Collective Attention and Collective Intelligence: The Role of Hierarchy and Team Gender Composition

Anita Williams Woolley, Rosalind M. Chow, Anna T. Mayo, Christoph Riedl, Jin Wook Chang
Organization Science
June 7, 2022


Collective intelligence (CI) captures a team’s ability to work together across a wide range of tasks and can vary significantly between teams. Extant work demonstrates that the level of collective attention a team develops has an important influence on their level of CI. An important question, then, is what enhances collective attention? Prior work demonstrates an association with team composition; here we additionally examine the influence of team hierarchy and its interaction with team gender composition. To do so, we conducted an experiment with 584 individuals working in 146 teams in which we randomly assigned each team to work in a stable, unstable, or unspecified hierarchical team structure and varied team gender composition. We examined how team structure led to different behavioral manifestations of collective attention as evidenced in team speaking patterns. We find that a stable hierarchical structure increases more cooperative, synchronous speaking patterns, but that unstable hierarchical structure and a lack of specified hierarchical structure both increase competitive, interruptive speaking patterns. Moreover, the effect of cooperative vs. competitive speaking patterns on collective intelligence is moderated by the teams’ gender composition; majority female teams exhibit higher CI when their speaking patterns are more cooperative and synchronous, whereas all male teams exhibit higher CI when their speaking involves more competitive interruptions. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings for enhancing collective intelligence in organizational teams.

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