Brainstorming meetings can be a fertile source of new ideas and a terrific shot in the arm for staff morale. Or they can be chaotic and depressing affairs where a few people do most of the talking and ideas are shot down without a fair hearing. Respondents to our Best Practices Poll—of whom 91% believe brainstorming can be an effective tool—offered an array of ideas for how to brainstorm your way to cool concepts and enthusiastic employees. These included:
- “We use a software package specially designed for facilitating meetings, including brainstorming, prioritizing and voting over the Internet,” says Jim Love. “Because all the brainstorming is done by typing, we get very honest answers and nobody dominates the conversation. That, and the fact that we can then prioritize and publish the results in minutes, makes for instant feedback from the meeting.
“I also use a mind-mapping package to consolidate and present the answers in a new way. It’s very powerful in terms of presentation, and you can put the info on a website or send it with a little presentation application that allows people to explore the information in real time.”
- “Groups of 12 to 15 people seem to work best for this process,” says N. Elensen. “To get the full participation of all, they must accept the concept that all ideas are welcome and that no negative comments will be allowed during the first segment of the meeting. The thrust is to generate a large number of ideas—no matter how far-out others might think they are.
“One participant (a volunteer) will be designated as the scribe to record all ideas. The scribe may also present ideas. The meetings are most productive and civil when led by a strong facilitator. Another key to success is that if the scribe stands to record the ideas on a whiteboard/flipcharts, etc., then all participants stand so they are all equals. This principle of equality is a significant factor contributing to the success of these meetings.”
- “Brainstorming is like building with Lego,” says P. Caron. “You each throw out your ideas (or pieces), then slowly build on each other’s pieces until you have an agreed-upon finished plan.”
- “Be open to all suggestions, and ask the person to explain their reasoning for coming up with the idea,” says C. Kaartinen. “Often their thought process is different than yours, and you may be passing up an excellent opportunity if you don’t consider the ideas of others. Then have others reply with the pros and cons of the suggestion, which often develops into a better idea. Have a welcoming approach and truly listen to people, because this is what encourages them to speak up each time they have an idea. If they feel heard and respected, they are encouraged to participate in future discussions. They do not feel intimidated by their superiors.”
- “Since some of us talk more than others, have everyone write their ideas for solving the problem on a cue card,” suggests one reader. “Then have the moderator take the information and group the common ideas together. Focus on how to make ideas work rather than why they won’t work. Save judgment and setting priorities to the end.”
- Ted Lomond of Prestige Business Consulting Services in St. John’s, Nfld. suggests the following:
“Diversity: Having a room full of people cut from the same cloth does a disservice to your organization. It is important to involve people with different backgrounds and attitudes. This will allow you to examine your options from different perspectives and provide a wider range of ideas to choose from.
“Preparation: Make sure you have a room big enough for the group. Arrange for someone to take notes. Ensure you have whiteboards, flip charts, markers, tape and anything else you need to get the creative juices flowing.
“Good facilitation: This is key! A good facilitator will ensure that all those participating in the process are heard, and that no one dominates the discussion. She or he also keeps the group focused. We have all been at meetings where someone has taken the group completely off topic.
“Open discussion: Participants must be encouraged to advance any idea, no matter how off the wall it may seem. These suggestions may have merits that are not immediately obvious. Even if an idea is completely impractical, it may trigger a solid idea from someone else.
“Restrain criticism: Don’t critically evaluate an idea until the group has developed a full list of options.”
For his suggestions, Ted Lomond wins a copy of: The Four Pillars of High Performance by Paul C. Light.
Watch for another Best Practices Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.