Don't skip the brainstorm or your team will hate you

I’ve worked with some great product teams and leaders over the years, yet I’ve witnessed a sobering number of them undervalue brainstorming and instead try to jump straight from a single problem to a single solution.

A resilient team can take in stride occasionally skipping the brainstorm. But, leaders, rest assured your team will begin to resent or go passive on you over time if you routinely deny them early influence in the creative process.

Source: PrismStudios.io

Source: PrismStudios.io

I know it’s tempting for us product managers––with our ostensibly Solomonic product wisdom––to go alone into a room with a whiteboard and chisel out a product spec by ourselves, emerging with glowing face like Moses with tablets of stone.

It feels so linear, direct, efficient––after all, we saved all that time we might have wasted, errr, listening to our teams.

Death by convergence

But that linear thinking is public enemy numero uno when it comes to innovation. It’s like jaywalking across a highway with a bag over your head because you want to avoid distraction. (Actually, more of the right distraction might be required to keep you from becoming roadkill!)

Your first idea is rarely your best idea, no matter how brilliant you are. And your sole interpretation of a problem or opportunity is rarely complete. What every team needs––especially in crisis––isn’t just one great idea, it’s to rapidly explore more ideas of any quality so they can intermingle and start evolving before you ever build a thing. Rushing to convergence can kill your best chance for a breakthrough.

What it says to your team

Even so, just set aside whether or not your personal, private little brainwave will “work” or not and just reflect for a hot second on the managerial maelstrom you could be creating every time you skip the brainstorm.

I would argue that when team leaders skip divergent thinking, they’re sending multiple toxic messages to their teams:

Toxic message #1: “I don’t need your creative ideas or initiative…”

“…you’re just here to implement whatever my brilliant mind churns out.” Imagine how you’d feel as a member of that team. It’s crushingly demotivating, isn’t it?

Toxic Message #2: “Our team is in continual CRISIS!!!

If your team feels like it’s living under martial law all the time, how will that affect their morale and productivity? Maybe you do feel like it’s a crisis. Maybe even occasionally it is. But even so, wouldn’t you benefit from a little divergent thinking for how to get out of crisis mode?

Toxic Message #3: “You can’t influence our outcomes.”

If you don’t encourage your team to influence product decisions, it won’t matter how often you review OKRs and urge progress toward goals. How can they exercise responsibility for big outcomes when they are given such measly influence?

Ways you can learn to stop worrying and love the brainstorm

Even if you’ve had poor experiences with brainstorming, I would encourage you to get back on the horse and try again. Here are a few quick ideas.