How Small Group Collaboration Can Achieve Big Results


“Sorry! You’re going.”

“No, go ahead.”

“It’s okay. What were you trying to say?

After more than a year of virtual meetings, this scenario is all too familiar. Conversations in virtual meetings don’t go as naturally as in-person groups, especially when the group is large. Why is it?

The problems with our current meetings are well documented. For example, researchers from Stanford say we are cognitively overloaded in virtual meetings, based on what we see too much (eye contact and ourselves) and not enough (nonverbal communications). When body language is obscured, so are social cues, including signs of who should speak when. The more people in the meeting, the more difficult the dynamic becomes.

So, if you want to generate big results in collaborative meetings, such as brainstorming, design or ideation sessions, strategic planning, or any team meeting where all voices are particularly needed, small groups can be used. an effective way to improve collaboration and promote connection with the team. members.

Big innovation comes from small groups

Jeff Bezos encouraged smaller, more efficient teams at Amazon with a simple rule of thumb: If the group size included more people than could be fed enough by two pizzas, too many people were involved. Clearly, the model has led to significant success, making Amazon a compelling case study of how effectively small teams can work.

Agile practices, such as Melee and Extreme programming (XP), achieve a more focused approach to collaboration that can improve results through the power of small, similar cross-functional teams made up of dedicated individuals.

Fascinating new search studied team size across countless scientific papers, patents, and software projects and found that small teams were more likely to produce disruptive innovations: with new ideas, inventions, and opportunities.

Although my experience has shown that the benefits of a small team start to diminish from a group of six or seven people, none number has been universally identified as the tipping point. Although the ideal size varies, the value of taking advantage of smaller groups is clear: the larger the team, the greater the probability difficulties with coordination, group thinking, and social laziness (like that group member barely participating knowing everyone will take over).

Increase value by combining synchronous and asynchronous

Another study by psychologists from the University of Texas and Hofstra University concludes this group brainstorming, even in person, can hinder idea generation as the typical process often limits expression. “While waiting for their turn to share ideas, a person may forget what they wanted to say or be distracted from their own ideas by the sharing process. Participation can be quite uneven as some people can dominate the discussion. “

It turns out that the most effective ideation sessions use both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Called “brainwriting” by the researchers, in this approach, participants first write down their thoughts and alternate between working alone and sharing in groups. This method resulted in a higher rate of ideas generated per person: “a 71% advantage”.

What does it look like in real life? Let’s take a look at a recent case study.

When the EVBox the marketing team needed to deepen their customer journey, all employees were working remotely. UX Designer & Growth Marketer Justyna Krakowiak felt that a single video call with the entire marketing team would not allow everyone to contribute properly. Instead, they planned for a more nuanced approach.

“We can all chat on Zoom, but then only two people with the loudest voice keep talking, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a consensus on things at the end of it. We were looking for a tool where we can collaborate together, vote and let people come back to the board later and see what happened during the workshop in a nice visual.

To achieve all of these goals, they used Lucidspark, Lucid’s virtual whiteboard solution, as a virtual, collaborative workspace. The EVBox team combined group activities with individual contributions during the session. To further encourage each voice to be heard, Justyna created a model, by mapping the user journey in advance, to structure meetings and organize the virtual whiteboard.

At times the collaboration was lively and dynamic, but the team also took the time to work quietly and add items to the board individually. Krakowiak said this structure gives people who might not normally be able to speak in a meeting the chance to contribute.

The teams also split into small groups, using distribution boards in the Lucidspark workspace. Krakowiak said teams are better able to generate ideas because they can work both synchronously and asynchronously, allowing team members to share ideas as they come at different times. during and outside the session.

Best practices for small group collaboration

With the considerable research and proven results of small teams in mind, let’s take a look at some useful practices that can maximize small group collaboration efforts.

  1. Provide a facilitator: Effective meetings require clarity around the roles of participants. A facilitator guides participants through group decision making and task execution towards shared results with full participation, creativity and ownership on the part of those involved.
  2. Create small collaborative spaces: Regardless of the size of the larger session, facilitators should provide spaces for small groups to reflect together during the meeting. For example, discussion boards within Lucidspark make it easy to establish a clear, concrete task for small groups to discuss and bring back to the larger discussion.
  3. Clearly identify everyone’s ideas: When ideas can be tied to specific individuals, team members tend to put in more effort and share better ideas. In Lucidspark, for example, a color can be assigned to each collaborator, letting leaders know which team members may need additional support.
  4. Set a timer: Setting time limits helps provide structure and keep small groups focused and mobile. For example, this structure can help individuals know when the group is thinking individually, when it is time to share their thoughts, or when to give feedback on the ideas of others.
  5. Refine ideas: After the idea, these small groups need time to review, regroup and sort out the individual ideas before returning to the larger group. This step allows participants to achieve a more shared meaning and alignment and often leads to new creative ideas.
  6. Present ideas to the large group: Once the small groups have finalized their work, bring them together and allow the subgroups to debrief with each other, refine and find affinities between ideas, and receive feedback from the group. larger team through votes and feedback. The facilitator of the meeting can move between the virtual boards of each group, while creating an overview. As before, the ideas can then be combined and synthesized to better capture the team’s evolving set of ideas for use in subsequent action plans.

While it is often necessary to bring together large groups of individuals, the dynamics of group size tend to work against the goals of effective ideation and collaboration. Small groups can help create an inclusive space for all voices, combine the power of real-time and asynchronous work, while increasing engagement and innovative thinking. By leveraging small groups, leaders can ensure that initiatives move forward and provide the best possible solutions.

Learn more on the animation of small groups with Lucidspark.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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