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Big circle or quiet chamber?

Workshops are widespread in today’s working world. Working on tasks together is often seen as the ideal way to solve complex problems. However, to achieve the best results, group work must alternate with concentrated individual work. For although group work has many advantages, it also has as a number of disadvantages that must not be neglected.

by Tobias Bregy

A great advantage of group work is the involvement of people and the associated higher probability that the mutually developed solution will be accepted and supported. Solutions that have been developed in a quiet chamber often face difficulties in the later implementation.

In addition, good innovation processes thrive on friction and mutual inspiration within a group. The critical examination of an idea often brings new ideas to light. The inclusion of many different perspectives leads to better solutions overall.

As already indicated, however, cooperation between people can also have negative effects. For example social phenomena such as uniformity pressure, groupthink or inefficiency.

Moreover, creativity is something very individual: each person has their own experiences, habits, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. While extroverts need stimuli from the outside world like the air they breathe and flourish under many lively colleagues, this is more of a burden for introverts. They are more easily overstimulated and react more sensitively to stimuli.

In order to find the best idea together, it is important to consider group dynamic processes and take appropriate measures.
In addition, depending on the question or problem, it must be assessed whether individuals would not deliver better results than the group.


Groupwork is great when it is teamwork

In design thinking in particular, group work has a central role alongside concentrated individual work.
The workshop format is often chosen to promote an intensive exchange between the team members. This strengthens the sense of community and the development of a uniform language, approach and culture in the team.

The goal of a workshop may be to develop a common understanding of the task, characterize the end users in more detail, and gather the results of observations and surveys or ideas.

Ideally, many different perspectives come together, resulting in a constructive discussion with a high number of possibilities that leads to good solutions. This holistic consideration of different aspects is often missing in individual work in a quiet chamber.

A respectful discussion of different opinions and the joint questioning and linking of viewpoints can lead to creative results.

Other benefits of group work include:

  • Greater knowledge potential due to the different skills of group members.
  • Fewer errors in the results
  • Information exchange and learning effect
  • Greater certainty that work will continue if one employee drops out
  • Security through a "we-feeling”
  • Weak members are absorbed by the group.
  • More fun at work (with well-functioning teams)


The role of group processes

People exert social influence on each other. This often remains unnoticed, but is in fact very effective. Such group processes influence the results of groupwork.

Scientific studies show that people who are surrounded by others perform better on simple and well-rehearsed tasks. In contrast, they perform worse on complex tasks or those that require learning something new.

For a group to be more successful than individuals, the following conditions, among others, must be met:

  • The group relies on the person with the most in-depth expertise.
  • The most competent member can convince the others of his or her view.
  • The group is motivated to search for the answer that is best for the entire group and not just for one individual.

The overall performance of a group decreases if, for example, very dominant and convinced group members want to impose their ideas on the others and no one dares to contradict them – despite the lack of quality of their ideas.

«The correlation between the best speech and the best proposal is zero.»

Susan Cain, author

Many teams prefer to be harmoniously connected rather than constructively rubbing shoulders. This leads to teams that like each other – but also to a loss of creativity. Maintaining good relationships is seen as more important than coming up with good solutions.

In the group, people tend to adapt their own opinions to that of others and put concerns aside. Members sometimes exercise self-censorship by not voicing conflicting opinions so as not to "stir up the joint."

Groups are often inefficient because a lot of time and energy is spent on coordinating the work. Many things would be solved more quickly if they were looked at by individuals.

In most groups, there are introverts who prefer to think before they speak or act – and speak only after the content has been vetted through reflection. Often these people have deep specialized knowledge about certain things that can add great value in finding solutions or assessing risks. The facilitator's task is to tap into this knowledge through an appropriate format that allows quieter people to contribute.


The golden middle way works best

Since people have different personalities, the environment in which they are able to deliver peak performances also differs.

When collecting ideas and proposals for solutions, it is important that each team member first thinks for themselves – uninfluenced by others – and notes or visualizes their own ideas. This way, very different approaches to solutions emerge, which can then be presented to the whole group. By means of the individual work, the expert knowledge of team members can be used who feel uncomfortable with group work and tend not to speak up.

In order to make the search for a solution to a problem successful, group dynamic processes must be taken into account and the advantages and disadvantages of group and individual work must be consciously weighed against each other.
Sometimes an outstanding idea emerges when one person can deal with a topic undisturbed and only afterwards discusses it with others.

Therefore, in order to better tap the various potentials of the team members, it is important to combine group work with time for focused individual work.

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