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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Are you a "sales person" or "life long student of sales?"












How are you disrupting the sales status quo? How are you challenging it in your day to day selling?

Why is this important? 

I believe that an individual’s ability to anticipate change is decisive to their ability to achieve their personal and career goals in both the short and long term. While it’s important to be able to adapt to change, I believe that if you want to achieve consistent, long-term success in sales then you have to become the initiator of change. 

This means you have to change how you learn, how you behave and how you envision success for yourself. You can’t wait and become a follower. Followers get squeezed.

For instance, no one can dispute the impact technology has had in disrupting how we communicate and conduct business. Yet, I find it ironic how the disruptive power of technology is being used is to demand greater conformity from its users.

This particularly appears to be happening in sales.

You get trained to a specific sales methodology. You get haltered to a process-based metric that is driven by the technology you use. Then managers use spurious data correlations generated from the technology you use to insist that you talk this way and write that way. 

Seemingly the goal appears to be to turn all sales reps into robotic clones of some idealized version of a “top” sales person that will reliably execute an unchanging sales process on buyers that will all respond in the exact same manner.

Which is the absolute wrong approach and one that you should resist at all turns.
You are your own person. The most effective version of you is not as a “ninja” of some sales methodology but as the black belt of selling like you. 

Your buyers don’t want to talk with a drone or a clone. Your customers want you to sell like you.They don’t want to invest time in the typical confident incompetent who just mimics how he or she thinks sales professionals are supposed to act. Buyers want to invest their time in sales professionals who are ready to be relevant to the goals they are trying to achieve.

So, how do you disrupt your selling?

Start by making the commitment to being a learner.Your self identification should change from being a "sales person" to “lifelong student of sales.” 

Then back it up by being curious and continuously learning about your profession, your products, your customers. 
  • Read, listen, watch. 
  • Learning 10 minutes a day would be a great start.
  • Commit to investing just 10 minutes everyday to learn something new about sales.
  • Read 10 minutes in a sales book. A chapter.
  • Read one blog article on sales. Everyday.
  • Listen to the first 10 minutes of a podcast.
  • Or watch a 3 minute sales video on YouTube.
  • And do it everyday. 10 minutes. Let’s start there.
Not every bit of information you consume will be useful to you. That’s the way it should be. Part of your learning curve involves determining what you can use and put to productive use in your personal sales method.

With the investment of as little as 10 minutes per day you will stay ahead of the change curve. You will become proactive in anticipation of change instead of reactive to changes that others insist you make.

In other words, you’ll disrupt your own selling to stay ready and relevant to your buyers. 

Good selling,

Peter C. Mclees, Sales Coach and Trainer
Smart Development
petercmclees@gmail.com
Mobile: 323-854-1713


We help sales reps and sales organizations accelerate their development and as a result their sales.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Why Your SMART Goals Template May Be Derailing Employee Productivity




















You have your pick of SMART goals templates to share with employees, and for the most part, they’re all the same, including the template we provide our clients. But despite following all the best practices on how to set goals, your SMART goals template can still fail employees, completely derailing productivity instead of doing what you want — maximizing employee performance.  

So, as you ask employees to fill out your SMART goals template, keep these hazards in mind, so employee goals work for you instead of against you.

Hazard #1: Checking All the Boxes
A SMART goals template provides five goal criteria: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. But what if an employee’s goal doesn’t quite fit this framework? Don’t let employees spin their wheels trying to check every box on the template. Allow for some flexibility, so they can move from goal writing to goal chasing. 

Hazard #2: Playing It Safe
The third component of a SMART goal is that it’s attainable. The idea of setting realistic goals is well intended: Being realistic means employees are more likely to attain a goal, and when people meet their goals, it keeps motivation up. If goals are set too high, employees can become discouraged. However, on the other end of the spectrum, setting attainable goals can result in employees playing it safe. If they fear the failure of not achieving a goal, they might not stretch to their full potential.

Hazard #3: Ignoring the Past
While a SMART goals template can provide great guidelines for creating new goals, it misses one of the most important steps in goal setting: looking back. This is why some have added evolved SMART goals into SMARTER goals, where the “E” stands for evaluate and the “R” stands for “Rework.” What goals were set last month, last quarter, or last year? What were the results? Answering these questions can inform the goals created and make the goal-setting process more efficient.    

Hazard #4: Speaking a Different Language
A SMART goals template outlines all the components of a well written goal; however, simply including the five criteria doesn’t ensure that the goal is well written. If the goal is full of jargon, acronyms, or lingo not widely understood, this can create confusion and waste time. It might seem trivial, but an essential part of creating goals the transparency it provides the rest of the organization. If the goal uses language that’s uncommon or unclear, it can alienate team members who aren’t in the know. Use clear and concise language to ensure team members can easily and quickly understand one another’s goals.   

Hazard #5: Lacking Passion
By definition, a SMART goal is relevant, meaning it’s worthwhile. But is it exciting? Is it motivating enough to get someone up in the morning? Granted, not all work is 100% fulfilling all of the time, but if employees don’t have goals they are passionate about, they can lose focus and interest, making goals all the less attainable. A goal fueled by passion safeguards productivity.

Hazard #6: Setting Not Tracking
A SMART goals template is simply a starting point. It helps in the process of goal setting, but what about tracking progress and making adjustments as needed? At some point, one must move beyond goal setting to goal achieving. If you’re tracking goals with an employee engagement software  employees can share achievements and setbacks in real time, so managers can stay on top of progress, drive productivity, and adapt in the moment.

Don’t let these scenarios put a wrench in SMART goal setting. Use your SMART goals template, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it will foolproof your goals.


To your greater success and fulfillment,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Take the Next Step... 

Interested in learning how coaching employees in order to create a learning organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 
Email: petercmclees@gmail.com  or  Mobile:323-854-1713
Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 


Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

When the Employee You Are Managing Knows More About the Work Than You













It’s not at all uncommon for managers finding themselves managing people whose work they are not sufficiently expert in to manage substantively.

The question for managers in this situation is: “How can you set expectations for, much less coach and evaluate the performance of an employee who knows more about the job than you do”?

Of course, the employee you are supposed to be managing may find the situation a bit frustrating: “How can you be in charge of me when you don’t have the knowledge, experience, understanding, or skill necessary to do my job?” That doesn’t make your job any easier.

The challenge is to establish yourself as a credible performance coach to a technical expert when you are not an expert yourself. How do you develop the meaningful performance metrics and put yourself in a position to provide regular coaching and feedback?

Step One: start learning. You don’t have to become an expert on the work the person is doing. But you do have to learn enough to manage that person. How do you learn? First and foremost, you will learn by being a hands-on manager with that person over time. Sometimes you have to shadow the expert for a while. Watch her work. See what she actually does and how. Get curious. Read. Watch a video. Ask a lot of questions. 

You don’t have to become a doctor to learn a whole lot about a particular medical condition, what to expect, what are the best treatments, what is the best self-care protocol, and how and when will we know if the treatment is working as expected. When it comes to managing your expert employees, learn like you care.

Step Two: every step of the way, think of yourself as a shrewd client and your direct report as a professional you’ve hired. If you are managing a “professional” then you need to know what the professional and industry standards are for performance: What are the professional standards and established best practices? 

What data is available on the individual’s performance? Are there self-monitoring tools that the expert uses to track her own performance? Is there a peer review process to which your expert is subject? If not, how can you begin to monitor, measure and document the expert’s actual performance against those professional standards and best practices?

Step Three: if you are going to have experts working for you, then you need to make sure they are high performers, or at least aspiring to be so. You can’t have low performers on your team whose work you don’t really understand. You want them working systemically and consistently on trying to get better. The challenge is to be their coach when you’re not an expert in their field.

In your regular ongoing one-on-one dialogue with your expert employees:
  • It’s OK that you don’t know or understand everything the person is doing. But it’s not OK to remain in the dark and trust. Keep doing your research and self-education. And make it clear to your expert that you are on a learning path.
  • Focus on desired outcomes. Be a smart, assertive, careful patient or client. Ask good probing questions every step of the way. If you don’ understand the answers, say so. Ask more questions. Don’t allow yourself to be brushed off. Get a second opinion—and a third.
  • Engage the expert and make him complicit in spelling out expectations. Ask for details: “Exactly what are you going to do? Why? How are you going to do that? Why? What the steps? What is involved in each step? How long will each step take? Why? What are the guidelines and specifications?” If the answers are vague, press for details. If the answers are complex, ask for explanations a lay person can understand.
  • Every step of the way, make reference to professional standards and established best practices and ask how the expectations being spelled out and the actual performance being measured align.
  • As you monitor and measure performance, stay focused on the desired outcomes, the expectations the expert has helped spell out, and the standards and best practices. Use any and all data that is automatically captured about the expert’s performance, and ask the expert to help you understand the data. Engage the expert in using self-monitoring tools. Look at the work product and keep asking questions: “Did you do what you said you were going to do? Why or why not? How did you do it? How long did each step take?
  • Every step of the way, document the fundamentals of your conversations. What expectations were established? As you documenting performance, ask the expert employee to tell you what she thinks you should document and why.
Over time, you may never become an expert, but you will know more. You will get to know the person’s work better, as well as his work habits and track record. You will be able to tell whether the person is on or off track. Certainly, you will learn enough to hold the person accountable to clear metrics and provide regular ongoing course-correcting feedback, keeping that person on track of continuous improvement toward elite performance.


To your greater success and fulfillment,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Email: petercmclees@gmail.com  or  Mobile:323-854-1713
Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Manage employees as accountable "volunteers" and watch their engagement soar!












Early in my career, I made a critical mistake that’s very common, even when you’re a leader who cares and wants to engage your team.

I discovered my mistake when Joanne handed me an envelope.Inside was a single page. I unfolded the paper with its neat creases and found a letter, typed in three succinct paragraphs.

“Peter, thank you for the opportunity to volunteer, however, I would like to reevaluate my service…”

Ouch!

I was only twenty-five years old and Joanne was one of many volunteers on the crisis line team I led. With words as clean and crisp as the onion skin she’d typed (Yes, typed. I hate to admit it but this was before we all had computers.) them on, Joanne told me that I was wasting her time.

But, she didn’t stop there. In those sparse paragraphs, she gave me a blueprint. A blueprint that would transform my leadership, a key to release team members’ energy and motivation, and a secret weapon to attract top performers.

The blueprint will work for you too. With it, you have the foundation to motivate your team.

The Truth

If you truly want to motivate your team, understand that everyone is a volunteer. 

Every employee you lead, every director you report to, every colleague you work with.
Regardless of their pay, you can’t force people to work beyond the minimum. You can’t compel creativity. You can’t push problem-solving.

Your employees choose (often unconsciously) how they'll show up each day, especially for the hard work. How much energy will they spend? Will they will find solutions and solve problems or ignore them? Wages and salary don’t directly motivate your team and affect these choices, but leadership, culture, clear goals, and their intrinsic motivation do.

The Trap

This is where many leaders fall into a trap.It’s the same trap I’d fallen into and that Joanne highlighted in her letter.

You see, I believed that since everyone on the team was a literal volunteer, I should not set my expectations too high or hassle them about their performance. After all, I needed people 24-7-365 to help callers who were in crisis, they weren’t being paid, and if I were hard on them, they’d leave, right?

As a manager, you might have found yourself reluctant to hold an employee accountable because you were worried that they’d leave. I've watched many leaders tolerate  employees with sub par productivity and attitudes fearing they’d lose the person—who was always “too valuable to lose.”

Nonsense. That’s a trap.

When you let expectations slide, when you tolerate poor performance, when you allow bad attitudes, you are telling everyone on your team that you don’t care.

Imagine a volunteer who contributes their time and energy, works diligently, and always strives to do their best, working alongside someone who carries the negativity virus or half-hearted in their efforts.

What will happen to your hard-working volunteer?

Answer: the same thing happens to a paid employee. They’ll lose heart, shut down, and possibly leave altogether.

And why not? You’ve told them you don’t care about them. Their work doesn’t matter. The purpose and values aren't important.

That’s the exact opposite of trying to motivate your team.

Joanne’s Blueprint to Motivate Your Team

In her simple, plain-spoken letter, Joanne shared some ideas I could use to set clear expectations for the volunteers and how those expectations would serve the people in crisis. In short, we needed accountability. If nothing changed, she explained, she would find better uses of her time.

Can your team find a better use of their time?

Or…are expectations clear, everyone holds each other accountable, and together you accomplish results beyond what any of you could do individually?

Your Turn

Joanne’s letter was a lesson in tough love. It didn’t feel good at the time.

But her message changed everything for me: She helped me understand that everyone’s a volunteer. That everyone has a choice. That people’s time is precious. That it’s up to me to make their time on my team worthwhile. When you don’t practice accountability, you devalue the mission, the values, the work, and disrespect your staff.

When you hold people accountable for their work and behavior, you communicate that what they're doing matters. You demonstrate respect and value for your purpose, for your values, for your work, and for your employees. That’s a blueprint to engage your team.


To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Take the Next Step ..

Interested in learning how leadership coaching and training can benefit you and your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 

Email: petercmclees@gmail.com or Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Managing Conflict Between and Among Individuals on Your Team
















Let’s face it: Sometimes people just don’t know how to get along. This is one of the most common and vexing challenges managers face. Negative social dynamics—interpersonal conflict among coworkers—cause stress, diminish cooperation, and have a measurable impact on productivity, quality, engagement/morale, and turnover.

At the individual level, the least likeable characters in most any workplace are: porcupines, entanglers, debaters, complainers, blamers and stink-bomb throwers. If you can help those people replace their negative behaviors with good communication habits, you will eliminate the most common sources of interpersonal conflict.

However, not all attitude problems in the workplace are clearly attributable to anyone person, exactly. Some derive from social dynamics. Sometimes team conflict is just a clash between two particular individuals. Other times it’s more complex. Sometimes everybody is implicated somehow or another (Including the manager because they are not fully engaged or mismanaging by doing things like hiring the wrong people, not living by the organization's values, one-way communication, playing favorites, micromanaging and such.).

If there is a high level of interpersonal conflict on your team, you need to ask yourself, “Why do my direct reports have enough time on their hands at work—not to mention enough brain space—to focus on interpersonal conflict with each other?”

Research shows that interpersonal conflict between and among employees is almost always an indication of undermanagement. Interpersonal conflict in the workplace has room to flower only in a relative leadership vacuum.

If you don’t have clear regularly reinforced standard operating procedures, you leave room for clashes of style and preference. If you don’t have good performance development in place, there will be more rivalry for attention, resources, recognition, and reward. If you are not spelling out expectations and tracking performance, employee blame each other for problems that occur and resent each other because there is no or very little accountability.

If you are a leader, your first step is to fill the leadership vacuum. That doesn’t mean putting your foot down. It means getting everybody more focused on doing all the work they have in common, so they won’t have as much energy to focus on conflicts. You don’t need a big moment. You need a good process. Take a look at your use of team meetings and one-on-ones to make sure you are practicing the fundamentals regularly and consistently. What do you need to do to fill that leadership vacuum?

If you get back to practicing the fundamentals with discipline, you will suck the oxygen right out of most conflicts. Make sure every individual is highly focused every day in being productive and producing quality work. Remind everyone about team values (Read: SEAPORT values) and the broad performance standards—including the standards for good professional communication, cooperation, and mutual support. 

When you are consistently coaching employees, spelling out expectations, and tracking performance, employees are less likely to worry about each other and more likely to worry about getting their own work done. And the more focused everyone is on the work they have in common; the more likely they are to cooperate. Most of the intramural conflicts will fall away under your strong, highly engaged leadership. When conflicts occur, you will know what’s in character and out of character for each person, what rings true and what doesn’t. You will be in a better position to evaluate and make effective decisions.

If you find lingering conflicts on your team, even after you’ve filled the leadership vacuum, chances are you are fighting conflict that has had too much time and space to fester and grow. Perhaps it’s an unresolved personality clash that has left ill will. Or maybe cliques have formed, ringleaders have emerged, or in some cases, even bullies. You need to identify the problem and treat it immediately and effectively.

When there is ill will between specific employees, you need to approach the situation thoughtfully and directly. You cannot be the judge and jury for every argument between employees. But who else is going to adjudicate? For past “wrongs” the only question is: What can and should be done now? You are going to have to hear out both parties and then make a judgment call. That means you need to be sufficiently engaged that you can evaluate the situation. Either you make a decision that everybody needs to live with, or else the issue remains in status quo—and that, too, is a decision. In any case, everybody needs to live with the decision and agree to move on (This may take several meetings.)

Going forward, you have another decision to make: Will you make an effort to keep them apart in the future, work on different projects, in different areas, or on different shifts. Or will they need to able to work together? If it’s the latter, then they need to establish a regular, ongoing, one-on-one dialogue with each other and agree on ground rules for how they are going to work together in a cooperative and professional manner.

If certain employees are especially prone to conflict—in repeated instances—you need to actively coach the conflict-prone employees on avoiding conflict and to interact in more positive and productive ways. They don’t have to “like” each other but they do need to work cooperatively and professionally. Coach them what to say and how to say it so that they can engage in conflict free interactions. Spell it out. Break it down. Follow up.

You rarely find cliques without ringleaders. Often cliques form around competing ringleaders. Sometimes ringleaders emerge from within a clique. But they almost always go together. The real nature of the problem with cliques and ringleaders is that they constitute a parallel power structure, chain of command, and system of communication. That creates role confusion and dissent, at best. You cannot allow that to continue.

You have two choices when it comes to cliques and ringleaders: either co-opt the parallel power structure or break it up. Co-opting means turning the ringleader into a deputy of sorts. You have to ask yourself: Is the ringleader demonstrating natural leadership ability and having a positive impact? Does the clique make sense as a team? If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then may deputizing the ringleader as captain of the team-clique is good idea. Otherwise, you need to break up the parallel power structure: counsel (and possibly remove) the bad apples, reassign key players, and/or impose a strong chain of command that displaces the ringleader and disrupts the clique.

When it comes to bullying in the workplace, those are often clear-cut. That is a zero-tolerance issue. If anybody in the workplace is abusive to anyone else in any way---menacing, threatening, or even suggesting violent words or actions—this is a matter of public safety. As a manager, you have a responsibility to keep everybody safe in that workplace. Any behavior like that must be removed from the workplace immediately—period.


To your greater success and fulfillment,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Take the Next Step... 

Interested in learning how team coaching and facilitation can benefit your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 
Email: petercmclees@gmail.com  or  Mobile:323-854-1713
Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 



Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

When Faced With A Contentious Meeting, Apply the Monks Technique










The company had two quarreling departments. Sales and production. Market share had declined. Sales were down. Customer complaints were up. The blame game seemed to be the only game. The upcoming meeting was intended to get the two departments to work together for the good of the company. With lines drawn and sides taken, tensions were high. Trouble brewed. 

The company brought me in to facilitate the meeting. As everyone took seats around the conference table, members were grouped in their departments. Small talk was very small, strained.

I began the meeting by stating the issues before them, and the importance of how they addressed and resolved them. I then said, "Let me share a story about a European monastery that had a problem. When the monks got together to discuss scripture, the exchanges often got out of hand. Debates would become heated, personal and leave wounds.

As a result, the monastery established a ground rule. Whenever one monk disagreed with another, he could only do so if he confirmed with the other monk the position that he was about to dispute."

"Let's say for example, we're monks at the monastery, and the topic is the expulsion from the Garden of Eden."

I looked at one of the team members and said, "let's say Jim asserts it's Eve's fault."

I looked at another team member and said, Gina vehemently disagrees with Jim's view. She thinks it's Adam's fault. Gina's free to express her disagreement however she wishes so long as she first confirms with Jim his view."

I continued. "Now let's say that after Gina finishes stating her position, Jim wants to return fire. He likewise can do so provided he first confirms Gina's position with her."

I looked at another team member and said, "Now let's say Erica disagrees with both Jim and Gina. She thinks it's the serpent. Again, Erica has the freedom to do so provided she first confirms with each of them their views she's about to disagree with."

At the point, an outspoken production manager frowned and said, " I have a problem with your rule Peter. I've got other things to do after this meeting. If we do all this confirming about what we disagree with, we'll waste a lot of time. I don't have all day!"

"I agree with you, I said. We don't want to waste time, and we don't want to be here all day. However, I believe the Monks Technique will actually prevent those things from happening. I also think it will enable production and sales to work together in the best interest of the company, drawing on the insights of everyone here. And it will help production and sales function cohesively after this meeting.

"But I tell you what," I added. "If the technique starts to bog us down, we'll abandon it."

The meeting proceeded. Results? The tension in the room left almost immediately. No angry outbursts. No ad hominem arguments. Instead, the exchanges were thoughtful, respectful and substantive.

Alhtough the two departments didn't follow the technique religiously (Parden the pun), there was enough confirming and clarifying that all sides of the issue was fully vetted, including the pros and cons of each option, the steps that would need to be taken and how the deparments would work together after the meeting.

Score one for the monks.


To your greater success and fulfillment,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Take the Next Step... 

Interested in learning how team coaching and facilitation can benefit your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 
Email: petercmclees@gmail.com  or  Mobile:323-854-1713
Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 


Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Brainstorming














Generating Many Innovative Ideas

How often have you used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've used it at least once, even if you didn't realize it.

For decades, people have used brainstorming to generate ideas, and to come up with creative solutions to problems. However, you need to use brainstorming correctly for it to be fully effective.

Prepare thoroughly for your brainstorming session so that you get the most out of it.

In this post, we'll look at what it is, why it's useful, and how to get the best from it.

What Is Brainstorming?
Madison Avenue advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the original approach and published it in his 1953 book, "Applied Imagination." Since then, researchers have made many improvements to his original technique.

The approach described here takes this research into account, so it's subtly different from Osborn's approach.

Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by "jolting" them out of their normal ways of thinking.

Therefore, during brainstorming sessions, people should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. You're trying to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about the problem's limits. Judgment and analysis at this stage stunts idea generation and limit creativity.

Evaluate ideas at the end of the session – this is the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches.

Why Use Brainstorming?
Conventional group problem solving can often be undermined by unhelpful group behavior  . And while it's important to start with a structured, analytical process when solving problems, this can lead a group to develop limited and unimaginative ideas.

By contrast, brainstorming provides a free and open environment that encourages everyone to participate. Quirky ideas are welcomed and built upon, and all participants are encouraged to contribute fully, helping them develop a rich array of creative solutions.

When used during problem solving, brainstorming brings team members' diverse experience into play. It increases the richness of ideas explored, which means that you can often find better solutions to the problems that you face.

It can also help you get buy-in from team members for the solution chosen – after all, they're likely to be more committed to an approach if they were involved in developing it. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond, as they solve problems in a positive, rewarding environment.

While brainstorming can be effective, it's important to approach it with an open mind and a spirit of non-judgment. If you don't do this, people "clam up," the number and quality of ideas plummets, and morale can suffer.

Individual Brainstorming
While group brainstorming is often more effective at generating ideas than normal group problem solving, several studies have shown that individual brainstorming produces more – and often better – ideas than group brainstorming.

This can occur because groups aren't always strict in following the rules of brainstorming, and bad behaviors creep in. Mostly, though, this happens because people pay so much attention to other people that they don't generate ideas of their own – or they forget these ideas while they wait for their turn to speak. This is called "blocking."

When you brainstorm on your own, you don't have to worry about other people's egos or opinions, and you can be freer and more creative. For example, you might find that an idea you'd hesitate to bring up in a group develops into something special when you explore it on your own.

However, you may not develop ideas as fully when you're on your own, because you don't have the wider experience of other group members to draw on.

Tip:
To get the most out of your individual brainstorming session, choose a comfortable place to sit and think. Minimize distractions   so that you can focus on the problem at hand, and consider using Mind Maps   to arrange and develop ideas.

Individual brainstorming is most effective when you need to solve a simple problem, generate a list of ideas, or focus on a broad issue. Group brainstorming is often more effective for solving complex problems.

Group Brainstorming
Here, you can take advantage of the full experience and creativity of all team members. When one member gets stuck with an idea, another member's creativity and experience can take the idea to the next stage. You can develop ideas in greater depth with group brainstorming than you can with individual brainstorming.

Another advantage of group brainstorming is that it helps everyone feel that they've contributed to the solution, and it reminds people that others have creative ideas to offer. It's also fun, so it can be great for team building!

Group brainstorming can be risky for individuals. Unusual suggestions may appear to lack value at first sight – this is where you need to chair sessions tightly, so that the group doesn't crush these ideas and stifle creativity.

Where possible, participants should come from a wide range of disciplines. This cross-section of experience can make the session more creative. However, don't make the group too big: as with other types of teamwork, groups of five to seven people are usually most effective.

How to Use the Tool

You often get the best results by combining individual and group brainstorming, and by managing the process according to the "rules" below. By doing this, you can get people to focus on the issue without interruption, you maximize the number of ideas that you can generate, and you get that great feeling of team bonding that comes with a well-run brainstorming session!

To run a group brainstorming session effectively, follow these steps.

Step 1: Prepare the Group
First, set up a comfortable meeting environment for the session. Make sure that the room is well-lit and that you have the tools, resources, and refreshments that you need.

How much information or preparation does your team need in order to brainstorm solutions to your problem? Remember that prep is important, but too much can limit – or even destroy – the freewheeling nature of a brainstorming session.

Consider who will attend the meeting. A room full of like-minded people won't generate as many creative ideas as a diverse group, so try to include people from a wide range of disciplines, and include people who have a variety of different thinking styles.

When everyone is gathered, appoint one person to record the ideas that come from the session. This person shouldn't necessarily be the team manager – it's hard to record and contribute at the same time. Post notes where everyone can see them, such as on flip charts or whiteboards; or use a computer with a data projector.

If people aren't used to working together, consider using an appropriate warm-up exercise, or an icebreaker  .

Step 2: Present the Problem
Clearly define the problem that you want to solve, and lay out any criteria that you must meet. Make it clear that that the meeting's objective is to generate as many ideas as possible.

Give people plenty of quiet time at the start of the session to write down as many of their own ideas as they can. Then, ask them to share their ideas, while giving everyone a fair opportunity to contribute.

Step 3: Guide the Discussion
Once everyone has shared their ideas, start a group discussion to develop other people's ideas, and use them to create new ideas. Building on others' ideas is one of the most valuable aspects of group brainstorming.

Encourage everyone to contribute and to develop ideas, including the quietest people, and discourage anyone from criticizing ideas.

As the group facilitator, you should share ideas if you have them, but spend your time and energy supporting your team and guiding the discussion. Stick to one conversation at a time, and refocus the group if people become sidetracked.

Although you're guiding the discussion, remember to let everyone have fun while brainstorming. Welcome creativity, and encourage your team to come up with as many ideas as possible, regardless of whether they're practical or impractical. 

Don't follow one train of thought for too long. Make sure that you generate a good number of different ideas, and explore individual ideas in detail. If a team member needs to "tune out" to explore an idea alone, allow them the freedom to do this.

Also, if the brainstorming session is lengthy, take plenty of breaks so that people can continue to concentrate.

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, trainer and Culture Consultant
SMART DEVELOPMENT

Take the Next Step... 

Interested in learning how process improvement can benefit your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 
Email: petercmclees@gmail.com    or    Mobile: 323-854-1713
Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 


Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.