This is a productive activity for “brainstorming” or generating ideas in a different, more creative manner. It works well with any team size and requires 5 to 10 minutes. The materials you will need are an easel, marking pens, pen, and paper.
The activity requires a space large enough for each team member to see the others and the easel. Developed in the late 1930s by Alex F. Osborne to stimulate his advertising executives’ creativity, brainstorming has blossomed across America’s meeting rooms as a way to generate lots of ideas quickly. Once you have agreed on the topic (such as “ideas to solve our problem of xyz”),
Review these simple ground rules:
- All ideas are valid – even if it seems silly, strange, or similar.
- To pass is okay; we’ll continue until all pass.
- Quickly capture ideas on an easel chart so all can see.
- “Hitchhiking” or building on others’ ideas is encouraged.
- No praise, no comments, no criticism.
- We’ll continue until everyone is satisfied that all ideas are captured.
Analogy. The team pretends it is solving a problem for a similar situation. The emphasis here is that it may be necessary to focus on a related situation in order to clearly understand the problem.
Chain reaction. Have each team member write down at least one idea. Ask two people to read one of their ideas. The rest of the team discusses how to combine both ideas. Then have a third person read another idea. The team must then work that idea into the first combination. Continue until each team member has contributed to the idea.
Compressed. Each team member writes down on a sheet of paper as many ideas as possible in fifteen seconds. When the team leader calls “time,” each member passes the sheet to the left, and then has fifteen seconds to write down on the new sheet as many new ideas as possible. The key is to build on or enhance each other’s ideas.
Freewheel. Anyone on the team can call out an idea, with one person capturing the ideas on an easel chart.
Idea quota. The team comes up with a certain number of ideas in a predetermined time frame. (For example, twenty ideas in five minutes.) The key is to come up with all kinds of ideas, then go through the list and pick out the ones that make the most sense to focus on.
Inversion. The team comes up with ideas destined to ensure the failure of the project or perpetuate the problem. The key is that good solutions can sometimes result from focusing on opposite goals.
Keep it simple. “Keep It Simple” or “KISS” is the key to this brainstorming variation. Try describing the idea in simple words, without using jargon or acronyms.
Martian. The team comes up with the wildest or “most out there” ideas possible. The key is that wild ideas can be “tamed” to produce sensible solutions. One rule: any idea is fair game.
Round robin. The team leader goes around the table for each person to contribute a new idea, add to or “hitchhike” on a previous idea. Each person has the option to pass.
Slip. Each member writes down each of their ideas on a separate slip of paper, Post-It® or index card. The ideas are then collected and organized.
Visualization. Picture the project finished, the problem solved or the mission accomplished. Once the “end is in mind” is firmly visualized in the mind’s eye, work backward through every step needed to make it a reality.
Viva la difference. Consider looking at the problem from a different viewpoint. For instance, if the team is developing a marketing plan for a new product aimed at teenagers, how would that marketing plan look to a postage carrier? A teacher? A mother? By considering another point of view, your team can gain fresh insights into developing the plan.
Debrief and Summarize
After all have had a chance to participate, summarize this activity by recognizing all the wonderful ideas the team has generated. Get agreement on next steps to the process (e.g., a quick vote or categorize the information).
If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities!
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