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7 Tips to Conduct Effective Brainstorming Sessions

Sat, 19 Sep 2015

Brainstorming is an effective technique to gather large number of ideas for a given problem. Brainstorming is a synonym for Focus Group. In this technique, you gather a group of subject matter experts (generally 5-6) in a room and facilitate the conversation with them. One brainstorming session can be completed in 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how effectively are you able to facilitate the discussion and seek maximum number of ideas for the given problem. Let us now understand 7 important tips that you must remember to conduct an effective brainstorming session.

1. Clearly establish the need for a brainstorming session

a) Have a clear objective to conduct a brainstorming session. It is also advisable to keep only one objective per session instead of keeping multiple objectives. This helps in keeping the mind of all participants focused on one topic and thus allow generating more ideas (e.g. the Average Handle time of our process is too high and we need to identify root-causes for this problem, the Customer Satisfaction scores are fluctuating and you need ideas to improve customer satisfaction).

b) Communicate the desired objective to participants and link the fulfilment of this objective to a larger organizational goal. (e.g. the sales of a particular product or service is low because of inconsistency in providing after sales service, this brainstorming session will help in collating ideas that will not only improve the after sales service but also in effect increase the revenue of our organization). This helps participants understand the big picture and also articulates the need for their effective contribution during the session.

c) WIIFM Factor: Try to articulate “What’s In It For Me (the participants)” right at the beginning of brainstorming session. Participants are more likely to contribute if they are made aware of the positive impact on their individual selves by achieving the desired objective of this session. (e.g. reducing the Average Handle time of our process will not only help in achieving the desired service levels but also open avenues for additional business from our client. More business would lead to better career opportunities for internal employees. Thus, your participation in this brainstorming session is important and will have a cascading positive impact in future).

2. Don’t allow participants to deviate from key topic

a) During the course of discussion, participants tend to deviate from the key topic. As a facilitator, it is your responsibility to bring them back to the key topic. (e.g. “It looks like we have deviated from the key topic of improving the customer satisfaction scores, let’s come back to our key point – what should we do to improve customer satisfaction”).

b) You may have to interject and reiterate the key topic being discussed. 

c) While doing this, you have to ensure that the participants do not feel offended. It so happens that a participant is trying to express his problem (may not be related to the key topic) and since you interjected, he may feel that you are not allowing him to speak. (e.g. to avoid any feeling of resentment amongst the participants, you can say, “I understand this is an important point, however, it is more linked to another topic not related to our key topic here. Let’s come back to the point of improving customer satisfaction”).

3. Ensure dominating participants are effectively managed

a) You will encounter that every brainstorming session will have one or two dominating participants.

b) These participants would not allow others to speak and will say every possible thing to communicate their point.

c) It is important to let the dominating participant know that his points are great but others should also be given the opportunity to speak (for e.g. “That’s a great point. Let us also allow others to add” OR “this is a good point. Let us seek views from the remaining participants on what they feel about it”. 

4. Ensure everyone participates in the discussion

a) Participation from every individual is a critical priority of a good facilitator.

b) In a group, there may be individuals who are shy OR who may not get the opportunity to speak because of other participants.

c) The best way of ensuring everyone’s participation is use of “Round-Robin Method”. In this method, you ask each individual one-after-the-other to share their input/idea. After completing one round of receiving ideas from each participant, you come back to the first participant and begin the second round. You continue to have several rounds until no more ideas are getting generated. 

5. Don’t engage in evaluating viability of the idea

a) “Not evaluating the viability of the idea during the session” is one of the key rules to follow for effective facilitation. 

b) In case you begin evaluating the ideas received in the brainstorming session, there is a likelihood that participants may not contribute. They would feel their ideas may get rejected.

c) Hence, allow each participant to contribute. Write down each idea and encourage maximum ideation. Evaluating the viability of ideas can be done post brainstorming session. 

6. Any crazy idea is welcome

a) This is another important point. You will never know that a simple or crazy idea would be a game-changer for your process, business unit or the company.

b) The objective of any brainstorming session is to maximize generation of ideas for the given problem/situation.

c) Hence, allow every idea (however crazy) to be discussed and don’t forget to note them. 

7. Genuinely appreciate and thank everyone for their contributions at the end of session

a) The brainstorming session does not end at getting maximum ideas for the problem/situation.

b) You have to genuinely appreciate and thank all the participants for their contributions at the end of session.

c) This gives each participant the sense of belongingness towards the overall organizational goal and encourages them to contribute in further such exercises.

So, the next time you conduct a brainstorming session, just keep these tips handy and have a successful discussion.

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