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Where to Begin a Brainstorming Process?

What to do when you have an idea, but don’t know where to begin? Or don’t have the right words to capture all the possibilities? Enter World Café.

We recently work with a team who had been through some difficult communication challenges with its leader. When the leader resigned, the team rebuilt itself around a new future. It was critical for them to identify how they would address any challenges as a team, so the past way of doing things wouldn’t repeat itself. We had the team engage in a World Café process – which allowed for deeper questions and dialogue by using markers to create images, words, and further discussion on paper.

In World Café, topics for discussion – in this case, the future of the team – were laid out on several different tables. There was one topic per table and one team member as “host” for each table. The rest of the team split evenly among the tables.

Each table spoke together about the topic – answering one simple question like: “What does this topic’s current situation look like?” On a large paper “tablecloth,” they discussed. They drew their answers using the pens and markers. They laughed. They built on each other’s artwork. We had the team members rotate around the tables, each time answering a different question about the topic. For example, “what would the future of this topic look like?” and “what action steps might we take next around this topic?”

What was fascinating was watching how each round built on the round before them. Some adding artwork; others commenting on someone’s choice of words and images. At the end, this particular team described themselves as a working farm, with each of their roles and how they were seen in the whole of the team. They also named some possible action steps to take to reach these goals.

By using images, the team was able to capture far more about an idea or belief or feeling than using simple words. And they could see the beginnings of a roadmap with action steps for their future.

How does your team brainstorm? How might they use some of these techniques to get clearer on next steps?

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