When leaders, consultants and managers require ideas, they automatically tend to herd people into a room and conduct a (usually ineffective) brainstorming session. One reason for their ineffectiveness is a failure to consider the impact of group size.
There is a pervasive belief that creativity is enhanced in larger groups. However, significant data indicates that large groups are detrimental to creative output. Some of the arguments against large groups are:
a) The sum of ideas produced by individuals acting alone is greater than the sum of ideas produced by those same individuals when acting as a group.
b) Large groups dilute ideas.
c) Symptoms of group think increase as a group gets larger due to the illusion of invulnerability, unquestioned belief in the group's morality and rationalisation by collective justification of decisions.
d) As group size increases, the percentage of individual performance decreases. A single person is 95% engaged in a task, two people are each 90% engaged and the decline increases until it evens out at about 15 members to around 30%.
e) Groups of three to five elicit much more conformity than just one or two.
f) Large groups increase levels of evaluation apprehension and social loafing.
g) Large groups result in core and peripheral members, restricting information flow.
h) Conflict is inevitable as group size increases, causing sub-group formation and politicking.
i) Large groups create sub-groups with conflicting identitites and goals.
j) Large groups introduce time inefficiencies. 30 individuals can work on 30 problems and produce 150 ideas (30 x 5) in the same time that 1 group working on 1 problem produces 5 ideas (1 x 5).
The above and other data suggests that group size should be kept small. But there are also benefits to large groups such as a high degree of intellectual cross pollination, a high degree of competency exchange and radical frame-breaking. And what are the pros and cons of individuals working alone and in pairs?
This topic is covered in depth in the MBA dissertation on Managing Creativity & Innovation, which can be purchased (along with a Creativity and Innovation DIY Audit, Good Idea Generator Software and Power Point Presentation) from http://www.managing-creativity.com. You can also receive a regular, free newsletter by entering your email address at this site.
Kal Bishop, MBA
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Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on http://www.managing-creativity.com.