A successful business hinges on the ability to generate ideas, whether you are trying to come up with a new product or service, improve an existing one or are looking for a way to solve a problem. Getting the creative juices flowing in the workplace is not always easy and it is important to find effective means of generating ideas that can be turned into tangible courses of action. Group brainstorming can be one such tool but it is all too easy to conduct it in a manner that produces a dearth of good ideas; here are some tips to make group brainstorming more effective.
Choose a Moderator
While you do not want anyone to dominate the session, nor do you want a lot of harsh judgment on what people are coming up with, you do need to establish some sort of control over the course of the session. You should appoint a moderator who is very familiar with the issue at hand who can bring the group back to focus when it has steered too far off course or is becoming hostile or unproductive.
Set Clear Expectations and Goals
When you think of brainstorming, you may just think of stream-of-conscious, yelling out anything that comes to mind; while you want to encourage openness, you also want to set some guidelines to give the session a focus. Clearly outline what you are hoping to accomplish with the brainstorming session—what problems do you want to solve, what are any limitations that must be considered…anything important for setting the foundation of the session.
Keep a Focus
While brainstorming is heavily reliant on random idea generation, just having everyone sitting there shouting out any old thing may not be the most effective way to go about it. Having some sort of focus may help generate better quality ideas. For example, you may decide to focus on one aspect of the issue at a time and set a time limit of 30 minutes before moving onto something else.
Create a No Judgment Zone
To encourage maximum participation, it is important to create a space free of judgment and criticism; sure, you will probably get some ideas that are not so great or are completely infeasible, but instead of wasting valuable time discussing all the reasons why that particular idea is bad, keep the ball rolling. In the early stages of the session, you want to be more focused on quantity, not quality. If you find members of the group are undermining your efforts at creating a safe space where all ideas can be shared, get rid of them.
Invoke a ‘’Creative Atmosphere’’
In order to get the creative juices flowing, you want to create an atmosphere amenable to creative thought. You might consider holding the session somewhere outside the office, where there is a physical distance between the inbox filling up with emails or that huge stack of papers that need to be sorted through. If relevant, place magazines and other visual aids that can help spark ideas. Start the session with a short meditation or other relaxation technique to clear everyone’s mind and help them focus on the session ahead.
Break Up Larger Groups
If you have a larger group of people, breaking them down into smaller groups can help create a more effective session; when working with a really big group of people, you run the risk of creating a situation where a few dominant personalities take over everything and the rest of the group sits in silence. Research has shown that groups of three to five work best—working in pairs can also create a dominating situation, while a group of more than five people will typically splinter off into smaller sub-groups.
One of the biggest hindrances to effective group brainstorming is people feeling reluctant to share their ideas for fear of being ridiculed. A technique called rolestorming may be an effective remedy. To do this, everyone in the group, or the group as a whole, adopts the identity of someone else and offers ideas as if they were that person. It may be a competitor, client, successful business person, someone in your family or a neighbor. By taking on the role of someone else, people may feel more confident in sharing ideas since they do not have to ‘’own’’ them like they would in a regular session.
Look at the Issue from Another Angle
Typically, a brainstorming session aims to answer questions like ‘’how can we solve this problem?’’ ‘’what can we do to get the desired effect?’’ Vital questions no doubt, but sometimes, asking the opposites can provide a wealth of creative solutions by forcing you to look at the issue from a different angle. Instead of generating ideas about how you can solve the problem, try asking what types of things would cause this problem. Instead of trying to figure out how to get what you want, ask yourselves what we would do to get the exact opposite result.
Consider Individual Sessions Before and After Group Sessions
To maximize the benefits of group brainstorming, it may be a good idea to have people conduct individual sessions before and after; giving people time to hash out the issues on their own time, especially before, can aid in the generation of more ideas.
Do Not Just Use Brainstorming to Create Ideas
To most effectively utilize group brainstorming, you should not just put the focus on the generation of new ideas. These group sessions should also offer the opportunity to blend ideas, build on existing ideas and knowledge and allow people of different backgrounds to share their knowledge with each other.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who covers a range of business topics; a great way to encourage group collaboration in the workplace is using file-sharing software that allows you to store important documents in one place where everyone can access them online; you can learn more here.