Masterful Communication: A Better Brainstorm

You may be called from time to time to either lead and/or be involved in a group decision making process. These meetings can be effective or ineffective based on the process used. I was called to lead a group of 200 educators and staff members through the process of creating a new vision statement for the school district. We followed this technique and, had we at least 30 more minutes, we could have finished with a final product.

FYI: I didn't tell the group this before we started so as to not hinder creativity, but the best vision statements are short, simple, concrete and visual. They don't include everything we want to do in the future. They only include the most critical element(s) of a new future.

1. Break the big group of 200 into mixed (different roles, responsibilities, etc.) smaller groups of 8-10.

2. Have each group pick one of these four discussion areas: What is our greatest strength? What is our greatest challenges? What words should be included in the statement? Where could the vision statement be used? (Your questions may be different based on the type and nature of your final product.)

3. Give each group an easel pad sheet, a marker and 40-50 stickers. The poster paper and marker are used to capture ideas. Each group picks a discussion leader/scribe. This person numbers the ideas, labels the sheet (which discussion area), and signs their name on the bottom. The scribe should write very legibly.

4. Each group has exactly five minutes to discuss ideas. Do not judge ideas. This first round is about quantity. KEY POINT: the discussion leader/scribe cannot make judgements or throw out ideas - they only write. This is because they could have too much influence and power over the group discussion. They can encourage, ask for clarity and ask questions to get ideas flowing (not judgmental questions though.)

5. After five minutes each group gets a different group's discussion sheet. The new sheet has to be on one of the other three discussion areas. Their task is to add a few new ideas to the list, but mainly to go back through the previous ideas and make them more C.V.S. - Concrete, Visual and Simple. Round two is about quality.

6. After the five minutes is up, each group hangs up their poster of ideas. Each person then grabs three to five stickers and everyone walks around the room and puts a sticker next to an idea that THEY THINK SHOULD BE IN THE VISION STATEMENT. This is a critical step. Only vote on ideas that you think should make the cut.

7. After this step, we ran out of time. However, the next step would have been to take the most popular ideas, have each team get a new easel pad sheet and write down just those (preferably less than 10) and discuss pros and cons. The main output goal here is for each team to whittle the ideas down to their version of a great vision statement.

8. At this point, each team gets one last poster paper and writes their final first draft of their vision statement. These are hung up. Everyone gets ONE STICKER and votes on their favorite one.

9. You can do two things here. Take the winning vote as is or take the best parts of the top two or three and collectively make a final one. This really all depends on how the final ideas are structured.

10. This is a very thorough and quick process for taking a number of ideas, filtering them down and creating a collaborative piece.

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