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All teams make fundamental mistakes when meeting and brainstorming; here are three you can fix right now.

Creative Teamwork

The top three collaboration mistakes—and how to fix them

Fast ways you and your team can start coming up with better ideas together

By Michael Peck

If only collaborating with teams were as easy as simply reserving a room and making sure you have enough chairs. All professionals would love meetings, and every get-together would result in a slew of actionable ideas. All too often, however, neither of those things are true.

As it turns out, the solution to "bad meeting syndrome" is within our grasp. We don't need to fire, hire, or institute a big change program.

We asked Professor Leigh Thompson, director of the Kellogg Team and Group Research Center and the Kellogg Leading High Impact Teams Executive program, to list the top three collaboration mistakes people make when meeting and brainstorming. Here, she tells you what you may be doing without knowing it—and what you should do instead.

  1. The Problem: The "group-negative split." Going with the first idea generated. Research indicates that most groups often generate just one or two ideas and then stop prematurely. They settle for the initial low-hanging fruit, and they quit. In fact, research indicates that 75 percent of ideas emerge in the first half of the meeting, and then people just fill time in unproductive ways. The key is knowing how to continue stimulating ideas.

    The Solution: Invite a plethora of ideas. Encourage the absurd and the politically incorrect. Set all judgment aside and focus on generating as many ideas as possible. There will always be time to criticize later.

  2. The Problem: Taking turns. If you politely (or impolitely) wait for your turn to speak, and team members are engaging in sequential conversations, you've already committed a cardinal meeting sin. A minority consumes a majority of the group's scarcest resource—time. They monopolize that time, droning on and on.

    The Solution: Ask group members to simultaneously generate ideas using Post-Its, note cards, index cards, or electronic submission. Groups that have words, pictures, and objects on the table generate more ideas than those in impoverished environments.

  3. The Problem: Meeting for one or two hours. Most groups work to fill the scheduled time. Even more depressing, there is no appreciable improvement in performance when groups meet longer.

    The Solution: A better idea is to cut your scheduled meeting time in half. Take a five- to 10-minute break and then resume, but only if necessary. So if your group regularly meets for an hour on Thursdays, set the clock for 30 minutes. Take a five-minute stretch break, in which incubation—unconscious thinking about the problem—can occur. Then meet for another 15 minutes.
For more on improving your organization's teamwork and creativity, see Kellogg Executive Education's Construction Collaboration program.

Image credit: Creative Sustainability under a Creative Commons license