Gathering your staff to blue-sky ideas can be a turning point that energizes your people and yields innovative or even breakthrough proposals. But mishandle it, and it can be a demoralizing flop.
In The Truth About Getting Your Point Across...And Nothing But the Truth, business consultant Lonnie Pacelli, president of Leading on the Edge International, suggests these ideas for getting your brainstorming meeting off on the right foot:
- Don't try to cover anything else: Brainstorming requires a different mindset and patience level than, say, resolving issues or discussing the status of projects. Let your meeting be its own dedicated session so participants can stay focused on the topics to be brainstormed.
- Set clear expectations in advance: Make it crystal clear before the session that it will be a brainstorming meeting and that you want creative, trailblazing ideas about your topic. That will give your employees a chance to think about the topic in advance and gear up mentally.
- Allow people to make anonymous suggestions: If you're concerned that your team won't be open during the session, ask them to write ideas on index cards, put them in a box and have the facilitator read and record those suggestions. This can take a bit longer, but in return can generate more creative ideas by preserving participants' anonymity.
- Put everyone at ease: You're unlikely to get freewheeling, push-the-envelope ideas if the room is too hot or cold, the space is cramped or there are no refreshments. Also make sure there are plenty of whiteboards and/or easels on which to record ideas, and no distractions from the task at hand.
- Choose your timing carefully: Although there's probably no perfect time to hold a brainstorming session, you can at least avoid scheduling one during a crisis or when your team is burning the midnight oil to wrap up a key project. And meeting late in the day is ill-advised, because if participants have had a stressful day they'll be less patient and co-operative. Get 'em before they engage in the day's battles—and make sure there's a pot of strong coffee on.