Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Facilitating a "Blue Sky" Breakout Session

In April I will attend an international nonprofit conference where one meeting breakout is entitled “Blue Sky Thinking.”  I am facilitating this breakout and decided to make myself a Blue Sky Thinking Facilitation Expert in short order. The definition of blue sky thinking is ‘creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs’. That’s the easy part – now to understand how to facilitate this meeting. 
Brainstorming is the number one idea generation strategy used in organizations.  Blue Sky Thinking is a particular style of brainstorming that unleashes creativity and exploration.  My challenge is to turn Blue Sky Thinking into a realistic process with unique and transformational outcomes.
Guidelines for Facilitating 'Blue Sky' Breakout Session 
1.  Ask participants:  “What are the most compelling and visionary outcomes we can deliver in the amount of time that is available?”  Start with the end in mind.
2.  Determine how to quickly develop trust and mutual respect with the team.  It is easy to talk about opinions, facts, and data.  What does the team have in common, what is the one thread that unites team members?
3.  Create ways to move participants out of their comfort zone.  Get everyone talking in the first five minutes – engagement leads to excitement and exploration.
4,  Do not assume – nothing is impossible.  Focus participants towards what is possible – not what will not work because of funding, people, resources…you know the idea crushers that usually comes up.
5.  Let participants know that what they say, do and think can make a significant difference in meeting objectives.
6.  As facilitator, you ask the questions that others in the meeting are afraid to ask.  Push through boundaries and go into discussions that your group never seems to get to.
7.  Don’t sell your team short. You are much stronger united than alone.  Work together – leave your egos at the door.
8.  As the facilitator, do not be concerned about challenging an idea.  The goal is not to be liked – but to create real change.
9.  Encourage people to think in terms of the individual – not the organization.  When it gets personal, people get passionate.
10. Look for those new to the group who has new ideas to share as well as those with the greatest expertise in the room.  Encourage both of these points of view.
The reality is that the sky is probably far from blue in the particular session you are leading as a facilitator.  State the problem up front – instinctively we are better problem solvers that we are collaborators. 
Blue Sky Thinking escalates when members are passionate about the topic.  If group members are not passionate about the topic, find other members, or a different topic.  Engagement, excitement, and exploration are needed to create innovative Blue Sky Thinking.