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Die erfolgreiche Denkrunde

Schlagwörter: English Trainer, Businessenglish, Meeting auf Englisch, Korrespondenz, OWAD

Brainstorming sessions with more than 2–3 people can be very useful, but when many people sit for hours together, the cost to the company can be high. To ensure the company gets the most out of this investment, such brainstorming sessions are better run like formal meetings. This way, the team can benefit from efficient creative thinking and at the same time ensure no valuable thread is forgotten.

The agenda

The agenda is a key tool to ensure the success of any meeting. It is especially important when participants will be brainstorming because it ensures everyone stays on the same page with the same brainstorming goal. This helps eliminate time wasted by pursuing irrelevant lines of thinking.

A good agenda sent out before the meeting also helps participants prepare themselves and their ideas properly. During the meeting, it is the main tool to help the facilitator keep control of the brainstorming process.

Here are five tips on what to think about when preparing the agenda for your next brainstorming meeting.

1. List the names of those expected to attend. Include apologies for absences that are already known. It is important for everyone to know who will be there. People can then contact each other about key issues and ideas before the meeting, and they can prepare their arguments and proposals based on the background and experience of the other participants.

2. Have a heading ‘Action points’ to follow up decisions made in any previous meeting ( in more formal meetings this might be called ‘Matters Arising’ ). This is important to make sure that all agreed actions are carried out. This puts some pressure on participants to actually do what they said they would do.

3. Make it crystal clear what each heading on the agenda means. Sometimes we assume participants know the background to everything. So when you write New ways to reduce customer support costs it is clear that you want to brainstorm ways to reduce costs during phone calls rather than support costs in other areas. Maybe the heading should read: Ways to reduce support costs during support call handling. It’s longer — but now the participants know what to prepare. After the heading, it’s good practice to identify the type of item it is ( ‘information’, ‘decision’, ‘brainstorming’, ‘report’ etc. ) and who is responsible for introducing it. For example: Ways to re duce support costs during support call handling — Responsible : Klaus Jensen ( Brainstorming )

4. Set a time limit for the discussion to help focus people’s minds: Ways to re duce support costs during support call handling — Responsible: Klaus Jensen ( Brainstorming / 30 minutes )

5. Think carefully about the order of items on the agenda. Often you will need to come to a conclusion or find a direction on one item before you can discuss another. In this case it would be ridiculous to put them in the wrong order — like building a house before the foundation.

There are other considerations in addition to these practical, logical ones. You could think about sequencing the items like this:

• Let people warm up their language in brainstorming meetings by starting with easy items that bring quick results and consensus. This establishes an atmosphere of creativity and success.
• Then go on to more difficult items.
• Now have a couple of easy items again to re-establish the atmosphere of progress and success.
• Next, deal with the really difficult or controversial items.
• End with one or two easy items where you know results can be found easily — this allows the team to end on a positive note.

The agenda is not simply a list of items to be discussed at the meeting. It is a cross-cultural tool to make sure your brainstorming meetings work effectively.

Introducing an item on the agenda
‘Let’s now move on to item number three: Ways to reduce support costs during support call handling. As you know, our present approach forces us to maintain a large call centre staff to service relatively few customers. We’d like to brainstorm ways to make this more efficient. Klaus has already developed a few ideas on this point and he will give us a ten minute overview of the possible solutions. We can use these as a foundation for our discussion. We’ll then have twenty minutes to explore and approve these approaches or identify additional ideas. OK?’

Creating an interactive atmosphere
It’s usually up to the person running the meeting — the chair — to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and able to contribute. But as a participant, you are also responsible for this. If you think a particular meeting is not involving people in the right way, then suggest what can be done about it.

In brainstorming sessions, it is easy for people who may have valuable input to be forgotten or stay silent while more aggressive participants pursue their ideas openly.

Here are three simple techniques you can use to involve everyone:

1. Use the ‘we’ approach
If we want to involve others, our language needs to reflect a cooperative and empathetic attitude.

The words ‘I’ and ‘me’ are distancing words that separate us from the very people with whom we want to connect. We usually do it accidentally: we use phrases such as ‘I think’, ‘I hope’, ‘I want to’, and ‘I would like to’ without thinking.

Instead, use the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ to include everyone in the group. For example:

‘It’s important for us all to understand what’s happening so we can support each other in the best way. Firstly, let us look at the minute-by-minute evolution of a few typical support calls. Then we should discuss how we may be able to modify these to get a better result. Feel free to present any idea — even seemingly silly ideas can lead to positive results.’

2. Short evaluations
Some people talk too much. Some people never talk at all. When there is a large group, the discussions can go on forever. If this is happening, suggest that you go around the group and that everyone says a few words to sum up what they think about the idea being discussed. It’s important that these evaluations are not judgemental or dismissive, but rather constructive.

Chair: ’Let’s see where we are now in this discussion. We’ll go around the group and ask everyone to say a few words to show what they think. OK? Ready? Let’s start with Madeleine. Where do you think the current idea has value, and where is it weak?’

Madeleine: The concept is interesting and we should continue pursuing it, but in its current form I believe it will be expensive and lead to unreliable levels of customer satisfaction. I think we should focus on ways to correct this.’

Chair: ‘Thanks. Lee?’

Lee: ‘The current suggestion may be easier for our support centre staff, but I fear the amount of training would be too high. We should find ways around this.’

Chair: ‘OK. Vassily?’

3. Pair work breakout sessions
Pair up participants. During the meeting, give each pair a task. The pairs meet separately to brainstorm for ten minutes. Then they come back in and report on their discussions. This allows the meeting to concentrate on the main questions and at the same time gives participants the flexibility to take up side issues. It also helps you get through the agenda quicker.

‘OK. Madeleine and Lee. Could you two break out for ten minutes and come up with some suggestions for dealing with the training costs brought up by Lee? Come back in at a quarter past to report.’

The basic aim of brainstorming is to generate creative ideas. This means the group produces as many ideas as possible without assessing their practical use until afterwards.

Appoint note-takers to keep a record of all the ideas. It’s easier to get ideas flowing if people are asked specific questions such as:

‘How can we increase sales by 10% in the next six months?’

During the idea-generation phase there should be no discussion: only gathering ideas — however crazy they may be. It also helps stimulate people if there is a clear, short time limit.

Afterwards, the note-takers can break out for ten minutes to categorize the ideas so that they can be presented to the whole meeting in an organized way.

‘Right. Let’s take ten minutes to brain storm this. Could Vassily and Chris be the note-takers please? The question is this: What can we do to attract young, well-qualified technical staff to our company without having to pay above-market salaries? Ready? Ten minutes for us to brainstorm from now!’

These approaches are some of the ways a brainstorming meeting can be made more interactive. When you have mixed language abilities in the group, it really is necessary to build in this type of activity and approach. This makes sure that everyone feels they have had the possibility to contribute to success.

Why should the chair of a brainstorming meeting make regular summaries of what has been said? Because misunderstandings happen easily when you are speaking in a second language.

Of course, summaries do not always have to be made by the chair. Meeting participants can try to summarize themselves whenever they want to check their understanding of what is being discussed.

There are four main reasons we summarize:

1. We summarize to check understanding:
Let me just check that I’ve understood this idea correctly.
If I’ve understood you correctly, what you are saying is... Is that right?

2. We can summarize to judge the degree of agreement in the meeting:
Shall we go over what we’ve agreed so far?
Can I sum up what has been said up to now?

3. We summarize to clarify progress with developing ideas:
So, let’s summarize the ideas we’ve had that seem to show the most promise.
To sum up, we have agreed on the following points...

4. We summarize to confirm what actions need to be taken:
Now let’s go through who should do what by when.
Let’s list the action points we’ve agreed on.

If you feel you have not completely understood what has been discussed, ask the chair to summarize for you:

Martin, I’m not sure I’ve fully understood what’s been said. Could you summarize where we have got to please?

Good summaries also help the meeting secretary write accurate minutes. If you have to act as the secretary in a meeting, ask the chair to summarize at the end of each item. This summary should be the basis for your written minutes.

Making good, clear summaries is not easy in our first language. It is a demanding skill in a second language.

So when you need to summarize a discussion:

Make good notes
Good notes really help. If you can, make the notes in English. Then you won’t have to translate as you summarize. Listen for words or phrases that are given emphasis by the speaker. These are usually the key messages. These are the points you need to write in your notes.

Keep summaries short and simple
Long summaries confuse others and put a strain on your own English. If you leave something out, the others can easily add it to your short summary. Even if it feels as if summarizing is adding unnecessary formality to an otherwise free-form discussion, just do it!

Schlagwörter: English Trainer, Businessenglish, Meeting auf Englisch, Korrespondenz, OWAD

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