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Oct 16, 2023 2023-10 Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

Leveraging AI to improve business collaboration and make teams smarter

Pranav Gupta, assistant professor of business administration at Gies College of Business co-authored Using AI to Enhance Collective Intelligence in Virtual Teams: Augmenting Cognition with Technology to Help Teams Adapt to Complexity, a chapter in the recently published Handbook of Virtual Work. Gupta’s research focuses on the science of collective intelligence and engineering and management of human-AI collaboration. 

Fifty years ago, we only spent 10% of our work time collaborating. Now, more than 70% of a company’s employees spend time collaborating on increasingly complex problems, creating information overload and affecting employee productivity.

Given this trend, the way that business teams work together today is unsustainable. Fortunately, emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technologies can dramatically improve the efficiency of team collaboration and deliver better business outcomes.

AI is already helping to improve team capacity and coordination, but so far it has primarily been used to cut costs by automating specific tasks at scale, like customer service chatbots, acting as a digital assistant for scheduling meetings, or recognizing patterns in large datasets. This is like using the early internet to post flyers – AI has so much more potential. Here’s how:

Use AI to Think Bigger, Work Collectively

Many workers get bogged down in rote day-to-day tasks, such as replying to emails, but business leaders need their teams to think bigger and more collectively. We call this collective intelligence: The ability of a team or company to maintain and maximize performance when faced with constant change. Organizations can use AI technology to coordinate each member’s skills (collective memory), focus (collective attention), and goals (collective reasoning).

Collective intelligence shifts the perspective of performance away from productivity for productivity’s sake. Teams need to adapt to the complexity of their jobs by shifting from individual to collective intelligence:

AI can help businesses answer questions such as:

  • What kind of coordination systems will make us more flexible?
  • How can we jump on emerging opportunities and be more resilient to new threats?
  • How can we systematically think about our workflow and management practices so that we can increase our collective intelligence?

AI as a Team’s Collaboration Coach

Beyond acting as an assistant, AI can be leveraged to facilitate, diagnose, and coach how we organize cross-functional teams. Socially intelligent AI can provide structure and proactively offer insights that make it easier for a group to coordinate their collective memory, attention, and reasoning processes. For example, an AI-driven platform can break down complex, multi-faceted projects into segments and become a digital project manager that proactively coordinates task status, hand-offs, and the flow of information. \

AI as an Organizational Diagnostician

Custom-designed AI systems can serve as a doctor who monitors your organization’s digital exhaust in real-time to surface hidden dysfunctions and diagnose complex coordination challenges.

For example, a mid-sized hospital typically handles hundreds of patients each week and each person interacts with 15 to 20 health provider teams – from the medical staff to lab techs to social workers and cleaning crews. When each care team coordinates their own scope of work, it inadvertently leads to dysfunctional interactions between teams, resulting in longer patient wait times. An organizational AI-doctor that understands collective intelligence can help sift the web for interactions and help focus every team’s attention to maximize patient care.

Designing a Collective Approach to AI

To design your 2024 AI collaboration strategy, start by identifying who owns your company or team’s AI future, then work to clarify your approach in these three areas:

  • Employee Productivity: New AI productivity tools are hitting the market at breakneck speed. Identify a set of maverick employees who are tinkerers and do core organizational work. Give them the resources, budget, and slack time to test and learn about their favorite tools.
  • Operational Excellence: As AI becomes a better collaboration coach, identify a handful of team-leads and managers who are interested in evidence-based management and expose them to collaboration coaching fundamentals. Companies need to train people to understand, adopt, and verify AI-coaches as they emerge.
  • Strategic Advantage: As AI makes organizations more efficient, it will likely level the playing field in your industry, creating few true winners. Make sure your company stays ahead of the curve by building a platform for Organizational Informatics. This is essential infrastructure for bootstrapping a diagnostic AI strategy for your organization now and for the future.

It's time for business organizations big or small to embrace the full potential of AI to help their teams work smarter and reach their full potential. Failure to embrace this reality will not only lead to burnout among their staff, but also inefficiencies that will hurt their bottom line – and maybe even their long-term viability.