Brainstorming … for more solutions!

BrainstormingBrainstorming is a technique that can be used for multiple purposes, among them are problem-solving, team-building and decision-making.

Brainstorming with your team can be an exciting and productive process. New ideas, problem solutions, motivation will also help to build the cohesion of your team. Actually, brainstorming may provide an opportunity for your team to examine management issues that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.

Brainstorming should be structured and there should be some rules. Develop a method for displaying the rules and results in plain view of all participants. Perhaps a Newsletter, web page or a blog will work for you. Team members must be able to follow what is happening or being said.

A brainstorming session should also have a facilitator to manage the process, people’s involvement and sensitivities, and follow-up actions. Effective use of brainstorming could generate excellent results in improving the performance of your team and the organization, as well.

Brainstorming Process
One of the first things that we must do to prepare for a brainstorming session is to establish the rules and agree on the objective. Ensure that you outline the procedure for responses and social etiquette.

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 services 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.

Let your group know the time limits and if follow-up sessions are planned. Capture the ideas or suggestions and record them. There is a chance that some suggestions or comments will be duplicated. The facilitator can combine “synonymous” comments or points. This will make the next steps more manageable. Depending on the scale of your brainstorming session, you may need to group the ideas that were generated into categories (costs, materials, call volume, sales, etc.) Summarize, condense and refine these areas to make them more manageable.

Based on the scale and magnitude of the issues, you may need to schedule time for information gathering and analyses. This is particularly true if you are dealing with technical or financial issues. You may need to develop a system to prioritize, rank or determine the importance or sequence of certain tasks. After all of this information is assembled and analyzed, you can create an action plan and timetable. Plan how you will monitor and control follow-up and adjustments to the plan.

Activity Management
Brainstorming enables people to suggest ideas at random. The facilitator must encourage everyone to participate, to prevent others from “trashing” some of the “wilder” ideas that arise. One of the ground rules must be that all suggestions should be recorded and dealt with in the discussion part of the session.

Record every suggestion on the flip-chart or board and hang the sheets around the room. At the end of the time limit or when ideas have been exhausted, use different colored stars or dots categorize, 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. With the group, assess, evaluate and analyze the effects and validity of the ideas or the list. Develop and prioritize the ideas into a more finished list or set of actions or options.

Agree a timescale, who’s responsible and circulate notes, summaries and other documentation. To the extent possible, prove some timely and positive feedback to the group. 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.

Personal Brainstorming
Sometimes it’s very difficult to begin planning something new – because you don’t know where and how to start. Personal brainstorming is very useful for the start of any new project, especially if you can be prone to put things off until tomorrow. If you are planning a new venture, a presentation, or any new initiative, it is generally much easier if you begin simply by thinking of ideas, in no particular order or structure, and jotting them down on a sheet of paper or in a notebook. Some may call this “Mind Mapping.” Basically this is personal brainstorming, and it can follow the same process as described above for groups, except that it’s just you doing it.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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