To optimize brainstorming sessions, go after the right people for the task.
Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer, co-authors of SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas, identify three personality types that can undermine ideation processes.
Attention vampires and dictators. These people dominate the conversation, bullying others' ideas out of the spotlight. Attention vampires love to hear themselves talk, while dictators have to make their mark on every idea that will be acted upon, for better or worse.
Wet blankets, idea assassins, and obstructionists. These individuals refuse to see anything but risks. They shoot down ideas as soon as they are uttered, but much of their criticism doesn't hold water.
Obstructionists often overcomplicate matters, picking apart ideas until there are no action items left, or bringing up extraneous details that interrupt the flow of ideas.
Social loafers. These people show up to the brainstorming sessions, but don't contribute anything. Not to be confused with introverts, who typically appear self-conscious or circumspect, social loafers are simply unwilling to make the effort to participate.
There are several planning techniques you can use to neutralize the damaging effects of these personality types. If the brainstorming session began spontaneously, Rigie and Harmeyer advise us to "simply be aware of the personal dynamics, and at the first sign of dominance, judgment, or criticism, proactively divert the conversation to a more productive path."
The authors also recommend inviting your "dream team" to the brainstorming session, as opposed to the "usual suspects." A dream team consists of knowledgeable individuals who possess a collaborative, can-do attitude, regardless of their roles or titles.
"Invite the right people to the session and manage—or better still, politely forget—the idea killers. The solutions that emerge will astonish you," says Rigie.