The brainstorming technique for problem-solving, team-building and creative process
Brainstorming with a group of people is a powerful technique. Brainstorming creates new ideas, solves problems, motivates and develops teams. Brainstorming motivates because it involves members of a team in the bigger management issues, and it gets a team working together.
However, brainstorming is not simply a random activity. Brainstorming needs to be structured and it follows brainstorming rules. The brainstorming process is described below, for which you will need a flip-chart or alternative. This is crucial, as brainstorming needs to involve the team, which means that everyone must be able to see what’s happening. Brainstorming places a significant burden on the facilitator to manage the process, people’s involvement and sensitivities, and then to manage the follow-up actions. Use brainstorming well and you will see excellent results in improving the organisation, performance and developing the team.
- Define and agree the objective.
- Brainstorm ideas and suggestions, having agreed a time limit.
- Assess/analyse effects or results.
- Prioritise options/rank list as appropriate.
- Agree action and timescale.
- Control and monitor follow-up.
Plan and agree the brainstorming aim
Ensure everyone participating in the brainstorm session understands and agrees the aim of the session (e.g.; to formulate a new job description for a customer service clerk, to formulate a series of new promotional activities for the next trading year, to suggest ways of improving cooperation between the sales and service departments, to identify costs saving opportunities that will not reduce performance or morale, etc). Keep the brainstorming objective simple. Allocate a time limit. This will enable you to keep the random brainstorming activity under control and on track.
Manage the actual brainstorming activity
Brainstorming enables people to suggest ideas at random. Your job as facilitator is to encourage everyone to participate, to dismiss nothing, and to prevent others from pouring scorn on the wilder suggestions (some of the best ideas are initially the daftest ones – added to which people won’t participate if their suggestions are criticised).
During the random collection of ideas the facilitator must record every suggestion on the flip-chart. Use Blu-Tack or sticky tape to hang the sheets around the walls. At the end of the time limit or when ideas have been exhausted, use different coloured pens to categorise, group, connect and link the random ideas. Condense and refine the ideas by making new headings or lists.
You can diplomatically combine or include the weaker ideas within other themes to avoid dismissing or rejecting contributions (remember brainstorming is about team building and motivation too – you don’t want it to have the reverse effect on some people). With the group, assess, evaluate and analyse the effects and validity of the ideas or the list. Develop and prioritise the ideas into a more finished list or set of actions or options.
Implement the actions agreed from the brainstorming
Agree what the next actions will be. Agree a timescale and who’s responsible. After the session circulate notes, monitor and give feedback. It’s crucial to develop a clear and positive outcome, so that people feel their effort and contribution was worthwhile. When people see that their efforts have resulted in action and change, they will be motivated and keen to help again.