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I am in charge of a project in my company and currently trying to gather information about the current process in place and how to improve it on post-launch tracking.

In order to do so, my manager told me I should plan a brainstorming session with teams from two different services so that I can have ideas on the definition of the project and the intended outcome. The problem is that I am afraid the brainstorming session will be difficult to monitor in those conditions since those people are not used to all work together.

Do you have an idea on what the flow of the 90-minute meeting should look like, so that I don't lose my audience?

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There are ample documents on how to structure a brainstorming session. Google brainstorming. Recent research has shown that brainstorming doesn't actually work very well, but your boss has assigned you to do this, so facts don't really matter. The key rule of brainstorming is that there must be no criticism, and that all contributions are taken seriously.

There are two general strategies to enforce the brainstorming rule. The first strategy is for you as the moderator to step on any criticism fast and potentially hard. Make it clear that contributions are welcome and criticisms are not welcome. Friendly, respectful edits & clarification are ok. The second strategy is to democratize the responsibility. Our team keeps a set of yellow soccer flags in a bowl on the table; if anyone feels that anyone else is being disrespectful/critical, anyone can throw a flag on the play. The second strategy requires a more mature, more trusting team. The first strategy requires you to bring your A game and may require you to stop recording and focus on moderating.

There is too little information to answer the question. In a comment (which you really should edit back into the question, so that we have all the information necessary) you mention that there will be six people from two services. I would probably structure the meeting this way:

  1. 10 minutes establishing the goal of the process - ensure that everyone has a shared vision of the outcome including any relevant quality standards.

  2. 15-20 minutes documenting the current process. I'd probably force each team to document the other team's process with an emphasis on the interfaces between the teams and between the teams and the external stakeholders.

  3. 10-15 minutes documenting opportunities for improvement - identify the pain points. Impose a rigid "no response" rule - nobody gets to defend the status quo, nobody gets to criticize or offer feedback. The goal is to capture places where at least one person believes that the current process is painful. If one person believes it is painful and five people believe it is optimal, then the group must accept it as painful.

  4. 15-20 minutes on optimization - Once again, standard brainstorming rules, no criticism, no defense. Crazy ideas permitted, unworkable ideas encouraged.

  5. Select and optimize the best candidates for the remaining of the meeting. Which of the options has the best chance of success? Which is the quickest win? Which has the greatest long term potential to optimize? Which can only succeed with strong executive sponsorship?

  6. 10 min Debrief and establish an agenda for future work. Who is accountable for doing what, and how will the action be briefed?

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    Yes my boss wants me to do a brainstorming so I have no choice on that. Also I think I will go with the second strategy as the audience is more mature and respectful. Thank you for your help Mark ! – MopMop Sep 29 '16 at 12:47
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Depending on how big the teams are on each side I would suggest taking the time to consider a very high level agenda. Once you have this in place I'd circulate it to either all members of the team, or just the managers if it's a big group.

This gives the team a chance to consider responses which are directed to the questions you want to ask and points you want to over and also reduces the chance of sidetracking.

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  • I have already planned that for the future. But on monday I will have to put in place a brainstorm session and what I would like to know is how to monitor this specific session... There would be just 6 people from two different services plus me. I would act as the project manager although I don't want the people to derivate too much from the intended outcome of the meeting... – MopMop Sep 29 '16 at 9:57
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in my experience brainstorming does not very well and is made worse if people arrive 'cold' - the key for me is preparation i.e. finding a way for attendees to arrive with: a clear knowledge of why they are there; what their role is inside the meeting; what the specific purpose of the session is; having had some time to think about the problem before they arrive.

If they arrive without even reading any documents that are sent out beforehand, it can be a waste of time and effort.

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