Given all the depressing news lately, it’s only natural for employees to start focusing on the negative. In workplaces everywhere, maintaining the status quo has become the norm, while problems are addressed as complaints rather than as opportunities to improve.
However, it’s during these tough times that ingenuity and collaboration become true competitive advantages. Running effective brainstorming sessions is paramount. After all, organizations must leverage their most important asset: their people.
“There are so many people complaining about problems, especially in the workplace, and that really doesn’t do anything for anyone,” explained Lee Silber, author of Wild Idea Club, a corporate training guide co-written with Andrew Chapman and Linda Krall. “The thought was: What if these same people were given a chance to provide solutions instead of complain about problems? And the more I researched it, the more I found that the top companies in each industry — from Toyota to Southwest Airlines to Starbucks to Google — are allowing their people to do just that: come up with ideas to make the workplace better. I figured if these companies are doing it, and it’s working for them, [we could] apply this to every type of office, factory and workplace environment.”
A major component of effective brainstorming is the ability to collaborate well, so learning executives first must get everyone on the same page. To do this, the attitude in the workplace must change to one of optimism and forward thinking.
“Instead of complaining, ‘Oh, this is terrible, why is this this way?’ you say, ‘What if we did this? Couldn’t we do that?’” Silber said. “And then, all of a sudden, [people are] excited about work, [they’re] more solution-oriented.”
To select the best idea from a brainstorm, learning leaders should make sure it meets four requirements, Silber said.
“The best idea has four elements: [It’s] good for you, good for the manager, good for the customer and good for the company,” he said. “That eliminates a lot of objections right there. Who can say no to something that has these four elements?”
He quickly added that undoubtedly someone will say no, but the group should be prepared by having anticipated any problems or pitfalls. Sometimes, it helps to have a naysayer in the group or someone who’s willing to play devil’s advocate. The idea and the pitch should be honed carefully.
“Do your homework together as a group and find ways to make it happen,” Silber said.
The final — and most important — component of effective brainstorming is to make sure the group follows through on the idea.
“When you have a large group of people, make sure that everyone in the group is invested in making sure it actually happens, so they follow up, they follow through,” Silber said. “Because [with] many ideas, people take notes about what they’re supposed to do, but they never do it! It’s that accountability of the group — where everyone is accountable to everyone else to do what they said they would do.”
To promote this accountability, learning executives should encourage group discussions around individual strengths and weaknesses, so people can take on the tasks that they will enjoy most, be best at and consequently be more likely to follow through on.
“If you get a group of people together and you find that someone [does] something particularly well or enjoys doing something more than something else, trade off tasks,” Silber said. “If you say, ‘I really like answering the phone,’ and the other person says, ‘I can’t stand answering the phone,’ you find your sweet spot — by just talking it through. And if you do those things, it’s going to happen.”
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