February 23, 2012 23 Comments
Encouraging and developing ideas is the easiest of the three activities required to operate the tool called “Brainstorming.” The other two activities include analysis and convergence (or, decision). Whether you use an easel or a spreadsheet, Post-it® notes or illustrated drawings, the first principle of brainstorming, as it was intended by Alex Osborne, is to encourage capturing lots of ideas without constraint or judgment. Most neophyte facilitators become the first person in the meeting to violate this principle by asking for definition or further explanation, such as “Tell us more about _____.”
Regardless of HOW you gather ideas, embrace the first principle we call “Ideation.” This first step of brainstorming can be reinforced with a discrete set of ground rules such as:
- No discussion
- Fast pacing, high-energy
- All ideas allowed
- Be creative—experiment
- Build on the ideas of others
- Suspend judgment, evaluation, and criticism
- Passion is good
- Accept the views of others
- Stay focused on the topic
- Everyone participates
- No word-smithing
- When in doubt, leave it in
- The ideation step is informal
- 5-Minute Limit Rule (ie, ELMO doll — Enough, Let’s Move On)
In our experience, having used all of these rules at one time or another, only the first four (shown in bold font) consistently add value. For example, a few of the ideation rules suggest that someone has made a remark (eg, No word-smithing). If the facilitator carefully polices the very first ground rule (ie, No discussion), then it obviates the need for some of the other ground rules.
The ELMO rule is also not necessary if the activity is closely policed. How long can a group maintain “high-energy”? If the group is working with high-energy at the five-minute mark, do you really want to shut them down? It is likely that energy will begin to die down in the next few minutes anyway, so if closely monitored, the formal rule is not necessary, although typically the facilitator should expect to wind down the ideation activity within six to eight minutes anyway. Larger groups may keep up high-energy for ten to twelve minutes, but it is most unlikely that any group will maintain true “high-energy” for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Once the ideation activity is complete, the real work begins. What are you going to do with the list? The first challenge is normally about definition and what something specifically means. How to effectively facilitate a consensually understood definition, is covered in the next blog.
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).
- Facilitate Meaning, Not Words (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Facilitate Brainstorming (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- Yes, You Can Brainstorm Without Groupthink (blogs.hbr.org)
- 5 Idea Generators (& Idea Killers) (inc.com)
- How to Manage Breakout Sessions (or, 3 Minute Sub Team Productivity WOW) (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- Can Innovation Be a Structured Repeatable Process? (customerthink.com)
- How to Facilitate Business Process Improvement: A Proven Approach Using Teams (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)