Ok, hold with the cynical laughter.  We all know in how many ways that can sound like a stupid question. So please bear with me.

If it isn’t intelligent, where is its stupidity located?  If it were to become intelligent, where would that happen?  If you think that’s about your boss, or your most irritating colleague, I would like to take a deeper look.

A sunflower turns to face the sun. It has no brain. Yet its behaviour exhibits basic intelligence; it does what it needs to do.  Where is that intelligence located?

With organisations, when we try to make improvements, we typically work on one of two things.  Most often attitudes and skills, talking about vision and purpose, looking to change mind-sets and behaviours, sometimes even by replacing people.  Alternatively we work on structures, processes and systems.  If we are really smart, or lucky, we work on both together.

How clever do your systems have to be, for your organisation to be intelligent?  By how much would you have to improve your processes?  Does the intelligence depend on how brilliant your leaders are and how well they can understand the system?

Do you share my sense that something is missing with both of these questions – that neither systems and processes, nor leaders, nor trained individuals are enough to make an organisation intelligent? That even together something essential is still lacking?  What would that be?

“Intelligence is invisible. Some of it is instinctive and intuitive, sensed or felt, and is found in the spaces between us and in the collective field.”

If that seems like a tricky question, I suggest it is because intelligence is invisible. It is like asking what makes you alive rather than dead, looking for an animating spirit, or even a soul.

We are used to looking at ‘things’, schooled to do so, to treat even people as things (what else is a “human resource”?) and failing to look at what is ‘in-between’.  Intelligence is in the non-visible – the conversations, the contexts, the shared history, the knowledge that you have of one another and of your customers.  Some of it is instinctive and intuitive, sensed or felt, and is found in the spaces between us and in the collective field.

Structures are important because they either facilitate or constrain the flow of that intelligence.  Our structures and processes often need loosening up. The skills and attitudes that individuals have are important because they can make or mar the flow; I am not saying that there is no value in up-skilling people.  How people feel about themselves, their role, their relationships with colleagues and their fit to the organisation can enhance or sabotage the synergy and the overall performance. Leadership lives in the ways that the knowledge in the system emerges into choices, and choices are the being, the life of the organisation as it goes about its business.  These components still matter.

Organisational Intelligence depends on trust, openness, communication (sharing and listening), attention and awareness

Nevertheless, intelligence in an organisation is essentially collaborative and collective, and it can be enhanced and facilitated by paying attention to it, discovering the qualities and the day to day features that make it flow.  It depends on trust, openness, communication (sharing and listening), attention and awareness.

In its devotion to the mechanical, the macho and the competitive cutting-edges and bottom lines of a business, the world has behaved as if such ‘We-Q’ factors are an enhancement, an optional add-on, a fluffy “nice-to-have”.  The convention has been “let’s do some more management training”.  The evidence says that hasn’t been working.  Only 18% of organisations say that their leaders are “very effective” at meeting business goals.

In today’s fast-moving world, the intelligence we are looking at here is the difference between an alive, agile, responsive organisation and a mechanical, lifeless, animatronic dinosaur.  What do you want, and what will your customers and stakeholders prefer?

What would it take to make your organisation more intelligent?  How about developing your We-Q?

Jon Freeman