Speaking of ‘great ideas’ – should you “DIY” your own brainstorm? More exactly, should you facilitate your own brainstorm? In a word, NO.
As a brainstorm sponsor, you should spend your valuable time during the brainstorm doing constructive work, such as …
- By actively participating in idea generation
- By listening and encouraging concepts and ideas you like
- By clarifying the purpose and direction of the brainstorm
In other words, you should not perform unconstructive work – that is, any basic skill best done by a good facilitator. Here’s what a good facilitator should be doing.
- Focusing the group in positive ways on the problem, issue or need
- Creating an atmosphere of freedom and no-risk
- Inspiring the participants to generate ideas across the full spectrum
- Introducing and conducting brainstorm exercises
- Keeping the group – and individuals – energised
- Minimising negativity and criticism
- Ensuring everyone contributes in their own way, particularly engaging the quiet participants or balancing them against the louder ones
- Writing down ideas on flipcharts
- Watching the clock
- Never sitting down
- Never giving up the pen
Lots of people have said “Oh, it’s not that hard to run a meeting.” Indeed, compared with prepping for an Iron Man Competition, facilitation is a fairly easy skill to learn. However, I’ve been professionally trained by six different accredited workshops, and I would never run my own brainstorm because I wouldn’t want to dilute my focus on the important task at hand: helping to generate ideas.
If you’ve ever been in a brainstorm run by a good facilitator, you know how much benefit they bring. If you’ve had a bad facilitator, you know how much damage they can cause. So, meet with the facilitator in advance. Get references. Make sure you’re in sync.
Either in the interview, or after you’ve hired the facilitator, meet in advance of the brainstorm to agree on purpose, agenda, exercises and outcomes. Ask them to talk about how they’d facilitate the meeting, what exercises they’d use, how they’d get the inspiration started, and how they’d bring the meeting to a close.
During the brainstorm itself, you – as the host – should participate as any other attendee, but confer at every quiet opportunity with the facilitator to make ensure the direction is clear and the outcomes are within reach.
Is there ever a time when you can run your own brainstorm? Of course. You may not have enough time to find someone internally or externally, or enough experience to brief the facilitator, or budget to hire one. But in these cases, try to divert some of the lesser tasks to others.
Speaking of budget, ‘cost’ is the single biggest issue why most organisations don’t hire a facilitator. One way to get around this (if your organisation or department runs lots of brainstorms) is to assign the ongoing task to a person in your group who’d like to run brainstorms. There’s plenty of workshops, books and websites giving advice how to conduct one, and it’s also a great opportunity for career development too.
Any other thoughts on how you work with brainstorm facilitators?