Get Your Brainstorming Done Rightly
A while back, we posted a bit of a rant about the way formal brainstorming failed to fully engage people creatively, and that the best brainstorming might actually occur best when it was simply part of every fully engaged employee’s day.
A new article on the Harvard Business Review Blog by Vijay Govindarajan and Jay Terwilliger, takes a more nuanced angle on the question “does brainstorming work?” This forces us to fess up that we don’t object to brainstorming, just how most people do it. Indeed, if we stop and think about our own work as facilitators of employee development workshops: We challenge the participants to think in creative new ways about how to approach interpersonal challenges. In short, we ask these great people to brainstorm!
Brainstorming by any other name…
So, the authors remind us that we are not down on brainstorming, but down on how most brainstorming facilitators go about it. And the authors offer really succinct advice on how to solve the problem:
Assemble a Diverse Team
Make sure a variety of disciplines and functions are represented
Key insight: Invite “neophytes” who know nothing about the topic you are about to storm with your brains. These uninformed folks are going to be the breath of fresh air that may uncover pesky preconceptions and inappropriate assumptions with which the experts on the topic may be blinding themselves.
(Side note: Do not allow the “experts” to discount seemingly inane contributions from the “neophytes.” The mantra is to “value” rather than “judge” all contributions.)
Assign Key Roles
Every brainstorming needs three roles filled: Facilitator, Client and Resources.
Key insight: The facilitator who runs the meeting cannot be the “client” who organized the meeting and needs the output to fulfill his or her tasks. He or she must be free to follow the flow of the meeting discussions and capture the ideas.
Encourage Passionate Champions
Allow individual team members to each adopt one of the ideas that arose and explore it in more depth.
“After the brainstorming process, we often open the session up to ‘Individual Champions.’ Anyone, alone or with other people…can pick any idea and develop it further (in any direction they prefer). Or, they can pick an idea that was not advocated by the group or selected by the client, and develop it as they see fit.”
You may want to do this second step in the same meeting, or allow the champions to choose and idea, go off and explore it further, and return in a second meeting to present their thoughts and have those tossed about by the group.
The point is, for brainstorming to work, you have to control the process, challenge “groupthink” that may be derailing it, allow space for diverse views to get proper airing, and follow-up with a “champion” process to further develop interesting ideas that came up.
In short, if the facilitator and client are not exhausted at the end of the session, they did not get all that they could out of it!
What do you think? How have you made brainstorming exercises more effective?