Multiplying the Effective Intelligence of Your Organization


“Perhaps the only sustainable competitive advantage is increasing your ability to learn faster than your competition.”

By Robert (Dusty) Staub, Best Selling Author of The 7 Acts of Courage and The Heart of leadership

 Are you getting the best results from the people – the embedded collective intelligence – in your organization?

Do you feel that there is something missing in overall performance? Most senior leaders with whom I work tell me, “We could achieve more and be better if only we could work smarter and more effectively together.”

Research and experience demonstrate that the only difference between so-so organizations and high performing ones is the quality of the collaborative networks that exist within an organization.  This parallels what we understand about brain physiology.  It is not the absolute number of neurons that determines intelligence; it is the number of dendritic connections between neurons that yields overall processing power and intelligence.

The greater the number of connections means the higher the level of collaborative networking, which equals greater intellectual capacity to problem-solve and create solutions.  The term I have coined to describe this capacity for teams and organizations is “Effective Intelligence, or E.I.”

Great leaders use practices and processes to multiply E.I., thereby increasing the performance and capabilities of their team, department, and even entire organization.

Is your organization realizing its potential and performing at its best?

How can your enterprise engage and make full use of the collective intelligence embedded in the human systems (individuals, teams, and departments) in your organization? Are you multiplying the E.I. of your organization by how you are leading and encouraging engagement?

Or do you share the opinion one CEO gave me recently, “There is truly room for improvement. I just know, good as we are now, that we can do better than we have been doing to date.”

If you see room for improvement, take a look at the following suggestions. These insights may sound simple yet applying them to multiply E.I. will take all three forms of critical leadership capacity: guts, heart and head.  Here are eight practices you can employ.

Multiplying the effective intelligence of your organization

Increasing the Effective Intelligence (E.I.) of Your Team and Organization:

    1. Expand perspectives. This means seeing beyond the obvious and challenging conventional thinking. The status quo and old ways of thinking are the enemy of higher order processing, innovation and increased performance. “Good enough” is the death of being even better, let alone great. What are you doing in your leadership and in your workplace to help expand the thinking and to promote a wider strategic picture or way of looking at the business and how work gets done?
    2. Clarify and focus attention on your core WHY.  Astute leaders know that when the people in an enterprise know WHY it exists–in other words, the purpose and mission it serves beyond the usual answer of “making money”–that they perform better and expend more discretionary effort. They are more engaged. (See Simon Sinek’s Start with Why TED Talk.)  Do the people in your organization know the fundamental WHY of the business?  Do you use that to rally them and challenge them to step up to more active learning, collaboration and teamwork?
    3. Consciously create psychological safety in your organization. Google research on the core factor fostering high performance team work finds that a sense of “psychological safety” is key. This means people feel “safe” offering different opinions, ideas and suggestions. As described in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, your team members will be willing to engage in “vigorous intellectual debate.”  If people feel they will be punished, belittled or put down if they speak up, they won’t – which minimizes E.I. instead of increasing it.  How well are you creating a sense of psychological safety for your employees, teams and those around you?  Do you have healthy, positive vigorous intellectual debate around best practices, new ideas and better ways of moving the enterprise forward?
    4. Leverage strengths, focusing on what there is to celebrate. Research in the fields of psychology and sociology have revealed that human systems (from individuals to groups) get stronger by focusing on, leveraging and building upon strengths rather than by fixating on what is wrong. Yet many executives still manage by “exception,” ignoring what is right and working well, instead spending supervisory time on problems and issues. Are you focusing on strengths, on what is right and working well?  What strengths in your people, teams and organization have you been celebrating? How have you been building on or leveraging the top 2 or 3 of these strengths?
    5. Fail forward. This means giving reward and recognition for a specific category of mistakes instead of punishing for or treating all mistakes as the same, as if they are all “bad.”  Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics and Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Company, both subscribed to and taught “failing forward” as a way to promote innovation and growth within their organizations. Most executives and employees do the exact opposite. By treating all mistakes the same and seeing them as “wrong,” the E.I. of an enterprise is diminished instead of increased.  Do you know which “mistakes” should be rewarded, or do you treat them all the same?  Are you using the practice of “failing forward” in your organization?
    6. Use Power Questions. Power questions enhance learning and improve performance.A great question is many times more valuable than a good answer. The greatest danger you have as an executive is to be blindsided by issues or to miss key opportunities in your organization. One of the ways to minimize this is to make a practice of asking “power questions” – namely, Pareto- based questions that focus on quickly getting to the core or root cause of an issue or opportunity. For example a poor question is asking, “Is there anything here we need to improve?” A better question is “What do we need to improve?”  A power question is, “What is the one thing we could do differently here that would make the biggest positive difference?” Asking power questions and teaching those around you to ask them will be a key part of increasing the E.I. of your enterprise.  How are you and those in your organization doing with regard to asking power questions of each other, of customers, of key suppliers?
    7. Know the difference between Symptoms and Root Causes. When you and those in your organization know how to recognize symptoms and use them to focus on root causes, you are helping to multiply the E.I. in your enterprise. For example, the following should all be considered symptoms: poor teamwork, low employee engagement, quality issues, unhealthy conflict, customer complaints, lower market share and declining sales numbers.  Do you know what the root causes of those kinds of symptoms are? For example, the symptom of low employee engagement has as a root cause a failure in management practices and leadership behaviors.  The research shows that people quit supervisors as opposed to quitting companies. How a supervisor treats, talks to, engages, coaches, corrects, supports and otherwise makes an employee feel about the supervisor’s valuation of him or her is a huge determinant of how engaged and motivated that employee is. How effectively do you and your management focus on addressing root causes versus chasing symptoms?
    8. Identify and Utilize Essential Behaviors as Core Leadership Practices. To address critical operational as well as human systems issues, make the best use of the seven practices outlined above. You will need to identify which essential behaviors you want to train for, expect, model and reinforce in all levels of your enterprise. Do you have a set of 4 to 6 essential behaviors that you know are clearly outlined, coached for and reinforced from front line supervisors up to the CEO?  If you are like the vast majority of organizations and leadership teams, the answer to that will be a resounding no.  If you want to really increase the effective intelligence of your enterprise then you will need to have an agreed upon core set of leadership practices that are being used consistently throughout all levels.  Do you know which essential behaviors will give you the biggest return on your investment of time, energy and supervisory development?  Examples of essential behaviors include: active listening, using power questions, knowing how to design and engage in courageous conversations and making use of systemic-accountability.  What are you doing to ensure there is consistent, effective modeling of powerful leadership behaviors? Are you living and modeling those behaviors with your teams and employees?

If you take the eight suggestions above to heart, and if you are working on engaging all of them, you will multiply the effective intelligence of your organization and can expect improved productivity, greater innovation, superior employee engagement, high performing teams, less waste, better quality, more loyal customers, better talent retention and higher profitability.

Are you willing to build a learning-based, higher performing enterprise by multiplying the effective intelligence of your human system?

Staub Leadership has been helping organizations to multiply their effective intelligence by liberating the purpose, passion and power of individuals and teams for the last three decades.