Intelligence is generally thought of as a person’s ability to solve certain problems. The higher the intelligence, the more complex problems can be solved. Now, it is not always an individual who solves a problem. The more complex the problem, the more people will have to work together to solve it. The sum of the intelligence of individuals will no longer make up the intelligence of a collective.
Organizational intelligence is defined as the ability of a group of people to understand and solve problems together in an effective way. The higher the organizational intelligence, the more complex problems can be solved by the group of people and the less time it will take to come to a solution. Thereby, maximizing organizational intelligence is highly relevant to many industries today as we see the complexity of market demands continuously increasing.
When working with a large team on a complex project, the coordination effort grows exponentially with the number of people involved*. In addition to breaking a problem into smaller pieces, the approach to solving a problem must be planned to include everyone. Work and progress toward solutions must be coordinated, taking into account dependencies and changes in plans. And knowledge must be made transparent and accessible, because no one person can know everything.
Intelligent coordination plays a major role in the likelihood of business success. If we want to maximize organizational intelligence, the task will be to reduce the complexity of coordination across scaled organizations.
* While it takes n-1 connections to connect everyone in a group to at least one other person (e.g., a boss), it takes n(n-1)/2 connections to connect everyone to everyone else (see Network Geometry and Number of Links). For an ideal team size of seven people, we would have 21 potential connections. For a team of 15, we would already have 105 connections, and for 100 – which is still a reasonable project size – we would already see 4,950 potential connections!
Is a single boss coordinating the rest still a better solution? Working in silos has proven to be slow and flawed because most of the intelligence stays with the silo leaders who have to make decisions about the work in their groups. Considering the potential intelligence of the entire group, this is stupid.
Moreover, leaving a swarm alone with a problem does not necessarily produce a solution. Self-organization has been shown to work well only when it is orchestrated and follows an overarching direction.
If you are interested in learning more about the impact of relationships on organizations, you should also take a look at Dunbar’s Number, which explains the quality of relationships based on the size of a group (see Dunbar’s number: Why we can only maintain 150 relationships – BBC Future)
Over the past decade, more and more companies have begun to refer to groups, departments, and business units as “chapters,” “squads,” “tribes,” or “guilds” (see Squads, Tribes, Chapters & Guilds – Wrike Agile Guide). Management teams started using terms like “fellowship” to emphasize supportive leadership behaviors. All of this is happening because organizations are trying to create a greater sense of togetherness or belonging.
The reason is simple. People who see themselves as part of a larger community feel protected and supported by one another. This is a key factor in creating work environments where everyone can perform at their best*.
Organizational intelligence is the key to creating bonds between colleagues and co-workers that are strong enough to withstand conflicts, disputes, and divergent strategies. Maximizing Organizational Intelligence requires a vision of motivated people working together to maximize success.
* When Google was investigating the conditions for teams to become high-peforming units, key factors have been psychological safety and dependability (What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times (nytimes.com). Taking a step out of work, this is what can found in families or tribes, where everyone stand for each other. Tere are also conflicts and fights within such groups, but as soon as there is a challenge from the outside they stand together – like sisters and brothers (see also the video from Simon Sinek below).
Since Darwin established the idea of the “Survival of the Fittest” as primary createria for selection (genetical success), many experts have asked the question “How can natural selection promote unselfish behavior?”. many studies have shown that “Propensity for indirect reciprocity is widespread. A lot of people choose to do it.”
Today the common understanding is, that selection not only considers the success of individual, but also the success of groups to survive (see Survival of the Fittest: Groups versus Individuals – fs.blog). Our demand for psychlogical safety and dependability is a survival strategy proven to be benefitial by evolution.
The Big Idea
To meet the challenges of the future by transforming scaled organizations into families where everyone supports each other, we must be able to create focus, foster creativity, and increase receptivity and responsiveness.
Agile methodologies are widely used in organizations today and have proven to be the right approach to unite people around common goals, streamline processes, foster learning, manage issues and risks, and respond to change in a timely manner. But they have proven difficult to manage at scale. Applied across multiple levels of a scaled organization, agile methods alone cannot overcome the limitations of human collaboration.
In the same way that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly important in areas where pure knowledge cannot cope with uncertainties and unknowns, data-driven organizational management based on Organizational Intelligence (OI) will help us maintain a sense of togetherness at a larger scale. It can help us keep track of goals and activities, maintain adaptive organizational structures, identify organizational problems and address them in a timely manner, optimize the use of capacities and skills, provide access to relevant knowledge, and thereby enable people in the organization to perform at their best to achieve success*.
* Maximizing organizational intelligence involves a multi-faceted approach. It includes optimizing processes, fostering a culture of learning and innovation, leveraging technologies and data, and empowering employees at all levels of the organization. It requires alignment between strategy, objectives, and daily operations, as well as the ability to adapt and pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances.
Leaders must create a vision and strategy for leveraging intelligence, establish clear metrics and benchmarks, and provide resources and training to support the implementation of initiatives. Collaboration, communication, and transparency are critical to building a cohesive and effective workforce that can harness individual and collective intelligence in the face of complex and dynamic business environments.