The term “brainstorming” is technically a gerund, a verb that wants to be a noun.  A gerund implies more than one step or activity.  Brainstorming has three activities.

To facilitate brainstorming properly can be highly effective.  When done poorly, it leaves a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. Optimal brainstorming includes three discrete activities:Facilitate Brainstorming

  1. List (also known as diverge or ideate)
  2. Analyze (the hardest of the three activities and the step frequently omitted)
  3. Decide (also known as converge or document)

A facilitator or session leader must be conscious where the group is and upon which activity the group should focus.  Many people are confident in their facilitation skills because they can stand at an easel and capture ideas (or provide instructions and gather Post-it Notes®).  Those same leaders then turn to their participants.  They ask them to create categories, or worse, ask what they would like to do with the list.  This type of leadership is NOT facilitation and does NOT make it easier for the group to make an informed decision.

The difficult part of brainstorming, and frequently facilitating, is knowing what to do with the list—how to lead the group through analysis that is insightful.  There is no “silver bullet” for the ill-prepared.  Determine appropriate analysis before the meeting, with an alternative method in mind as a contingency or backup plan. Many of our other blogs are about HOW TO analyze input.

For example, there are numerous ways to help groups prioritize, from the simple through the complicated to the complex.  Purchasing stationary may be simple while designing machinery (eg, jet airplane) is complicated, and creating artificial intelligence (think IBM’s Watson playing Jeopardy) is truly complex. Each has a different and appropriate method for analysis and prioritization. For example, we rely on the PowerBalls to for the simple analysis, the Scorecard tool for complicated analysis, and our quantitative SWOT framework for the truly complex.

Analysis Drive Convergence

One might use PowerBalls for a simple decision.  To drive consensus around a complicated decision, something more robust is required such as a quantitative Scorecard approach that separates criteria into different types such as binary (ie, Yes/ No), scalable (more is better), and fuzzy (subjective).  Alternatively, qualitative Perceptual Maps may suit some groups better.  For the complex, MG Rush’s quantitative SWOT analysis provides a hardy and robust tool.

Other posts at this site provide insight into HOW TO lead high-quality sessions that use Brainstorming as a tool for groups to gather, analyze, and decide.  Please post any questions you have or challenges that you may have encountered.  We post responses based on our body of knowledge (BoK) supported by decades of experience leading groups to make higher quality decisions.

The MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on providing methodology that gets thoroughly practiced by each student before the week concludes. Some call this immersion. We call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH Professional Facilitation Training provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, and 3.2 CEUs. As a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), our Professional Facilitation Training aligns with IAF Certification Principles and fully prepares alumni for their Certified Professional Facilitator designation.

Furthermore, our Professional Facilitation curriculum immerses students in the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world, see MG RUSH for a current schedule.

Additionally, go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources. Finally, you will discover numerous annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. If you value our contributions, take time to buy us a cup of coffee and punch LIKE or FORWARD.

In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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