Forget the Invitation—The simplest way to avoid problematic personalities in a session is not to invite them in the first place. If it’s the boss or a senior-ranking person, assure him or her that you will share any good ideas the group generates afterward. Or here’s a novel idea: You might simply tell the truth.
“Tell the boss that other session participants may be intimidated by her presence in the room,” suggests Rigie. “And since she certainly wants the ideation session to be as productive as possible, it may be best if she waits to join the group until the end, when ideas have been developed and selected.”
Establish “Rules of the Game”—Introducing a few rules at the start of a session can help eliminate, or at least significantly minimize, disruptive behavior problems.
“Some popular and effective brainstorming rules are ‘Suspend all judgment,’ ‘There’s no such thing as a bad idea,’ ‘Go for quantity, not quality,’ and ‘Embrace wild, audacious ideas,’” shares Harmeyer. “It is also important to reinforce the fact that brainstorming is a collaborative group effort; so the origin of any idea is irrelevant.”
Impose a Short Talking Moratorium—If a participant is dominating the session, being overly negative or judgmental, or being an attention hog, quickly shift gears and introduce a nonverbal brainstorming exercise. For example, ask everyone to silently write down five ideas and then read their favorite aloud.
Segregate Strong Personalities—A great tactic for managing strong personalities is to divide the group into smaller teams of three. Deliberately assign any disruptive personality types to the same team…and watch the sparks fly.
“Surprisingly, strong personalities often get along with one another in a productive way,” says Rigie. “Have these teams develop ideas, and then take turns sharing the best ideas with the whole room.”
Create a Self-Policing Group—Explain early in the session that if anyone exhibits any type of negative or judgmental behavior, he or she is to be bombarded mercilessly by the group with crumpled paper balls.
“Make a game out of it,” suggests Harmeyer. “Encourage everyone in the room to participate in order to create a self-policing environment. While it may seem silly, this technique is a playful, good-natured way to minimize transgressions and allow the group itself to enforce the ‘No Judgment’ rule.”
Engage in Silent Idea Voting—Evaluating and selecting ideas can become problematic when strongly opinionated individuals assert their preferences or biases. Instead of ideas being selected based on merit, the evaluation process can devolve into a Darwinian contest for favorites. Using a silent voting technique can help eliminate coercion and level the playing field for everyone to vote.