Tips For Generating Ideas With Your Project Management Team

There are three periods during a project when you need to be able to rely on your team for great ideas: the beginning, the middle, and the end. When you toss ideas around during the planning phase, it’s a great time for innovation. When you brainstorm in the middle of a project, those discussions are generally focused on problem solving. As you’re winding things down, it’s all about exploring what worked vs. what didn’t and thinking up ways to use lessons learned to avoid pitfalls and promote success for upcoming projects. This process just doesn’t work if you try to go it alone. Project management requires creative input from your team.

The problem is that a lot of people aren’t that good at coming up with ideas on the spur of the moment. Let’s say you put a team member on the spot with a question like “You’ve been awfully quiet, Dave, do you have a suggestion you’d like to share?” Chances are good that Dave either wasn’t paying attention at all or simply wasn’t talking because he didn’t have anything relevant to add. How can you unleash the imaginative resources of your team and encourage them to share their ideas?

Seed the Discussion

Before you have a project management meeting to brainstorm, let everyone know several days in advance (if possible) what the topics will be. This could be a particular goal along with realistic parameters such as cost or schedule that will be used to determine which concepts are workable. Consider including a couple of your own ideas in this message as a starting place. It may spark inspiration in one of your team members.

When you provide this kind of advance notice of a brainstorming session, make it clear that team members will be expected to bring at least one proposal of their own to the meeting. If you have team members who tend to be shy, pair people up in a buddy system to generate an idea as partners. The more ideas you start the meeting with, the better. They don’t have to be brilliant or completely fleshed out. The important thing is to get the ball rolling so people will feel comfortable participating.

Create a Focused Environment

No one is at their creative best when they have a pile of work on their desk to worry about. If there’s no “slow day” during the typical workweek at your office, you may have the best results by scheduling a meeting to generate ideas before or after work – or on a weekend. Only use this tactic rarely and make sure to treat everyone to a good meal to keep their blood sugar stable and their mood lifted. Consider getting everyone out of the office and holding an informal meeting at a different location. A reserved dining room in a restaurant might work (some people tend to loosen up a little after a glass of wine).

Don’t Make Decisions Right Away

This may seem counterintuitive from a project management standpoint, but the purpose of a brainstorming session is not to come to a decision. The point is to come up with lots of possibilities. The decision can be made after you’ve had a chance to more fully investigate the pros and cons of a particular plan. Communicate from the outset that there’s not going to be a big “showdown” with one person’s proposal winning and everyone else losing during the meeting. That can help project management team members be more open with their ideas and less defensive if someone points out a fatal flaw in their suggested course of action.

The Apollo Syndrome and Project Management

As project manager you do your best to put together a team of highly qualified individuals. After all, in project management you want everything to run smoothly and efficiently, right? A discovery by Dr. Meredith Belbin called the Apollo Syndrome however proves that the project manager should think twice before loading a team with highly analytical minds.

In his studies Belbin found that having too many people with a high mental abilities was, in many instances, detrimental to the teamwork process. The people studied spent much of their time trying to persuade the team to adopt their own views as well as figuring out ways to point out weaknesses in the rest of the team’s ideas. They had difficulty reaching consensus in decisions and team members focused on their own work, paying little attention to what their fellow team members were doing. Occasionally the team would pick up on the fact they were having problems, but would then overcompensate to avoid confrontation. This led to even more problems in making sound decisions.

If, during project management, you see the Apollo Syndrome happening it should be addressed immediately. First of all, ask the group what they agree on. You may not get a concrete answer in which case you should be more assertive and get them to focus on areas of agreement. A helpful project management tool is a flip-chart which can be used to record the things everyone can agree upon. This exercise should help the team realize how unimportant their disagreements are and get them working toward common goals.