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Should you do group brainstorming standing up or sitting down?

Monday, July 21, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of us have seen the information that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for our physical well-being. Today’s researchers wondered if standing (rather than sitting) for group brainstorming sessions would result in more effective and positive group dynamics and outcome.

They recruited 214 undergraduate students to participate in 3-5 person group-brainstorming tasks. Each group was asked to develop ideas for a university recruitment video which they recorded at the end of their sessions. Each group was filmed as they completed the brainstorming project in a room with a table, whiteboard and notepads. Half of the groups had five chairs around the table and the other half had no chairs. Each participant was given a wristband which measured their level of “physiological arousal” (i.e., how much their skin sweated during the task).

The researchers found the groups without chairs had higher arousal (i.e., they did more sweating) than the groups with chairs.

The groups without chairs were also less possessive of the ideas they individually generated. The researchers called this “reduced territoriality”. The researchers think this might have been due to the closer physical proximity of the groups who had no chairs. They shared the physical space and the researchers think perhaps they shared the intellectual product as well.

The groups without chairs also generated more ideas that were then modified through combining them with the ideas of other group members or improved upon by others. The researchers call this “idea elaboration”.

So in all, it looks like the groups without chairs performed better although they were sweatier. And indeed, the researchers say the group process was better. All groups designed and produced the university recruitment videos as an outcome measure, but there were no differences in the videos produced by groups with chairs and the groups without chairs.

“That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs.”

In other words, you might enjoy the process more and standing up is physically better for you, but the resulting product will not be improved. Nonetheless, the authors recommend workplace leaders may want to get rid of chairs and give employees an open space to make collaboration easier.

Obviously, you won’t likely be inclined to ask jurors to stand as they deliberate (and most jury rooms tend to be on the crowded side). However, in your office, “stand-up meetings” or brainstorming sessions might improve both morale and collaboration skills. This research would say you won’t get a better product because of standing, but it might be more fun and create a more effective team.

Knight, AP, & Baer, M. (2014). Get up, Stand up: The effects of a non-sedentary workspace on information elaboration and group performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 

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