Monday morning. Project Manager Meeting, Team Meeting. Tuesday. IT Meeting. Wednesday. Steering Committee. Thursday. Online Division.
Sounds familiar? Well, you are not alone.
It is a widespread assessment that there simply too many meetings in day-to-day project business, and many of these meetings do not live up to their promises. What many people know from personal (and painful) experience has already been confirmed by numerous studies: Very often meetings are ineffective, if not superfluous; in the USA alone more than 11 million meetings are held on a daily basis. Managers and executives spend around 100 hours per month in meetings only 56 percent of which they regard as being productive; a waste of resources that equals a loss of 37 billion dollars.¹
For many of these meetings the only possible improvement is to get rid of them. Of course there are also meetings that do make sense, that do create added value, e.g. meetings in which people are trying to find solutions for concrete problems or to develop ideas creatively. Especially these Creative Meetings often are ineffective. Below I will provide some tips on how to increase efficiency for them.
Brainstorming: The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions
There are few methods more famous and established than Brainstorming, which was invented by marketing specialist Axel F. Osborn around 1939. Osborne had noticed that group productivity in creative processes was impeded by evaluating ideas too early.2 So-called Brainstorming Sessions were designed as a method of compiling lists of ideas to be evaluated and used later. He regarded these kinds of sessions as an addition to individual ideas finding methods, not as a replacement.
The concept of Brainstorming is fine. It is based on the idea of word association; ideas of people serve as a basis of new ideas. But even if all the participants adhere to the commonly known rules, traditional Brainstorming is counterproductive in many cases.
Even in 1958 a study by Taylor, Berry & Block3 had shown that individuals applying the technique of brainstorming were more productive in their efforts to come up with ideas than groups of people. The way Brainstorming is applied throughout organizations seems to be the problem; in most cases the following happens:
One person is in charge of the flip chart, in many cases the superior. He urges the others to shout ideas.
So, what happens then?
- The one in charge of the flip chart also acts as a filter. Too many people shouting may lead to ideas unheard. Whether it happens consciously or unconsciously does not even matter.
- What ends up written down is the result of paraphrasing and may differ from the original idea of the one that came up with it.
Also, these situations tend to provide a stage for the more extroverted kinds of people; introverted people often do not have the heart to take part in these sessions.
- Others may simply have a hard time concentrating with others interrupting them. Fast thinkers and speakers have the advantage over slow thinkers, even if the latter ones’ ideas are more substantial.
- The result is that a lot of great ideas never find their way to the flip chart; they are stuck in the heads of people bugged out by all the meetings. But there is hope, as there are alternative concepts. Two of them, Brain Writing 635 and Brain Dumping I will now examine in detail.
The 6-3-5 method (often called “Brainwriting”) is an improved version of Brainstorming. In contrast to Brainstorming it is executes in complete silence. The participants note down their ideas on a sheet of paper.
It is a quick and efficient method and which can yield more than 100 ideas in a matter of minutes. The inherent anonymity is a shelter for particularly eccentric ideas; introverted and reluctant participants have the opportunity to contribute as much as more extroverted participants.
The description 6-3-5 results from the original concept of the method by Bernd Rohrbach; the numbers stand for 6 participants, three ideas and 5 changes.
- The participants are sitting around a table and are introduced to the rules of the method. Each participants get a prepared A4 sheet of paper with the task as well as six blank lines in three columns resulting in 18 fields. The participants then use the topmost line to note down their first three ideas.
- The sheets of paper are then collected, shuffled and distributed again. The participants then nore down three more ideas, either ideas based on the ideas already on the sheet or completely new ones.
- In total, the sheets are collected and distributed five times.
At the end up to 6 times 18 ideas, i.e. 108 ideas have possibly been gathered. Afterwards the sheets are distributed again and each participant transfers the two best ideas on sticky notes, places them on a white board opening them up for discussion.
The method is suitable for groups between six and twelve participants but may be carried out wih fewer or more.
This method is best applied in seminars and workshops but also in our internal meetings. It combines the advantages of Brainwriting and traditional Brainstorming while being more dynamic than the 6-3-5 method.
Each participant notes down as many ideas as possible on colored sticky notes. This dumping of ideas makes it possible for the participants to fully concentrate on their own thoughts and to develop and come up with ideas undisturbed. This accommodates particularly the more short-spoken participants.
- In a given time-frame (usually two or three minutes), each participant notes down as many ideas and suggestions as possible.
- One sticky note is used for each idea.
- Then the participants present their ideas to each other and stick the notes to a flipchart or white board. Often, new ideas arise during the presentation; these ideas can also be noted down and added to the existing ones.
- The advantage of using stick notes is that arranging and bundling ideas is made easier and quicker.
A good method is not enough
Much more than new methods stimulating creativity and helping to overcome obstacles are needed; a whole new culture facilitating creativity and innovation, or making them possible in the first place.
This includes mutual appreciation of all participants, across existing hierarchies, as well as a new appreciation of mistakes without which new things simply cannot come into existence.
This may not apply to routine tasks. A strict zero-mistake strategy is of definite worth for, for example, pilots during approach; but in the development of new things, when we are leaving routine paths, mistakes are inevitable. Sanctioning crazy ideas or blocking ideas that look nonsensical upon first glance leads to deadlock; at some point nobody will dare to think out of the box. Ideas build on other ideas, and sometimes a bad idea serves as a basis for a great idea.
In our workshops and seminars we use a poster with rules helping to build a new culture of innovation. If you would like a copy of this poster, write to me: [firstname.lastname@example.org] or click here: http://www.lorenzo-consulting.de/workshop-regel-plakat/
Find more information at http://www.bain.de/press/press-archive/your-scarcest-resource.aspx
 “How to Think Up!” by Alex Osborn. McGraw-Hill Book Company Inc., First Edition 1942, ASIN: B0007DR4EA
 Study by D. W. Taylor, P. C. Berry & C. H. Block, published in 1958 in Administrative Science Quarterly, edition 6, pages 22-47
LORENZO Consulting supports organizations in their quest to be more innovative. The LORENZO Akademie für Innovation brings a new way of thinking, creativity and motivation to companies and fields of society.