The HBR article was an interview with Anita Woolley, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior & Theory at Carnegie Mellon University, and Thomas Malone, Professor of Management at MIT. Woolley, Malone, and their associates were studying individual intelligence scores and collective group performance. There were several group tasks including one complex problem-solving task. Each group was given a collective intelligence score based on the group’s performance. There were over 190 groups.
Groups with a higher average of individual intelligence scores did not outperform those groups with a lower average of individual intelligence scores. Group cohesion made no difference. Group satisfaction made no difference. Group motivation was not a factor. The only variable that made a significant difference in the collective intelligence of a group was the percentage of women in the group. More women, better performance.
Woolley suggested the difference may be attributed to women having greater social sensitivity, being able to understand and interpret dynamics and feelings of those around them. Research suggests that women may have greater social sensitivity. In his active listening article, Keyser suggested women are better listeners.
Diversity in group or team decision-making can bring a wider variety of opinions to the table. Some research indicates that as the number of women on corporate boards increases, so too do the boards' effectiveness. Norway is often cited as requiring corporate boards be 40% women, though this is a simplification of Norwegian law.
Regardless of gender, groups that have more people with social sensitivity, people who truly listen, actively listen – these groups should be more effective.
Keyser, J. (July, 2013). Active listening leads to business success. Training & Development, 26-28.
Woolley, A., & Malone, T. (2011). What makes a team smarter? More women. Harvard Business Review, 89 (6), 32-33.