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group brainstorming

The pros and cons of group brainstorming

When you think about it, most businesses could benefit from having a few more creative ideas at their disposal. It’s creativity that drives growth, innovation, and motivates teams.

Looking for a way to tap into the underlying creative potential of your company? Try group brainstorming. 

Group brainstorming can generate an undeniable synergy between employees that brings everyone together. Done correctly, group brainstorming can produce solutions and transform organizations at a rate greater than the sum of every individuals’ contributions. Other times, not so much.

By understanding the pros and cons of brainstorming, that success ratio will only improve. Plus, having this knowledge can make brainstorming more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Benefits of group brainstorming

Sure, working on your own might seem easier. Or at least, less complicated. But there’s a definite advantage (or five) that comes from working together as a group ready to brainstorm ideas.

Whether your next collaborative brainstorming is being forced upon you or you’ve now become the driving force behind more ideation sessions at your business, the many reasons why you should conduct a group brainstorming are reasonable, logical, and yes, compelling. 

Let’s begin with the most obvious motive to host a brainstorm with your group…

It provides multiple (often diverse) perspectives to use 

Try as we might, we can’t always go it alone. This isn’t an admission of weakness. Actually, it’s more of an acknowledgment that some problems call for more than one problem solver.

And it’s not just hosting any group. Opt for diversity. Choose participants from various departments and with a range of backgrounds, ages, and life experiences. This will bring refreshing, diverse, and surprising ideas to the table.

It helps avoid biases toward any particular viewpoint

Solitary problem solving is arguably more efficient. But producing ideas all by yourself lacks a counterbalance to the existing beliefs, opinions, and biases that determine how you think.

By inviting others who perceive the world (and your organization’s business challenges) in a different light, you increase the chances of arriving at a solution you could never anticipate or produce on your own. With the right group of participants, partiality is also kept in check.

If anything, the presence of differing viewpoints leaves everyone open to new possibilities.

It often generates more ideas in a short period of time

If you can generate more ideas, it becomes more likely that you’ll stumble upon a greater amount of good (and possibly great) ideas. If that volume can be achieved sooner, even better. 

Over the course of a productive brainstorming session, a group can quickly come up with dozens of ideas, each of which can spark a dozen more. The group dynamic can be used to commit each participant to achieve a certain number of ideas within the allotted time limit.

In any case, the output of a group is far greater than any one person can hope to produce.

It creates opportunities to explore each other’s ideas

Think about it: the opportunity to explore one another’s ideas is at the crux of brainstorming.

As you might expect, bouncing around (and considering) a number of solutions at once can prompt a rapid-fire of new idea associations. This is sometimes called a popcorn share.

This group problem-solving approach is simple: one person presents an idea or solution. Then, everyone else takes a turn to build on the concept that has been shared. In the end, each person feels they’ve equally contributed a missing piece to the solution. 

It builds up camaraderie and fosters a sense of buy-in 

Perhaps one of the best reasons to encourage group brainstorming within your organization is that when teams work together to solve problems, they also build stronger relationships.

Group ideation sessions allow people who might not normally get the opportunity to work together on a project. Building camaraderie through such interactions breaks down silos and prompts everyone to see themselves as stakeholders.

As stakeholders, participants have a vested interest in the brainstorm’s outcome. A big plus.

Challenges of group brainstorming

The disadvantages of group brainstorming should be familiar to anyone who has attempted to assemble a team or coordinate the work of contrasting personalities to solve a problem.

Decision making becomes more complicated. Disagreements are sure to arise. Some people are less enthusiastic than others about the opportunity to participate. And it can add another meeting to their day-to-day work responsibilities. 

But don’t get too discouraged. Where there are group brainstorming challenges, there are also ways to overcome them. 

It turns brainstorms into disorganized free-for-alls

Constructing a new team to solve a problem is exciting. 

If you’re not careful, however, brainstorming as a group can result in disorganized conversations and free-for-alls that fail to produce any actionable ideas. This is why it’s critical to create a brief and agenda ahead of time before your first group brainstorm.

The brief gives context to the problem being solved and outlines the brainstorm’s purpose. Having a clearly outlined purpose makes it easier for participants to stay on task. The agenda is simple. Take a few moments to address background questions. Then, apply positive pressure to produce by allotting a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to generate raw ideas. Review afterward.

It enables too much groupthink and too few original ideas

Feeding off each other’s ideas is great. Until it’s not. Sometimes, it causes teams to get too focused on a single idea, losing their individual sense of creativity. This is called groupthink.

To counter this, introduce an element of candor into the mix. Create an environment where participants feel safe to express their opinions and ideas. With this type of freedom, people won’t get fixated on the first solution and are likely to share their candid, unfiltered views. 

At the end of the brainstorm, the team takes the remainder of their time to focus on the most promising of these divergent, freeform ideas.

It allows a handful of people to dominate the conversation

Chalk it up to human nature. In any group, there’s always one person that takes over, makes their opinion known, and expects everyone else to fall in line. Brainstorms are no different.

Dominant personalities hinder the creative process by intimidating other team members or making them feel reluctant to share a dissenting opinion. Fortunately, there are a number of tactics for handling those dominating meeting personalities. 

  • Acknowledge comments by the dominator without yielding the floor.
  • Redirect with phrases like “Interesting. What do the rest of you think?”
  • Call on others by name to contribute.
  • Ask a question to briefly distract the dominator to help regain the floor.

Many dominant personalities actually mean well and often contribute constructive ideas. By politely (but firmly) countering their dominance, you ensure better brainstorm productivity from the group as a whole.

It makes it easy to not participate

Of course, some team members don’t mind letting others dominate the conversation. Many prefer hiding in the background and relying on others to come up with the bulk of the ideas. 

It’s tempting to expend less effort when working collectively or in a team than when we work individually. This is called social loafing or free riding. Not unlike the bystander effect, people feel less compelled to act if someone else steps up.

Similar to the strategy used with dominating personalities, make a point of calling on those who are not actively participating in the group brainstorming. Offer positive reinforcement to team members who seem apprehensive or intimidated to share ideas within the group. 

Getting comfortable with brainstorming ideas as a group can be difficult, at least at first. But it’s worth the effort. Keep in mind, every team member can make a valuable contribution to the team. Every idea is worth exploring further. And there’s no such thing as a bad question.

illustration of people working together

Group brainstorming can bring many benefits to your team—when you do it right. See our tips for improving your brainstorming sessions.

Learn more

See our tips for improving your group brainstorming sessions.

Learn more

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