Getting together with a group to generate ideas fails as often as it succeeds. Part of the problem is that as soon as anyone speaks, they contaminate the memories of everyone else in the room. That is why it is so important to get people to work alone to generate ideas before the group comes together.
That said, even if you have lots of great material to work from, there are four personality characteristics that can hurt the chances that the group will succeed at finding a great idea.
One great thing about personality characteristics, though, is that you can begin to recognize these traits in your colleagues once you know that they exist. As you get to know your colleagues, you can help manage them to make them productive contributors.
1. I hate new things. Personality psychologists have explored a variety of traits people have. The most prominent of these characteristics are called The Big Five. One of the Big Five that has important implications for group creativity is Openness to Experience. People high in Openness love new ideas. They often consider new possibilities and like to explore new opportunities. People low in Openness avoid new opportunities. They treat new things with anxiety rather than excitement.
People who are fairly Closed to experience will often react negatively to the ideas people are generating. They will not express their discomfort in terms of their personality trait, though. Instead, they will focus on all of the reasons that the new ideas favored by the group are probably going to fail and why it is probably better to stick with what the group has already been doing.
It is important to sit down with these folks in advance and to talk to them about how they will probably react to the group creativity session. Let them know that they are likely to be uncomfortable with all of the new ideas at first. You might even send them all of the ideas the group will discuss before the session so that they can get familiar with the ideas before they have to start evaluating them. Ask them to focus on the positive characteristics of ideas first before finding reasons why the new ideas will fail.
2. I am overly critical. Another one of the Big Five traits is Agreeableness, which reflects how much a person likes to get along with others. People who are very Agreeable don't like to criticize others (because in that moment they are not well-liked by the person they are critiquing). Those how are quite Disagreeable are willing to criticize a lot, because they don't really care about other people's reactions.
Either extreme can be a problem when a group is trying to be creative. If too many people in the group are too Agreeable, then they won't criticize ideas enough. If one or more people in the group are Disagreeable, they may start criticizing early before a new idea has a chance to take shape and to allow people to build on it.
That means that you want to design your groups so that at least some people like to give criticism. However, if you have someone in your group who is overly critical, ask them to lay back at first and listen to the discussion. After the idea has been developed and people are starting to like it, that is the time to unleash all of the criticism to make sure the idea can stand up to scrutiny before it is implemented.
3. I just want to get this over with. Another characteristic that can derail group creativity involves a trait called Need for Closure, which is not one of the Big Five. This trait reflects that people can be in a thinking mode or a doing mode at work. Those in a thinking mode like to take time to reflect on things, so they tend to be low in Need for Closure. They would rather deliberate than act. Those in a doing mode want to get on with working on things, so they are high in Need for Closure. They just want to be done.
If you have several people in the group high in Need for Closure and they are vocal about it, they will often settle on a idea quickly rather than building on all of the possibilities they have in front of them and choosing carefully. If you have gotten the group together to generate an idea, then the solution is probably important.
To avoid committing resources to a project before you have thought about it carefully, make sure the group knows that the group idea generation session is going to go on for a certain period of time, and you are not allowed to finish early. That will keep group members at the task, even if their tendency is to want to get on with it.
Of course, it is possible for groups to be too low in Need for Closure as well. Those groups want to continue deliberating forever. However, the constraints on most businesses tend to drive people to be too high in Need for Closure rather than too low.
4. I love me. Finally, there are the narcissists. Narcissists are people who draw their energy and self-esteem from the accolades of others. For narcissists, it is important that their idea be the winner.
If you can avoid including an extreme narcissist in your group, that is best. They will often work hard to make sure their idea is chosen by the group.
If the narcissist in your midst also has expertise that is required to solve a hard problem, then you need to find ways to make the ideas as anonymous as possible for as long as possible. It is always best when generating ideas as a group to have everyone in the group send their ideas to the group leader before the session starts to avoid having their memory contaminated by others. If possible, it is also useful to have group members build on the ideas the group has sent around individually. This building process can also be done anonymously.
In this case, by the time the ideas are explored by the whole group, they are no longer completely recognizable as anyone's idea in particular. That is a great way to neutralize the narcissist.
In the end, the more that you learn about the personality characteristics of the people you work with, the better you can manage that group to help it maximize its creative potential.