Collaborative Intelligence: What Is It?

Posted By: Michael Burke Global Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

In kickstarting her interactive Summit session and getting participants to consider their dominant “thinking styles”—and thus how they show up for team and joint partner decision making—Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, drew some of her inspiration from the book Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently, by Dawna Markova, PhD, and Angie McArthur (2015).

One of the insights from that book? Great minds actually don’t think alike—and it’s a good thing.

We’ve all probably experienced first- or secondhand what happens when organizations or teams make decisions inside an “echo chamber”—usually these siloed, “groupthink” decisions don’t lead to success in the long term. At best, they tend not to capitalize on the potential creativity that could be unleashed by harnessing the strengths of teams composed of more diverse thinkers and doers.

We’re Better When Thinking Together

In her presentation, “Investing in Collaborative Intelligence: Partnering Leadership That Creates Value and Honors All Stakeholders,” at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit held in Tampa last month, McDermott noted that one of the benefits of alliances and partnerships is that the joining of two entities tends to bring together diverse people with different thinking styles, which proves helpful when making decisions, problem solving, and “thinking together” about how to resolve important and challenging issues (including but not limited to alliance conflict).

McDermott said that alliances are typically formed in the first place because there is a “gap” in capabilities or assets; i.e., each organization has something the other doesn’t have and that it wants or needs to achieve its strategic goals. One fortuitous benefit of this situation is that when organizations truly collaborate, they each leverage their various strengths in order to create something neither could create on its own—or, as McDermott put it, “to achieve greatness.”

From this perspective, according to McDermott, successful alliances are based on three key premises:

  1. People are greater together than apart.
  2. Teams cannot exist (or succeed) without connection via physical or technological tools and “safe” communications.
  3. Collaboration should not be left to chance; it relies on the purposeful inclusion (and intelligent leveraging) of a diverse set of thinking styles, experiences, and skills.

Theory and Practice

So what does “collaborative intelligence” really mean?  “The challenge,” as McDermott said, “is not defining it, but applying it.”

In a conversation that took place after her session, McDermott shared further thoughts and advice on putting collaborative intelligence concepts into action and “practicing collaborative behaviors” in an alliance context:

  • Identify the key strategic issues on which consensus decisions must be made
  • Unearth the various (hopefully diverse) thinking styles among team members
  • Map out the thinking styles and determine what’s missing from the mix

McDermott said that while you may not be able to add new people to the team who can contribute the missing thinking styles, perhaps some existing team members can draw more on the styles that aren’t their first preferred modes but might be their secondary or tertiary styles.

Some of the thinking styles, or “talents,” people might present include:

  • Believing
  • Enrolling
  • Feeling for others
  • Fixing it
  • Focusing
  • Goal setting
  • Getting to action
  • Having confidence
  • Mentoring
  • Optimism
  • Peace making
  • Seeking excellence
  • Standing out
  • Taking charge
  • Thinking ahead
  • Thinking logically
  • Wanting to win

According to McDermott, “These are the talents that you habitually use that light you up and that tap into the best of you. You can be counted on to contribute these thinking talents in strategic discussions with colleagues on alliance teams.”

Mapping Team Talents: What’s Missing?

McDermott asked participants to talk in breakout groups about how these talents or styles show up and benefit them in their alliance management roles, what other talents would benefit them to use or develop, and which talents are missing from their alliance team.

One participant, for example, identified his primary thinking talent as being a “believer,” the can-do attitude that “We’re going to figure out how to do this—it might suck getting there, but we’ll get it done.” Others mentioned thinking ahead, taking charge, optimism, and goal setting as primary talents.

McDermott cautioned—and many participants immediately seemed to grasp—that relying primarily on one talent or style, or having it dominate a team, can be counterproductive and “a liability.” If a team is composed primarily of people who favor “getting to action,” for example, it might hinder effective decision making in the absence of folks who perhaps are good at thinking ahead, thinking logically, peace making, and the like.

The exercise of mapping out your team’s collaborative intelligence capabilities, thinking styles, and talents can be done via an assessment tool—the “Collaborative Intelligence Best Practices Survey”—that McDermott created. After taking the survey and compiling the scores, both internally and with the partner team, she urged participants to look carefully at the results, prioritize what needs to improve or be added to the mix, and explore how to integrate collaborative intelligence behaviors into the everyday interactions and work of the alliance.

Then, she said, the question should be: “What should we do differently to make better decisions and get better alliance results?”

After that, the next step is securing commitment and buy-in to an action plan to address any shortfalls, gaps, or areas of needed improvement.

As with many alliance-related efforts, the application of collaborative intelligence is both an ongoing process and a mindset that must be fully developed in order to bear fruit.

For more information about collaborative intelligence, or to receive a copy of the Collaborative Intelligence Best Practices survey sample questions, you can contact McDermott at Meanwhile, keep checking the ASAP Blog for post-Summit coverage and much more!