Saturday, October 29, 2005

How To Conduct a Successful Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming: When you and your group or improvement team wish to generate as many ideas as possible in as short a time as possible.

It’s Powerful
It’s Quick
It’s Fun
It’s Misused

However simple we think this tool is, if we do not set the ground rules, or fail to follow them, we will be very disappointed with the outcome. Some team members may even be fearful to contribute fully – giving safe, guarded inputs.
This is NOT what Brainstorming is all about!

Before a project or improvement team can make decisions, it's important to examine as many options as possible. Brainstorming is one of the easiest, creative ways to generate a list of ideas through getting EVERY team member involved.

Let's have a look at the structure and the process...

Your Team
Arrange the meeting for your improvement group or team - between 4 and 8 people is a good size. Please ensure the group is like-minded, with a sense of purpose and a belief that their contribution is valued.

Establish The Groundrules / Getting Started

Session Groundrules:
  • If people have agreed to participate, respect that
  • Censorship of ideas is not allowed
  • Never criticize ideas
  • Suspend judgement
  • Do not disrupt the flow by questioning / interrupting
  • All ideas are valid, no matter how radical, wierd
  • Listen, piggy back on ideas from others
  • Create a free thinking, creative environment

You have just read through the generally accepted groundrules for conducting an effective Brainstorming session. Take these on board, discuss them with your selected team, make sure everyone understands why they are vitally important, and seek full agreement before moving forward.

Set a time limit of say 15 minutes with the goal of getting lots and lots of ideas.
Agree the roles of scribe and facilitator (they can be the same person). It is the key role of the facilitator to enforce the groundrules and keep the flow going.
Write the initial topic on a flipchart, whiteboard, overhead as long as everyone can see it. The better defined, and more clearly stated the problem, the more likely that everyone will agree on the issue or statement being brainstormed.

Structured Brainstorming
With this approach, every person in the team gives an idea as their turn comes up in rotation or pass until their next turn (we can often get fresh ideas based on the inputs of our team members). This approach is useful in ‘encouraging’ the more reluctant people to participate but may create a certain amount of pressure.

Unstructured Brainstorming
Simply, team members give ideas as they come to mind. This method may be seen as more fun and more relaxed. It risks being taken over by the more dominant team members - facilitators need to monitor this.

Ending the Session
Conclude the session. Thank everyone. Clarify any points and get a consensus on which ideas should be taken further, what the actions and timescales are. Make sure people know that ALL ideas will be kept and the team leaves the session with the sense that "something has been achieved".

One variation is to have everyone write down their ideas, then go round the team and have each member say one of their ideas. Continue this until everyone's list is complete. With sound knowledge of the team and its dynamics, the team leader may prefer one method to the other.

Consensus is not a unanimous vote - consensus is finding a proposal or outcome acceptable enough that ALL members will support - NO member opposes it.

Brainstorming is one of the all time greats in problem solving / decision making. However, it needs two very important attributes - creative thinking and open-mindedness.

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