As a meeting facilitator, I often use a technique called Q-Storming to lead a discussion. This technique, from the Inquiry Institute is designed to get people to ask questions to solve a problem, rather than make statements. By asking questions, participants are able to open their thoughts wider and consider new ideas and angles. With traditional brainstorming, people make statements. Often, they are stuck inside of their own heads and have a pre-determined idea of how an issue should be dealt with. Q-Storming turns those definitive ideas into more creative solutions and makes people consider other factors.
Q-Storming can be used in a variety of situations. It can be used for a company to work through a strategic plan or home in on a specific corporate initiative. Associations might use it to work with committees to develop a new program or to get everyone on the same page. Internal teams can use it to see other people’s perspectives in a non-threatening way.
I’ve been using this technique for a few years and have developed my own take on it. In some cases, everyone in the group is given a pad of posts-it notes and writes down all of the questions that they have about a particular issue. Once they exhaust the questions from their mind, they group them on walls in the appropriate topic category. Depending on the complexity of the issue, there may or may not be a second round of questions. If there is only one round, the group or facilitator may choose to address the questions head on or look at the trends and talk to those. I generally make the decision on how to proceed based on a number of factors including time, desired outcome, organizational politics and complexity. In any case, it is important to know what type of result is needed before proceeding any type of brainstorming session.
Here are some observations that I have come across after using this technique for the last few years.
- Everyone has good ideas, they just express them differently.
- People can look at the exact same issue and see it so differently you wouldn’t recognize it as the same problem.
- A level-playing field motivates people to speak up. When the emphasis is off of the leader, people’s true opinions and ideas can be revealed.
- Asking questions can surprise people and help them uncover thoughts in themselves they never knew they had.
- Having a facilitator allows leaders to participate without overshadowing staff.
- It’s hard to say “no” when you are asking questions which leads to more “yeses”
- People enjoy a physical activity that involves movement. They get excited about the process which leads to creativity.
If you are looking for a new way to work through complex business issues, Q-storming is an approach you may want to consider.