When you hear the word “brainstorming,” what comes to mind? People in a room yelling out random thoughts? Chaos? An exercise for designers and creative types? In other words, something OPD (other people do—not you). Maybe it’s time to give it a second look.
Brainstorming is a business technique that can work for any department, in any type of business, including HR. It’s merely another way to approach a problem that needs a solution. If you haven’t tried it, we encourage you to do so.
In our experience, benefits-related conundrums are well-served by brainstorming sessions. For example, these two problems would be well-served by brainstorming.
Both problems need solutions and would be well-served by brainstorming sessions to find them. The next time you find yourself in search of the perfect answer to an HR challenge, use our tips below to initiate a brainstorming session.
Brainstorming is not about winning the wacky prize; it’s about getting ideas to flow freely and creatively. Now, don’t get me wrong. You want participants to put all their crazy—and not-so-crazy—ideas on the table. What’s important is that you set things up to be conducive to generating at least a few great ideas. You need a good setup for your session, with the right room, a good session leader, and a plan for how to follow through on what comes out of the session. All these things show that you respect people’s time and investment, and it helps them feel creative.
From the outside looking in, brainstorming sessions may appear chaotic, but done correctly, they follow a strict set of ground rules, and a good amount of brain power goes into framing the sessions to ensure productive output.
Tip: To help engage introverts, consider circulating the question for the brainstorm in advance. Some people like to think things through beforehand; they’ll still be spontaneous and productive—but more so if they’ve had a chance to think about it.
For brainstorming to work successfully, your session needs to be framed correctly. Start by developing a challenge statement. At Benz, we follow the IDEO framework for solving a problem:
Here are two examples of well-framed challenge statements, ready for brainstorming:
There’s one more “must have” for a successful brainstorm: the right leader. First and foremost, the facilitator needs to have a strong personality. At the same time, it’s critical that he or she:
This is one of the few times anyone will hear me say that something is about quantity, not quality. The objective in brainstorming is to get a boatload of ideas. Some will be actionable, and some not. Then it’s your job to narrow things down as you review what was generated. Once you have amazing ideas that might be a bit over the top, you can look at them with a smaller group to find their essence, and then come up with a solution to your original problem.
For example, if you brainstorm about the mother returning from maternity leave, maybe someone offers up these ideas: “Let them only work two hours a day,” or “Have them bring their kids to work.” Obviously, neither option is realistic. But, looking deeper into those ideas, you might come up with others that are actionable, such as allowing for a flexible work schedule or offering on-site childcare. My point is that crazy, out-there ideas often have, at their core, very actionable solutions. The key is getting to the intent behind that crazy idea.
Before you get started on the brainstorm session, do a fun warm-up exercise for 3-5 minutes about nothing important and completely unrelated to the real brainstorm topic. To find an exercise that works for your temperament and your company culture, check out these online resources:
Remember: Warming up is all about having fun!
After your warm-up, don’t take a break. Instead, jump right into your “real” brainstorm. Begin by sharing with the group the inspiring and ambitious—yet actionable—challenge you’ve framed in advance (even if you shared it before the meeting).
Now that you understand the rationale and rules for brainstorming, here’s a condensed version you can tack on your bulletin board for easy reference, or pass along to colleagues:
If we can help you communicate those new solutions for a more effective outcome, let us know.
SVP Communications Leader