Link to the topic (Facilitating Communications in Meetings)  including de Bono’s Thinking Hat tutorial.

All the tools we have looked at so far can be used by an individual or in a collaborative context. Frequently it may not possible to work collaboratively on the development of ideas but it has significant advantages and is strongly encouraged.

There are a number of collaborative approaches which are essentially variations on the process of brainstorming.

Advantages of collaborative approaches

The three most significant advantages are:

Diversity of ideas

One of the blockages to creative thinking we identified earlier was “It’s not my area”. The issue here is more to do with the scope of knowledge and experience that any individual has. This is inherently limited and as such limits our perspectives. Working collaboratively with others introduces the varying outlooks that they can bring to bear. This adds more different perspectives from which new ideas may emerge.

Provokes new thinking

Also the different thinking of one person can provoke another to gain a new perspective on the issue at hand.  The unfamiliar thoughts of one help another to switch tracks and look at the challenge from a new perspective. A collaborative approach involving several people will also multiply the opportunities for new ideas to emerge.

Buy-in and Ownership

We have observed on several occasion throughout the Growing the Servant Heart programme that a key consequence of involving others in problem solving and decision making is that it increases the level of ownership and commitment to the outcome. Thus, when a team comes together to solve a problem they will have a greater sense of ownership than if the solution were simply passed down. Greater ownership and commitment is a key to enabling people to achieve their full potential, a goal of the Christ-centred servant leader.

Classic Brainstorming

In classic brainstorming a group of people are gathered together with the goal of offering ideas that will lead to a solution to the challenge. Going from person to person, as fast as possible each offers up an idea. These are recorded by the facilitator and analysed when the brainstorm is over.  The brainstorm continues for 20 or 30 minutes.

The brainstorming group

The group should include members of the team who will need to bring the solution into being. Ideally, it will include people from outside the group with a different background and experience in order to bring about the benefits of diversity. Think carefully about who you choose to be part of the group.

Establish a facilitator

It’s essential that a facilitator be appointed. It’s their job to keep the brainstorm on track and help the group keep to the rules. It’s not a good idea for the boss to be the facilitator because the boss/staff relationship normally stifles, or at least limits the group’s creativity. It’s good if they can be from outside the group entirely.

The facilitator has an orderly, mind set during the brainstorm seeking to collect the ideas they hear. It is difficult to contribute creatively whilst performing such a process. If the facilitator tries to engage the meeting they will tend to change its mind set from the creation of ideas to their analysis. Therefore, they should essentially remain in listening mode unless they need to steer the group to stick to the rules. They should simply record the ideas as they come and not try to collate them until the brainstorm is finished.

The boss stops being the boss

The presence of the boss in the session can stifle the creativity of the group. The members may be afraid of looking silly or being wrong if the boss is in the room.  If they are in the room, the boss must give up their status and rank for the duration of the meeting and literally be just one of the group, complying with the essential brainstorming rules. This is right in line with the Accepted Leadership principles we discovered in The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader.

Warm up

It is often helpful to get the creative juices flowing by brainstorming a light hearted, “silly” topic. This can also enable the group to get used to the brainstorming rules. Alternatively the paint the problem technique, discussed earlier, could be used.


The group needs to be aligned around the same problem statement. So initially some time needs to be spent looking at the problem statement to gain a shared and common understanding. It may be sufficient to declare the problem statement and spend a few minutes discussing it.

Alternatively, one of the techniques considered earlier can be used to explore and refine the problem statement.

Stick to the rules

For the effective operation of the brainstorm it is essential to stick to the rules:

Stay focussed on the topic

When firing off ideas and being stimulated by the ideas of others it is easy to get off topic. Group members need to be aware of where their minds are and keep on topic. The risk is solving the wrong problem.  The facilitator must guide the group to stay on topic without making individuals feel criticised as this will cause them to stop contributing to the meeting.

Encourage wild and wacky ideas

As we have seen wild and wacky ideas are important on three counts:

  • They contribute to an atmosphere which is inherently creative.
  • They help others to switch tracks to a different perspective from which new ideas can emerge.
  • They may in themselves be intermediate impossibilities which contains the essence of the solution being sought.

Consequently they should be encouraged and deliberately stimulated.

Defer judgement

The process of assessing and judging the worth and validity of ideas is a quite different process to that of creatively generating ideas. It has the power to crush the group’s creativity causing them to switch off.   Also if an individual’s idea is judged negatively it almost inevitably causes them to switch off, especially if the judgement was made by, or in front of a person who is influential, like their boss.

It is, therefore, essential that all assessment of and comment on ideas is left until the collation and analysis stage, after the ideas brainstorm is finished.

Build on the ideas of others

Normally it is frowned upon to piggy back on another’s ideas, not so in brainstorming. It is to be encouraged because the ideas of one person are intended to simulate the ideas of another. Each person will have a different perspective and so one person’s idea may be improved by the ideas of another. The goal is for the group as a whole to generate the ideas which provide the solution. Therefore building on another’s idea is encouraged in brainstorm.

Only one conversation at a time

Everyone needs to be focussed on the same task, throwing out ideas, one after the other. This is the only permitted “conversation” apart from the facilitator asking for an idea to be repeated so it can be recorded. If other conversations arise then judgement and analysis is likely to have begun. Judgement crushes creativity which kills the process.

Also a second conversation means that some people have dropped out of the creative process. This means they are neither generating ideas nor stimulating the ideas of others. The group needs to remain focused on generating ideas and contributing to the work of the group.

Collate and Assess after the brainstorm

Once the creative, idea generation phase is over the captured ideas can be clarified if required.

The group will then examine each idea and collate similar ideas seeking to merge them into a single idea. They will examine intermediate impossibilities for the essence of the idea and work out how that may be applied to a practical solution.

Once the collation stage is over each idea is assessed for viability and the best solution is chosen. The analysis may require additional work to be done to gather required information.

The selected idea is then implemented.

Super Heroes Brainstorm

The super heroes brainstorm works as just discussed but each group member  adopts the character of a super hero, e.g Batman, Superman, Spiderman, The Hulk, Cat Woman, Wonder Woman  and so on. Their ideas must employ their super heroes’ capabilities. E.g Spiderman would swing from place to place, Superman has super hearing and so on.

This is a fun method and generates intermediate impossibilities.


Plussing is a silent Brainstorming technique.  It seeks to extend or enhance ideas.

Step 1 – Problem familiarisation

As with all brainstorming the group needs to get to know the problem to be addressed as previously discussed.

Step 2 – Idea generation

  • Each group member has a sheet of paper on which they write down their idea.
  • The paper is passed to the person on the left.
  • Stimulated by the idea written on the paper they write down a new idea which is an extension or enhancement of the previous idea.
  • The paper is passed left again and another idea which extends the previous one is written down.
  • This process continues for a predetermined time, say 20 or 30 minutes.


Step 3 – Review and collation of ideas

The ideas are now reviewed and collated. This may be best done around a table with the idea sheets laid out.  Duplicate ideas are deleted, similar ideas can be merged. Intermediate impossibilities are analysed for the essential idea they encapsulate. A final list of ideas is made.

Step 4 – Idea selection

The final ideas are then assessed for viability. This may require external work to gather more information.


This is another silent brainstorming technique with the benefit of being self-documenting. The facilitator is able to participate in the idea generation phase.

Step 1 – Problem familiarisation

The group reviews the problem at hand as previously discussed.

Step 2- Idea generation

Each group member is given a block of coloured sticky notes.

They write each idea they have on a note and stick it on the wall. They are given marker pens with a medium to large tip to write with. This reduces the number of words that can be written on the note.

At any time they can look at what others have posted on the wall. This may stimulate new perspectives or enhancing another’s idea.

This continues for a predetermined period, say 20 or 30 minutes.

Step 3 – Collation and development

Together the group reviews the ideas and collects together related ideas. These are posted on the wall under a title note. Duplicate ideas are removed and similar ideas can be merged.

Step 4 – Idea selection

The final ideas are then assessed for viability. This may require external work to gather more information.

De Bono’s Thinking Hats

We learned about de Bono’s thinking Hats in Communications: A Core Competency for Servant Leaders. It’s a technique for helping the members of a meeting to keep in step with each other by recognising how people respond to ideas, problems and challenges. It allows the meeting participants to recognise 6 modes of thinking enabling them to work together collaboratively:

The white hat mode

This is about neutrally and objectively receiving information and grading its quality.

The red hat mode

This is when participants examine and express their feelings about the matter in hand. It’s about one’s emotional reaction and the justification of feelings is not required.

The black hat mode

This allows participants to think negatively about the matter in hand looking for obstacles and issues. This actually is a vital step and in reality is not a negative stage.

The yellow hat mode

The yellow hat mode gives participants permission to look optimistically at the matter looking for upsides and benefits.

The green hat mode

This is the creative mode is where new ideas and alternatives are sought.

The blue hat mode

This is the organising and administrative mode that plans and directs the flow of the meeting. It might only be used by the facilitator although when the group discusses the agenda and plan for the meeting this will be in blue hat mode. Collective blue hat thinking also happens when summarising, overviewing matters and drawing conclusions.

The benefits of the hats

This structure is excellent for problem solving. It presents opportunity for problem analysis, creative thinking and idea assessment. The benefit of dividing the meeting into the various modes represented by the hats is that everyone knows what is going on and is thinking in the same way. Alignment of thinking modes minimises the conflict that can arise in meetings. This is, for instance, because it reduces the likelihood of someone in black hat mode (being negative and pessimistic) being confronted by someone in yellow hat mode (being positive and optimistic) and so on. If someone responds negatively during a yellow hat phase they can declare they are wearing their black hat. In other words they recognise they are being negative and all the participants understand this.  The matter can then be noted by the meeting and dealt with latter.

It would be helpful to review the Thinking Hats topic. In the Communications: A Core Competency for Servant Leaders lesson. The link is just below the video.


Take a Moment

  • Identify a topic that you can use to practice brainstorming.
    • Identify the brainstorming group members you would like to be involved – remember the need for diversity and humour.
    • Plan a meeting with them and see what happens.