When you, an executive, decides to organise a brainstorm, it is often obvious that you facilitate those sessions yourself. Well: it is your question, you take the initiative and you often are the person who knows the most about the subject. On top of that, somebody has to make the decisions at the time and place being, and that is you. But even though the offer to facilitate yourself is most likely well meant, it is probably not the best choice.


Research proves that a session with a specialized facilitator generates better ideas. But why? And how does this work? Five reasons why you would better brainstorm with a facilitator.



1. The expert in supporting

It is not the facilitator who generates ideas during a brainstorm. It is his responsibility to ensure that the participants themselves – with their own expertise – come up with ideas. But that is less obvious then it might seem. 

With a trained and experienced facilitator, you bring in an expert. He has the correct, specific education that gives him a big backpack of insights and a well filled toolkit that he can use in a flexible way, depending on the question or unexpected turn.

Because every question, every problem is different and thus requires a specific approach. That is why it is impossible to just get a creative process from the shelf. A standard template for a brainstorm doesn’t exist. To have a focused approach and maximize your results, you have to build a customised process. A facilitator is a specialist in doing exactly that.

2. The seasoned expedition guide

Brainstorming, generating ideas, and surely facilitation is not a fulltime job for most people. You do it once in a while when it is needed. That is different for a professional. Facilitating creative processes is his daily bread. That experience ensures that he can respond quickly to the ever-changing creative process.

So to facilitate a creative process yourself is quite inefficient. Not only because you are not the specialist, but also because you are the specialist in the topic at hand. And when you facilitate, you cannot fully participate. Which can be even harmful for the result. It is simply one or the other: you either facilitate or you participate. Doing both is simply not possible.

So it is far more efficient to participate and leave the facilitation to the specialist. And admit, it is also more fun to be part of the idea generation.

"As a specialist in your own domain, it is a lot more efficient to think yourself  and to let a professional facilitate."

3. The Righteous Judge

During the creative process, the team regularly has to make some choices. And choosing is never easy, especially when the interests are different. When you facilitate yourself, you will never be able to take that hint of bias away, whatever techniques you might use. You can never be judge and jury at the same time. That is why it is much easier to find consensus when guided by an independent facilitator.

One of the crucial elements for a successful brainstorm is the establishment of a safe environment. In an unsafe environment, the participants will not take the necessary risks because they are scared to be held accountable.

That is why a strict set of rules and agreements is necessary to have a successful brainstorm. The most important one is to postpone (not refrain from) judgment. It is the facilitator that formulates these rules at the start of each session and safeguards them.

4. The captain that keeps his course

Before starting, the facilitator always has an extensive meeting with the client. During this intake, the purpose of the session is clearly defined: what is the exact question? How many ideas does he want? To which issues the ideas have to be an answer? How detailed do they have to be? This way he perfectly knows where to land at the end of the journey.

Using these goals, the facilitator designs a customised process that he conscientiously follows in practice. But the reality of a brainstorm is, like a turbulent sea for a captain, quite unpredictable. So he will have to monitor all the time: do we have sufficient ideas? Are they the right answer to the question? Are they sufficiently innovative? What about the group dynamics? Is no one having too big an influence? How can I ensure that everybody gets his or her say?....

If needed, he will adjust the process right away without losing sight of the goal.

"With the intake, the facilitator is able to design a custom process, which he puts in practice precisely."

5. The inspiring conductor

‘Out of the box’ ideas don’t just fall out of the sky because a manager tells you to be creative. You need more for that.

As facilitator, you have to create the right atmosphere, challenge and inspire the group, chase them, tickle and trigger them, and get them that far out of their corner  that they not even realise that they are miles out of their comfort zone. Because there, in that unfamiliar space, they will find those new associations and links that they have never discovered before. That is where disruptive ideas can be found.

Being a conductor of that group is a constant fight against this pure human urge for safety, peace and, above all, conformity. From where he stands, he will inspire the participants, orchestrate them so the dissonant group at first sight, will surpass itself and create a heavenly symphony together.

Pieter Daelman


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