Recently, a new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College documents the existence of "collective intelligence" among groups of people who cooperate well. This study demonstrated that cooperative groups have an intelligence that extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the individual group members. In other words, when a group is cooperating well, the collective intelligence, and therefore ability, extends beyond what any individual could do alone.
For anyone who has participated in a highly cooperative group, the results of this study comes as no surprise - people walk out of these types of meetings feeling excited about what has been generated and sometimes even in awe at the results.
It is important to note that the "collective intelligence" of a group was not based on the intelligence levels of each of the individuals, but rather on how well they work together. For example, groups whose members had higher levels of "social sensitivity" were more collectively intelligent. Social sensitivity was defined by how well group members perceive each other's emotions. Also, in groups where one person dominated, the group was less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed.
It is also interesting to note that the researchers also obtained an unexpected result: teams that contained more women demonstrated greater social sensitivity and in turn greater collective intelligence compared to teams containing fewer women.
Of course, people have been studying the effect of group intelligence and coherence for years. For example, the Maharishi Effect has been demonstrated as a rise of coherence in the collective consciousness of a community when one percent of the population of a city or town practices Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation Program (for example, the crime rate significantly decreases) or where a school begins to function at a different level. Additionally, well-functioning organizations where members are warm and collaborative know this experience first-hand. President Obama spoke of the importance of his team when he was voted into office. This new research serves as a profound reminder of the positive possibilities - not just in the work place, but at home in families, in our neighborhoods and cities, in our nation and in the world - if we are to work on our ability to be sensitive to others and work together. The result is guaranteed to be better than anything that could happen if we go it alone.