Two students collaborating and writing on a board
October 20, 2020
3 mins read

4 tactics to get to great ideas in group projects

Your team is tasked with a group project and is trying to come up with terrific ideas. 

But tackling group assignments, from lab reports to case studies, can feel intimidating. Where do you even start?

If you’re looking to help your group generate ideas—from pitching research topics to finding solutions to case studies—here are 4 specific strategies you and your team members can try:

1. Set team expectations early

As a group, clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of each member so as to hold one another accountable. It might even be a good idea to discuss potential consequences for falling short of these expectations. Share your availabilities and turnaround times so everyone knows what to expect (and will not feel like they're left hanging).

Also, set and agree on a timeline for the group, and decide on the amount of time needed for the ideation stage. Coming up with and agreeing on a topic as a group takes time, but actually implementing the idea can take way more time than you expect.

2. Focus on individual ideation and quantity

Once the preliminaries are behind you and your team, take time to individually generate ideas.

In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant calls into question the tradition of “brainstorming”:

Despite its wide usage, brainstorming can prevent some participants (especially introverted individuals) from sharing ideas. I belong in this shy squad and often wait for everyone else to finish sharing before taking my turn. Often, I never get around to sharing anything (oops).

Grant says that in some cases, “convergent thinking” occurs: group members rush onto the bandwagon, follow the most popular ideas suggested, and never get to pitch their own.

Instead, every member should participate in “brainwriting.” During brainwriting, everyone is given ample time to individually generate a list of ideas (all possible hypotheses, testing variables, solutions, etc.). The longer your list, the more creative the group's pool of ideas will become—because the first ideas you think of are usually the most conventional. 

Sharing happens once everyone’s got a list, and all members should have a chance to pitch what they think are the best ideas from their lists. 

3. Choose constructive counter-arguments

Raising dissent and counter-arguments—and creating an environment where people can voice their opinions in respectful ways—can further refine your group's ideas and open up new angles. Check for feasibility, scope, and specificity.

Grant also deconstructs another traditional practice: having a “devil’s advocate” in a group. Individuals in this role are helpful to the group—but only if they actually hold a different opinion (i.e. not acting in the role for the sake of acting in the role).

So instead of planting a resident devil’s advocate (#AmongUs), give every member the chance to dissent. Consider requesting feedback by asking each member to comment on a particular idea in the chat box during video meetings.

But what if you’re the one being challenged?

Like a soldier sailing for Troy, you must be ready for the stabbing sense of annihilation and re-evaluate the worth of that which you’re protecting. Remember that there is great value in feedback—and opportunities for growth. Taking an egoless approach when sharing your ideas is also an asset in any group setting.

4. Supplement and synthesize

In How to Get to Great Ideas: A System for Smart, Extraordinary Thinking, Dave Birss advocates for the phrase, “Yes, and…” This opening can help you add on to the idea of whoever is sharing and validate other members’ ideas.

Although your group may generate many ideas and perspectives, which may make it difficult to agree on a specific course of action, remember that ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can use this diversity to your advantage by combining ideas—and get positive vibes going in your group!

The fewer ideas rejected, the more creative the combined idea will likely be. Going with the initial idea that the majority of the group supports doesn’t have to be the only way; incorporating great suggestions, particularly from less vocal members, can lead to even better results!

If your group is, for example, tasked with devising ideas for a fundraising initiative, consider pulling elements from the ideas the group has pooled together, however unrelated they seem e.g. fundraise with a series of Jeopardy! competitions—with Krispy Kreme donuts as the incentive/prize.

Through teamwork, you can flesh out and finalize fantastic ideas that everyone will be proud of—and that no one could have gotten to on their own.

Test out these 4 strategies and, with your group, present the great ideas you are capable of creating!

Header photo credit: Martin Dee / UBC Brand & Marketing