How to Facilitate Ideation Using the Brainstorming Tool


 

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.

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).

 

How to Facilitate Brainstorming


The term “brainstorming” is technically a gerund, a verb that wants to be a noun.  When done properly, brainstorming can be highly effective.  When done poorly, it leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. Most consider optimal brainstorming to include three discrete activities:

  1. List (also known as diverge or ideate)
  2. Analyze (the hardest of the three activities and the one 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.  The appropriate analysis should be determined in advance, with an alternative method in mind as a contingency or back-up plan. Many of the 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.

Subsequent blog posts 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.

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.

 Related articles

How to Facilitate Building Force-Field Analysis


Purpose

This facilitative tool modifies and strengthens the comparative approach called “pros & cons.”  It helps groups prioritize and identify opportunities for improvement, especially with project teams.  Force-fields help groups organize their thinking and encourage thoughtful exploration.  Once the forces are identified, the group can analyze their impact, leading to ideas and actions that reinforce the positive and mitigate the negative forces.

Method

This exercise begins by identifying the objectives, or CTQs (Critical to Quality), or targets.  Next, for each objective or discrete variable (typically provided in a list, slide, or hand out), ask the following questions:

  • What is hindering us from reaching this target (negative)?
  • What is helping us move toward this target (positive)?

Given that you have created two new lists (ie, positive and negative forces), adapt the Peter Senge philosophy that it is easier to remove obstacles (the hindrances) than to push harder (supportive forces).  Focus discussion on what we can do different to overcome the hindrances or obstacles, but focus the discussion on one at a time. For each hindrance there should be more than one action that could be offered or considered.

Once the actions have been identified and agreed upon, it may be necessary to prioritize them.  If so, use the FAST technique’s PowerBall or Perceptual Mapping tool to accelerate consensual prioritization.

Notes

See how the first list of objectives generates two lists (ie, support and hindrances) that are then consolidated into one action list, as shown in the following diagram:

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 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

The Transforming 
Workplace


Facing consecutive days of back-to-back meetings, participants financially value the importance of well-run meetings.  Traditionally, leaders have chaired meetings and exerted control over decision-making.  As the workplace has transformed, and knowledge workers operate within a matrix of networks, modern leadership has also changed.

Instead of dealing mostly with individuals (conversations or dyads), modern leaders more frequently work with people in groups (meetings).  Instead of supervising hours of workload, they help their teams become self-managing.  Instead of directing tasks, they motivate people to achieve results.  Above all, they stay focused on aligning all activity with organizational goals, from the boardroom to the boiler room.

The Transforming Workplace

The Transforming Workplace

Seven Tips for Better Participation in Meetings


A meeting can be led (or misled) from any chair in the room. Here’s how to ensure that you add value during your next meeting.

Improved Meeting Participation

Improved Meeting Participation

  1. If it is your meeting, ask a facilitator to lead the group through major solution finding activities. Having a facilitator frees you to participate and gives responsibility for keeping order to a neutral person.
  2. Take a moment to organize your thoughts before speaking. Then express your idea simply, logically, and concisely. People are more receptive to ideas they understand. Long, complex explanations work against you.
  3. Respect others. Different views force us to develop new ideas and more ideas equates to higher quality decisions.
  4. Use positive comments in the meeting. Negative comments create defensive reactions that distract from your goals.
  5. Use structured activities. Methodological tools ensure equitable participation and systematic progress toward results.
  6. Focus on one issue at a time. Avoid stories, jokes, and unrelated issues. These waste time, distract focus, and mislead others. Save the fun for lunchtime or social occasions where it will be appreciated.
  7. Rescue wayward meetings by challenging seemingly unrelated comments. Ask, “Explain how that contributes to the issue about _______?”

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 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.

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