Long live brainwriting! Three steps to silencing the windbags, undermining the politics, and letting your team's best ideas thrive.
Here's a sobering statistic about team dynamics that we wish surprised us: In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking. That translates into less than four minutes of floor time for each of the remaining participants--those who aren't hogging the conversation--during your next hour-long meeting.
So, if reasoning with them won't work, how can we wrest control away from the meeting tyrants? Rules? Admonishment? No and no, says Thompson, who's also a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and a team-building consultant. She has a better idea for fostering productive team democracy: brainwriting, which she describes as "the simultaneous written generation of ideas." Here's how it works.
Step 1: Write just one sentence each.
For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.
"I always like to use the smallest index cards I can find, so 3 x 5 or smaller," Thompson explains in an interview with the HBR Blog Network. "Because if I pass out 4 x 6 or, heaven forbid, 5 x 7 cards, people write paragraphs, and I want one sentence."
Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source.
When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team's consideration.
"I have two rules: no guessing and no confessions," Thompson says. "No one signs their name . . . and I don't want anyone guessing who said what."
Step 3: Put it to a blind vote.
Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.
"It should really be a meritocracy of ideas," Thompson says. "In other words, I shouldn't be voting for the CMO's idea; I should be voting for an idea that I really think is going to be exciting for our company or organization."