The Disruptors: Five Personalities that Can Ruin a Brainstorming Session (and what to do about it)

The Disruptors. Whether you are running a brainstorming session or an important meeting, there can be people who disrupt the flow of the session and potentially the outcome. For many disruptors, their behaviors are not intentional, rather it is just a part of their personality. A crucial step in setting up a session (or a meeting) is understanding participant personalities and choreographing the session to ensure success. In other words, you need to mitigate the disruptor.

Below are five common disruptive personalities. For each, I provide a Da Vinci method to redirect the disruptive behavior and keep the session on track. I also provide a link to method chapter in Brainstorming with Da Vinci.

The Suck Up

This person thrives on the spotlight and wants to take every opportunity to impress their superiors. Their behavior will wear on the team and potentially create a negative dynamic within the session.
The simplest way to mitigate this personality is to create multiple sessions based on seniority levels. Not only will you mitigate the grandstanding, but people will feel more likely to share since some people will be intimidated by an executive on their team.

If you run multiple teams, you can brainstorm for an hour and then share our their best three to five ideas. With multiple teams, you can use the Flip the Idea method. For Flip the Idea, at the beginning of the session, both teams independently generate ideas. After an agreed upon time (usually one or two hours), the teams select their favorite idea and swap ideas with the other team. Then the brainstorming continues as the teams work on each other’s ideas.

This method is simple to execute and can have a major impact. When using this approach, I continually find teams are surprised on where the other team took their ideas.

My Idea Fanatic

This disruptor loves their idea and fixates on their idea. They will constantly redirect the conversation to their idea instead of brainstorming on other members ideas. If left unchecked this disruptor will take everyone down a rabbit hole making the session unproductive.

The best way to mitigate this disruptor is to set expectations for the session. Usually, I begin the session using the Idea Waterfall method. The goal of the Idea Waterfall is to generate as many ideas as possible based on your session North Star or objective. At the end of the Idea Waterfall session, the team picks the best ideas to build out in the next session.

So, back to the My Idea Fanatic disruptor. I can guarantee you, the first idea you will get is their idea. Once you have captured their idea, you move on. If the disruptor brings up their idea again, you simply redirect them stating we are generating as many ideas as possible. We will build ideas out that the team chooses in the next session.

The Planning Obsessed

This disruptor focuses on the “how.” They are skeptical of many ideas and want to triage the idea to death. Obviously, when you are trying to generate many ideas, someone critiquing every idea creates a negative group dynamic. Worse, ideas may be killed prematurely.

It is important in brainstorming to approach every idea positively. You should be using “And” as opposed to “But.” Which gets me to the Improv method. This method is based on the improv “Yes, and” exercise—involving building a story positively from person to person. In this method, the first person would begin the story with a fun or provocative sentence, and the next person would continue the story by starting with “yes, and.” This story would positively build while from one person to the next. In a brainstorming session, this method is applied by only using “and” and avoiding the word “but.”

By avoiding “but” you will keep the session positive and mitigate this disruptor. Worth noting is that in the idea build out session, the team will focus on idea logistics to determine viability, benefits, and challenges.

The Introvert

Okay, introverts are hardly a disruptor. You could classify introverts as anti-disruptors. The reason I am including them is that it is important to get everyone in the session engaged – sharing their ideas and collaborating on other participants’ ideas. Given this, you cannot afford a “dead chair” or a person who is not actively involved.

I like to use the Power Pause method in most sessions, and it works very well to engage introverts early in the session. The goal of the method is to create a momentary silence for everyone to write down an idea they can share with the team. The method is simple. Each participant is given an index card at the beginning of the session. At a point early in the brainstorming, you would call for a power pause.

By using Power Pause, introverts will gain confidence in sharing their ideas early in the session. After all, brainstorming can be very intimidating for many people, even more so for introverts.

The Mic Hog

Okay, I saved one of the toughest disruptors for last: The Mic Hog. This disruptor loves to hear their own voice. They feel compelled to comment on everyone’s input. As a facilitator, you need to engage everyone, and this personality can be very frustrating for other participants. If the Mic Hog continues to dominate the conversation, other participants may shut down and become disinterested.

To mitigate the Mic Hog, the Power Pause method I covered earlier can work to engage all participants. Another method is the Collaborative Relay method. The Collaborative Relay is a way to generate many ideas quickly. The method is a form of the creative strategy called brainwriting. This method engages each team member to write down their initial ideas in a document; then the document is passed sequentially to each team member, and they add tactics to the idea. If you have a team of seven brainstormers, you could generate up to twenty-one ideas with this method.

Both methods offer a way to engage the team and bypass the Mic Hog’s input.

The Da Vinci Masterclass

This is just one topic I cover in the Da Vinci Masterclass. If you are interested in the class, please reach out for details.