Do you remember the 7 stages of writing that we learned in high school and basically in any other class in university that involved writing? I really don’t expect you to remember, I was just trying to have a cool introduction. Anyway, the first stage is brainstorm and not only in writing.
There is no field that operates without at least once doing a brainstorm and a lot depends on the outcome of the brainstorm. I mean I brainstormed to write this article with my colleagues, so there you go, a real-life example. And what does the outcome depend on? Well as paradoxical as it sounds, on the brainstorm, itself.
Before I stop making sense to you, let’s hop into discussing a couple of techniques and methods that will help you facilitate a productive brainstorming session.
Some people believe in spontaneous brainstorms but I am more of a plan-ahead type of person. I suggest you provide the team with a detailed brief on the subject of the brainstorm. I’d love to give you a checklist but it varies greatly for each topic. Generally speaking if it’s for a client, tell the participants as much as you know about the client, his/her requirements, examples that (s)he liked and anything that you find helpful. If you’re looking for an idea for your own company then maybe a market analysis or some ideas that already crossed your mind. Give people food for thought and do it in advance!
#2 Ground Rules
I might sound like a kindergarten teacher but when discussions get intense, we tend to lose control and start interrupting one another. As a facilitator, it’s your duty to make sure people listen to one another. The tricky part is engaging everyone. If you ask participant to go around the room and tell their ideas, you might intimidate some introverts who are shy to speak. Or on the other hand, if you don’t do it, these very introverts won’t talk on their own. Some common sense and knowledge about your employees will come to your rescue.
The mandatory ground rules are staying on topic and listening to others. The rest of it is up to you and your working style. You can have those parking lots, where you post stickers with your ideas or maybe a put a whiteboard in one of the hot spots of your office and have people write what comes to mind.
#3 Do Not Allow Gadgets
The last thing you want in a brainstorming session is distractions and electronic devices are nothing but distractions. That’s why we don’t even use a laptop to record the ideas but old-school whiteboard, pen and paper. You may have a device near you just in case you need to search or check something. Other than that no gadgets and no exceptions.
#4 Split into 2 Groups
Another method that we often use is holding 2 different brainstorm sessions with 2 different groups. There is one condition – the first group never tells the second one the ideas they came up with. This is a very helpful technique because first of all, the fewer people, the more space to talk and the easier to facilitate. Plus, existing ideas sometimes block new ones. Try, it works!
#5 Set Limit
Brainstorms can go on for hours and have no results. A technique that helps combat ineffective brainstorm is setting limits whether it is time or quantity of ideas. You should also number the ideas that your write down, this conveys a sense of progress, which is always motivating.
#6 Share the Ideas with the Participants
Brainstorms follow one another. If you are lucky and came up with a finalized idea after the first session then you’re done. If no then share the ideas with the participants and ask to keep them in the back of their mind. You never know when a $1,000,000 idea will pop in your head.
Brainstorms sound fun and exciting but let me tell you, they can be a torture if you pressure yourself and the team. Brainstorms need management too and if you’re in charge of it, employ these tips and you’ll see the outcomes.
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