Brainstorming can often improve creativity when you need many possible ideas. Consider these 12 suggestions the next time your team needs to generate solutions to a problem.
- Encourage debate, dissent, and healthy criticism of ideas. Healthy debate has shown to produce more ideas than the traditional, “don’t criticize any idea” mentality (Nemeth et al., 2004). Set these rules beforehand, though, to keep the debate healthy and the ideas coming.
- Don’t personally attack people.
- Use such phrases like, “I have a different view,” “I see things differently,” or “What about this?”
- Reiterate the other’s person’s viewpoint before offering your own.
- Clarify the other person’s viewpoint first.
- Keep your creative teams diverse. Include new people and women and men.
- Make sure the brainstorming leader is affirming and not overbearing and that he doesn’t unintentionally drive his personal agenda.
- Create spaces in your office area that encourage frequent and spontaneous interactions.
- Don’t allow one person to dominate brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a ‘know-it-all’ can shut down creativity.
- Be observant of something called ‘social loafing,’ our tendency to feel less responsible for a project in a group than when doing a project alone. Some on your team may sit back and let the rest of the team generate the ideas. Guard against that. Studies with a rope tug-of-war showed that blindfolded people who believed they were pulling a rope alone pulled 18% harder than those who thought they were on a team (Karau & Hart, 1998). However, the more cohesive the group, the less social loafing.
- When beginning a creative session, the leader should acknowledge that everyone is on equal footing and that she wants everyone to feel that they can contribute.
- Before your brainstorming session, ask the team members to generate ideas on their own and to submit them in writing before the session.
- Be wary of too much group harmony in creative sessions. Artificial harmony that fosters a ‘too nice’ atmosphere can stifle appraisal of alternatives.
- When trying to solve a problem in a brainstorming session, challenge the group to present counterintuitive solutions (i.e., what’s obviously not the solution to the problem). This approach can foster even more creativity.
- Provide an incubation period to let ideas simmer. If you give the team a brain break and encourage daydreaming, when they come back to the problem, solutions often arise (Sio & Ormerod, 2009). Sometimes ideas come to us while doing something moderately taxing and daydreaming at the same time (i.e., taking a shower or walking on a treadmill). It’s called unconscious thought theory, UTT, (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) that proposes that solutions to complex problems often come when we are intentionally not trying to solve them.
- When trying to solve problems, encourage your team to imagine themselves a year from now instead of imagining themselves tomorrow. Studies show that this time perspective fosters more creativity (Förster et al., 2004).
What has helped your brainstorming sessions be more productive?
- Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. & Goncalo, J.A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34 (4), pp.365–374.
- Karau, S.J. & Hart, J.W. (1998) Group cohesiveness and social loafing: Effects of a social interaction manipulation on individual motivation within groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2 (3), pp.185–191.
- Sio, U.N. & Ormerod, T.C. (2009) Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (1), pp.94–120.
- Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L.F. (2006) A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (2), pp.95–109.
- Förster, J., Friedman, R.S. & Liberman, N. (2004) Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), pp.177–189.
In my latest book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60′s-80′s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?
These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.
- I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
- I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
- I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
- I can be easily and quickly hurt.
- I often see myself as a victim.
- I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
- I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
- I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*
How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.
So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?
Here are four simple suggestions that might help.
- Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
- Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
- Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
- Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
- Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation. A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.
What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?
*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.
I’m in my fourth month serving as lead pastor at West Park Church in London, ON. It’s been a great ride thus far. West Park has a strong foundation and although we face several challenges (as does every church) we’ve got a great future. I’ve chosen to practice 4 essential behaviors that have helped me get a good start and experience some early leadership success. I believe leaders would do well to practice these four behaviors to improve their leadership success.
Listen and learn.
- Communicate often and well.
- A new pastor must gain the trust of those he leads. One way to build that trust comes through effective and regular communication. People want to know what’s going on. If they don’t, they will connect dots that don’t exist. Here’s what I’ve done to maximize communication.
- I send a short weekly report to our board appraising them of my weekly activities. I’m now answering these four questions each week.
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- What’s the most important thing I must do this week?
- How can you pray for me?
- I include a short paragraph each week in the bulletin called ‘Where’s Waldo (aka Charles)’ where I share the highlights of my week.
- Within the first 30 days I created a 6 month learning agenda I shared with the board.
- I sent the elders a 60 day summary of my insights and goals.
- This week I sent out a 90 day progress report to the entire church after hosting 144 leaders to share our new vision for 2014.
- In my first message I communicated to the church that I had much to learn. I told them that during the first few months I would listen and learn by asking lots of questions. As a result, I’ve held listening sessions with over 100 people asking them about the history and the strengths/weaknesses of West Park. I’ve asked many of those people these four questions.
Wisely manage change.
- Would you tell me about yourself?
- What’s going well at West Park (this parallels one of the above questions)?
- What’s not going well?
- If you were in my shoes, what would you focus on?
Keep healthy margins.
- When a new leader or pastor arrives, he or she often falsely assumes that the organization/church expects dramatic and quick change. Sometimes circumstances warrant such change if something is ‘on fire.’ Often, however, a leader must build trust before the church will receive dramatic change. That doesn’t mean that we don’t bring change, however. It’s important that a new leader secures some early wins which requires some change. That in itself fosters trust. But, whether or not you are a new leader, thoughtfully managed change will bring the greatest lasting change.
- I heard someone once say that at the end of each day, the average number of items left to do exceeds 30. This side of heaven we can always find more tasks to fill our time. In my first few months it’s been difficult to keep consistently healthy margins. We are currently short staffed so I’m having to take up the slack. I’m realizing, though, that I can’t maintain my current pace. So, to keep myself and my family healthy, I’m considering these ‘margin keepers.’
- Don’t say yes to everybody that wants to meet with me. Learn to politely say no.
- Ask the board to handle some of the tasks staff otherwise might have handled.
- Make my time more productive. I may have to take another afternoon or two outside the office where I can minimize interruptions and maximize productivity.
What crucial behaviors have helped your leadership succeed?
Jenni Catron, who will soon go on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church where John Ortberg pastors, wrote the just released book, Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence. I read it recently and I believe it is a must read for every pastor, as well as for every follower of Jesus. She defines clout as the power and influence each person possesses in their lives. She deftly writes about both clout killers and ways to cultivate our personal clout. She roots her book in Scripture and shares personal stories that resonant with the reader’s heart. As I read the book through the lens of a pastor, several clout killers came to mind.
God has given every pastor a call to serve Him faithfully. He gives us what we need to fulfill that call, what Jenni would call clout. Unfortunately, these issues often cloud our clout.
- Comparison with pastors and churches that are larger and faster growing than ours. This one is a sure-fire clout killer.
- Burning the candle at both ends. Sometimes in our efforts to grow our churches, we overextend ourselves and become less effective.
- Trying to please everybody. People pleasing is a significant issue in the life of a pastor. In my research I discovered that 70% of those in ministry dealt with people pleasing at some level.
- Failure to nurture our soul. It’s often easy to shorten our time with God to do things for God.
- Not taking a long term perspective about ministry. Temporary failures and setbacks seldom mar long term fruitfulness, unless we let them.
Whatever is clouding your clout, Jenni offers practical insight on how to maximize your God-given clout.
Watch Jenni share her brief thoughts here on clout creators. If you are a pastor, I’d encourage you to read this book and share it with your staff.
What clout killers have you seen in your life and ministry?
Trust: “the belief that someone is reliable, good, honest or effective (Merriam-Webster).” Healthy ministry teams make trust building a priority. Patrick Lencioni, one of today’s best writers on leadership believes that absence of trust is the biggest problem among dysfunctional teams (see his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). Stephen M. R. Covey wrote an entire book that shows how teams can build trust called The Speed of Trust. So, how do you know if your team has a deficit?
Honestly answer these questions to gauge the trust deficit in your team.
- Does a spirit of suspicion lurk in team members’ minds?
- Do team members overly rely on email in lieu of talking?
- Do team members often wear facades?
- Is there too much “happy talk” which masks true problems?
- Are team members reluctant to share their honest feelings and opinions?
- Do team members resist meeting together?
- Has the team lost enthusiasm?
- Has grumbling and complaining become the norm?
- Is the leader inconsistent?
- Do some team members intentionally withhold information from others?
How did you do? If you answered yes to more than one or two questions, your team may be facing a trust deficit.
So how do you rebuild trust?
In my next blog I will suggest a few ideas. But here’s what I suggest as a first step. Get the book The Speed of Trust for you and your team and read it. It’s a great read. Here’s a summary of the book to get you started.
What other behaviors have you seen that may indicate lack of trust in a team?