I remember a brainstorming meeting a number of years ago where my company was looking for new revenue opportunities for our products. The company president was leading the meeting. I suggested an outline of an idea and the president immediately responded with “we have already tried that before and it doesn’t work”, then moved on to request other ideas. My enthusiasm level went down as I didn’t get to complete my proposal. This continued with a few more people suggesting ideas and the president offering instant negative judgments that killed many ideas before they were explored. Ultimately, the brainstorming session only produced a few ideas very similar to what we had already tried.
Fortunately, effective approaches to brainstorming exist. As important as selecting an approach is getting agreement by the participants to use the same approach. Selecting the approach should be the first step at any brainstorming meeting.
To have an effective brainstorming meeting that generates many new and unexpected ideas, follow this rule: Cleanly separate idea generation from idea evaluation. Do this for two reasons. First, idea generation uses a different part of the brain from idea evaluation. When people are critiquing ideas, they reduce their creative abilities.
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A vexation of work life that is all too common is to carve a meeting out of an extended team's minimal available time and then discover after the meeting that individual members hold their own different understanding of what was decided. An example might be a systems analyst who supports the needs of multiple business platforms or applications, all of which have business managers competing for both priority service response and extensive product delivery from the analyst. In this example, agreements that were made in a team meeting begin to unravel just days later over disagreements of exactly what was decided and negotiated regarding which system was going to receive what functional upgrades first. Another example might be a technical management team that meets to decide on how a departmental reorganization should handle a proscribed 5% reduction in headcount, only to discover during the middle of implementing the re-organization that one of the QA managers has misunderstood how workflow was going to be restructured within her team.
Sometimes a lack of shared understanding can be a calculated attempt on the part of a meeting participant to be opportunistic in implmenting their own course amidst the busyness and confusion of hectic work demands that are further stretched by cross-functional team collaboration. Regardless if the reason for the confusion is due to calculated intent, inattention, or the occassional lapse of detail by an individual of goodwill, practicing strong meeting leadership can maximize a common understanding of what was agreed to at a meeting as well as clarify the observed behavior of meeting participants who chronically misunderstand meeting decisions. This leadership takes the form of 2 practices prior to holding the meeting and 3 practices at the end of a meeting.
Continue reading "Leaving a meeting with a shared understanding" »