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:
- The Shape of the Table
- Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having
its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
- Take Any Seat: II
- In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the
meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your
choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are
directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I
- By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of
the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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