Is Group Brainstorming Really a Complete Waste of Time?

 In Business Tips, How to use
All Day Long Meeting

Imagine this.

You are that meeting which just seems to go on forever. People have been talking but there is no sign of a decision being made in the near future. The quiet team members have been watching the more outspoken, and at the end of it all, the manager says that should put a few things down and reconvene. As you leave, you think “That was a bloody waste of time!”

Sounds familiar? You are not alone. While brainstorming remains an key part of meetings, traditional methods are fraught with dysfunction. It’s no wonder that the average officer worker spends 61% of their meeting time writing emails or searching for information.

New Product Ideas

The costs of a bad meeting

With 1/3 of the 11 millions meetings held every day considered unproductive by American Workers (Romano & Nunamaker), of which 5% are specifically related to brainstorming online or face to face, that equates to a staggering $1.154Bn in meeting costs.

Closer to home, each meeting you hold is a factor of each person’s salary multiplied by the amount of time spent. Every time you have to “meet again” this simply doubles the cost. While electronic meeting tools and online brainstorming software exist, some still revert to manual processes like sticky notes and butchers paper in an attempt to create engagement. Beyond just the material costs and manual work, the time lag and the context shift form part of the hidden costs of ineffective meetings.

Change Management

The good and bad of group brainstorms

Alex Osborn touted that group brainstorming produces 50% more results than individual brainstorming, grounding them in the following principles.

  • Initially, no judgement or criticism is allowed
  • Go first for quantity of ideas
  • Prioritize the most unusual or original
  • Combine and refine ideas

However, since the 1950’s additional research has demonstrated that the effects of group think, reticence, dominance, anchoring and just the basic lack of focus impede on the effectiveness of group brainstorming. Chamorro-Premuzic, in his article “Why Group Brainstorming is a Waste of Time”, adds the issues of social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean and production blocking. Despite this, he states the benefit distributed expertise and improving buy-in and subsequent implementation by everyone in the team due to its democratic style. Finally, one of the key issues is the lack of decision making – or where the decision is not well evidenced or hidden in some minute resolution. Given this, we need to add to the best way to brainstorm list.

Random Decision Making

The potential of online collaboration brainstorming software

 

Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” wrote in the New York Times that:

“The only exception to group brainstorming’s’ dismal record is electronic brainstorming, where large groups outperform individuals; and the larger the group the better. The protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work. It’s a place where we can be alone together – and this is precisely what gives it power.”

Online brainstorming can be a way to set the scene, measure engagement, democratize decision making and allow everyone to contribute equally with results published in real time. These tools can be integrated into online meeting tools or video conferences to create even better outcomes.

Decision Making Process

Tips for a great team brainstorming meeting

Here’s a quick mental checklist for a productive, effective team meeting – ready?

  • We are clear about the objectives and goals.
  • We have invited the right people to solve the problem.
  • We have a basic structure to follow through.
  • We have the logistics (tech,food, room etc) organised.
  • We know how the meeting will be facilitated.
  • There are relevant decision points during our meeting.
  • We have a follow up point after the meeting.

For those using GroupMap for real time collaborative online brainstorming, check out our infographic below on getting the best out of your sessions.

Want more ideas to make your next meeting fun, quirky or creative? Join in and contribute to this GroupMap below or check out our infographic.

Jeremy is a facilitator, trainer and business manager who is passionate about helping people think better together. He has received recognition as Sessional Teacher of the Year (Curtin University), Young Professional of the Year (AIMWA). His roles have ranged from facilitating workshops and strategy planning days, designing software applications and helping set up sustainability based restaurants in New York and London. He writes about group decision making, collaboration, entrepreneurship and creativity.
Recent Posts