Herding Cats

It isn’t always easy to keep a group of people focused and on-task. Even if they all want to do so, the very thing that makes it advantageous to use a group in the first place – their diversity of thought – also can make it difficult to focus that diversity into something useful. The more possibly combinations of creativity, the more possible distractions.

Time is usually more of a factor, too. Not only is it more difficult to stay focused, but you often have stronger time constraints than when working alone. So you have even less time to get to your end goal, but more potential pitfalls!

How to manage this – while still getting all the benefits that creative collaboration brings?

The Rules.

You can’t just get together and say “hey, let’s turn our creativity towards X.” You have to establish some rules of engagement up front, and get everyone bought in. The reason you need to do it up front is because a lot of these rules can seem downright mean if you enforce them by surprise, but they’re perfectly fine if you’ve created the framework for them in advance.

For instance, saying up front: “You’re all very smart people, so I know that if we just let this meeting run wild a lot of brilliant things will get said. But just because something is brilliant doesn’t mean it’s useful to our work. So I’ve got a special notebook here (or maybe a specific shared online file if this is a remote meeting) that I’m calling ‘Other Ideas.’ If you start to go down a tangent that is brilliant but not where we need to be, I’m going to sound the metaphorical buzzer and ask you to just stop that track and put the idea down into that notebook/doc (so we don’t lose it!) and then let someone else pick up the track of our main project. Everyone okay with that?”

You want to unleash creativity, but you don’t want to unleash chaos. So create some healthy outlets for those other ideas, but keep the minds steered towards where you want them.

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