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:
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed"
agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
- Exploiting Failed Ideas
- When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are
some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus
on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
a productive technique for reaching agreement.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
- Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost
way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control
of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
- People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some
tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
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- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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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.