

In today’s business world IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) are necessary but no longer sufficient. It’s time to raise our collaborative intelligence, our CQ, in business.

What could CQ have to do with business? 

Managers and team leaders know that getting everyone on board and keeping them there can be a challenge. With the present level of change, technological and social, it is increasingly difficult to achieve high levels of collaboration. And yet successful leaders know that their organizations must become more adaptive, agile, and responsive, starting from the ground up.

The eBay (EBAY) rating system and companies with well-run suggestion systems could be described as CQ at work. BMW (BMW) and Procter & Gamble (PG) are applying strategies that encourage the process of customer co-creation in product design, clearly leading the way in collaboration.

Developing CQ further in the workplace need not be a mysterious process. In fact, Teaching an Anthill to Fetch provides a series of exercises – CQ Tools – that will enable managers and team leaders to further develop the collaborative intelligence of their people.

Why is CQ important? 

As the speed of change makes it increasingly difficult to predict the future, the responsiveness and adaptability of a company is a crucial business survival skill. With shorter response times, companies must enable their employees and teams to respond to new circumstances like a shoal of fish changing direction in the ocean, behaving as if it were one organism. Developing higher CQ in the workplace leads directly to that capability.

What does a high CQ team look like? 

Here are some of the most important characteristics of a team with high CQ:

• Is able to share the stress and strain evenly throughout the team.

• Achieves its objectives more through people and less through politics.

• Has a strong network of connection and support between its members. This accelerates learning, enabling the team’s reactions to be rapid and responsive to challenges.

• Looks after its own: Individuals are not left to fend for themselves, and staff retention is high because people feel a strong sense of belonging.

• Is well connected with other teams and with corporate objectives. Like a healthy organ in the body, it knows what its function is and serves the greater good through rough times and smooth.

• Replenishes itself, growing its members, and is constantly learning to better adapt to its environment.

• Displays a strong sense of meaningful participation, which the members are all nourished by.

Where does the title of the book come from? 

If you look closely at how an anthill operates, you discover that no single ant knows how it all works – nor does a single ant need to. The ants are hardwired to collaborate intensely. It is that level of collaboration that enables them to create a colony that is one of the most robust societies on earth.

Teaching an Anthill to Fetch is a metaphor for the challenge of creating a significant level of collaborative intelligence in a system. It applies equally whether it is a team, a business, or an entire organization. The title also poses a question: Is it possible to create change at a micro level that will have predictable large-scale effects? In my opinion it is. You can teach an anthill to fetch. By helping each employee exercise more collaborative intelligence, the group of which they are a part automatically becomes more collaborative. Small and manageable shifts in individual behavior enable the entire group to shoal more intelligently.