Mind tricks to make group work more productive

We’re doing an MSc group project to come up with a design prototype. There’s six of us working together.

Last week we got stuck. We had a bunch of survey data and the results of some fairly fruitful brainstorming sessions. But we couldn’t decide what to do next.

The problem was that we suddenly weren’t working well as a group. We weren’t falling out; just not working productively together to move things on. We were having separate conversations between ourselves simultaneously; some people had their laptops open; sometimes we’d cut off each other’s ideas before considering them properly.

Giuseppe suggested a simple exercise: of our existing list of potential design problems to explore, we should each pick our favourite. Then on a post-it, write the design problem, target population, and an example solution.

After five minutes we went round the group – each person described their design problem, and had to sketch it on a single big bit of paper in the middle of the table.

A brilliant tool and it gave us the spark we needed to move on. But I think the breakthrough really came as a result of its effect on our social dynamics.

At the start, we sat round the table, put all laptops away and handed round fat marker pens. The fact that we all had a shared artefact to focus on – the big piece of paper – and each held a pen in our hand reinforced in our minds that we were embarking on a collaborative exercise. So we all suddenly quietened down, listened and got on with it.

Simple stuff but easy to forget when you’re all desperate to get your ideas out.

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