Is your school collectively intelligent?

Intelligence was a term usually used to describe individuals. Simply put, it stood for the ability of the individual to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. There are many ways to determine how intelligent a person is. But intellectual capacities of two or more individuals can work together or collaborate in order to produce, perhaps, more effective outcomes. One can term it as collective intelligence.

Collective intelligence is an invisible force which operates among the individuals of an organization or a community. It transcends the individual over space and time (Emile Durkheim, 1912). It “enhances the collective pool of social knowledge by simultaneously expanding the extent of human interactions” (Pierre Lévy, 1994).


Collective intelligence among teaching professionals

Teaching as a profession ceases to be a profession without collaboration among teaching personnel. For this reason, collective intelligence among teachers is the very backbone of any educational institution. In an institution, if collective intelligence is strong and is the basic substrate of working culture, teachers will be exhibiting more or less similar approaches to manifold issues related to school. This doesn’t mean that teachers follow fixed rigid norms and rules. They will have a uniform but a vibrant and dynamic approach towards teaching, dealing with students, executing official tasks etc.

As any characteristics noticed in intelligent individuals, innovation, creativity, curiosity, readiness to experiment, perseverance, persistence etc all will be inherent in the school professional cultures marked by high collective intelligence quotient. A working climate charged with collective intelligence stimulates the inmates of an educational institution and individual members can’t simply evade the influence of it. They become seekers of information from others as well as contributors to the collective pool of intelligence.

The role of head of institution in fostering collective intelligence

Collective intelligence may or may not exist among the teaching professionals of an institution. For the collective intelligence to take root in the organizational climate of an educational institution, the head of the institution must be an architect of a collective pool of knowledge. He steers the venues for formal as well as informal group interactions to build up collective intelligence. For this, he promotes individual contribution and is keen on tailoring it into collective decision-making. While ensuring flexibility in collective behavior, he never allows individual differences to hamper the harmony or cause disorganization in the group. On the contrary individual differences become conduits for the new information to enter into the span of collective intelligence.

To receive the influx of novel information the professional group with high collective intelligence quotient will be reorganizing itself constantly. And the head of the institution diligently monitors the ensuing change for its effectiveness.

What fosters collective intelligence?

The organizational practices that help in the formation or fostering of collective intelligence are given below. These organizational behaviors which foster collective intelligence have to be constantly enhanced and coordinated. Effective mobilization of the collective skills has also to be ensured.

  1. Create an atmosphere of openness where sharing of ideas and gaining improvement through collaboration is a norm.
  2. Effective self organization in managing tasks must be encouraged and hierarchical management should not come as a hindrance for it.
  3. Build up a “sense of ownership” in the minds of teachers about the institution in which they spend a major part of time. This enhances their willingness to share their intellectual know-how to the group without any hesitation.
  4. Collective intelligence operating in an educational institution must not be confined to itself. It should expand beyond its limits and embrace global standards. In other words, its boundaries should be porous allowing knowledge and experiences to flow within and without.

(Courtesy: Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams (2007))

Institutional practices that hamper the possibility for the formation of collective intelligence

  1. Authoritarian leadership
  2. Rigid organizational rules and regulations
  3. Strong, rigid collectivistic culture prevailing in the group at the cost of individual freedom of expression
  4. Racial/gender discrimination
  5. Exaggerated importance given to hierarchy in organizational structure
  6. Lack of vision/clarity of the head of the institution.
  7. Favoritism shown by the head of the institution.
  8. The absence of growth mindset and professional lethargy prevailing in the working atmosphere of the organization.

Benefits of high collective intelligence quotient

  1. A pro-active school culture
  2. Increased productivity
  3. Consensus among the members about school discipline and related issues
  4. Collective effort towards student success
  5. Safety from the fear of being trapped in stagnation by falling into a rut.
  6. Increased enthusiasm among individual members to experiment, research and update themselves
  7. Lesser possibility for overlooking various problems institution is facing
  8. Foster growth mindset among the staff members.

Final word

Dedication to the profession is not a panacea for all inadequacies educational institution faces especially when there is a marked absence of collaboration among teaching personnel. Collective intelligence can transform individual as well as collective working space. Professionals become seekers of professional excellence when they are working in a group with high collective intelligence quotient


Jeny Rapheal wrote this piece for Teachers of India. She's a researcher in the area of educational psychology.


ankaraonavodayya's picture

Wow.. you just given few hundred Olympic gold medals and Olympiad selections for India.
Academic efficiency will multiply if Schools​ understand hidden value in your article.

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