Brainstorming is a simple and effective tool in problem-solving. It brings together diverse thinking on a chosen topic with the sole purpose to generate a list of possibilities. No idea is rejected and speed of generating ideas is welcomed without the need to consider its merit or practicality. You can learn the skill to facilitate a brainstorming session.
Your role as a facilitator
Facilitators serve in a neutral capacity. You do not participate and contribute to the discussion; offer your opinion; or in any way try to influence the outcome of the discussion. As a result, you need control of your facial expression, body language, and verbal comments when anyone in the group gives their input.
Maintain a composed facial expression and tone of voice to avoid showing any bias to input from the group. Laughing at someone’s suggestion, tapping your foot, or playing with your pen are all verbal and non-verbal signals that can be misinterpreted and result in fewer people wanting to contribute to the brainstorming discussion. Even commenting, “That is a wonderful idea,” should be avoided as it places doubt on your neutrality. Avoid discussing or analysing any idea that has been proposed.
Be conversational, relatable and friendly yet also be professional and firm in how you conduct the session.
Planning and preparation
Before you conduct the session, consider the best medium for the discussion: face-to-face vs an online session. How long should the session last? Should it be one session with the same group of people or lots of smaller sessions with different groups of people? Who will conduct the minutes and how will you record the session?
Consider how to collate the list of ideas and how to display it so that everyone participating in the discussion can contribute further. Since participants are encouraged to build on each other’s idea, the quantity of ideas matters more than the quality.
Conducting the session
Commence the session by welcoming everyone and provide context and importance of the meeting. Clearly state the outcome of the meeting and avoid having an objective that is too complex or broad. The more specific the outcome, the better the brainstorming session.
Depending on the size of the group, you can sub-divide the group into smaller teams with a chosen “leader” to provide feedback on their sub-group, or you conduct the session with everyone at once. Whatever approach is used, it is vital that everybody is given an opportunity to speak and contribute to the discussion.
The session might start out with lots of silence – be patient – control your response stream, let them think. Avoid saying anything to “spark” a conversation; this is perceived to be “leading” the group which contradicts your neutrality. Wait patiently until someone contributes. Continue to seek and list ideas until the group has exhausted all their possibilities.
- Keep the discussion flowing and orderly.
- Manage time by displaying a timer for all to see.
- Close the session by summarising the list of ideas.
- Thank everyone for their participation and feedback.