Six simple guidelines to get the best from your staff during group brainstorming sessions.
Done well, brainstorming is a great team building activity; it builds participation and strengthens buy-in as people who get to participate in the development phase of projects are more willing and more prepared to participate in the implementation phase.
Don’t forget to enjoy the process! Brainstorms should be fun as fun feeds creativity—use color (markers and paper), food, music, a new or creative space and laughter to help your group get into the groove.
To ensure that your brainstorming session is as free-flowing and productive as possible, it helps to set some guidelines that everyone in the group — including you — agrees to respect.
Post these guidelines in big letters for the group to see:
1. Goal: Write the goal of the session clearly to help keep the group focused.
For example: “Everything we can think of to increase adoptions.” If you prefer, you can state the goal as a question, such as “How can we reduce cat length of stay?”
2. Time: Clarify the amount of time for the brainstorm session.
The time you set is up to you, and depends on your goal for the session. Whatever time you set, make sure the group knows it—and you stick to it.
3. Evaluate Later: This can be the hardest guideline for people to follow, but it’s essential for a brainstorm that produces new ideas.
More typically you’ll see this guideline stated as “no editing” or “anything goes,” but participants with analytical minds tend to have great difficulty setting their filters aside. For this reason, it is useful to write the guideline as it is here—to clarify that there will be a time to evaluate these ideas, but evaluation comes after the group generates as many ideas as possible.
As facilitator, you’ll want to clarify this when you post the guidelines and cut off any evaluation the minute it begins to crop up during the brainstorm, reminding the person that evaluation will take place at another time. It’s important to be mindful of this, because once evaluation begins, it has a snowball effect. Not only will other participants start evaluating verbally, but still others will filter their own ideas in their heads before they offer them up to the group.
4. Think OUT of the Box: Encourage the group to imagine there’s no limit to time, money, space or other resources; no idea is too crazy or outlandish.
5. Idea Build: Urge participants to jump off of or add to other people’s ideas.
6. Be Brief: Remind the group that the objective is to generate as many ideas as possible in a short timeframe, therefore brevity is critical.
If you find a number of people are struggling to be brief, consider a few minutes of quiet time for participants to organize their thoughts.
Tips for Facilitating and Managing Participation
Bert Troughton, MSW, is ASPCA Vice President of Pro Learning, Community Outreach