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The Problem with Brainstorming in Teams

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage  and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams

 

Teamwork demands shared responsibility, but it also demands individual contributions. It fails if team members shelter behind the consensus.

 ~ Robert Heller, Founding Editor, Management Today

 

I recently spoke with a director of human resources who was searching for a San Francisco Bay Area executive coach for the executive team at her company. The director of human resourcesasked some very insightful questions to determine whether we were a good fit. She specifically wanted to know how I worked with different personality styles, and my methods for working with executive teams. She was very interested in my leadership development work with helping executive teams deal with groupthink.

The director of human resources and I spoke about my approach to working with executive teams, and my belief that groupthink can sometimes impede creativity and innovation. We also spoke of the need for her organization to work with a management consultant to help their company create a culture where creativity and innovation thrives.

The director of human resources is interested in partnering with me in helping their executive team work more collaboratively while maximizing each leader’s individual creativity. We further discussed how other company executives could benefit by working with a seasoned executive coach.

The False Benefits of Brainstorming

Brainstormingis a creative technique through which group members form solutions to specific problems by spontaneously shouting out ideas, without censoring themselves or criticizing others. The term was popularized by marketing expert Alex Faickney Osbornin the 1953 book Applied Imagination.

But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and performance worsens as group size increases. Groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which function worse than groups of four.

The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham.If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

The one exception is online brainstorming. When properly managed, groups that brainstorm online perform better than individuals—and the larger the group, the better it performs. The same holds true for academic research: Professors who collaborate electronically tend to produce more influential research.

What we fail to realize is that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude unto itself. Nevertheless, brainstorming continues to be a popular method within organizations.

Participants in brainstorming sessions usually believe their group performed much better than it actually did. Brainstorming makes people feel attached, but social glue is far different from genuine creativity.

Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming:

1. Social loafing. Some individuals sit back and let others do all the work.

2. Production blocking. Only one person can talk or produce an idea at a time, so the others are forced to sit passively.

3. Evaluation apprehension. Even when group members agree to welcome all ideas, people fear they’ll look stupid in front of their peers.

Better Ways to Work in Teams

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Anthropologist Margaret Mead

Group brainstorming can be refined and adjusted to provide better results. The way forward is not to stop collaborating, but to do it better.

· To guard against groupthink, use checklists or ask certain team members to play devil’s advocates.

· If you need to stimulate creativity, ask people to come up with ideas alone before sharing them with the team. If you seek the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically or in writing first.

· Face-to-face contact is important because it builds trust, but group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking. Don’t mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches and leadership consultants provide leadership development to develop emotionally intelligent leaders and teams? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to increase their emotional intelligence and social intelligence? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Does brainstorming in teams at your organization increase creativity and innovation?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their transformational peak performance leadership development and team building programs.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help teams minimize groupthink and maximize creativity and high performance. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

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