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Students working together at the whiteboard
October 8, 2019
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 great ideas. 

But participating in group projects, from team case studies to bench-wide lab reports, can seem intimidating. Where to start?

If you’re looking for ways to contribute to your group’s creation of ideas (e.g. hypotheses, group essays, solutions to case studies), here are 4 specific strategies you and your group members can apply at your next meeting.

1. Set team expectations 

As a group, clearly outline the roles of each member to hold one another accountable.

If necessary, confirm that your ideas can actually be implemented. Account from the get-go for the budget if your application of the idea requires funding. Don’t, for instance, settle for a hypothesis whose testing calls for a king’s ransom.

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 & 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 would wait for everyone else to finish sharing before taking my turn. Often, I never got around to sharing anything.

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

Instead, every member should participate in “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 ideas will become—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 the pitched ideas and open up new angles.

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

Thus, rather than planting a resident devil’s advocate, give every member the chance to dissent. Maybe go around the group asking for feedback, and/or use feedback sticky notes for individuals who are on the quiet side.

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 to find value in feedback. Taking an egoless approach to sharing every idea you have can be 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, making 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 you can 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, you may 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.

Complement, combine, get to the great idea(s) that everyone would be proud of, that no one could have got to on their own.

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