Clients occasionally ask me about motivating people to contribute more freely in brainstorms. Motivating contributions might be a useful strategy, but only if we're certain that we've addressed all likely demotivators, because caution and reticence can limit the creativity that makes brainstorms productive. In that spirit, I offer this little catalog of phenomena that can make brainstorm participants reluctant to contribute. In this Part I, I explore preparation before the brainstorming session.
- Issues outside the session
- Participants might be preoccupied by an intense or chaotic situation developing outside the session. For example, a reorg might be underway, or rumors of layoffs might be rampant.
- If the external situation is distracting, reschedule the session. If you can't reschedule — as might be the case if the session is about that distracting issue — do what you can to relieve contributors of anxiety about their own personal situations. For example, if a reorg is in progress, resolve the contributors' positions to the extent possible before the session.
- Issues with the issue
- By design, every brainstorming session is (or should be) focused on a clearly defined issue. If the issue statement is unclear, or difficult to understand, or requires context the contributors lack, or is too general or abstract, then contributors might have difficulty generating ideas. If they have differing ways of understanding the issue statement, they'll have difficulty building upon each other's contributions.
- Test the Motivating participants in brainstorm
sessions is one strategy for
enhancing output quality. Another is
addressing whatever demotivates them.issue statement before the session begins. Ask several people what they think it means. Refine it until you're satisfied with their responses. At the start of the session, verify that the statement of the issue is clear.
- Some contributors prefer alternative settings
- Some people are more creative when they contemplate the issue alone than when they're part of a group. Some prefer working with one or two particular partners rather than a group.
- Design the session to accommodate alternative creativity preferences. For example, break a group session into alternating segments of group format and alternative formats more closely aligned with participant preferences. People who prefer working alone or who prefer working in smaller groups can do so. People who prefer working over a coffee in the lunchroom can do so. Impose only one constraint. In the alternative formats, they must continue the brainstorm. No email checking or Facebook updating.
- Feelings of futility
- If the ideas generated by past brainstorms were never implemented, or worse, were never passed along to people who could have implemented them, participants eventually notice. They wonder, "Why bother brainstorming?" If they can find "legitimate" excuses not to contribute, they don't.
- Conducting a brainstorm session requires a commitment to do something with its output. Rejecting all output does happen from time to time, but a pattern of rejection poisons the well.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- First Aid for Painful Meetings
- The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between
a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the
agenda for maximum effectiveness.
- Discussus Interruptus
- You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so
often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
- Decisions, Decisions: II
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.