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Lessons In Not Sucking: Building an Ideation Team

November 14, 2007 by

This is part five in a series on Lessons In Not Sucking. Today we discuss building ideation teams. I love working with teams that are passionate about the subject at hand. If you have things that work for you, please share them here with us!

1. Start with the problem(s), not the solution(s).
Whenever you gather a team together for times of ideation, don’t bring solutions to the table, bring problems. This is difficult for us leaders sometimes because we think that the meetings will be more efficient if we just brainstorm already suggested solutions. Brainstorming the problems is where the real action happens. And the team will be that much closer because they landed somewhere together.

2. Listen for laughter. If it’s not there, something is wrong.
When you’re meeting as a team–especially in the context of ideation–there must be loads of laughter. If there’s not, something is out of whack. Without laughter, no one will feel comfortable presenting crazy ideas. And it’s with those crazy ideas that things start to take shape.

3. Let vision lead, not dollar signs.
I try never to start an ideation meeting telling people how much the budget is. It seems to always dampen the conversation when people feel that they have limits. I’d rather have an idea that costs a million dollars come up that inspires everyone, than a bunch of $100 ideas that are boring. This doesn’t mean you keep the budget hidden, but be careful to bring it out at the right time.


4. Invite people you don’t like.
The usher that annoys you. The neighbor that plays their music too loud. The children’s worker that uses words like “blessed” and “precious” every other sentence. Invite them. They have a whole different way for looking at life (obviously!), and their perspective might be just the element you need to get everyone thinking big.

5. Invite people with unusual professions.
Along the lines of inviting people you don’t like, try to invite people who are from completely different fields or professions. The opera singer. The coal miner. The lawyer. Invite several people with a wide variety of backgrounds. You’ll be surprised what kind of stuff these people think of.

6. Always change the size (2, 3, 4, 5 per group).
I usually always keep ideation teams to no more than 5-7 people. The bigger the group the more difficult it is to get anything done. I also try to change up the size of the group so the weight of responsibility is felt differently. When you have more people in a group, each person feels less of a responsibility to contribute. Conversely, when you have less people in a group, everyone feels more inclined to weigh in.

7. Use the ranking system for brainstorm sessions.
Put all of the words or phrases on the whiteboard for a specific problem that the team brainstorms. You may have 20, 30, perhaps 50 different things. No idea is bad, everything goes up there. Then close the brainstorming and now everyone turns into a voter. Go down one by one through each word or phrase and have everyone raise their hand for which one they think should stay up there. Put the number of votes next to each word or phrase. Then erase all of the lines except the ones that are in the top 15-20% of the votes. Then go through the process once or twice more, depending on how many ideas and people you have. Once you get it narrowed down to 2-3 ideas, now you have something to work with, and everyone helped to get there.

Note: This concept is easier to communicate visually in person than through words, so forgive trying to cram it into this blog!

8. Meet in new/different places.
Don’t always meet in the same place. Go outside. Go to the aisles in a grocery store. The middle of mall food court. On a paddle-boat in a lake. There are tons of options, and getting the setting right is very important.

9. Schedule ideation at prime times (mornings).
Don’t schedule ideation meetings for times when everyone is tired or drained. Do them first thing in the morning or late at night when everyone has their second wind. It all depends on the people coming, so be intentional about when you meet.

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, MirĂ³.
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7 Responses to “Lessons In Not Sucking: Building an Ideation Team”

  • sean salter
    November 14, 2007

    As always great wisdom, great ideas. I would WHOLE heartily agree with all 9 points! They work well in a professional setting, and most assuredly will be beneficial to anyone using them in a ministry setting.
    The only thing I would ad is a no “buts” clause. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be on an ideation team, trying to get the ball rolling with new, exciting, and innovative ideas and someone says “great idea, BUT…” which inevitably is followed by some excuse as to why the idea will never take off. Which is 99% of the time because someone is stuck in the old “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.
    IMHO there is NO point to an ideation team if you are walking into it clinging to the past. Recognizing history, understanding it, and acknowledging it are great and can really ad to creativity. Clinging to the past and living in it, can kill creative innovation and positive progress.


  • Mike
    November 14, 2007

    I agree that “no idea is a bad idea.” And I like to take it one step further…during the brainstorming session, “no idea is a good idea” either. Keeping it neutral gives each person and each idea the chance to be seen and thought through without group bias.


  • Lex
    November 14, 2007

    This is perfect. I have one of these meetings scheduled in four days for our team of Youth Ministry leaders, and this will help.


  • Kevin
    November 14, 2007

    Once again, great stuff Brad. Another killer of great ideas is time. Your brainstorming should happen early enough in the process that your great ideas have time to take shape. Nothing kills me more than a great idea that doesn’t see the light of day because we didn’t start the creative process soon enough.


  • Camey
    November 14, 2007

    Good stuff. If you start with the solution, then, what’s the point of having a team? And the concept was created visually, at least to me. Thanks!


  • Michael Buckingham
    November 14, 2007

    Brad, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…glad to have you writing. Great stuff!
    Funny, I just posted about this today after an all day meeting with one of the churches I work with. I hate the drive, but I love getting together with people who are like minded and yet with different creative spins…I love to create with good teams like that.


  • Gene Mason
    November 15, 2007

    Great point on not starting with the solution. Can’t count how many meetings I’ve been a part of where leaders will come to the table with “the plan in hand”. Kinda defeats the purpose of discussing the problem and nearly always stifles some great ideas that may be an even better solution than the one presented. Excellent advice.



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