Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Facilitation of Brainstorming sessions

This posting discusses some key ingredients that help deliver outstanding results from Brainstorming sessions.

As a Facilitator, your role is to lay a platform for discussion, encourage participation, keep the discussions on track and synthesize the most important decisions.

Preparing for the Session:

- Create some flip charts which layout the main focus of the session.
- Categorize the problem space into smaller sections(as needed), and layout the levels of the solution before building the potential solutions.
- If you are expected to find some specific solutions to a problem, a good idea is to define 2 or 3 possible direction, and create a picture of the same(by Category).
- Draw the potential figures on the charts(or draw in Visio and stick om the chart), and point out the key items that need to be decided.
- Define a process for the Session, so you have a mental image of how the discussion will be conducted.

At the Start of the Session:

- Set the right expectation for the participants about the scope of the Session.
- Layout the details about the process to be followed in the Session.
- Set some ground rules that will help the session. A couple that work great include telling everyone that (1) "I will wear a couple different hats during the session, and make this a fun and productive session for everyone"; (2) "There is no wrong idea, so keep them coming"
(3) "We will set a priority for the decisions made in the meeting"

- Use humor freely.

During the Session:

- Ask questions that trigger ideas from the participants
- Give some key roles to other participants, so you have support in the meeting
- After every key decision, go back to the flip charts and make any necessary adjustments to the initial assumptions
- If you get conflicting opinions, try to raise questions that would justify one point. Additionally try to see which parts of the points can be taken into consideration, and sort of pick the best from both sides.
- Encourage participants to voice their opinions, but keep an open mind.
- Be calm, funny and firm all at the same time

After the Session:

- Synthesize the results into tangible decision items.
- Layout a plan for the items that could not be resolved.
- Note down the next steps based on the results from the session.
- Note down what is expected as the next steps from the various participants.

It is best to get as many decisions as possible in the session.

Facilitation can be a fun, productive and effective way to bring out the best results from teams. Proper planning, execution and followup are the key steps to a successful brainstorming session.