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Enabling Business Agile: Building Collective Intelligence

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  September 30, 2016  |  Comments Off on Enabling Business Agile: Building Collective Intelligence

One of the key components of business agile has always been building a culture of collective intelligence.  Essentially it means that in order to move quickly and be able to respond effectively to changes in the ecosystem the enterprise needs to develop a collective memory about what works, what doesn’t work and how best to get things done.

There isn’t much debate on the importance of this level of shared experience but making it a sustainable organizational asset has proven difficult if not impossible to data (as far as I know). Lessons learned databases are created and never used and most knowledge management efforts I’ve seen over the years have failed.  So if it’s so important to creating a business agile culture what should we do?

Based on a lot of years of working on teams that did achieve what I would call collective intelligence what I’ve noticed is that the prime determinate of success was that the groups have been made up of people who could truly listen to what another says and processed it as if it were their own thought.  Effectively what we’re talking about is nodal thinking. Information comes in from all members of the groups and is treated as input from member bodies (rather than foreign bodies) and is processed with no stress (and no personality or ego overlays).

In the agile community we say this happens with Trust as the core component (i.e. we can disagree and still respect each other.) Agile tends to stop at this point with trust as the end goal.  I have gotten much more interested in where trust comes from and the answer for me is social capital.  Trust, as well as participation and reciprocity are commonly cited as the three components of social capital. While all these components can exist on their own I believe group dynamics operate more positively when all three of them exist in a balanced feedback loop.  It also turns out that social capital is a driver for both entrepreneurial orientation and enterprise innovation, both of which are necessary for meeting the digital future.

The problem is just putting a label on something and saying it’s important doesn’t make it so.  In my work on software that enables strategy execution I keep sneaking in a recommendation for software that enables decision support.  Years ago while visiting the University of Arizona at Tucson I was shown a collaborative decision making tool that made a deep impression on me.  The technology was limited in the 90s but today we’ve made progress.  In 2014 we highlighted in our Cool Vendors Report an example of a tool that might help in our journey to finally build collective intelligence and I’m sure there are others.

Obviously these are early reflections on an emerging topic but I’d love to hear back from those in the agile community to more deeply discuss what techniques and behaviors build trust and true collaboration.  I’d also love to hear from those of you in the trenches managing any type of team.  Do your teams function as a collective intelligence? Finally just as I was finishing writing this I had a conversation that said eventually Artificial Intelligence would become the repository of our collective intelligence.  Any one seeing any early signs that we’re getting closer?

I’m absolutely sure we’re on to something here and I’m suggesting we use our own collective intelligence to fine tune how we can get more consistent value out of the technique.

Category: agile  business-agile  strategy-execution  

Donna Fitzgerald
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Donna Fitzgerald focuses her research on strategies and approaches for using program and portfolio management as a way to create unique business value. Read Full Bio




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