I'm sure we've all been there. You get the brainstorm invite and turn up at the meeting. You look around the room to see who else has been invited and you are greeted by confused looks. Someone inevitably asks the question, "so what are we supposed to be doing here?"
Sounds familiar? If I had a dollar for every such brainstorming session I attended, I'd have an offshore account in Panana!
It's a problem that is costing companies valuable time and resources.
Having initiated, facilitated and attended scores of brainstorming sessions in my corporate time, thought I'd share my 8 simple tips to make your brainstorms more effective.
1. PREP WORK
As the initiator and facilitator, establish what you want to achieve with clear objectives. Set the framework for the discussion and provide reference material if needed.
Send a meeting invite along with the objectives and reference material early, around 2 weeks is generally okay. Give enough time for people to plan ahead and also think about their contribution.
Also, encourage them to pass on the invite to whoever they think should be present from their teams.
2. GET A GOOD MIX OF PEOPLE
You need a mix of ideas so get a good mix of people, the more diverse the better. One simple trick I learnt was to invite key stakeholders/decision makers to the session. That way you get their early approval and buy-in for ideas as well. They also feel good about having been part of the ideation process.
That said, the mood of the room may change having senior people around. I've found that the mood generally changes to a more fun and relaxed nature once groups are formed.
3. PREP MATERIAL
I've seen this happen many a time, groups are formed and everyone scatters looking around for sheets of paper, marker pens etc. Just plan ahead and ensure that you have everything you need from whiteboards to coffee sorted out and in place prior to the session.
Also, it's handy to have IT in the room in case they just upgraded the presentation system!
4. RIGHT SIZED TEAMS
Depending on the size of the overall group, I find between 2-6 member teams to be ideal. You can either pre-allocate members to groups ahead of the session or you can just as easily form groups spontaneously as well.
If you have a group of say twelve people, get them to do a sequential number count around the table (1,2,3,4 repeat). Then get all the 1's, 2's, 3's and 4's together to form four teams of three members each.
I find it's better to re-confirm objectives ahead of the group exercise.
5. SET A TIME LIMIT
I find this works extremely well as our minds work best under stress. Typically setting a 5-20 min deadline works well. The time limit depends on the complexity and scale of the problem they need to solve.
Reminding people that the deadline is approaching is very effective.
6. LIST ALL IDEAS
Get teams to pick their presenter/s and set an approximate time limit for presentation. Make sure you list all ideas. Don't pre-judge ideas at this point, listing all ideas shows you respect everyone's input. Seek clarifications if necessary and eliminate any duplicate or similar sounding ideas at this stage.
7. FILTER BEST IDEAS
From the list, get the group to pick the top 5 ideas that meet the objectives. As this stage teams may get sacrosanct about their ideas and try and push these. Remind everyone about the objective of the brainstorm and the need for ideas to best serve this.
Get the group's buy in for the top 3-5 ideas you can take further. Solicit teams to further develop these. Usually the team that came up with the idea will be happy to work on theirs.
Here's where most brainstorms fail to deliver. The best practice is to email everyone all the ideas from the brainstorm and thank them for their time.
Highlight the teams working on the best ideas. Monitor progress and update the group when you have new information.
Set up an update meeting if required, this time with a smaller group. Email success stories from ideas that got traction to the group, so people feel that they added value to the company on that brainstorm.
Since you made it till here, thought I'd reward you by answering your burning question about the picture. It's a Elf cat, a hybrid breed originated by crossing the Sphynx with the American Curl.