Collective Intelligence - The Best of Synergy.

Table of contents


Have you already been in a meeting where:

  • All members do not participate in the same way?
  • Some speak all the time – even to say nothing – while others barely speak ?
  • Different opinions lead to battles of the egos that prevent a project from functioning well?
  • A solution is decided by decision-makers that is beside the point?

We live in a culture of expertise and compartmentalization. To face a problem, we usually call on experts, specialists in several domains : we let our decision-making power in their hands. Collective intelligence makes the bet that people in a collective are good enough to combine their expertise, their creativity, their capabilities, and their natural aptitude to apply a solution that they will have generated themselves. In the old hierarchical management system, managers had two contradictory objectives :

  • They needed to count on the participation, the know-how, and the initiative of collaborators
  • They were tempted to control them

This management system is sadly still operating in our society. The principle of collective intelligence approach is very different. The aim is no longer to control the people but to control the process. This framed process will create a common and secured envelope around the group, that will support responsibility and freedom of each member. Collective intelligence is based on three values: peace, freedom and responsibility. These values use several tools such as cooperation, trust, sharing, empathy, and kindness in order to create a social intelligence that transcends the sum of individual intelligence.

We can use collective intelligence in many interactions, including the professional domain – where Collective intelligence is usually called Intervision – : from a small project meeting to a strategic transformation brainstorming. While keeping his leading role, the leader is no longer there to manage each collaborator, but to support a bigger structure that surpasses him. The processes of collective intelligence / intervision do not put different skills in competition but multiply expertise in a collaborative way. The results are more creative, innovative and rewarding.

In which situation is the collective intelligence useful?

Collective intelligence is useful in all kinds of situations where we feel that the human being would profit from:

  • Sharing his resources and utilizing those of others.
  • Developing more innovation, more shared intelligence, more agility. It is very powerful each time a complex situation needs to be managed with many diverse actors.


To implement collective intelligence, we need to follow simple but rigorous rules. These rules aim not to constrain people but to support their freedom, creativity and responsibility.


Rules can first be described by the collective’s components:

  • The place, which needs to comfortably welcome the participants: bright, airy, with enough space to display group productions.
  • The sponsor, the organizer: he carries the intention that unites the participants.
  • The team, that takes care of all the necessary materials needed for the meeting.
  • The facilitator, the keeper that supports this space of co-creation, by verifying the rules are kept and facilitating the process during the meeting.
  • The process: simple, solid, helping creativity and innovation to pop up through diversity and expertise valorization.


Fundamentals that help the emergence of collective intelligence are:

  • Organization in circle: representing humanity equivalence. Keeping in mind that everyone speaks from his role in the group.
  • Turn to speak: inviting everyone to voice their concern.
  • Power of silence: through the turn to speak, or proposed during the meeting, this moment helps to mature the ideas that have emerged from the interaction.
  • Speech in the center: there is no debate in collective intelligence, no judgment. Everyone speaks in his name, his role and his responsibility.
  • Addition and multiplication of opinions: helping innovation instead of competition.
  • Rules and processes kept in mind: the facilitator is the guardian to ensure that rules and processes are followed by the collective.
  • Everyone is responsible for himself: his emotions, his needs and his acts.

Fundamentals to ensure the quality of the interaction:

To ensure a good and trustful relationship between participants and to avoid overflows, some pre-requisites are necessary :

  • Attentive, benevolent and active listening to what is being said.
  • Active listening is made with empathy and kindness.
  • Differences and disagreements are expressed without judgment or aggressivity.
  • Everyone’s speech is respected, which does not mean everyone has to have the same opinion.
  • Speaking in our own name : preferably using “I” instead of “You”, without judging anyone’s opinion.
  • Silence as well as the need of withdrawal are respected : evolution in communication can be adapted by protocols created by the group.
  • Communication is fluid : protocols can be created in order to ease communication – time to ask questions, to issue a problem or to emit a proposed solution can be defined by the group.
  • Confidence is primordial : participants can speak freely during the meeting without fearing that their confidence will be violated outside the meeting.
  • Speaking should be concise and straightforward : while speaking, we always must keep in mind the interest of the group.

Process at a collective intelligence meeting

  • Step 1 – Introduction - A routine can be decided by the group before beginning a new session. That can be a breathing exercise, or a song we can dance on. This aims to help devote one’s time to the meeting, to be present in the moment before beginning the speaking round. As an introduction, we can realize a “weather tour” in order to understand in which state of mind we are. The goal is to take care about the inclusion of each participant within the group.
  • Step 2 – Content of the meeting - Everyone at his turn announces a topic, a problem. Within the group, a prioritization is made between all topics. One after the other, they are discussed from the most important to the less one, regarding the time spent on the reunion.
  • Step 3 – Conclusion - At the end of the session, a moment is given to conclude in order to help everyone to give his feedback about the session.

Illustration of a potential Intervision at Ordina

  1. Let’s imagine an intervention between Jworks colleagues to improve the department community. Beforehand, a security framework had been established. This framework will help members to feel in a safe environment to be able to speak without judgment feelings.
  2. The facilitator suggests an introduction tour to let people be present for this moment of gathering.
  3. The facilitator suggests to enter the content where everyone will be able to give the problems they face or the ideas they have in mind to improve the department.
  4. A prioritization is made between all topics. The first tour, everyone can vote for multiple topics. If some are ex-aequo, we only can vote for one of them.
  5. The group begins with the first prioritized topic. The person who gave the topic tries to be concise and precise to explain it.
  6. After first explanations, other members of the group ask clarification questions.
  7. After clarification, the topic owner decides how he wants to handle his topic.
  8. Many tools of collective intelligence can therefore be used. The “if I were you” is one of them.
  9. When the topic owner decides, a closing tour is made, starting with him. The next prioritized topic is addressed. Etc.
  10. The timekeeper keeps his role in mind until the end of the session. He usually pinpoints when it is 5 minutes before the end.


What collective intelligence is not

  • Working in collective intelligence does not mean there is no structure or hierarchy. Everyone has their role and responsibility regarding the whole. Hierarchy of power leaves space to hierarchy of responsibility. Each member assumes his own responsibility and respects the responsibility of the others with profound respect. This idea can be translated into two principles: “everyone has the right to a place” and “everyone must be at his place”.
  • Collective intelligence does not always work without a hustle. Cooperation between humans and relational maturity is feasible but, as for every relationship, the way to create innovation, agility and reward is not always easy. Every collaborator needs to find his space of expression while knowing his responsibility within the group. Those processes ask each member to stay at his place, which can be sometimes painful. That is why a facilitator is necessary to welcome and guide those moments.
  • Collective intelligence is not the Holy Grail. Collective intelligence can be seen as very aggressive from a system that is not ready to transform. This can be the case when the system is based on a power struggle, is very rigid or with fears and limiting beliefs. As collective intelligence is proposed and never imposed on a collective, we usually quickly feel the “go” or “no go” of the group. “No go” signs can be expressed as repeated absences or role confusion. In that case, it is preferable to stop the process, wait and try to understand the fears that are expressed.

Therefore, while not being the holy grail, collective intelligence can be seen as the hat of Mary Poppins: we play with processes, we open a space for dreams and creativity, we draw, we laugh, before converging into a collective and rewarding action plan.

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people”.

Laura is an Analyst at Ordina Belgium. Also Competence Lead of Technical Leadership at Jworks. Passionate about people. Eager to share knowledge. Not afraid of challenges. Always interested in learning and discovering new things.