How Small Group Collaboration Can Get Big Results
“Sorry! You go.”
“No, you go ahead.”
“It’s OK. 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 flow as naturally as in in-person groups, especially when the group is large. Why is it?
The problems of our current meetings are well documented. For example, Stanford researchers say we are on cognitive overload in virtual meetings, based on what we see too much (eye contact and ourselves) and not enough (non-verbal communications). When body language is obscured, so are social cues, including signs of who should speak and when. The more people in the meeting, the more difficult the dynamic becomes.
So if you want to drive big results in collaborative meetings, such as brainstorming, design or ideation sessions, strategic planning, or any team meeting where all voices are especially needed, small groups can be 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 size of the group included more people than could be adequately fed by two pizzas, too many people were involved. Clearly, the model has led to significant success, making Amazon a compelling case study in how efficiently smaller teams can work.
Agile practices, like Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP), allow for a more focused approach to collaboration that can improve results through the power of small, similar cross-functional teams of dedicated individuals.
Fascinating new research has studied team size across countless scientific papers, patents and software projects and found that small teams are more likely to produce disruptive innovations: ways of thinking with new ideas, inventions and opportunities.
Although my experience has shown that the benefits of a small team begin to decline from a group of six or seven people, no specific number has been universally identified as a tipping point. While the ideal size varies, the value of leveraging smaller groups is clear: the larger the team, the greater the likelihood of difficulties with coordination, groupthink, and social loafing (like this member of the group that participates barely knowing that everyone will take over). soft).
Increase value by combining synchronous and asynchronous
Another study by psychologists from the University of Texas and Hofstra University concludes that group brainstorming, even in person, can hinder idea generation because the typical process often limits expression. “While waiting for their turn to share ideas, a person may forget what they meant to say or be distracted from their own ideas by the process of sharing. There can be rather uneven participation as some people can dominate the discussion.
It turns out that the most effective ideation sessions use both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Dubbed “brainwriting” by researchers, in this approach participants first write down their thoughts and alternate between working solo 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 marketing team needed to deepen their customer journey, all employees were working remotely. Justyna Krakowiak, UX designer and growth marketer, felt that one video call with the entire marketing team wouldn’t allow everyone to contribute properly. Instead, they planned a more nuanced approach.
“We can all chat on Zoom, but only two people with the loudest voice keep talking, and there doesn’t feel like there’s a consensus on things at the end. We were looking for a tool where we can collaborate together, vote and allow people to come back to the board later and see what happened during the workshop in a nice visual.
To achieve all these goals, they used Lucidspark, Lucid’s virtual whiteboard solution, as a virtual and collaborative workspace. The EVBox team combined group activities with individual contributions during the session. To further encourage every voice to be heard, Justyna created a template, mapping the user journey upstream, 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 gave people who wouldn’t normally speak at a meeting the opportunity to contribute.
Teams also split into small groups, using dispatch 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 up at different times. during and outside the session.
Best Practices for Small Group Collaboration
With the extensive research and proven results of small teams in mind, let’s look at some helpful practices that can maximize collaborative efforts in small groups.
- Provide a facilitator: Effective meetings require clarity around participant roles. A facilitator guides participants through group decision-making and task execution toward shared outcomes with the full participation, creativity, and ownership of those involved.
- Create small collaborative spaces: Regardless of the size of the larger session, facilitators should provide spaces for small groups to brainstorm together during the meeting. For example, Lucidspark’s dashboards make it easy to establish a clear, actionable task for small groups to discuss and bring back to the larger discussion.
- 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 animators know which team members may need additional support.
- Set a timer: Setting time limits provides structure and keeps small groups focused and moving. For example, this structure can help individuals know when the group is thinking individually, when it’s time to share their thoughts, or when to comment on others’ ideas.
- Refine ideas: After brainstorming, these small groups need time to review, consolidate and sort individual ideas before returning to the larger group. This stage allows participants to achieve greater shared meaning and alignment and often leads to new creative ideas.
- Present ideas to the large group: Once the small groups have finalized their work, bring them back together and allow the subgroups to debrief with each other, refine and find affinities between ideas, and receive feedback from the larger team. wide through votes and reactions. The meeting leader can move between the virtual boards of each group, while creating an overview. As before, ideas can then be combined and synthesized to better capture the evolution of the team’s idea set for use in subsequent action plans.
While it is often necessary to bring large groups of individuals together, 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 about facilitating small groups with Lucidspark.