Team brainstorming sessions are often scheduled to provide everyone with a time & place to huddle and generate ideas. A dynamic and productive session should lead to a diversity of ideas from all participants. However, not all brainstorming sessions are productive and the barriers can often be attributed to a less than ideal mix of personalities. Including, but not limited to the following:
- The VIPs : The involvement of persons of influence can be helpful in ensuring that the ideas are aligned with the bigger vision, however their presence can become a barrier to open idea sharing. A VIP can have disproportionate influence over the ideation session because of their title or area of influence.
- Dictators : These are people that rarely prefer an idea over their own ideas. They are bound and determined to win the idea war. Your idea is stupid. Their idea is the best; so let’s move on with it.
- Devil’s Advocate : They’re not there to share ideas; they’re there to tell you why yours won’t work. The devil’s advocates tendency to raise doubts or challenge the status quo can be useful in evaluating the true impact of executing the idea, but often serves as the Idea Killer.
- The Deep Thinkers : Some people need more thinking time before participating. And it’s okay. The challenge with deep thinkers is that they’re often pondering their ideas while someone else is sharing.
A few techniques for addressing these personality challenges are:
- Pre-Brainstorm : Provide the team with the overall mission and objective for the session and ask them to generate ideas beforehand.
- Brain Writing : During the brainstorming session, ask everyone to write or post their ideas on the wall for discussion. Dependent on the size of your team, this can be done (somewhat) anonymously. The benefit to anonymous submission is that people are more likely to be objective in evaluating ideas. The disadvantage is that people enjoy gaining recognition for their ideas. Also, the idea may require further clarification from its submitter. I’ve also hosted brainstorming sessions where each person is assigned a color-coded post-it note to write & post their ideas. This approach works well for small group brainstorming sessions. Also, the color coded notes give an immediate visual to the diversity of ideas that will be considered.
- Create Collaborative Ideas : You will find that many people will generate similar ideas. Group similar ideas and discuss them as one conceptual idea. This creates a collaborative idea that the team can own and vet.
- Embrace the Crazy : Strongly encourage and consider the wild ideas. An absurd idea can be grounded if it’s rooted in serving the overall goal.