Tribe Culture Change | Women are safer than men
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18 Jul Women are safer than men

Have you ever managed safety at an organisation full of academically-gifted individuals? If the answer’s yes then you might recognise a safety culture that leaves much to be desired.

That’s because IQ, the test of intelligence, may well be a reliable predictor of academic performance but it certainly isn’t a good predictor of overall performance, and indeed safety performance.

Male and female toilet signs

I once had the challenge of advising a safety manager at a scientific lab on how to persuade their PHDs to stay in the here and now and consider the risks of their job. The same PHDs who occasionally had to be physically removed from the premises because they spent months sleeping at their desk, becoming unrecognisable, gibbering shadows of their former-selves.

EQ: a better predictor

We’ve suggested for a while now that EQ or emotional intelligence is a much more effective predictor of real world success in an individual. It’s the ability to use your IQ in a socially-aware context to influence and engage with others around you. I frequently see the positive impact that individuals with a high EQ have upon an organisation, especially when it comes to safety leadership.

Like IQ, EQ can be measured and it’s a pretty useful piece of information for safety culture. That’s because EQ informs leadership skills – pivotal in the context of safety. But also like IQ, it’s only being applied on an individual basis. Yet very rarely do people in modern organisations truly work on their own.

Team intelligence is far more important than individual intelligence, especially where safety is concerned. Individuals are influenced by groups around them, and I believe that even individuals with high EQ can perform badly, if influenced by a group of their somewhat less emotionally intelligent peers.

How to build a better team with EQ

So if team intelligence is important, how can you measure it to put together the best teams possible?

A recent study at MIT researched group intelligence to “… determine how collective intelligence might be harnessed to tackle problems”. And discover if teams exist who perform well no matter what the situation.

It may come as no surprise, but they’ve proved that some teams are indeed better than others, regardless of the task. More interestingly, the teams with the highest individual IQs, were not the highest performing teams. It’s that familiar observation again that we saw in organisations full of academically-gifted individuals…

“Just getting a lot of smart people in a group does not necessarily make a smart group” says Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence where the research was conducted.

But what do you think was the most important factor in team performance? The secret formula:

“The emotional intelligence of group members… serves the cognitive intelligence of the group overall. And this means that… groups with more women tend to be smarter than groups with more men.”

This was no coincidence. In fact teams continued to get even smarter up to the point where most members in the team were women. They found that these smarter teams had individuals with the highest social sensitivity, a key characteristic of EQ. It just so happens that “Women tend to be more socially sensitive than men.”

So, what can we learn from this?

If you accept the widely held belief that a smarter team is a safer team, and in my experience good performance does go hand-in-hand with good safety, I believe that if you want to create a safer culture in your organisation you have two options:

  • Employ more women in place of men in the workplace.
  • Recognise the importance of EQ both individually and in a group context, select and train individuals to create higher organisational EQ and better performance will then follow.

I’ll leave that one up to you.

Mark Ormond
Mark Ormond
mark.ormond@tribecc.com