We’ve all been there.
You’re sitting in a meeting, bored stiff. You’re checking your watch every minute to see when the misery will end. You’re wondering how things got so far off-topic.
It’s even worse when you’re the one who organized the meeting!
The time slot that was supposed to generate all sorts of ideas for future strategies and actions has quickly become another wasted effort as people are thinking more about lunch than work.
To help you avoid that scenario, I want to offer these 8 steps to have a better brainstorming meeting.
1. Communicate the details.
All of the people you expect to attend the meeting should be notified ahead of time with the key information. This includes the date, location, time of start, time of end, list of participants, the topic(s) to be discussed, and the objective of the meeting. With this information, everyone can begin directing their thoughts toward the topic in the days leading up to the meeting.
2. Remind all participants that you’re looking to generate a lot of ideas.
Post a list of the rules of engagement. These should be things like silencing cell phones and no negative comments. At the top of the list, you should include something to the effect of, “No one should judge any idea at this point.” Effective and ineffective don’t matter right now. There aren’t any right or wrong suggestions because the main goal is to produce as many ideas as possible.
3. Have participants conduct a personal brainstorm on the topic(s) for five minutes.
This should be done at the start of the meeting. It could be done ahead of time, but I think it’s more effective to do this when the meeting starts. The reason is simple. Many people try to multitask. They have two or more things passing through their minds at one time. It’s hard for them to focus on any one thing. Now, in the same room, with the distractions limited, their preliminary thoughts are more likely to translate into better ideas as the meeting moves forward.
4. Have participants call out their ideas.
This can be done with one person saying one of their ideas and then moving to the next person in a clockwise direction. Or you could have a person say each of their ideas before moving to the next person. I think the first option is better. There are two reasons for having people state their ideas out loud: 1) No one wants to sound dumb, so asking them to call out their ideas will ensure you get their best effort during the time of personal brainstorming. 2) Other people can add to the ideas “on the fly.” Suggestions and ideas should be captured on a whiteboard, flip chart, or Post-It notes stuck on the wall. The key is to put them up for everyone to see. This will be important for the next step.
5. Combine similar ideas. Clarify unclear ideas. Eliminate irrelevant ideas.
Some of the ideas will inevitably be the same but worded in different ways. Take the time to combine them and shorten the list of possibilities. Because the ideas are still undeveloped, there may be some wording that isn’t clear. All confusion should be cleared up so everyone in the room knows exactly what is being suggested. Also, some ideas simply won’t be feasible, practical, or helpful, so they should be marked off.
6. Refine the options.
There will now be plenty of ideas available for consideration. Vote on the top five ideas and try to expand upon those ideas and make them better.
7. Gain consensus.
With five ideas on the table (or the wall), it’s now time to decide on a course of action. If the brainstorm has worked properly, that course of action will be the best available option. It might even be a combination of several ideas that have been presented and refined through the process.
8. End on time.
People have other things to do. Some people have other appointments to keep. Respect them and their time by ending the meeting when you said you would.
A word of advice…
Don’t give in to the temptation to go further than this and develop a strategy for moving forward. That is beyond the scope of the brainstorming meeting. If these same people will be involved in preparing the strategy to implement the new idea or course of action, then coordinate with them about the next meeting. That next meeting is the time to talk about how to execute the idea that you just developed.
Schedule a brainstorming meeting. Getting a group of people in a room together is a great way to come up with better ideas than you can come up with by yourself. Whether you’re trying to come up with a new teaching series, a theme for a fall retreat, or some ideas for summer events, follow these 8 steps and you’ll definitely be impressed with the results you get.
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