I am defining collaboration as a team’s willingness and ability to build both great decisions AND great buy-in. Both are required for the successful implementation of an idea.
Considering you cannot realize what you cannot imagine, and you cannot will yourself a new idea, a productive collaborating team is on a vigorous idea hunt for alternatives to turn into decisions. An important step is to wonder where to find the ideas, and most often, the people who can contribute to a robust idea pool.
Merriam-Webster describes brainstorming: "a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group."
There are many ways to brainstorm for ideas. One common process has a facilitator/scribe write down ideas on a flipchart as participants call them out. Common ground rules are "no bad ideas," one person at a time, anything goes, etc. You can do better, much better.
Brainstorming with Post Its You’ve been here before. "Let’s have some ideas;" "Let’s brainstorm." Your workspace for your team should be a conference room with lots of wall space, plenty of markers, flip charts, Post-Its, tape, etc. to let you easily document your conversations and progress.
I have been accused of owning plenty of 3M stock – I really like to use Post its. I could be their poster child. The reason, I have come to think of Post Its as the currency of dialogue. Dialogue is a deep conversation that generates learning. Post Its and the following process make it almost easy.
This low technology communication tool, when used appropriately, can very much not only manage the gathering and presentation of valuable ideas, it can also promote the dialogue necessary to build collaboration, to build good decisions and good buy in.
Any successful ideation and discussion process must address the social pressures often present in groups when they are asked to perform. Some examples of the factors to consider:
- Don’t want to go first
- Always want to go first
- Don’t want to talk much
- Always talk and fill in any silence gap
- Have no agenda
- Have their own agenda
So, to my experience and eye, it seems the following simple process handles most of these issues quite well.
- Step 1: Clarify which topic or document you are working on
- Step 2: Develop Ideas for the document’s content It is often helpful to brainstorm a few ideas as a large group to calibrate the group to the process and possible ideas. Then have team members silently write their alternatives one idea per Post It. Give team members about five minutes to work silently on their own. Quotas are helpful, say at least five ideas/Post Its per person.
- Step 3: Present and Discuss Ideas In an orderly manner, have each member of the team, sitting around a table or standing facing a flip chart posted on the wall, share their ideas one-at-a-time as they place their entries on the flip chart. If a team member has no new entries, they may pass. If they think of new ones, they can get back into the sequence when their turn comes in the next go-round. One purpose of this conversation is to build a common understanding of what the participants are thinking about the target topic. Listeners should be active with questions to help them fully understand the presenter. They don’t need to agree, they just need to understand.
- Step 4: Group Ideas (Affinity Diagram) and rank if useful The Affinity Diagram is a sorting tool used to help identify "natural groupings" of data. It’s easy to do this after you have completed brainstorming. A helpful observation after brainstorming: you likely do not have 30-40 different ideas, you probably have about six. The Affinity Diagram is merely an opportunity to recognize and consolidate these similar items. This helps you focus on fewer issues. The number of Post-Its in a group may indicate a level of importance. One option, to group the Post Its silently, takes away any influence a more-verbal member of the participants may want to exert. Once the Post Its are grouped, nod to confirm everyone’s ok with the arrangement, then discuss and post the titles to the groups. If helpful, have the team select the ideas that have the highest impact on the business.
- Step 5: Confirm the resulting document is good enough to move on knowing that you can change it as you progress through subsequent document exercises. The key to the success of this approach is to give people time to do their work (five minutes alone quietly without pressure), and then s process to give each participant the chance to be heard (one idea at a time, one person at a time, till all the ideas are posted) without having to step forward assertively. The facilitator trick here is to structure the team’s work so the team gets what it wants: good ideas with good buy in (people support what they help create).
The Post-Its and the process are a great leveler—letting quiet people come up with their ideas and knowing they have a chance to present and be heard, and the noisy people to take a minute to think before talking, and not being allowed to dominate the conversation.
Any group goal setting task; helps develop common goals for a team
- Great Team Traits: What are the characteristic of a high performing team
- Customer Service Improvement Targets: identify complains/issues, rank, and work to eliminate
- Great Vacation: all family members contribute
- Great Plan: a common sequence in Strategic Planning
1. Google Images – search for Brainstorming and Affinity Diagram to find many examples and alternate formats
2. Good Thinking Series – Part 2: Collaborate – includes about 50 collaboration tools
3. Good Thinking Series - Associated Videos – Watch Collaboration Skills
4. Introductory video Interview John Canfield compares strategic planning and scenario planning
5. Website: www.johncanfield.com and www.goodthinkingseries.com
6. Call or write 616-392-2634, firstname.lastname@example.org