19 May 2021

The Unfolding Evolution of a Collective Intelligence Team – Part 1

This is the first in a four-part series documenting the evolution of an actual Collective Intelligence team, and explores the early days of the team’s development. Our guest blogger and their team requested anonymity so they can tell their story openly and from the heart. Names have been changed.

Note: In a few key places, Collective Intelligence founder Ian ‘Harv’ Harvey, adds his perspective to the team’s unfolding story. His comments show as a popup box when you hover over a phrase with a squiggled underline.

Part I | The Early Days


It is a hard thing to describe what Collective Intelligence is exactly. Those who try usually succeed only in eliciting cocked heads and slightly confused looks on the faces of those who are curious enough to ask. Is it a professional development organisation? Is it a peer-to-peer coaching network? A personal development accelerator? Is it some sort of weird cult? Is it like a 12-step programme without any particular shared vice? The answer is it’s probably a little bit of all of these things.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been on a journey immersing myself into a Collective Intelligence team, and witnessing the power of this ecosystem of professionals first-hand. It’s been an eye-opening journey, both inwardly, and as I look around me and realise what can happen when a group of very different people remain dedicated to helping and supporting one another, come what may. Stories have been told in the past about individual Collective Intelligence members, but never has the story of a whole team been laid bare. The process within individual teams is somewhat of a black box, given the confidentiality that team members maintain and the bespoke nature of how teams employ it in their context, so my job is to provide a glimpse inside one.

Over a series of four articles, I am bringing to you the story of one team, my team – a team who shall remain nameless so that I can be more candid and bring you the full story. All team member names have been changed. Through these stories, I hope to shine a light on the value and magic of Collective Intelligence, the process the teams follow, and come a little closer to illustrating just what this thing is.

The First Seeds Sown

The Collective Intelligence team in question began their journey in an upstairs meeting room at Wellington Airport. It was April 2017 and six brave souls had been carefully curated to be assigned together into a small team that would be dedicated to helping them with their personal and professional growth.

They were greeted by Collective Intelligence Founder Ian ‘Harv’ Harvey, and team facilitator Sophia. Between them, they outlined what Collective Intelligence stood for as a network and what the team meeting processes would look like. Members could come from any industry, profession, vocation or lifestyle, and the only requirement for membership was that they were competent, ambitious, authentic, and curious – the four key attributes of all Collective Intelligence members. Harv explained that teams meet three times a year for two days at a time. Usually, two of those three annual meetings would include a “Host Day”, where one member of the team was in the spotlight and everyone else rallied around to help them move through a question they had about their professional or personal growth.

The inaugural team members took the time to introduce themselves to each other, complete with sketching out a timeline of the highs and lows of their life to date. Grace was a 22-year-old founder of a tech company involved in transport and logistics, which had evolved out of a university research project. Lanie was CEO of a leading organisation supporting workplaces with mental health, addiction, and disability issues. Marshall was a softly-spoken, American, organisation development professional, passionate about nurturing thriving teams. The team was rounded out by three other individuals who have since left Collective Intelligence. Given Collective Intelligence’s firm commitment to maintaining confidentiality, I will only discuss former members in general terms.

As the inaugural meeting, it was only one day long rather than the usual two, and was a chance to set team expectations and culture, which included:

Team charter

Faced with the intensity of discussion and enthusiasm from the team to get into the nitty gritty, and a room full of highly experienced people, facilitator Sophia thought to herself, “I’m going to have to be good at my job”. Two of the team members voiced at the end of that first meeting that they didn’t think they needed a facilitator going forward. But Sophia would prove her value and share her expertise time and again in the coming few years, and would herself gain a lot from shepherding the team through the various twists and turns that were to come.

Harv finished up the meeting by laying down the gauntlet and challenging the team to write a TED-style talk to present at their next team meeting.

TED Talks for Everyone

The team’s second meeting was a further chance to get to know each other more fully. Held at Silverstream Retreat near Upper Hutt, the team rose to Harv’s challenge and duly delivered their “TED Talks”. Marshall’s talk was entitled “Getting to Simple” and covered just that – how to find the core essence of a problem or challenge, and address that rather than everything else around it. Grace talked about her company, while Lanie spoke about mental health and wellbeing. In a completely different fashion from the other talks, another member educated the team on the difference between different cuts of beef and demonstrated how to cook a perfect steak.

The second day saw the team deepening their relationships and helping each other to explore challenges in their personal and professional lives. They shared frustrations that they were experiencing at work, crowd-sourced opinions on upcoming business development, and mused about whether or not it was the ideal time to launch a new venture. Some queried how they might achieve better work/life balance in order to spend more time with kids.

“We didn’t know what was waiting for us, and once it happened we weren’t sure if it was magic, or just inexplicably wonderful”
– Marshall

The First Host Day

Lanie was the first to put her hand up to volunteer for the Host Day process, and in doing so offered herself up for her life to be thoroughly scrutinised — in the most supportive way possible.

Along with guidance from their facilitator, the member in the spotlight of a Collective Intelligence Host Day sets a question or theme for the team to explore. Typically, the question is one designed to help them move through something that they may be struggling with, either at work or home. Faced with a looming restructure of her organisation, the theme question for Lanie’s Host Day was “How do we go about an inclusive restructure to achieve the best outcome and the least disruption?”

As is the standard practice in Host Day meetings, Lanie had organised a few interviews in advance between the team and some people who knew her well. The people who are interviewed in this part of the Collective Intelligence process usually include friends, mentors, children, co-workers, partners (both in business and life), family members, ex-colleagues, customers, and the occasional ex-lover. Essentially, the best interviewees are people who know the Host well and are willing to provide frank, open, honest and constructive feedback about their strengths, their struggles, and what is holding them or their organisation back.

The interviews were conducted while Lanie was out of the room, and she was invited back to the group once they were finished. Then came what was perhaps the most unique element of Lanie’s Host Day. She sat in the corner of the room, as the rest of the team completely ignored her and discussed what her friends and co-workers had to say as if she wasn’t there at all.

Hearing the feedback was surreal and somewhat anxiety-provoking. I haven’t ever experienced anything like that before, but ultimately it was incredibly helpful as part of the reflective learning process.”
– Lanie

The ghost-host-in-the-room style of collating feedback is an immensely powerful tool in helping Collective Intelligence members to understand and gradually take in what people truly value about them and where there may be blind spots or areas for improvement. It’s not for everyone, and each team does things differently, but for those who do opt-in to this format it removes the discomfort of having a handful of people staring straight at you as they deliver uncomfortable truths, and removes any expectation of a right of reply or defence. This comes afterwards, when the Host re-joins the discussion and has a chance to refute, clarify or question anything that has been said. But for the initial discussion of what came up in the interviews, their job is merely to listen. Afterwards, Lanie expressed surprise and gratitude at how detailed everyone had been with their feedback and how committed they were to her personal and career development.

At this third meeting of the team, the group had their first departure of a member who was unable to continue their commitment to the group for personal reasons. In their place, two new members showed up. One of them never came back, after it became clear to everyone that this person had no real interest in working on themselves. Harv realised that maybe he had not prepared this person well enough with regards what to expect when inviting them into Collective Intelligence. But the other person to join that day has since become a committed and valued member of the team.

Jayson hailed from the Hawke’s Bay, where he and his wife ran a technology company. His first impressions of the team were formed over lunch on the first day, and he describes the following two days as full on and vivid:

“My first introduction to Marshall was this American showing up in a giant cowboy hat, there was a huge Kiwi farmer, and then there was this precocious young person called Grace. Despite – or perhaps because of – their obvious differences, it worked. I’d never seen anything like it.”
– Jayson

Completely outside his usual realm of experience and firmly out of his comfort zone, Jayson was also fascinated by the fact that the people that Lanie had nominated to be interviewed didn’t all agree with each other in their feedback. Some interviewees described Lanie as a great manager, while others didn’t particularly enjoy her style, and one was even quite negative.

By the end of their third meeting the team was beginning to gel with each other, and the foundations of a strong, trusting group relationship had been set. As Jayson experienced the out-of-the-blue thrill being driven back to the airport in a brand-new Tesla SUV courtesy of a would-be member of Collective Intelligence that Harv had been courting, he returned to Hawke’s Bay wondering, “What the hell was that all about?” Despite being overwhelmed by the two days of real talk with a bunch of strangers who had quickly become new friends, he could see the potency of the process and was sufficiently impressed to volunteer himself to be the next host.

Key Learnings

  • Agreement is not necessary for learning to happen. Respect is.
  • Jumping all in is the best way to get the most out of Collective Intelligence.
  • The Host Day process is confronting yet powerful. Trust it.
  • Not everyone is a good fit for Collective Intelligence.

 


Editor’s Note: We are very grateful to our anonymous blogger and their team for sharing their journeys of inner discovery with us.

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