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Want a smarter team? Just add women

If you want to make a team smarter, just add women -- that’s the key finding of new research by management professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone.

This month’s edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports on a study by the two academics who aimed to find a reliable measurement of group intelligence.

Woolley and Malone randomly assembled 18 to 60-year-olds into teams and had them solve a complex problem. After team members brainstormed, made decisions and completed visual puzzles, they were given an intelligence score based on their performance.

The study’s findings showed that the difference between low scoring and high scoring teams had nothing to do with an individual's intelligence, but rather with an individual's gender.

“It’s a preliminary finding -- and not a conventional one,” Malone, who is the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, told HBR. “The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.”

While researchers have replicated their findings twice, another researcher who worked on the project was hesitant to flat out say that groups of women are smarter than men.

“It’s not that I don’t trust the data. I do,” Woolley, who is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told HBR. “It’s just that part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance.”

She said studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do, so what's really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.

Researchers also defined what makes a group intelligent: listening to one another, sharing constructive criticism and having open minds.

"And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups," Woolley said.

While it can be difficult to significantly change an individual's intelligence, it's possible to change a group's intelligence by changing members or incentives for collaboration, Malone told HBR. He hopes that as they continue their research, they will begin to unlock the secret of how to increase the collective intelligence of companies, countries or the whole world.

Until then, you may want to make sure you have more women, or more “socially sensitive people,” on your team.