Group brainstorming can be a highly effective way of using the power of the collective mind to address a business related issue. Bringing together all the different skills and experience of your employees in this way can help to inspire different approaches and novel ways of dealing with things.
The way in which you approach your brainstorming sessions can be critical to the effectiveness of the process. A typical brainstorming session will involve getting your team together to discuss an issue, for which they may or may not have been briefed earlier. Notes are often taken on whiteboards or computers with projectors, and everyone is encouraged to speak out loud to the group. Whilst this works well in many cases, some team members may not be comfortable with shouting out in front of the group, or may take longer to form ideas, thinking after the event, “Oh I wish I’d said…”
Here are some of the more popular techniques for better brainstorming sessions:
- To prevent ideas being influenced away: The Stepladder Technique
Present the issue to the group together, and give them time to think it over. Get two team members together and let them discuss the problem. Add a third member to the group, and have them present their ideas without hearing the thoughts of the first two, then let the three discuss. Repeat by adding a fourth, fifth and so on, until everyone is back in the room.
- To ensure everyone has their say: The Brainwriting Technique
There are numerous variations of this, but the most popular is the ‘brainwriting pool’, where everyone writes their ideas on a card or post it note, and places it on the table. Other team members can draw a card to help them get inspiration for more ideas. A great way to have a quieter, more controlled brainstorming session.
- To get ideas from a big group when you don’t have time to discuss each one: Crawford’s Slip Method
The Crawford’s Slip Method is one of the simplest ways of getting a lot of ideas in a very quick and controlled manner. Simply hand out slips to everyone in the team, anything from five to fifty slips depending on how many responses you get, and ask them a question. Give them some time to fill in as many ideas as they can, then collect them back in. You’ll be able to organise these slips into groups and collate the responses, which can form a powerful basis for a more in depth planning session later on.
- To improve a product or service: Reverse brainstorming
This is a fun method, and great for revealing flaws in your current products or services which might not be that easy to see. Instead of asking “How do we do…” turn the question on its head and ask the opposite. For example, instead of brainstorming “How do we improve customer satisfaction” try asking “How do we make our customers more dissatisfied”. The answers you get will be revealing, and you can then spend some time discussing whether you are actually doing any of these things unwittingly.
- For effective brainstorming in a large group: The Charette Procedure
This process involves several small groups discussing different parts of the big picture, and then passing on their ideas to the next group for discussion and refinement. Finally the ideas are prioritised by the last group, giving an outcome of several parts of the big issue having been thoroughly brainstormed by many people, and a ‘top 3’ or ‘top 5’ ideas being produced.
When using brainstorming sessions to improve business processes, it is important to choose a method based upon the characteristics of your people and what you think will suit them the best.