Book review: the power of collaboration

Teaching An Anthill To Fetch: Developing Collaborative Intelligence At Work

By Stephen James Joyce,

Mighty Small Books

Who needs zoologists telling us that sea squirts may be our ancestral cousins? A quick look around the office gives conclusive evidence of an evolutionary link.

Through the wonders of science, we’ve discovered that sea squirts share 80 per cent of our DNA. Sea squirts make the short list of God’s truly weird little creatures. Sea squirts float around in oceans until they find a place to call home. With mission accomplished, sea squirts literally eat their brains out and then mindlessly spend the rest of their days filtering water for food.

Sound vaguely familiar? Remind you of colleagues who quit learning after six weeks into the job and have gone through the motions ever since on their slow march to the quarter century club?

"The sea squirt assumes that nothing is going to change in its environment and that it will no longer need to make significant adjustments," says author Stephen James Joyce. "This may work for the sea squirt, but human beings can’t afford to follow suit."

We can’t go snacking on our brains because of the pace of change and the scope of challenges coming our way. What’s more, we need to share what we know with the folks around us.

"None of us is as intelligent as all of us," says Joyce.

And no one has a monopoly on good ideas. While you’re still trying to get your head around an issue or figure out a problem, odds are someone’s already come up with a perfect solution. The trick is getting connected.

We already know about intellectual and emotional intelligence. Joyce makes the case for adding collaborative intelligence to the mix, or what he calls "the ability to build, contribute to and manage the power found in networks of people."

How much smarts and intelligence are there in a network? Let’s say you work in a department of 30 people where the average age is 35. You’re looking at more than 1,000 years of life experience that’s rich with diversity and good ideas.

"Imagine the level of this team’s collaborative intelligence when processes that are designed to tap into the vast amount of collective life experience of this group are put into place," says Joyce.

Highly collaborative teams are easy to spot. It’s that department in your organization that has no trouble recruiting and retaining great people who clearly love what they do. It’s where everyone’s fully engaged and participating in meaningful ways. It’s a team that’s highly creative, flexible and resilient. It’s where stress and strain are shared evenly and shouldered by all. Where objectives are met more through people and less through politics.

There’s a strong and unifying sense of purpose and community.

Accountability is shared. And the perfect balance has been struck between leadership and followship.

All of which translates into no drama and no larger than life leaders with outsized egos. "More and more organizations are realizing that what is not required is more heroes to save the day as far as their business performance is concerned.

A hero concentrates the capacity for action around themselves and also tends to disempower everyone else."

Teams and organizations with high levels of collaborative intelligence will get the edge in competing for Generation Y employees. Folks born between 1977 and 2003 represent the second largest cohort next to Baby Boomers, who are now retiring at an accelerated clip. Ask Generation Y about the three top values they look for in a prospective employer and you get integrity, social responsibility and loyalty. Ask what they value most about their work and Generation Y will answer back with teamwork, work-life balance, stimulating work and lots of feedback.

Which is exactly what organizations with high collaborative intelligence can deliver.

For teams and organizations that aren’t quite there yet, Joyce serves up practical tools and processes to unlock the power for collaboration at

Jay Robb, is a Hamilton freelance writer who blogs at

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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