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Effective Brainstorming – Getting the Most Out of Your Team & Yourself

Brainstorming by definition is a group problem solving technique, but often it devolves into a session dominated by one or two individuals, or meanders aimlessly or becomes a group think rubber stamp.  This will not allow you to achieve your desired end – PROBLEM SOLVED.  In order to help get the most out of your brainstorming sessions there are several “tricks of the trade” that will keep you and your team focused and get everyone contributing.

Preparation:

At least one week prior to your brainstorming session, assemble the team and define the desired results in broad terms.  Assign broad areas where you like each team member to focus their efforts.  For example, logistics, accounting, marketing, etc.  Then provide the team with background information to ensure all members are starting from the same beginning.  Pre-reading materials must provide an overview of the situation to be resolved, including issues, constraints, and desired outcome(s) to name a few.  These materials provide background information, but do not provide solutions. They might include:

  • Financial Statements
  • Industry Statistics
  • Survey Results
  • News Articles or Relevant Books

Finally in preparation of your first meeting, lay out clear expectations as to what everyone is expected to contribute and timelines they have to work within.  Each team member should be prepared to discuss in detail the issues as it relates to their area of expertise, in terms of constraints, opportunities and impacts.

The Process:

Think of the brainstorming process as a blend, integrating individual thinking, group thinking and confirmation.

  1. Give each team member time to focus on their area of expertise and see how “their world” impacts the others. This is the purpose of the pre-work reading and assignments.
  2. The first team meeting is fleshes out issues, needs, wants, constraints within each functional area examined.  It is a group talk with each functional area discussion led by its assigned champion. CAUTION: you are not solving the problem here, rather it is a group think on the issues that you have raised in your pre-work.
  3. Capture the output of the meeting, compile it into a usable and editable form and circulate to the group.  The assignment here is again an individual think.  Have each team member flesh out and prioritize the needs/wants for the entire project – NOT JUST THEIR AREA OF EXPERTISE.
  4. Meet with each team member individually and have them present their ideas regarding the entire project.  As the leader you will use these results to identify synergies and conflicts.  Compile these results, highlighting both the conflicts and convergences and circulate to the group, with the assignment to be prepared to get concurrence in the next group meeting.
  5. Group Meeting… GET CONCURRENCE!   If you are not there yet then repeat the previous steps until you come to a common plan.
  6. Test the plan.  Once the team agrees on a approach, test it.  Meeting one-on-one with line people who will be impacted by the changes that are suggested to determine what the team may have missed and to bring a dose of “in the trenches” reality to the situation.

Rules of Engagement:

It is important to set not only expectations on results, but the individual and group behavior required as well. You’ve seen the lists before:

  • There is no such thing as a dumb idea
  • Listen fully
  • Disagree agreeably
  • Capture everything and narrow thoughts later
  • Participate

Establishing a clear set of rules and timeframes will keep you on track.  Move from the large to the small in terms of your thinking and recirculate the thinking from large to small, from individual thought to group think.  It is an iterative process.  Have fun with it.  Embrace the inevitable conflicts and seek solutions.  Happy problem solving!

 

 

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