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:
- 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.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- 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.
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's
astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
- Characterization Risk
- To characterize is to offer a description of a person, event, or concept. Characterizations are usually
judgmental, and usually serve one side of a debate. And they often make trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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