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2: How to overcome group-related problems with brainstorming

There are many problems related to traditional brainstorming which can be solved just by introducing Advanced Brainstorming techniques. But there are also difficulties you may experience which need other solutions.

Here is a summary of things to look for when experiencing the following problems.

If you have any suggestions which are not covered by this page then please email the suggestion to us and we will publish the suggestions here.

 

Click the problem to get the solution:

People won't lose their inhibitions

The same ideas are repeated again and again


The session doesn't flow naturally with everyone feeling uncomfortable


People constantly struggle to think in new ways


You need a group of people to do it and cannot do it by yourself


There are too many awkward periods of silence and discomfort


The sessions are dominated by one or two people


Some people don't contribute


The facilitator needs to give constant encouragement to the participants


No successful outcome or solution is reached


People won't lose their inhibitions

If people aren't losing their inhibitions then it means that the environment is too threatening to them. They believe that their ideas will be analyzed immediately or that they will be judged personally on the quality of the ideas. Solutions:
  • Explain the rules again
  • Remind people that their ideas are also to be used as a stimulus for others
  • Stop people from criticizing. Remember, criticism doesn't just come verbally; it can also come from facial expressions and other body language
  • Have an amusing warm-up exercise before starting properly
  • Introduce people before the session
  • If some people are dominating the session, encourage others to join in
  • Get people to work in smaller groups then join in together later
  • Remove a cynical senior manager
  • Encourage a senior manager to participate by getting them to give radical solutions

The same ideas are repeated again and again

When you keep getting the same answers then you need to change the starting point and stick to it. Often someone has given a superb answer and no one can stop thinking about that idea. Alternatively your participants could be exhausted. Solutions:
  • Use the creative thinking techniques
  • Change to a different technique
  • Make sure that people include the stimulus in their answer and do not deviate in order to repeat a previous solution
  • Acknowledge a previous answer as being very good and that you are looking for something else too
  • Emphasize a different aspect of the problem to work on
  • Have a break and start off from a different angle
  • Split the problem into parts and brainstorm each part at a time
  • Get everyone to stand up and move places
  • Train people in creativity so that they believe they are creative - and they will be!
  • Bring in new people from other departments and areas

The session doesn't flow naturally and everyone feels uncomfortable

This can be caused by a number of things such as an unhappy group, a domineering participant, a lack of planning and direction, a cynical and judgmental manager, a disbelief in brainstorming or bad experiences in the past. Whatever the reasons, you need to think about it and do something positive. Solutions:
  • Have an interesting or amusing warm-up exercise
  • Highlight the rules and include some training as part of the session
  • Rearrange the room if its layout feels confrontational in any way
  • Have some light music in the background which fills in any quiet or awkward moments
  • Encourage people to put forward silly answers as a stimulus only
  • Demonstrate how silly ideas can be transformed into sensible ones
  • Read out some jokes
  • Discuss the process and try to find out the cause of the problem
  • Find out if people believe that they can succeed in being creative
  • Plan your sessions in advance and tell people what to expect in advance
  • Do not invite dominating participants if they are judgmental (do not exclude them purely on the basis of being dominating or you will lose some good ideas - just try to quiet them down by saying that the others seem to be a bit shy, if they have any ideas can they write them down and hand them in later)
  • Change the format of the session each time to make it more varied

People constantly struggle to think in new ways

People sometimes just get stuck on only using current solutions and need to be kick-started on to new thought patterns. Solutions:
  • Introduce and use the creative thinking techniques
  • Use a different technique
  • Train people on how creative thinking works so that they believe they can be creative
  • Give each person a separate computer with brainstorming software and let them mix their ideas and stimuli
  • Use the Challenge Facts technique to break out of the current way of thinking
  • Encourage more radical starting points and don't let people deviate back to current solutions. It's too easy to make a connection between a new stimulus and a current solution without forcing new connections
  • Take a short break and tell everyone the starting point ready for when they come back

You need a group of people to do it and cannot do it by yourself

With Traditional Brainstorming this is true; with Advanced Brainstorming it is not true at all. Using Creative Thinking techniques combined with brainstorming software you will never be stuck for a new idea when you work by yourself. In fact, many people find that they are more productive when they use brainstorming software by themselves than when they brainstorm in a group. This is because you are under no social pressures and have as much time as you want to explore your new thoughts in your head. You use original stimuli from other sources and so you don't need a stimulus from someone else in the group.
  • Use brainstorming software to stimulate new ideas by yourself
  • Use manual techniques
  • Alternatively you can get a group to brainstorm individually then meet up later for a group brainstorming session

There are too many awkward periods of silence and discomfort

It can be quite embarrassing for the participants when it all goes quiet in the room. In fact it's expected that there will be silent periods as people think about the ideas and stimuli. Solutions:
  • Tell everyone that periods of silence are OK and that it is perfectly normal.
  • Breaking the silence should not be done by you just because no one says anything for a moment or two. If you are the facilitator then you can feel under pressure to say something first. Wait that extra bit longer, or quietly ask some questions or ask for ideas in a patient way.
  • Smile openly to participants and make small nodding gestures for non-verbal encouragement.
  • Have some light music in the background which fills in the quiet awkward moments.
  • Tell people how great it is that they have all survived their first period of silence without accident.

The sessions are dominated by one or two people

Some sessions can regularly be dominated by one or more people who shout out their ideas and block the ideas of others. You must make the distinction between people who are stimulating thought and those that are blocking it. Some people are loud but helpful, and some are not helpful. Try to use the people constructively if possible. Solutions:
  • Encourage participation from other members of the group. Invite ideas from other people
  • Encourage people to work on their own using notepads and then gather the ideas afterwards. Write the ideas up on the flipcharts and then let them work on their own again
  • Do not invite dominating participants if they are judgmental
  • Quiet them down by saying that the others seem to be a bit shy, if they have any ideas can they write them down and hand them in later
  • Have a quiet word with the people afterwards
  • Invite managers to encourage their staff to participate and to inform them that there will be no follow-ups from suggesting seemingly stupid ideas
  • Move round people in turn asking for ideas. Make it a game where each person builds on the idea of the person before

Some people don't contribute

Often you will get some people who don't contribute in a session even if you know that they are intelligent and that they have many good ideas within them. You will need to give them space to contribute because they obviously don't believe they are able to contribute.
  • Ask them how the session could be improved
  • Ask them if there was anything preventing them from giving suggestions. If they are shy about making criticisms of other people it is best to suggest answers yourself and observe their reactions
  • Ask them to run a session if they feel up to it
  • Get them to write all of their answers on a notepad and hand it in afterwards. Acknowledge that it is often hard to find time to say all of their ideas, and that you value them at any time - which, of course, you do.

The facilitator needs to give constant encouragement to the participants

If the facilitator is always having to restart the process or is constantly having to force participants to put ideas forward then you will need to make the process less facilitator-oriented. The facilitator must stop being "the leader" and must hand over control to the participants. Alternatively, the participants may be unsure of what they are trying to do and may need more training and an explanation of the rules.
  • Encourage participants to restart the process themselves. Ask them to tell you when they want a new stimulus
  • Try a change in seating arrangement making it less focused on the facilitator
  • Try to make any authoritative figures show outward dedication to the process and make sure that they do not make any judgments at all. Speak to them beforehand
  • Give everyone access to their own source of stimuli
  • Make sure that you are not accidentally criticizing the ideas as they are suggested

No successful outcome or solution is reached

Sometimes you will find that however much fun and however many ideas were established, no valid ideas were produced. You should try to work out if it was the process that failed or whether the solution you already have in place is the optimal one. Alternatively, you feel you could have got all the ideas yourself. It is often the case that a lack of suitable solutions means that other factors have badly influenced the process or that it was not run effectively. Ask yourself:
  • Should you have called a brainstorming session at all?
  • Was the subject suitable for brainstorming? eg. should you have done some analysis instead?
  • Should you have had more information to give people at the beginning?
  • Was the probortunity explained well in the first place?
  • Did the group start answering a totally different probortunity without being prompted to return to the correct one?
  • Did the same ideas keep coming up? (use the advanced techniques)
  • Was the environment encouraging?

Whatever results you get you should try to analyze the brainstorming session and learn from it. How can you improve it next time? Who else should you bring along next time? Do you need to retrain or talk to some of the participants?

Now we'll have a look at what problems the individual person can experience, and at how they can be solved to give more effective participation, enjoyment and results.

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