Great sport teams practice. Great symphony orchestras practice. Fire departments practice. They practice so that when they must perform at peak effectiveness under extremely stressful conditions, they can execute extremely well.
Question: When do we practice team problem solving?
Answer: Usually, we don’t.
Too often we wait for a problem to hit and only then do we try to solve it—at the same time trying to work out the process for doing so. As you have probably experienced, this approach is extremely ineffective, time consuming, and usually results in half-baked, poor solutions.
What would happen if the fire department that arrived to save your house when it was on fire had to figure out who was going to do what and how they were going to do it? Would you like to be their test case? Neither would I.
Now, just imagine what would happen if the next time a problem confronted your business, you knew exactly HOW to go about solving that problem. And further imagine that you trusted the process because you had practiced it and used it successfully.
That’s just a couple of reasons to do a warm-up activity before you begin an idea generating session. Just as athletes need to stretch before a physical workout, participants need to stretch their idea-generating muscles before getting to work on the main issue.
Here is how to do a warm-up. First go over the ground rules for generating ideas: (1) Defer Judgment; (2) Strive for quantity; (3) Seek wild and unusual ideas and (4) Build on other ideas. Give the group a time limit and then set a quota for the number of ideas generated. I like to use a quota of 25 ideas and a time limit of 5 minutes. Then introduce the warm-up challenge.
In our book, Facilitation: A guide to creative leadership, we explain that most warm-up exercises are admittedly silly. They are designed that way on purpose. The subjects are common and non-threatening. Many of the ideas suggested will be absurd or impractical. That’s exactly the imaginative mindset the group needs whey they eventually approach the “serious” problem. So, don’t let the “silly” factor deter you.
Why do a warm-up? Three reasons.
First, to briefly train the group in the method they will be using to generate ideas when they work on the “serious” challenge.
Second, to “sanction” the time for speculation. In other words, in this session we are going to think differently than how we have been thinking up to this time. This is the time to be speculative and to look for unusual ideas.
Finally, we do a warm-up exercise to create a judgment free zone. There’s no judging when you are warming up.
Now that you know why we do a warm-up exercise, here are some of my favorite warm-up topics. Pick a few and try them out.
- What might be all the ways to improve a bathtub?
- How to get a hippopotamus out of a bathtub?
- How to get a giraffe out of a refrigerator?
- How to get a bear out of my living room?
- How to get a raccoon out of a mini-van? (Actually, this really happened- Yuck!)
- What might you do with 10 tons of orange Jell-O?
- What might you do with 50,000 bowling balls that are flat on one side?
- What might be all the ways to get invited to the Loch Ness Monster’s birthday party?
Or… get creative and make up your own warm-ups!
Some of my best sources for warm-up topics are the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News. So, the next time you are in-line at the grocery check-out, pick up one of those tabloids and see if you can come up with your own ideas for warm-ups. Let me know your favorites.
The main thing to keep in mind when selecting a warm-up is to make it simple and make it fun.