How to foster feedback and brainstorming in meetings

As a meeting organizer, productive feedback and brainstorming sessions are the hardest to facilitate. Before we give you tips and suggestions on how to best facilitate those sessions, we’d like to give some background on why it is so hard to leverage the collective knowledge and diversity of thought within a group. You’d think the more smart heads come together, the faster you can solve a task. But a meta-analysis of 241 different studies showed that with increased complexity in tasks the positive impact of collaboration decreases, actually impairing productivity.  Another meta-analytic review of over 800 teams indicated that individuals are more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they don’t interact with others.

Research suggests a couple of factors that prevent fruitful feedback and brainstorming in meetings.

  • The fear of being judged. Feeling comfortable to speak up and to be productive in a group is dependent on the presence of persons who either approve or disapprove of our actions. Look up evaluation apprehension theory if you want  to learn more about this effect.

  • Social Loafing – thinking someone else will take the initiative. When people are part of a group, they make less of an effort than they do when working individually. Learn more about social loafing.

  • The first input can define and limit the framework. The so-called anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that makes us rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”). After the first input, meeting attendees will center around the first idea rather than exploring multiple different ideas.

  • Imposter syndrome / thinking others in the group are smarter. The imposter syndrome can result in a preference to work alone in order to not appear weak or to reveal incompetence. Beside the imposter syndrome, people tend to hold back when they feel that there are smarter people brainstorming with them.
  • In-group bias – Bias to sympathize with people who are similar to us. We have a tendency to favor in-group members (other meeting attendees) that are similar to us which can lead us to favor some and treat others unfairly. Due to this and other biases we perceive ideas not objectively but also judge who said it and how it was delivered.
  • Group size. Research suggests that the optimal number of participants is around seven group members, and that the number of ideas per person declines as group size increases.

    Use Calvah’s anonymous feedback feature for your social check-in or to get feedback on your ice breaker / mini game. Respect, that there might be attendees who won’t feel safe to share stories that are too personal.

    How to set your meeting up for productivity


    • Keep your brainstorming group small and manageable (max. 10 people per moderator). If you have to work with larger groups, split up in teams of max 10 and appoint a timekeeper for each group. For more creative sessions mix people from different teams together to break habits. Small intimate groups can be intimidating, so try to create a safe space by addressing in the beginning, that every voice is valued, no idea is to be judged.

    • Brainstorming for questions, not answers. This approach makes it easier to push past cognitive biases and venture into uncharted territory. More tipps and examples can be found here.

    • Let people think for themselves first before starting a group discussion, before sharing input to prevent social loafing, the anchoring effect and unconscious biases. You might have heard about design thinking techniques. They give great frameworks for fruitful group work 
    • Make sure you’re defining relevant and achievable goals for your brainstorming session and to include them in your  meeting invitation. 
    • Use virtual tools, especially for virtual brainstorming
      • Virtual Whiteboards software  like Miro or Mural provide great templates, and simultaneous online collaboration
      • Retrospective software like Retrium, Echometer, Teamretro helps you to structure feedback on an ongoing basis