Brainstorming can be an effective way to bring people together to solve a problem and it lends itself well to a county board meeting as it is most effective in groups of 8-12 people. Why do it? People bring different strengths, ideas, and opinions to the table. It gives an opportunity to expand existing knowledge of the participants by building on each other's contribution. You can develop ideas in greater depth in group brainstorming and people are more committed to the solution because they provided input and played a role in developing it.
Every brainstorming session needs a facilitator who will guide the session, encouraging everyone to contribute (even the quietest). He or she also discourages anyone from criticizing ideas. It's important there is a spirit of non-judgment--if you don't, people will clam up and the effectiveness of the group is diminished. Another important responsibility of the facilitator is to refocus the group when they become sidetracked.
Brainstorming should be done in a relaxed environment where everyone's ideas hold the same weight. At the start of your meeting, write or display a problem statement on the wall. Define your problem or issue as a creative challenge--this is extremely important. A badly designed challenge could lead to a lot of ideas--none of which solve the problem. The problem could be stated: "In what ways might we . . .?" "How could we encourage more . . .?" "How could we . . .?" The statement should be concise, to the point, and exclude any information other than the challenge itself.
- Generate many, varied ideas
- Think outside the box (wild ideas are encouraged)
- Build on the ideas of others
- Defer judgment
- Stay on topic
Good brainstormers don't waste time tearing down ideas. Instead, they either improve on the idea by adding something to it, or generate a new idea. You never know which idea might spark something great. When building on the ideas of others, show acceptance of the idea and add to it using the phrase "Yes, and" instead of "No, because".
Build a good framework for the session by setting a time limit and an ideal goal for the number of ideas to be generated. Write down all the ideas where the group can see them. Again, there is no evaluation of ideas at this stage of brainstorming.
Once you have generated a list of ideas, you can begin to evaluate them. Look for answers that are repeated or that are similar in concept. Eliminate responses that definitely do not fit. After that elimination process, select up to five ideas you like best.
Create four or five criteria against which to measure the ideas. For example, it should be cost effective, it should be possible to finish within a specified time frame. It should be a wise use of resources (talent, time, money, etc.) Identify the best idea and begin planning.
Brainstorming can be an effective leadership tool not only to solve problems, but also to build relationships among volunteers.
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