My boss recently asked me, “When you engage your team in generating new ideas to solve business problems, how much direction should you give them?”
If you provide too much direction, you may stymie the team’s thought process. If you give too little, your people may go off to the weeds and no fruitful ideas will surface.
The amount of direction you give depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Putting a box around the discussion allows for many thoughts and ideas to be explored. It also prevents the team from hopping down a rabbit trail.
A recent study by Armada Inside the Executive Suite¹ found that teams working from a focus-area list delivered concrete business plans featuring strategies and tactics implemented in the near-term. Groups that ignored the focus-area list generated bigger, less defined ideas producing richer conversations. The latter groups did not provide immediate action steps coming from these plans. Their less traditional ideas spawned more broad-based discussions that allowed the company to explore major potential changes. The company provided the great contribution of several business analysts who provided numbers on the spot. This allowed the deliberations to focus around fact-based topics.
Where does this study leave us? In a Dale Carnegie workshop I attended, the facilitator led a green light thinking exercise that provoked creative ideas and enhanced dialogue. I used a similar approach to my work in an attempt to build a Supply Chain strategy and I was pleased with the results.
Implement a “Green Light”
In this approach, we begin with blank post-it notes and a topic. In my case, we wanted to see what our Supply Chain could look like in 5 years. We divided the group into 2 teams and each person took 5-minutes to write down every word that came to mind relating to the 5-year Supply Chain strategy. The team was told to use one post-it for each idea. When the 5-minutes were up, each team, without talking, had to place the post-its on a whiteboard and group the post-its in some type of order. They were given 10-minutes for this exercise. Then we gave them 5 more minutes to prioritize the groupings. Each group then presented their rationale for groupings. These presentations generated some healthy debates. However, the groupings were amazingly similar.
The next step was to send the teams to separate rooms and have them narrow down the groupings to executable ideas. We brought in lunch and the teams worked for about 2 hours. When the teams came back together, each team had nominated a spokesperson who gave a recap on their strategy. When we combined the results from both groups, we ended up with an excellent strategy that the company continues to follow today.
We are best served by allowing people to brainstorm as much as they can while keeping a translucent box around the discussion so the teams do not go off on a rabbit trail.
If you use this approach, you too may build an outstanding strategy or locate an idea that gives your company a significant financial payback. Click here to gain access to Dale Carnegie’s Leaders Guide to Innovation Management!
¹Prather, Keith “Should You Give People a Target for New Ideas?” Rpt. of “Inside the Executive Suite.” Armada Executive Intelligence Brief (2016):