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Tips - Facilitate a brainstorm session

Just had a chance to facilitate a brainstorm session for a group of senior leaders to discuss about the organization structure and development. No matter what kind of subject to talk about and who the participants are, a clear goal and a structured process are just what we need for a successful and effective session. I enjoyed so much of this experience from planning the process until closing the session. Here are some useful tips that could make the process fun and easy.

Set up the room


Create a comfortable and relax space. Arrange chairs, tables, flipcharts, materials in advance. Don't forget to set up a few nice social areas, even the space is small.

Prepare a few choices of tea, different kinds of snacks like sweets and nuts at the social areas.

Music Music Music! Bring your own speaker, play your favorite songs and music, relax or even light rock.

Candles always help creating a warm environment. Scent in the room is very important, my favorite choice is lavender, bergamot and geranium, or any combination you feel right for the room and participants. If it's a rainy day, make sure to prepare more napkins.


Welcome participants

Greet the participants when they enter the room, introduce yourself and know their names, make them feel welcome and respect. Show them around the room. Make them feel comfortable and connect with you and the group.

If you have a bigger group, invite a partner to co-facilitate with you. I always like teamwork.

A few simple drawings can always help creating a friendly and happy environment. Also drawings help participants connect with images, visuals and ideas, open up the right brain would be useful in a brainstorming session.


Prepare a suitable activity to begin the session

Use an activity to kick off the session instead of jumping into the real issue immediately. Create a space for the group to talk, connect to each other, share meaningful insights, and build rapport.

Depending on the venue, participants, nature of the session, choose the right activity for the group. In a small cozy room like this and 8 senior leaders, you can simply use a set of picture cards.

Place the colorful and beautiful cards face up on a desk as one of the social areas. Ask the group to choose a card they like when they come in the room before the session begins. There are so many activities you can plan for using picture cards. To begin the session, each participant look at their own card and think about "What is my role in the company?"

Focus on the process, but flexible

As a facilitator, it's always about process in a brainstorm session, not the content, not you! Make sure you share the agenda to the group when you start the session. That they understand the purpose of the session (why they are here), the goal of the session (what they need to achieve), the process (what they need do), and the behaviors (how they communicate). Simply set the ground rules by asking the group for input, and refer back during the session when needed.

Prepare the steps in the session and follow them through, but be flexible to adjust. As the group starts working on some important issues, you want them to talk about it, listen to each other, resolve the issue together, and get consensus. They may use more time than you plan, be there to support them, ask their permission to stay a bit longer or other direction/resource they need.


Trust the group


Be patient, trust the process and trust Group Intelligence!

They are the subject matter experts, they know their job well, they understand the systems, they have the skills and knowledge and they are experienced. They need an opportunity to link together and create insights together. Watch and learn from them. If one or two participants need more time to think, let them think. Don't force them, check with them and respect their way of participation. Can always get back to them for feedback and additional ideas.


Use the space and time

Plan your activities well. Use different discussion tool, let the group talk to different members, move around in the room, sit down and stand up discussion. Set up activities at different space in the room. Keep the group energetic.

In this 3-hour session, we used individual and group sharing, small group discussion with flipcarts, problem-solving with post-it notes, and of course a 10 to 15 minute break was always helpful.

Thank your group

It is nice to let the group have some "take-away", but not a must. More importantly is to wrap up the session by asking or telling them about the "Next Step". Briefly summarize what they have done in the session, what they have achieved as planned, and what they will follow up next. The group wants to know what will actually happen next after all the hard work they have done in the session.

Thank your group for their time, ideas, energy, laughters, teamwork and even just being there are the important factors for a successful session.

Say goodbye to every participants with their names! If there is extra snacks, invite them to take some and bring back to their team.

Music please!!! This is always my favorite to begin and end a session.

See more TIPS and TOOLS here.

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