My reply was, “Spot on!"
As a facilitator, it is important to note that the outcome of idea generation session is heavily dependent on how well the facilitator runs the group brainstorming. For example, if I were to give everyone a problem statement, instruct them to write down all their ideas, and leave it to themselves, the ideas will probably not be followed through, and worse still, be put to waste. However, if I as a facilitator were to give clear outcomes, clear agenda and clear instructions during the session, what can be achieved at the end is tremendously positively different.
I want to share with the community on how a brainstorming session can be conducted based on my experience and knowledge reading the various facilitators’ guide. For your consideration next time you run a similar exercise!
Step Number 1: State the Topic or Issue for Idea Generation.
For example, the topic for brainstorming today is, “How do we resolve the low productivity of our team today?” or “How do we drive down the defects in our daily work?” or “How do we improve the morale of our team members?” Setting the stage right is important because the ideas generated at the later stages will be linked to the topic. It prevents the team from brainstorming ideas that are out of context.
Step Number 2: Allocate Time for Members to Think and Write.
With the stage set clear, allocate time for the members to think and write. Typically, we set aside about 5 to 7 minutes for the members to write. This is because the number of ideas generated typically reduce exponentially with time. Also, having a timeboxed mentality usually creates a sense of urgency for people to want to think faster which helps in the generation of ideas. The team members will be encouraged to write their ideas on a post-it, with no names on it.
Step Number 3: Paste the Ideas onto a Flipchart.
Once time is up and team members have concluded their individual brainstorming, get them to paste their post-its onto a flipchart. At this point, no one should be evaluating any ideas.
Step Number 4: Explain/Clarify each other’s Idea.
When all the post-its are pasted onto the flipchart, give them some time to read through each other’s idea. If need be, they should explain in greater depth and clarify on each other’s idea. If the member is comfortable to share on his or her own idea, then feel free to do so. The key here is to focus on clarifying the content of the idea, and not on who the contributor is. If more details need to be written, one of the team members can write it on the post-it. Sometimes, new ideas do get span off during this discussion. The facilitator can also get the team members to write them in addition to the existing pool of ideas. Once this is done, we move on to the next step.
Step Number 5: Affinitise Ideas and Name each Cluster of Ideas.
When we say affinitise, we mean to group them according to themes. So for example, one of the ideas says, “To remove the form field” and the other idea says “To make the form simpler”, these 2 ideas can potentially be placed under the same theme. Once the affinity exercise is completed, use a bigger post-it to name each of these clusters. This will give a bigger and clearer picture on the types of ideas generated.
Step Number 6: Sort the most effective ideas to fit the situation.
In my encounter, this can be done through a tool called Multi-Voting. Each team member will be given small round stickers, and they will be asked to stick them onto the ideas which they think stand out the most to fit the situation. The ideas with the greatest number of votes will typically form the ideas that will be further worked on and deliberated to tackle the issue at hand.
As you can see, the whole process of brainstorming is not as easy as it seems. Facilitation is an art, and it takes a lot of effort to master the skill. Brainstorming is just one of the many many tools in facilitation. The next time you want to have a clear set of ideas to push forward in an issue you face, no harm trying what I have just shared. As usual I am open to hearing alternative ways of how seniors or juniors like yourself facilitate brainstorming sessions. I am sure it will be beneficial to all of us here as well, so feel free to drop me a note or share your experience with me below.
Have a great weekend! :)