How did collective intelligence at B12 Consulting help us in our management of the COVID-19 crisis?

By Camille LIBERT, July 2020
Camille 
Libert
People & Business Manager

INTRODUCTION

When I told my colleagues that 1 + 1 > 2 , it made their teeth grind: they immediately referred to an infamous action movie actor! Nevertheless they were not aware that they make this equation true on a daily basis at work.

Our mission at B12 Consulting is to solve our Clients' most complex problems with IT, and by definition complex problems don't have obvious answers. We therefore push the boundaries of creativity on a daily basis to create custom and innovative solutions for our Clients.

Our best asset to achieve this? Collective intelligence.

I would define collective intelligence as the mind power of a team working towards a common objective. It is achieved through high social interdependance between the members[1] and results from collective processes such as collaboration, trust or collective decision-making[2]. At B12 Consulting, collective intelligence fits almost naturally into every approach and preserving it during the lockdown has proven to be essential in our management of the health crisis.

SPONTANEOUS AND CHANNELLED COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE

Created by three PhDs in physics, our company can be seen as the fruit of collective intelligence. Aware of the power of collective intelligence, widespread in academia, the founders spontaneously built it into all the decisions — fundamental and operational — that have shaped and continue to shape our company. So much so that expressing one's opinion, or even dissenting, is one of our core values today with the aim of encouraging ever more collective reflection.

Our organisation as such also calls for collective intelligence: although we are exclusively a consulting and services company, most of our members work from our offices in Louvain-la-Neuve. Being at one place encourages collective reflection on our Clients' issues in small teams of 2 to 6 people, but also provides a dynamic for cross-functional information exchange at the company level. Indeed, no one is totally foreign to the other projects in progress and the solutions that are brought to them. Brainstorming, peer programming and technological debates are therefore very often on the agenda or in the coffee machine room.

In addition to projects, we have also developed numerous initiatives to channel and formalise our collective intelligence at the corporate level. We all get together twice a month for "Knowledge Sharing" to listen to the advice of one of our colleagues and, above all, to share their experience. The topics are varied but are always related to our services: Data Science, programming but also communication or leadership. Everyone is invited to participate, so that Knowledge Sharing sometimes goes beyond the sole benefit of our positions. Even if Python programming does not help me in my daily work, it allows me to broaden my IT knowledge and to better interact and share my experience at B12 with candidates in the context of recruitment for example.

Knowledge Sharing on Git

Our "Focus Groups" are also particularly effective in meeting the challenges we face with the help of collective intelligence. Set up more than a year ago, these Focus Groups bring together 4 to 6 people who invest in the long term in the development of new initiatives or the improvement of our processes. For example, it is from the meeting of a Developer, a Lawyer, a Managing Partner and a Data Scientist that a Pitch Group was born, whose objective is to teach the basics of business development through regular exercises and workshops.

The development of our projects internally and in small groups, Knowledge Sharing, Focus Groups and other interactions are constantly enriching the collective intelligence of our team.

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE AGAINST COVID-19

Respecting the obligations related to the reorganisation of work during the Covid health crisis, our entire team spent nearly three months teleworking. Obviously, collective intelligence, the basis of all our thinking, requires a lot of interaction and this was our biggest challenge. Being physically remote, we had to re-invent ourselves in terms of communication to such an extent that, as you will discover, confinement reinforced our collective intelligence.

Given the situation, we could have temporarily abandoned our Knowledge Sharing and Focus Groups. Nevertheless, we have decided to maintain all these activities. Already well established in our daily life, no one has deviated from them. In addition to their didactic character, they remained real appointments for the entire team, thus increasing our social interactions, which were very necessary at this time.

For the projects, we all installed new communication tools to create virtual meeting rooms, continuously open, which everyone could join as they wished, without creating an event — we even set up a virtual coffee room! We noticed a real craze: the meeting rooms were constantly busy, simulating the real-time presence of our teams!

Finally, we could no longer rely on improvised conversation to exchange information quickly. That is why we also multiplied the meetings not only by project but, more transversally, by specialty (data science, development, communication, etc.) with meetings of maximum 30 minutes on a daily basis. And for more informal conversations or "big announcements", we created the Chin-Chin Time every Friday at the end of the day.

Collective Intelligence against COVID 19

All these appointments were important because they were conducive to asking questions and expressing potential concerns. Transparency played a key role in our management of the COVID-19 crisis. On April 9, 2020, less than a month after the start of lockdown, we held a global meeting called "B12 Collective Intelligence against COVID crisis". This meeting was prepared in advance through questions and everyone was therefore invited to respond to the challenges that our company would potentially face in the post-COVID era. The meeting served to bring these ideas together and led to the emergence of no less than three new Focus Groups, including the one on the management of the editorial line of the blog you are currently reading.

CONCLUSION

Collective intelligence has become instinctive at B12 Consulting and is a fundamental feature of our corporate culture. All our creative processes, whether for our Clients or internally, make use of it. In the face of the health crisis, collective intelligence has proven to be crucial in maintaining social interactions and has even led us to further explore its benefits.

I will conclude by saying this: collective intelligence would not be so effective without committed and educated team members which are constantly thinking together. And this willingness is obviously one of the most important criteria when it comes to expand the team!

  1. [1]

    Oxford Review, «Collective Intelligence» ↩︎

  2. [2]

    ZAIBET G. Z., «Vers l'intelligence collective des équipes de travail : une étude de cas», Management & Avenir 2007/4 (n° 14), pages 41 à 59 ↩︎


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