brainstorming, team collaboration

Have you ever been stuck on an issue, where you just couldn’t get past a fixed mindset? Maybe you were looking for a solution to a problem and the same ideas just kept circling back. You know the idea won’t work, yet you can’t come up with anything else. This may be an opportunity for team collaboration. How? Try brainstorming.

Setting up the Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming is a technique that works great with a small group, preferably 5 to 8 people. In an ideal world, you will gather in a space that is set up for the activity and have a facilitator lead you through the process. The space preferably will be outside your normal work environment. It will be equipped with comfortable chairs and have a whiteboard or flip chart. The facilitator ideally will be independent from the group and will not participate in the brainstorming. Their job is to set the stage, obtain agreement, then enforce on the norms. He or she will perform a couple other tasks that will be described later in this article as well.

Arrange the chairs either in a row or a semi-circle around the whiteboard or  flip chart. This alignment is purposeful as it allows each person to be able to address the issue, rather than each other, and it also acts as a stabilizer, to eliminate any power dynamics that may exist in the group. We are addressing the issue, not each other! An alternative to the chairs in a row would be to have the participants stand, again facing the scribe and not each other. This technique can sometimes get people out of their comfort zone, and create some unique ideas.

Establishing the Norms

The rules should be simple:

  1. People should be encouraged to shout out their first thoughts, this can create a bit of chaos, and that is the point. The facilitator manages the chaos and the scribe writes down each idea as it is called out.
  2. There are no bad ideas. We simply write them down and pick the best ones out later.
  3. There is no hierarchy. The bosses’ ideas have no more power than any other participant.

How Long Will this Take?

A properly conducted brainstorming session can happen in as little as fifteen minutes. This includes establishing the ground rules, setting up the concept to be discussed, and then the free flow of information or ideas. So what now? We have 20 new ideas, some being very generic and some being way out of the realm of possibility. This is where the facilitator comes back into play. He/she can help organize the ideas, asking clarifying questions and enabling dialogue. Hopefully the craziest ideas actually get the most dialogue. This helps open the potential for an outside the box solution. This is the time where synergy can take place and we can improve on the ideas that were shouted out during the brainstorming session. This might take another 30 minutes or so, and with any luck can last an hour.

Once we have discussed the ideas and their merits, it is now time to start placing some judgment and narrowing down to ideas that can actually be implemented. The facilitator can guide here, but the fact is the participants in the group know more about what is possible and what is not. If all goes well, and there is no reason it should not, you will have two or three ideas that can be acted on now. You will also probably have a few that can lead to future initiatives.

Next Steps to Success

It is now time to prioritize the ideas, assign someone primary responsibility to gather additional information and a deadline in which to report it back to the group. It is important to bring the information gathered back for a few reasons. One, you show respect for the group, their time and their efforts. Two, in most cases the group will have probably thought some more about the issue and have additional input that should be part of the ultimate decision. Three, you may need additional resources to implement the idea

A properly conducted brainstorming session will do much more than just free you from a stuck. It will generate new ideas on the original problem. It will create new ideas for future consideration. This tool will also create a sense of unity among your small group. This unity is one of the steps in turning a group into a team.

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