Brainstorming: In Defense of Broad Participation

For almost 3 years now, I’ve been developing and facilitating brainstorming sessions for public sector clients to understand data-related problems. In that time, I’ve never seen a person who shouldn’t have been in the room or didn’t have something to contribute, but I’ve always had someone say “We should ask {insert team} about that” or “I wish {insert colleague name} was here.” Their absence is a hole and waiting for their response introduces a delay in getting the process started.

The natural instinct to limit participation just to those they see as most essential to the task is perfectly understandable. Who wants to foist more work on the already over-tasked? But when it comes to understanding a problem, particularly one that’s vexed an organization, broad participation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. If there was sufficient expertise among the team to fully understand and overcome the challenge, they wouldn’t be asking me or someone like me to step into the room. And no challenge is the result of decisions made by a single person or team. It was created through the collective decision of many people over a period of time that could easily extend beyond the experience of any one person in the room and require more expertise than any one person can accumulate.

And too often, it is the non-technical person who provides the key insight that escapes the technically-minded. Often, experience and training become a hinderance to seeing the simple solution or the alternative perspective.

So the next time you’re tempted to cut a name from the list or constrain the scope for a kickoff meeting, step back and reconsider. That may be the person who makes the effort a success. It may be their insight that suddenly opens up an opportunity to do something different and ultimately realize a better solution.

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