Brainstorming Techniques: How to get the WHOLE team participating

>>>Brainstorming Techniques: How to get the WHOLE team participating

This post is the second in a series collectively entitled “Brainstorming Techniques”.  To read the first post, please click here.

Attempting to make a group decision can become stressful.  I’m sure that you’ve been witness to group meetings where the tone starts ominously and continues to go straight downhill.  There are many reasons why these meetings take on a life of their own- a disruptive member, an aggressive member with their own agenda, someone using the meeting as a stage for recognition, etc.  It is hard to imagine anything of value being accomplished during such a meeting.

There is a very valuable brainstorming technique that has been referred to as “The Stepladder Technique”.  This method easily permits, and actually encourages, participation by each and every individual within the group.  Using the Stepladder Technique, you actually manage how group members are added to the group, step-by-step.  This prevents attendees from hiding or being influenced by other members’ suggestions.

Here is how the technique has been designed to work.  Every member of the group is contacted well before the scheduled meeting.  The problem, issue, or task to be discussed or solved is presented to each member.  After a sufficient period of time has elapsed for the members to ponder the issue, an initial group of two members is used to establish a core group.  These two members are the initial “group” who will discuss the issue and brainstorm possible solutions.  Afterwards, a third member is added to the core group. The new member now has the opportunity to present his/her thoughts to the others without any knowledge of what had been previously discussed.  The ideas of the newly added member are recorded and then the group enters another discussion period.

This “discussion, add and listen to a new member, discussion” cycle continues until all members of the group have been added and a final group discussion has been completed.  The group only renders their final decision or solution after all members have had the opportunity to present their ideas without prior group influences.

You might have heard of another similar brainstorming technique named the Delphi Technique.  The Delphi Technique has many similarities to the Stepladder Technique in that it can be used to prevent what is commonly known as groupthink.  While you may consider them to be similar, there are a few differences to consider.  Using the Stepladder Technique, the process from initial discussion to final discussion is completed much more quickly than most Delphi Technique processes.  Also, all group members are equal and know each other in the Stepladder- there is no group leader which is required in the Delphi process.  The contributors in a Delphi method may remain anonymous.  I have found that the Delphi technique works best with a large number of group members, whereas the Stepladder technique is best when dealing with a smaller group of five to seven members.

Have you tried this technique? If so, do you have any tips to provide additional value?

In the next issue, we will explore another technique that can be used when a brainstorming session about a specific issue involves members who might all have separate issues to solve.

John Schaefer is a Senior Consultant at SDLC Partners, a leading provider of business and technology solutions. Please feel free to contact John at with any questions on this blog post.