The gears from an egg timer, showing the Lever escapement and other gears.

Problem solving ability is not only related to relevant knowledge or expertise. For one person, doing cognitive work, the explaining factor is called general intelligence (IQ).

IQ is a measurement widely used, though problematic, due to its history and how it has been used. (I recommend this series by RadioLab)

For a group working together the same phenomenon is called “collective intelligence factor”. Just like individual intelligence, it aims to describe why some teams have consistent better performance, independent of the nature of the task. Research by Woolley et al. shows that there are two major factors that contribute to how intelligent a group of people is.

  1. Correctly reading the emotional state of others
  2. Equal contribution in conversations and turn taking

Compare this with aspects of ensemble programming.

  1. Regular retrospectives create a place for learning about others experiences. Retrospectives are a great way to improve your work, and one aspect is practising empathy. It creates a forum for sharing your perspective, including how you feel. An ensemble session ending with a short retro builds a feedback system for the team interactions.

  2. Talking on a timer creates a framework for distributing contribution. We are not very good at judging how talking time is actually distributed. Strict ensemble working, with a timer, helps us get input from everyone. It could also help us get a better sense of what equal talking time feels like.

The interactions of a team is more important for the result than their individual intelligence. That is good news. It is hard (or even impossible, depending on definition) to improve ones intelligence. The dynamics of a team, and how we read and regard others emotions, can develop.

If you want to improve the general performance of a team, help them:

  1. Take note of each others emotions.
  2. Get the input from everyone.

One way to do this is through ensemble working, ending it with a short retrospective.


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