As the name implies, people can get very animated when it comes to Brainstorming.

I was in a training course once and a member of our group got so carried away by the rush of ideas he was experiencing that he rose up, rushed towards the leader, lifted the marker pen out of his hands and proceeded to the whiteboard from where he shared his torrent of thoughts with us until, from sheer exhaustion, he sat down again.

Luckily, the instructor that day was fairly easy going or else there might have been an unseemly tussle over marker possession rights.

That’s an extreme example of how animated Brainstorming can become but it is a good idea to be prepared to intervene where necessary so that any passing can be accommodated by the group and won’t result in an area of low pressure (or no pressure at all) over the rest of the participants. Some isolated storms however, may have to be allowed to blow over.

Be prepared to open the discussion out to include everyone. Closed questions that elicit an opinion are helpful…’What’s your reaction to that Li ?’ 

Let’s agree that Brainstorming is a good thing. It can be powerful because it’s spontaneous. After being careful to be inclusive from the start of (and even prior to) the gathering, a lengthy debate about the pro’s & con’s of an issue can be moved instantly forward with the action cry ‘Let’s Brainstorm it!’

A minimum of control is recommended but agreeing some ground rules can avoid overheating. It’s fine if there’s some discussion about these rules but a show of hands can keep it brief.

The first rule to agree…the marker pen stays with the leader.

Breaking into groups of say, 4 with someone elected as convenor and spokesperson should keep things on track. Each group might be focussing on a different aspect of the issue in hand.

Asking everyone to write down 3 ideas for the topic is one way to encourage participation.

Agree that everyone should be heard in the discussion groups and if necessary the convenor will circulate to ensure this.

Notes are helpful when it comes to the plenary session where a consensus is reached on which suggestions are adopted. 

The most effective example of Brainstorming I’ve seen was at an offsite corporate event with the members of a regional function group on a multinational. At the end of 2 days of input, analysis and discussion the function head joined us in a session where the groups set out their recommendations about how they felt Change woud be good. Having the entire regional team involved made for some unexpected angles which the boss challenged, tested and dediced on there and then. Although not everyone got what they wanted, they were all s completely on board with the outcome because of the transparent way in which the decision process was carried out.

After that, more brainstorming ensued led by the boss who implemented all but 2 of the ideas that came out and a timetable to monitor them was agreed  

Learning? This group had been canvassed by the boss on the issues to be discussed and she committed in advance to listen to and debate the views being expressed.

Finally, because the event was held as part of an annual training event, participants were comfortable trying out a range of different brainstorming techniques .