How to Get Great Ideas from Your Team

If you need to get ideas from your team, how do you go about it? Do you organise a brainstorming session or do you just ask them for individual suggestions?

Chances are, the approach you choose in this situation may not be the most effective.

In the post, I'll suggest an approach that should be very effective and help your team come up with great ideas. Before we get to this though, let's look at where most people go wrong.

Let's imagine a scenario where you've been asked to come up with a new initiative from scratch and you really need to draw on the combined experience of your team. Most people will probably arrange a meeting, send round a brief agenda and then expect the magic to happen.

There are some problems with this approach though.

Firstly, if you just call out ideas from scratch, it's likely to become a bit like a game show. Some of your team are likely to feel under pressure, while others may see it as an opportunity to shine under the spotlight. 

All of them will probably be scrambling to quickly come up with something as well, as they will want you to think that they're making a valuable contribution to the meeting.

Worse still, the more reserved members of the team may take time to formulate their idea, or be wary of how it's likely to be received. While they're doing this though, the more assertive and extroverted among them are likely to jump in and seize the opportunity to be loud, confident and wrong.

In this situation, you're likely to receive someone's best guesswork and hastily assembled opinions. 

This is also likely to be presented with just enough bravado to cover the fact that they don't really know what they're talking about. While they're delivering this though, the less assured member of the team is likely to be sitting on a great idea that they're afraid to share.    

It's even worse when it comes to the brainstorming part, as the people you should be listening to will probably be quickly shut down. It's a safe bet that the assertive ones will want to hear themselves talk and get as much of your attention as possible. 

The whole room probably hasn't had time to really think about the problem, or their ideas either.

I really don't think this approach works, but based on everything I've learned creating The Simplicity System, I can offer an alternative.

If you have time, I'd suggest arranging two meetings, at least a day apart, when you're in this situation. It won't necessarily double the time required though, as I'm going to encourage everyone to work a little smarter.

In the first meeting, you need to clearly outline the problem you need your team to solve.

You also need to sell this concept to them and give them plenty of motivation to innovate. It can make such a difference if your team are really inspired and know exactly what's expected of them.

It's also down to you to deliver a very clear brief that everyone understands. You're also likely to benefit if they leave the room determined to impress you rather than feel obligated to come up with something.

When you're done, end the meeting, let them know when you need their ideas and let them go back to what their doing.

This may sound odd, but this will let you take advantage off all the flashes of inspiration they're likely to get as they travel home and a number of 'shower moments' between meetings. The pressure of the game show environment should also be replaced by a far superior thought process.

In the same way that people who are given crosswords to complete after being set a difficult task come up with more creative solutions than those who get straight to work, you'll be inviting their subconscious minds to do the work behind the scenes.

When you reassemble, you should be presented with fully formed and considered ideas that your whole team can run with. If you have time, you could also ask for brief description via email before the meeting to help you keep focus and combine similar concepts.

Writing down an idea also help people to structure their thoughts. It should also result in a far more precise pitch when you get to the meeting.

This approach should also help the less assertive and more considered members of the team hold their own and defend their positions. 

You also need to step up, as you need to successfully moderate this process to see the best results. You need to make sure people aren't shouted down, that people aren't pursuing their own agendas and that you're all working as a team.

How to Get Great Ideas from Your Team

For me, it's all about quickly working out the value and potential of what people are proposing and then the reasons why others may be opposing them.

It's also important to not jump the gun and shoot things down too early. Even with time, some ideas may not be fully formed and it may take a while for people to fully articulate them. It also helps if they feel comfortable.

This brings me on to another important point, as your team are likely to take different approaches.

The more creative among your team may need to go around the houses to present a vague idea that they need help formulating. They're also likely to start building 'from the sky down' as they'll present the end result they're seeking but not have a clue how to get there at first.

The good news is that with a bit of input, these sort ideas can not only come together, but they can change the game. 

The problem you're likely to face though is that more controlled and assertive among your team are likely to react extremely negatively towards this approach. They will expect precision and exact details and their reaction to what they perceive as rambling won't be pleasant. 

If you don't get on top of it, it could derail the whole process.

This is where you have to make quick decisions. It's your team, so you need to decide, if that rambling idea is going to go anywhere or if the cold calculating approach can instantly present you with all the answers. I never said this was going to be easy, but its the price you'll have to pay to get amazing steps forward.

Now all you have to do is go out and do all this for real.

If you have any control over your environment, I suggest you go with a circular table if possible or better still, ask everyone to stand up. If you have a small team, you may like to think about the way Steve Jobs and Jony Ive would brainstorm while walking around Jobs' garden.

Good luck, and hope this can help you get some great ideas out of your team. I'd also be very keen to hear how you got on.