Working in teams is fundamental to being a productive business. It allows you to utilise a variety of skills, has many more man hours and supports each other. However, there are many assumptions that are made about what makes an effective team. It seems logical that for any team to be successful you get the best people in. Those with high intelligence and above average skill sets are the people to go for, right? If you fill your team with them you will fly.

Well, it would appear this is not the case. Google has spent five years researching this and found there is not only such a thing as group intelligence but that it is significantly different from individual intelligence, and most importantly it is fundamental to any successful team.


Six years ago, Google decided to put some of it’s not inconsiderable resources towards understanding what makes a high-performing team. Naturally, like any logical person, they had some assumptions about what these teams would look like. Groups of people full of the brightest minds and high intellects. Seems a sensible assumption. However, when they compared team performance and intelligence there was no correlation. Teams with so-called “lesser able people” were not only performing just as well but in many cases, they were performing better.


As you can imagine this finding was a bit of a shock to the researchers. How can this be? Surely the more intelligent people all put together would create some kind of combined super intelligence. Well, no it doesn’t. So they had to find out why this was the case, and here is what they discovered…

The foundation of all high performing teams

The one fundamental foundation of any team is something called psychological safety. This is an environment in which everyone feels safe to fail and safe to speak out. It was this that separated the average teams from the more high-performing teams. It gives rise to what the researchers termed a “group intelligence”. The fact that one is individually intelligent, in the traditional sense, does not mean that they will work well in a team.  


Within an unsafe environment team members close up, don’t communicate as well and are less likely to support one another. This creates a group of individuals working separately. Whereas a culture of openness and safety allows team members to collaborate, help one another and be open to new ideas. It creates a collective intelligence where everyone works together.  

What is the to creating safety?

One simple answer to that is emotional intelligence. Developing your ability to be sensitive to how others feel and what they are thinking will allow you to cultivate a safe environment for your team. This type of intelligence is growing in importance, with more and more companies understanding its value. Not only does this ability help create the environment needed, but it also allows you to elicit and cultivate this behaviour within the team itself. Once you have a team of emotionally intelligent people, then you really are onto something.