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Six Great Ways to Ruin a Brainstorm

Six Great Ways to Ruin a Brainstorm


    The brainstorm is the most popular group creativity exercise. It is quick, easy and it works. But many organizations have become frustrated with brainstorms and have stopped using them. They say brainstorms are old-fashioned and no longer effective. But the real reason for the frustrations is that the brainstorms are not facilitated properly. A well-run brainstorm is fun and energetic. It will generate plenty of good ideas. But a poor brainstorm can be frustrating and demotivational. Let’s look at some simple ways to ruin your next brainstorm meeting.

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    1. Having no clear objectives

    A brainstorm with a vague or unclear purpose will wander and lose its way. So set a clear objective. The purpose of the brainstorm is to generate many creative ideas to answer a specific goal. It is best to express the goal as a question. A wooly objective is not helpful. ‘How can we do better?’ is not as good as ‘How can we double sales in the next 12 months?’ However, the parameters of the questions should not be too detailed or it can close out lateral possibilities. ‘How can we double sales, through existing channels and with the current product set?’ is probably too constrained. Once the question has been agreed it is written up clearly for all to see.

    It is worth setting objectives for the number of ideas to be generated and the time to be spent. ‘We are looking to generate 60 ideas in the next 20 minutes. Then we will whittle them down to 4 or 5 really good ones.’

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    2. Too homogenous a group

    If everyone is from the same department then creativity can be inhibited and you may get ‘group think’. Choose the group carefully. The best size is somewhere between six and twelve. Too few people and there are not enough diverse inputs. Too many people and it is hard to control and retain everyone’s commitment. Sprinkle the group with a few outsiders from other areas or even from outside the business – people who can bring some different perspectives and wacky ideas. A good mix of people works best – varied ages, men and women, experienced and fresh in, etc.

    3. Letting the boss act as facilitator

    Beware of having an autocratic boss with his or her team. They can inhibit or shape the discussion. If the boss is present then it is better to have a good independent facilitator – someone who can encourage input from everyone and stop one person from dominating. The worst formula for a brainstorm is generally the department manager leading the meeting and acting as scribe and censor at the same time.

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    4. Allowing early criticism

    The most important rule of brainstorming is – suspend judgment. In order to encourage a wealth of wacky ideas it is essential that no one is critical, negative or judgmental about an idea. Any idea that is uttered – no matter how stupid – must be written down. The rule about suspending judgement during the idea generation phase is so important that it is worth enforcing rigorously. A good technique is to issue water pistols; anyone who is critical gets squirted.

    5. Settling for a few ideas.

    Don’t get a handful of ideas and then start analyzing. Quantity is great. The more ideas the better. Brainstorming is one the few activities in life where quantity improves quality. Think of it as a Darwinian process. The more separate ideas that are generated the greater the chance that some will be fit enough to survive. You need stacks of energy and buzz driving lots of wacky ideas. Crazy thoughts that are completely unworkable are often the springboards for other ideas that can be adapted into great new solutions. So keep the crazy ideas coming – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find one prince!

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    6. No closure or follow through.

    Don’t stop the meeting after generating lots of ideas with a vague promise to follow up. If people see no real outcomes they will become frustrated with the process and lose faith. You should quickly analyze the ideas at the meeting. One of the best ways is to divide the proposals into three categories – promising, interesting or reject. If any of the promising ideas are real no-brainers – so good that they should be implemented straight away then give them to someone as an action item immediately.

    You should categorize and collect the ideas. On a separate flipchart write all the promising and interesting ideas which are marketing ideas say and on another chart all the sales ideas etc. This process of rearranging the ideas can help you see new combinations and possibilities. Some people use post it notes at this stage so that they can easily move ideas around.

    If you are pressed for time then an alternative method of selecting the best ideas is to give everyone five points. They can allocate points to their favorite ideas in any way that they want. They can give one point to five separate ideas or all five to one idea. Then you total the points and select the best for further action.

    Close the meeting by thanking everyone for their input. Mention again one of two of the best, most inventive or funniest ideas. Then see which ideas you can implement – even if they are small things.
    People enjoy short, high-energy brainstorms that lead to actions. These meetings can motivate people, improve efficiency and drive innovation.

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    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

    Face Adversity with a Smile How to Win an Argument – Dos, Don’ts and Sneaky Tactics How to Get Rich: 11 Bold Moves That Guarantee Wealth How to be a Brilliant Conversationalist Think Laterally

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    Published on November 12, 2020

    5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

    5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

    What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

    Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

    Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

    While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

    Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

    1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

    When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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    Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

    In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

    • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
    • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
    • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

    While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

    2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

    Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

    Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

    Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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    However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

    3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

    Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

    But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

    It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

    4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

    Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

    Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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    5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

    Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

    For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

    How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

    The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

    If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

    Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

    It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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    Final Thoughts

    If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

    If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

    It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

    More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

    Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

    Reference

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