Your brainstorming session has suddenly gone awry, flooding the participants with too many extraneous ideas and gumming up the works with too many not-so-hidden agendas.
What can a leader do to stoke the flame of creativity without getting burned in the process? How can you stay in control without being controlling?
Could you stir the creative pot with your fingers?
Could you develop a sign language of sorts with your team to keep their collective ideas bubbling up CREATIVELY instead of bubbling over CHAOTICALLY.
To stimulate your thinking on how developing your own sign language of sorts could enhance your future brainstorming sessions in particular and strategic decision making meetings in general, let’s take a peek into the classroom of an innovative middle school teacher.
She stirs the engaged learning process with her fingers in a thoughtfully-conceived, comprehensively embraced and fully shared system of hand signals designed to thwart interruptions and focus on the mission.
“Mid-sentence, she would point two fingers at her eyes, bat down an imaginary fly with two quick swipes , or with no explanation, briefly clasp her hands before her in prayer,” observed Elizabeth Green, author of Building a Better Teacher.
During a 5-minute vocabulary learning session (on the meaning of the word scarce), the teacher issued 15 of those specifically designed signals—one every 20 seconds. Green identified three distinct hands signals:
1. Two fingers to the eyes means track the speaker.
2. Fly-swat toward a student raising his or her hand means no questions right now.
3. Prayer sign reminds students to stay focused and attentive.
Each of the three signals is strategically significant in engaging participants in a collective and collaborative effort without out losing control of the ultimate purpose.
For example the first signal to track the speaker helps participants not only to stay focused but also to listen for understanding to their peers, spreading the learning horizontally with less dependence on the teacher (or leader in a team meeting).
The fly swat used to defer questions is an efficient method to reinforce the expected behavior to listen fully to the person who currently has the floor.
The fly swat also encourages students to pose their questions after they have evaluated what they just heard. Then when the teacher (leader) conducts a Q&A session or discussion the questions are more targeted and the learning more meaningful and the ensuing understanding more applicable.
And the prayer sign is a visual reminder that the students body language speaks long before their voices do. To listen, learn and think better students first have to sit up the way the teacher taught them on their first class.
Setting expectations and gaining agreement from day one is critical. That’s what this middle school teacher did. At the beginning of the school year Colleen Driggs taught the three hand signals “explicitly and for the first few week of the year every time she used one she would say its name too, “ Green noted.
“The practically invisible corrections explained her ‘magical’ command of the classroom. By nipping interruptions in the bud, she kept everyone in the room on task.”