9 Points for Effective Brainstorming (Part II)

BrainstormingIn the first post I described the main key points for planning a successful brainstorming session. They were basically the tips related to the preparation of the workshop. Now let’s focus on some useful points to lead the session itself.

  1. Make a brief introduction
    Your first task at the beginning of the meeting is to clearly establish:

    • the objectives of the workshop
    • what the expected outcomes are
    • the planned steps (or the steps to follow)
    • the duration of the workshop and the break times (if any)
    • Read the main questions to be answered at the workshop

    It’s useful to give all this information to every person printed in a single sheet of paper as a general guide

  2. Lead the meeting across the steps
    Follow the plan developed in point 3 and make the transitions from one step to the other visible. The steps mentioned in point 3 are only guidelines, you need to adapt them to your particular situation, but it’s important to move forward in order to get the desired results. For example, if you are classifying the proposed ideas, you can allow a few new ones as they come up, but if the meeting goes back to the suggesting ideas step it means that the previous step wasn’t carried out properly.
  3. Don’t allow people to stray from the topic
    People love talking about what they want. Sometimes other topics turn up and a discussion starts around it. Wait for a while to see if the conversation goes back to the main topic (which is very unlikely) otherwise stop it and politely suggest to go back on track. If the new topic is important, you can suggest to organise a new meeting to discuss it.
    Other important issue to emphasise is to encourage the participants to refrain from judging ideas in the fist stage. This is a source of discussions and distractions and goes against the aim of the technique. An idea, no matter how silly could sound, can trigger other idea, which can lead to another that could solve the problem in an unexpectedly way.
  4. Use the board smartly
    Use the board to show and organise the information. In the first part just write down the ideas. It’s useful if you put a short version on the board while someone else write a more detailed one in a sheet of paper for later reference. For the classification and analysis stages, make columns, diagrams or use sticky notes. The idea is to facilitate the visualisation of the information to generate new ideas or to evaluate them more efficiently.
  5. Send a minute after the meeting
    It’s a good practice to send a minute of the outcomes to every participant so they can spot possible mistakes or clarify some doubts. On the other hand, it’s a way to show and share with them the final product of their effort.

Remember that this is a flexible technique and should be adapted to each situation to get the most out of the group. I’ve had extraordinary experiences using this technique.
It is a great way to inspire people’s creativity, allowing them to think out of the box. In one opportunity, I used a brainstorming session to generate the fault tree for a complex equipment. All the participants were technicians who wasn’t used to this technique. At the beginning of the session they were shy and not very participative, but by the end of the session they were completely engaged in the process. What’s more, besides the generation of the fault tree, they came up with several improvement ideas to minimise the time to repair the equipment.

This is a powerful technique and I have used it extensively for complex analysis, specially FMECA and fault tree generation but beware the meeting can easily get out of control or deviate to other topics affecting the group’s productivity. Remember, while some key points, i.e., 6 and 7, are crucial to keep the group focused, others can be overlooked or changed according to the particular situation.

How about you? What other things do you take into consideration when organising a brainstorming session?

Thanks for reading!

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