Skip to navigationSkip to content
NO DRAMA

The “negative brainstorm” will help your team react productively to change

REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A high-value employee recognizes their role is not to critique solutions to a perceived problem, but to use their expertise to implement decisions by mitigating risks and overcoming obstacles.
  • Cy Wakeman
By Cy Wakeman

Founder and CEO, Reality-Based Leadership

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Most employees aren’t decision-makers. And yet, when learning of a company decision, typical reactions include phrases such as:

“Nobody consulted me.”

“That’s not the way I would have done it.”

“Who thought of this?”

“If it were me, here’s what I would have done.”

In the employee’s mind, they may believe they are wisely heeding the advice, “Don’t bring me a problem unless you also bring a solution.” But this well-meaning advice can be expensive. The organizational decision has already been made, and in a typical organization, very few people have the authority to change it.

A high-value employee recognizes their role is not to critique solutions to a perceived problem, but to use their expertise to implement decisions by mitigating risks and overcoming obstacles. A reality-based leader is clear that the highest value that people can offer is to use their skills, talents, and expertise to implement and add value to imperfect decisions that are part of daily reality.

A practical tool to redirect your team’s energy away from resistance and into value-creating solutions, even in challenging circumstances, is called “negative brainstorming.” It can be done in a team meeting after sharing news that a decision has been made, or when it’s tempting to critique a decision.

You’ll need a whiteboard or a big flip chart to get started. Here’s how it works:

  1. Each individual can introduce his or her concerns, one at a time, while you write them down. The other members of the group must refrain from discussion, critique, or disagreement and wait their turns. Continue until the group has exhausted its concerns and all concerns have been documented.
  2. Title the list of concerns “risks.” Point out that all concerns are simply risks, and that the true power of the team lies in its ability to mitigate risks. This idea is at the heart of the exercise, and it’s the reason it works.
  3. Taking it risk by risk, ask the team to honestly evaluate the probability of each risk manifesting itself. Assign each a probability of “high,” “medium,” or “low.” Next, evaluate the potential impact of each risk and again label it “high,” “medium,” or “low.”
  4. Take all the energy that the team was putting into their concerns and resistance of the decision and use it to instead source strategies for mitigating the risks identified as medium- or high-probability or medium- or high-impact.

Negative brainstorming is a simple tool for leading constructively even when your company has done something you, the leader, would not have anticipated. Keep your team ready for what’s next by building their confidence in their amazing talent to mitigate risk and deliver great solutions, even when dealt with less than perfect decisions.

Cy Wakeman is a Drama Researcher and the author of No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Deliver Big Results.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.