Brainstorming work, when properly prepared, is effective. These group discussions need careful preparation and are valuable when creating dynamic new programs, addressing concerns and issues, and strengthening groups. Brainstorming can be especially effective when working with groups consisting of individuals from different teams, departments and organizations. Over the years I’ve developed my own recipe for facilitating effective brainstorming discussions that have resulted in innovative and successful programs and services:
Assemble: Discussion leader, discussion contributors, note-taker with laptop with projector.
Prep time: Discussion leader should plan on at least 15 – 30 minutes of prep time prior to discussion
Cook time: no more than 45 – 60 minutes
1) Begin with the end. The group clearly defines the project or service to be created or situation that needs to be addressed. (5 minutes)
2) Idea time. Contributors offer ideas. All ideas are typed out in a notes document that is projected on the wall. Discussion takes place in next steps. Please note: if possible, use laptop and projector. Not only is this faster and less awkward than flip charts, but it’s easier for all contributors to read the projected notes and provides a neutral visual focus point. (10 minutes – group decides if less or more time is needed, but don’t over mix.)
3) Blend: group identifies shared qualities or characteristics of shared ideas. Mix together similar ideas. (5 minutes)
4) Season: group identifies and discusses the ideas that are best for this project or situation. This is where questions are asked or identification of potential problems are addressed. (10 minutes – group decides if less or more time is needed, but don’t over mix.)
5) Build: ideas and steps toward accomplishing the goal are identified, often based on a combination of suggestions offered in Step 2. This step provides for additional questioning and decision making. (5 minutes)
6) Clean-up: the group determines the next steps, what needs to be done, and who is going to do it. Deadlines are set. If work groups need to be formed participants are identified and everyone identifies specific roles, a deadline and how records of work will be reported back to the group. (5 minutes)
Notes for discussion leader: Preparation for the discussion is essential. Understand that each group has its own personality and that every contributor has distinct skills, experiences and characteristics. Set a professional tone, listen to what is being said rather than who is saying it, and determine clear goals, project timeline and expectations.
The term brainstorm has taken on negative connotations. Does this word conjure memories of participating in brainstorming sessions that were inadequately led with undefined goals, where one participant held the group hostage or where action didn’t occur after the discussion? Sessions in which transitions were indicated by the gentle ringing of temple chimes? (OK, I admit, I considered this. But it was 1997 and I was really into yoga that fall.) Perhaps it is time to create a new word or phrase for this shared activity. I think that I’m going to replace the word “brainstorming” with the phrase “let’s cook something up” and send it through the test kitchen.