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Post-It Brainstorming: Your Organization’s Secret Weapon

You’ve been here before: “Let’s gather some ideas,” or “Let’s brainstorm.” But how do you take your standard (sometimes unproductive) brainstorming session and come out with a million dollar meeting?

Merriam-Webster describes brainstorming as, “a problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group.”

The fact is there are many ways to brainstorm for ideas. One common process has a facilitator/scribe write down ideas as participants call them out. Common ground rules are “no bad ideas,” one person at a time, and anything goes. However, as a management consultant, I’ve found another process can be much more effective in terms of productivity and buy-in from staff.

Brainstorming with Post-Its

Ideally, to start off, your team workspace should be a conference room with lots of wall space, plenty of markers, flip charts, Post-Its, tape, etc. to let you document your conversation as you progress.

My preferred process has the participants starting a session together at a table armed with a Post-It pad and narrow felt tip markers. Each participant should silently write down his or her own ideas – one idea per Post-It sheet. Write large enough so people can read each idea from a distance. All participants are writing on their pads at the same time; the room is quiet. This goes on for about five minutes.

Then to debrief the ideas the participants stand in a semicircle at a flip chart and share their ideas with each other. Each person presents and sells his or her first idea to the group sharing how their idea fulfills the task. Then you repeat this process until all ideas have been presented. One person at a time; one idea at a time. Do not try to presort the Post-Its, just place them up as they are presented.

I’ve found that using Post-Its and the subsequent process act as a great leveler in most organizations—letting quiet people come up with their ideas and knowing they have a chance to be heard while encouraging more outspoken employees to take a minute to think before talking and stopping them from dominating the conversation. Below is a quick summary of the steps; you can also see this process at work at http://www.youtube.com/canfieldgoodthinking.

Process

1. Calibrate your team. Talk for a minute or two having people verbally share the kinds of ideas they’re likely to put down to make sure people are on the same page.

2. Generate ideas. Write individual ideas on Post-Its. Give each member five minutes alone to work/write quietly.

3. Present and discuss ideas: Meet at a flip chart stand or flip chart on a wall and present and discuss idea one at a time. Each person presents one of his or her ideas at a time.

Remember that robust dialogue usually builds a better understanding of an issue, so this should be a very chatty session. These conversations also provide an opportunity for additional ideas to be discussed and posted. This should be a real dialogue session, lots of learning, lots of sharing, even polite challenge when necessary. Follow these steps and you’re on your way to your next million-dollar meeting!

John Canfield is a corporate coach who offers practical tools for strategic planning, collaboration, and innovation. Canfield has more than thirty years of experience working and consulting for organizations around the world. In The Good Thinking Series, Canfield shows business leaders how to improve organizational performance by supporting more deliberate and effective thinking. The Good Thinking Series is available at www.amazon.com. For more information, visit www.johncanfield.com.

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About John Canfield

John Canfield is an experienced business executive and corporate coach whose innovative approach offers practical tools for a wide variety of planning, improvement, and innovation processes. Canfield has more than thirty years of experience working and consulting for organizations around the world. Canfield earned a B.S. in Mechanical & Industrial Engineering from the University of…