According to an article on MSNBC, a study was done which indicated that meetings are not a productive environment for creativity. I could have spared them the money and time for the study. Getting involvement from all your meeting attendees is difficult, because people think in many different ways and in many different environments. Some are confident enough to speak up in the midst of others, and some like to think out loud. But, others prefer to hear of a problem, and then have time to themselves to ponder possible solutions. As well, many people are problem solvers, while others are those who like to shoot holes in everything. While that is a necessary skill set on any team, it is inappropriate in a problem solving, brainstorming meeting, and it discourages the creative thinkers from speaking out.

To encourage input from everyone, I suggest the following. Call a meeting to identify the problem, and warn attendees before hand that no solutions will be discussed. The goal for the meeting is only to identify the problem and any parameters involved. Then dismiss everyone. A good manager, who pays attention to the skill sets on the team, is hopefully aware of the team members strengths. After some time is given for creative thinking, call two followup meetings. The first will be with your creative thinkers. State at the beginning that it is a time for creative thinking and brainstorming and that no decision will be made in the meeting. As well, state up front that time will not be spent to critique the ideas and solutions. This is an idea generating time only, and is for your creative, outside the box thinkers.

In the next meeting, you will have your more analytical members who analyze everything without mercy. Present each idea to them and let them tear into them. If they have their own suggestions listen to them, but do not be surprised if they do not have any suggestions, but only propose reasons why none of the current suggestions will work. Record their objections and send them in an email to your first creative group, but do not identify who objected to their ideas. Give them time to consider them, and then convene again to hear their follow up ideas.

Continue this cycle, until a solution is apparent and can be chosen. Keep the two groups separate. If you are aware that some of your team members do not like to speak up in larger meetings, meet with them individually or in small groups of two. This more private setting will allow the less confident to have their say. You may also tell everyone after the first meeting, that they can email you their suggestions as well, again providing a method for them to participate but not in front of the group.

Be sure to keep every meeting focused on the task at hand, and when communicating between each team do not identify the originators of the ideas or the critiques.

This process works well to involve all team members, and to allow each to use their strengths.

Do you have any other suggestions for making problem solving meetings more productive?

Read the article on MSNBC.