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7 ways to get the most out of brainstorming

7 ways to get the most out of brainstorming

Imagine a team of people slouched around a table, their faces solemn and their sleeves scrunched up. Only the occasional sigh and tapping pen break the silence. Whether as a student or a professional, you’ve probably experienced frustrating moments like this in stalled meetings. With a few key steps, though, you can start the flow of ideas, encourage collaboration and transform plans into winning initiatives.

“Brainstorming is about getting as many ideas on the table as possible, and that requires significant trust between individuals,” explains leadership and organizational expert Kevin Gazzara, DM. His experience as a senior partner in Magna Leadership Solutions and as a faculty member of the University of Phoenix business school gives Gazzara a seasoned perspective on sparking ideas and getting them into play. “Once you’re finished with ideas, you determine their feasibility and use informed decision making to lead naturally to action,” he says. Here are his seven tips for how to organize the ideal brainstorming session: 

1. Create an environment that fosters trust.

An environment with a tangled web of office politics or an anti-risk culture might not be the best for collaboration. “Depending upon management leadership styles, people who are invited to brainstorm might play politics or be overly cautious,” Gazzara says.

2. Offer teammates anonymity.

To get colleagues or classmates to feel comfortable sharing ideas, have people contribute anonymously. “Give everyone sticky notes, all of a single color, to put one idea per note,” Gazzara suggests. “Then put all the notes on a flip chart. This allows ideas of all sorts to emerge. That can generate good dialogue.”

3. Focus on ideas that are feasible.

After you have the ideas, establish their feasibility. “First, determine on a scale of one to five the probability that the idea will happen,” Gazzara says. Then, on the same scale, rate what impact that idea has on your goal. Multiply the two numbers for the feasibility score, and determine the scores that will result in further action. For instance, you might pursue ideas with scores of 20 and above.  

4. Make sure the ideas are strategically aligned.

Look at the highest-ranking ideas and determine if they align with the goal. Set aside the ones that don’t align.

5. Put a plan in place that moves the idea forward.

When you’ve established your best ideas, establish an action plan. “Break down lofty initiatives into bite-size deliverables,” Gazzara says. “Also set milestones and sub-milestones for really large deliverables.”

6. Focus on deliverables.

Gazzara cautions against confusing busyness with progress. “Team members tend to report on their activity rather than their tangible deliverables. Instead of saying, ‘We did research,’ report on the progress and completion of the actual deliverables.”

7. Make milestones the metric of success.

Teams that describe how close they are to completing a particular task are using the wrong metric, Gazzara notes. They report on what portion they’ve completed as though that’s part of the time line. “Milestones are a better standard of measure,” he says, “and will give a truer picture of how close teams are to completion.”

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