At the core of many project management training courses is leading a group of people to accomplish a shared goal. The journey in getting to that end stage can be a challenging one, particularly if the project encounters problems and issues that were not expected. At times like this, the project manager needs to be able to use their project management skills to keep people motivated and empower the team to find solution to progress activity. Brainstorming is a helpful tool to help teams collaborate to do this.
When brainstorming isn’t working
Brainstorming involves getting a group of people together to generate solutions to a problem or to develop ideas for the next innovation/project. The technique can only work if the culture of an organisation is flexible enough to allow team members the freedom to think freely and openly, without worrying about consequences of bad ideas or that their pay grade isn’t high enough to warrant them an opinion. Managers who are prone to micromanaging or encourage a hierarchical structure can sabotage the effectiveness of brainstorming sessions, as such they should be offered the opportunity to change or be reappointed elsewhere.
Brainstorming rules to live by
There are certain rules to impose to ensure the brainstorming session is as productive as possible. These include:
- Mandating attendance of all team members
- Complete focus on the task, no side conversations
- Expectation that everyone participates
- Focus on quantity of ideas/solutions rather than quality – no such thing as a bad idea.
- Time for preparation
- Strict start and finish time
- No baggage or personality issues allowed.
- Decision from the project sponsor
Although everyone involved should be seen as equal contributors, it is a good idea to have someone facilitate; the facilitator will be responsible for asking questions, time keeping and keeping the group to task, but will also take part in core discussions, without any additional weight being given to their opinions or ideas over others.
Types of brainstorming
Depending on the nature of the project or the team you are working with, you can decide which brainstorming style would suit.
- Set a strict time limit and consider having the session standing up, this will keep team members alert and poised to be involved. Share the narrative and context with the group and ask for ideas to be written on flipcharts positioned around the room or on post its. Detail can be discussed later, the focus here is on generating as many ideas as possible as quickly as possible.
- The facilitator prompts each person in the room to share an idea. These are documented and evaluated later. Any urge to review ideas as the round robin is progressing should be avoided! Later, ideas can be discussed for feasibility and decisions made on next steps.
- Finally focus on challenges rather than solutions – ask team members to come up with as many questions as possible about the subject matter. Naturally thinking of questions will encourage ideas to develop.
Not all ideas generated from a brainstorming session will be workable but that is OK. Team members need to know that their input is appreciated, and that taking risks is valued.
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