Picking Your Participants

31.05.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course How to lead a productive and creative brainstorm by TD Haines


Unfortunately, brainstorming is not like the Field of Dreams. Just because you have it does not mean they’ll come. Oh sure, there will be some that show up, but we’re designing every part of this experience. That means the guest list too.


Getting the Team Together

Large brainstorms are difficult. Lots of voices and lots of time. Especially in our strategic plan. There is a real nice sweet spot of four to six participants. Too much more and it becomes a bear to manage*. Too few and you won’t generate enough idea energy. In my experience, four to six people is the Goldilocks zone.

Now wait, this isn’t the first four people you find in the hall.

You will want to hand-select the participants if possible. Start with your problem and your user persona. Who interacts with this problem or persona often? Try to think of all the different ways people in your organization might interact with this. The more angles and points of view you can get, the better. One word of caution—the more removed someone is from the actual problem or persona, the more work you’ll have to do to validate their ideas.


Scouting Your Roster

With your roster stacked, it’s time to evaluate your lineup. Everyone should have something they’re bringing to the brainstorm—a unique perspective, a history of looking for a solution, the ability to get the project moving. They will also bring their personal style.

You should think about interactions with each person on your roster. Are they an introvert or extrovert? Are they a risk-taker or do they keep it pretty conservative? All types of personalities are welcome, but you’ll want to balance the experience so that each person has a chance to play off their strengths. For example, you are going to give people thinking time and a speaking order. This helps your introverts not get overwhelmed by the extroverts who want to shout out their ideas first.

On your brainstorm plan, write down the names of your participants and assign them a speaking order. If you notice the person going last getting frustrated by going last, one of your audibles is to flip the speaking order. (An “audible” is a change in plans, an on-site adjustment, while in the brainstorm).

The speaking order helps keep your brainstorm a safe space for all ideas to be heard. Another key part of this is that everyone is at the same level inside the brainstorm. No matter their rank in the organization, each participant is on equal footing in the brainstorm. You will need to express this ground rule at the beginning and make sure it’s upheld. Once the brainstorm starts, the facilitator is in control.

Just don’t abuse your power… your unlimited power! Mwa ha ha!

*Super Secret Note: When you become well-practiced in strategic brainstorming, you CAN lead brainstorms with more than six people. I only wanted to share that with people who read to the bottom because that means you’re in it to win it! For larger groups, I’ve had success breaking them into manageable teams of roughly four. Basically, you will be coordinating multiple mini-brainstorms at once. Just keep bringing them together as you shift lenses or phases. Then send them off to talk, in order, to each other.



• Hand-pick your brainstorming roster.

• Make a personal note as to how each person connects to the problem.

• Decide on a speaking order.


Recommended book

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman


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