Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s the business I’m in, but I can’t help but notice how often people with a pressing need to call a meeting find a way to work the “Let’s get together and brainstorm” phrase into their invitation even when their meeting has absolutely nothing to do with brainstorming.
In effect, these kinds of invitations are nothing more than a kind of “bait and switch” in which unwary invitees assume they’ve been invited to help conjure up new possibilities, when, in fact, their creativity is neither needed, wanted, or recognized. The result? “Brainstorming” gets a bad name, meeting goers get pissed, and the person who called the meeting loses major points. Simply put, not all fruits are bananas.
And so, if YOU have a tendency to misrepresent the kind of meetings you call, the following list of “non-brainstorm meetings” should help clarify matters. I beseech you — please do not use the “B” word to describe the meeting you’re inviting people to if it has nothing to do with ideation and if any of the five descriptors below more accurately describe the purpose of your meeting.
1. INFORMATION SHARING MEETING: This is probably the most common kind of meeting — a chance for people to update each other, share research, and reflect on changes impacting whatever projects they are working on together. New ideas are not the goal of this kind of meeting — just the facts, m’am. (BTW, before calling this kind of meeting, ask yourself if the information to be shared can be shared in any other way).
2. DISCUSS IMPORTANT TOPICS MEETING: Some meetings require nothing more than a talking head session — a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about this, that, and the other thing. This kind of meeting gives people a healthy chance to air out opinions, share concerns, listen, debate, and eat muffins. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of meeting, but it does not require brainstorming for it to be effective.
3. TEAM ALIGNMENT MEETING: Sometimes teams simply need to get together to get on the same page. Or, if not on the same page, then in the same book. While this kind of gathering may include the sharing of information (see #1), it may also be a time for team mates to connect, clarify their vision, and reinforce commitments. While this kind of meeting may seem “soft” to some people, it’s not. Unless your team is connected and aligned, it’s highly unlikely it will be effective. PS: Getting your ducks in a row requires discussion, not brainstorming.
4. FEEDBACK MEETING: Sometimes it’s useful for team members to get together for no other reason than to give and receive feedback. This kind of gathering can be as simple as a few “report outs” and a previously agreed upon process for people sharing their perspectives with each other. Ideas may spontaneously emerge from this kind of pow wow, but a feedback meeting is not the same thing as a brainstorm session.
5. DECISION MAKING MEETING: Sometimes the only reason for a team to get together is to make decisions, as in “who’s doing what?” or whether it’s time to get new bowling shirts. Decision making comes from the left brain. Brainstorming comes from the right. By the way, if your team has no agreement about how it makes decisions, this kind of meeting won’t go very well –unless, of course, it’s already been decided that the “boss” is the one who will be making decisions on behalf of the team.
So there you have it. Five kinds of meetings that are not brainstorm sessions. Neither are they vacations, coconuts, of the latest viral YouTube video of a cat playing the piano with a tongue depressor.
If you value the time, energy, and expectations of the people you work with, please take the time to clarify what kind of meeting you are inviting them to and declare it, as such, instead of misrepresenting it as a brainstorming session (which it probably isn’t).
Description of a brainstorming session
Our brainstorming website
If you are a brainstorming skeptic