Group brainstorming sessions are an excellent way to generate new and innovative ideas – or to waste a lot of time, if they are incorrectly run. A skilled facilitator knows how to manage a brainstorming meeting without interfering in the process, for the best possible results and hopefully, some brilliant ideas. Seartec has a few tips on how to get the most out of a brainstorming session.
Set an objective
It may seem obvious but clearly stating the problem or opportunity to be addressed is a vital part of a brainstorm. The trick is to only outline the focus of the session, without suggesting any ideas or parameters about what the results should look like. For example, don’t give examples of solutions, as that may lead to people gravitating towards similar solutions instead of totally new ones. If you have a complex problem, Dr Ryuji Fukuda, a Japanese expert on continuous improvement suggests creating a cause and effect diagram, or fishbone diagram. This helps to unravel the causes and factors involved in complex problems and could thus generate novel ways to solve them.
Try and get a mix of people with different personalities and who play different roles in the organisation to participate in order to get a fresh perspective. Be aware though, of the group dynamic. Extroverts may try and dominate, or subordinates may be scared of upsetting or disagreeing with a boss. A facilitator needs to ensure that everyone is comfortable sharing their ideas.
Don’t try and filter what comes out of the session and don’t pressure people into coming up with “brilliant” ideas. Often, good ideas are incremental and start off with a small concept that leads to a chain of reactions and related ideas from others, until a great solution is found. This means that people must be encouraged to share their thoughts regardless of how “silly” they might seem. They also shouldn’t feel like they are on the spot to produce a polished and final solution.
Set some ground rules
It is useful to set some ground rules before the brainstorm begins, to set the tone and keep everyone focused and positive. Examples of good rules could include: Negativity is unwelcome – no shooting down of other people’s ideas. Try and build on them instead. All contributions are welcome and respected. No interruptions allowed (including phones). Time-keeping rules apply – set defined times for different activities and allow adequate time for breaks to prevent people from becoming restless or fatigued as this kills creativity.
Make it stimulating
Creativity needs stimulus to flourish. This could include music, images or free-association exercises. The session might have a serious goal but it should have a positive, vibrant feel. One way of promoting interactivity and encouraging creative expression is by using a tool such as an interactive whiteboard.
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