How to Facilitate Brainstorming: Your Primer/ Overview of Three Main Steps


The term “brainstorming” is technically a gerund, a verb that wants to be a noun.  A gerund implies more than one step or activity.  Brainstorming has three.  When done properly, brainstorming can be highly effective.  When done poorly, it leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. Optimal brainstorming includes three discrete activities:

  1. List (also known as diverge or ideate)
  2. Analyze (the hardest of the three activities and the step frequently omitted)
  3. Decide (also known as converge or document)

A facilitator or session leader must be conscious where the group is and upon which activity the group should focus.  Many people are confident in their facilitation skills because they can stand at an easel and capture ideas (or provide instructions and gather Post-it Notes®).  Those same leaders then turn to their participants and ask them to create categories, or worse, ask what they would like to do with the list.  This type of leadership is NOT facilitation and does NOT make it easier for the group to make an informed decision.

The difficult part of brainstorming, and frequently facilitating, is knowing what to do with the list—how to lead the group through analysis that is insightful.  There is no “silver bullet” for the ill prepared.  Appropriate analysis should be determined before the meeting, with an alternative method in mind as a contingency or back-up plan. Many of our other blogs are about HOW TO analyze input.

For example, there are numerous ways to help groups prioritize, from the simple through the complicated to the complex.  Purchasing stationary may be simple, while designing machinery (eg, jet aeroplane) is complicated, and creating artificial intelligence (think IBM’s Watson playing Jeopardy) is truly complex. Each has a different and appropriate method for analysis and prioritization. For example, we rely on the PowerBalls to for the simple analysis, the Scorecard tool for complicated analysis, and our quantitative SWOT framework for the truly complex.

One might use PowerBalls for a simple decision.  To drive consensus around a complicated decision, something more robust is required such as a quantitative Scorecard approach that separates criteria into different types such as binary (ie, Yes/ No), scalable (more is better), and fuzzy (subjective).  Alternatively, qualitative Perceptual Maps may suit some groups better.  For the complex, a hardy and robust tool is required such as MG Rush’s quantitative SWOT analysis.

Other posts at this site provide insight about HOW TO lead high quality sessions that use Brainstorming as a tool for groups to gather, analyze, and decide.  Please post any questions you have or challenges that you may have encountered.  We will post a response based on our body of knowledge (BoK) supported by decades of experience leading groups to make higher quality decisions.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, 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).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

 Related articles

How to Facilitate Quick and Simple Prioritization Using a PowerBall Method


Purpose

To help a group quickly and simply prioritize.

Rationale

Apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80-20 Rule) to help a group deselect and to eliminate as many options as possible so the group can stay focused on the most important or attractive options.

CAUTION

Be aware that the optimal approach suggests that you prioritize the criteria, not the options directly.

Method

The following steps should be read with an understanding that some of the material and examples used to support prioritization and other approaches discussed elsewhere on this blog site and in the FAST curriculum.

  • Establish the purpose of what the team is doing (ie, Purpose of _______ is to . . .    So that . . .)
  • Build a list of options (eg, Brainstorming). Set the list of options aside.
  • Build a list of criteria (be prepared to define each “criterion”).
  • Look at the criteria to see if any options are in violation. For example, if Sally is allergic to flowers, then “buying her flowers” is probably an option that should be eliminated.
  • Consider asking the participants if they can live with the remaining options. If someone objects, then eliminate that particular option.
  • Once they can live with the remaining options, you have consensus.
  • To improve the quality of the decision, unveil the visual support for PowerBalls and the accompanying definitions, and prioritize the criteria.
  • Find the option(s) that best align with the most important or mandatory criteria.

The definitions shown here work in almost all situations, namely:

  • 5 or a solid ball means high “Pay any price.
  • 1 or an empty circle means low or “Want it free, not willing to pay extra for it.”
  • 3 or a half-filled ball means moderate or all the other stuff  between high and low, meaning we are “willing to pay a reasonable price” without being forced to define “reasonable.”

Separate the most/ least important criteria. Code the remaining as moderate by default, without discussion. Attempt to force fit one-third of the candidates as each high, low, and moderate—but be flexible. Appeal to the high criteria and isolate the option(s) that best satisfy the prioritized criteria. To further optimize or guide discussion (if required), appeal to some of the fuzzy factors that may be difficult to measure objectively.

When you need help creating a robust definition of something that may be argumentative, turn to the Definition Tool for support

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

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).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify the skills of a facilitative leader.

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