Creating the Right Conditions for Brainstorming

October 4, 2018 8:49 pm

Many times while facilitating a group in brainstorming (especially around 3:00 p.m.), I’ve noticed participants entering in to the BAD zone (“Brain-Almost-Dead”). During this time the facilitator has two choices – take a break, or bring some creativity to the process. Typically, I have the group take a break, especially if we’ve been going strong for an hour and a half or so. But sometimes even a break doesn’t help, so here are some ideas to get the group back into actively brainstorming.

Set Clear Guidelines

Some guidelines need to be implemented to optimize brainstorming:

• Ensure participants understand that all ideas are acceptable – no judgments or discussions as to the validity of an idea.
• Don’t allow questions for clarification until the brainstorming is complete, as this stifles the spontaneity of the process.
• Ensure there is someone dedicated to managing participation and keeping people from straying from the guidelines.
• Have the group identify targeted norms

During brainstorming people sometimes get intimidated due to:

• Lower status or seniority.
• A perception of “not being as creative as others”.
• Not knowing where they “fit” in this group.
• Fear of people “leaking” what has been said, resulting in a lack of confidentiality.
• Resistance to brainstorming in the first place (i.e. they’re mandated to be there), or a feeling that the process is futile based on past experience. If there are any such concerns, have the group set some targeted norms or rules of interaction around the areas of concern before the brainstorming begins.

For example:
• If status is the problem, the norm could be: “All ideas will be considered equally, with everyone having a say.”
• If confidentiality is doubted, the norm could read: “Whatever is said here stays here.”

Post these norms on the wall and use them to govern how the group interacts with one another. Be sure that the rules are adhered to or the concerns will resurface.

Deal with any resistance up front

To deal with any resistance to norms, anticipate the storm and put an intervention into place.
• Start off by having the group define any concerns going into the brainstorming, and what needs to happen or be put into place to help participants get over these concerns
• See what solutions can be immediately implemented to alleviate any concerns (for example, having management come into the session to voice support for the resulting ideas).
• “Park” any solutions that can’t be immediately implemented, and pledge to bring them forward in the next meeting for action planning. Some solutions may be delegated to individuals who have specific accountabilities or expertise.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll be talking about how to energize a group during brainstorming, assuming you’ve dealt proactively and/or reactively with any team member resistance.

Michael Goldman President, Facilitation First

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