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I don’t enjoy answering most ice breaker questions, thus I was asked to come up with ice breaker questions for a large dinner gathering. Two groups were meeting for the first time. While members inside each group knew each other well, there were only a couple of people that knew individuals from the other group.

Rather than use just one question that everyone answered and give the last person twenty minutes to plan an answer, I used a variety of questions. People pulled a single question out of an orange sparkly hat (naturally) and had a choice to either answer the question or pass it to someone else at the table. Before picking a question, they could also decide to answer the question of the person immediately before them if they liked it, already had an answer, and/or wanted to play it completely safe.

Since it’s a generally happy, upbeat, and introspective group, I went for questions that provided an opportunity to be positive and self-revealing without being embarrassing. And since you can NEVER have too many ice breaker questions, I’m sharing the list of them with you (and thanks to Amy Dixon for question 1 and Nancy Rosenow for question 9)!

16 Ice Breaker Questions to Stimulate Great Conversations

Ice-Breaker-Questions

  1. What work of art would you like to have come to life?
  2. If you could share one thing with your twenty-year old self, what would it be?
  3. What emotion has most characterized your life, and why?
  4. What is something people think they know about you but really don’t know?
  5. What is the best word of encouragement you ever received and who was it from?
  6. What is the one of the “big rocks” in your life that you cherish, protect, and prioritize?
  7. What is one (brief) story behind your success?
  8. Whose phone call do you drop everything to take?
  9. What has led you to be sitting at this table tonight?
  10. What would you like your last words to be?
  11. When did you realize in life that you would be doing what you’re doing right now?
  12. What has been the most joyous moment of your life?
  13. Where, when, or what are your most creative moments?
  14. What is your earliest memory in life?
  15. Who is the person you can dependably reach out to for a pick-me-up when you need it?
  16. What is the life lesson you’ve learned that you most frequently pass along to others?

All together, I think we used fourteen of the questions. I was last so I let a couple of people pick from among the last three questions to decide what I should answer.

If you want to use these, I’d suggest doing it with a group that’s in a mood to be introspective. Based on the reactions, I don’t think anyone had had enough liquor to readily tackle some of the questions. One example of that was the last words question. That elicited a lot of “ohhhhhhs.” Quite honestly, I included it as a goof, because my ideal last words will be, “I knew it would come to this!”

If you decide to try these ice breaker questions, let me know how they work! – Mike Brown

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Delivering a creative thinking workshop, I was eavesdropping on conversations at five tables full of attendees. I gave each table a specific focus for identifying new ideas. One group was starting to use one of our creative thinking exercises. As they began, one participant apologized for suggesting an idea that he introduced by saying, “This doesn’t fit the question, but here’s an idea.”

I was startled, but his statement is actually common.

Even though creative thinking exercises and strategy questions are intended to help people approach familiar situations in new ways, they can easily become new boundaries to constrain thinking. This happens when people become so focused on answering ONLY the targeted creative thinking question that they self-censor any ideas not directly addressing the question. When this takes happens, creative thinking exercises becomes just that many more boxes to shut down ideas that are off the beaten path.

Clemmie-Box

As I explained to the group (and will explain to future workshop groups), creative thinking questions and strategic thinking exercises are simply starting points to launch new ideas. They should inspire, not limit thinking. Someone in a creative thinking group should not have to justify a new idea that doesn’t answer a specific question. Likewise, another group member shouldn’t use a creative thinking question as a club to beat down a new idea because it appears off track relative to what a group is addressing that minute.

With all the roadblocks to new thinking that float around us all the time, the last thing that should ever happen is for a creative thinking question to be used as one more “NO” to new ideas.

Creative thinking questions should inspire great thinking, not conspire to box it in and limit it.

Make sure to use them for good, not evil! – Mike Brown

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I’ll be presenting a Brainzooming workshop on internal branding strategy at the Brand Strategy Conference in New York, April 6-8. The workshop, while drawing on material from my Fortune 500 work, springs from multiple conversations at the 2015 Brand Strategy Conference. The discussions focused on when employees should be brought into branding strategy decisions.

The executives asking about and offering opinions on the topic tended to believe it was okay to advise employees about branding strategy decisions immediately after introducing changes to customers.

I was horrified by this viewpoint coming from senior executives because it is so strategically misguided.

3 Keys to Engaging Your Internal Brand Team

Internal-Brand-Strategy-eBo

One alternative to letting your employees know about a new direction in branding strategy after your customers is to view employees as an internal brand team. With that change in perspective, you introduce possibilities for engaging employee in shaping branding strategy. Even without revealing specifics to employees in advance, purposefully involving them in developing branding ideas opens up opportunities to familiarize employees with the direction and insights leading to a new branding strategy.

To complement the in-person workshop content, The Brainzooming Group collaborated with Breanna Jacobs at GSMI, the Brand Strategy Conference producer, to publish a new free branding strategy eBook called, “Engaging Employees as an Internal Brand Team: 3 Actionable Strategies.”

The eBook includes three strategic thinking exercises you can use with your internal brand team to invite collaboration, solicit input, and create early learning opportunities.

Download Your Free Internal Branding Strategy eBook!

If you can make it to the Brand Strategy Conference, I’d love to meet you and have you attend the workshop. If you can’t attend, get your free copy of the new branding eBook exclusively from GSMI and start collaborating more effectively with your employees to strengthen your brand and its experience for customers.  – Mike Brown

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We put this infographic together for a client today to distill The Brainzooming Group approach into a few images depicting what we do to pave the way for a great strategic thinking workshop.

6 Guidelines for a Great Strategic Thinking Workshop

Strategic-Thinking-Workshop

If you would like to go deeper on any of these topics, here are links to articles for each of the six areas:

Here’s to a productive and great strategic thinking workshop – not only today, but every time you bring a smart group of people together! – Mike Brown

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Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Whenever possible, we try to help clients select a mix of people to participate in group strategy exercises. We review the importance of including front-line decision makers, functional experts, and individuals with creative perspectives. We are also proponents for reaching beyond familiar people that are always involved strategic planning meetings and drive the outcomes of group strategy exercises. We recommend involving emerging leaders and individuals that will actively challenge a group in a constructive way on its recommended direction.

When you push for that varied of a group, what do you do with the team members so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the group’s work?

9 Ideas on How to Involve a Team in Group Strategy Exercises

Group-Strategy-Exercises

You can try these nine ideas for how to involve team in group strategy exercises:

  1. Place people in roles that accentuate their strengths and best characteristics.
  2. Assign others to roles that stretch their strengths in new ways.
  3. Spread people throughout the group via roles that capitalize on their strengths but are unfamiliar to them.
  4. Turn strategy into a game and let the team assign roles to specific team members.
  5. Create teaching opportunities for more expert participants so they can help others grow and develop in new ways through strategy planning.
  6. Break up the big answers the group is trying to develop into simple, targeted questions so team members can share their perspectives in group strategy exercises.
  7. Invite participants that want to help assemble the targeted answers from number 6 into the big answers to take on that challenge.
  8. Have habitual naysayers play the challenger role to test how strong the ideas really are before the group decides to act on them.
  9. Select naturally positive participants to work on a contingency plan if the strategy ends up being too successful.

Not all of those will work in every situation, obviously, but this is a checklist we’d use to actively and successfully involve a team in group strategy exercises. In the right roles, we’ll get more done faster, with strong input from the widest group of participants.  Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Improve Strategic Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategic planning and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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I’ve mentioned my surprise upon realizing strategic planning techniques The Brainzooming Group uses seem to have emerged from Bible passages. Granted, I’ve been to many masses during the last seventeen years. It always startles me, however, when a new example appears.

This happened yesterday at mass with a Bible reading I suspect isn’t all that familiar.

On the 5th Monday of the Lenten season every year, the first Bible reading at mass is from the book of the prophet Daniel. The reading is the story of Susanna, falsely accused of adultery by two elders, and sentenced to death. Daniel, however, sees that an injustice is about to occur and intervenes on Susanna’s behalf to save her.

Susanna and the Elders

You’re probably asking how this story has anything to do with Brainzooming strategic planning techniques?

For whatever reason, I’ve found myself explaining several times in the last few days how we use a wide variety of strategic planning techniques to gather participant input into strategies.

Sometimes the best strategic thinking approach involves a large, in-person group. Often, smaller groups are better because more people will be actively generating ideas. In other cases, it’s vital to ask questions one-on-one, whether via a personal interview or a survey. We go the one-on-one route for various reasons. These include situations where we’re seeking factual information or the answer may vary based on who is in the room.

Lo and behold, the Susanna and the elders account from Daniel (Chapter 13) directly relates to one of our strategic planning techniques for when to ask questions one-on-one.

Daniel suspected the two elders were lying about seeing Susanna commit adultery. He asked that they be separated and each questioned on the same point of factual information: Under what type of tree did you see Susanna commit the act of adultery you allege?

Sure enough, when the two elders were together, their stories matched. When they were separated and asked about this point of information, they each blurted out a different type of tree. This discrepancy freed Susanna and the elders incurred the punishment (i.e., death) they tried to press upon Susanna.

While our experiences with The Brainzooming Group prove out why it makes sense to ask questions of individuals in these two situations (when facts are involved and when the answer may change in a group setting), it’s always reassuring when the Bible reconfirms our strategic thinking techniques! – Mike Brown

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Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

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How about a video blog for a change?

We’ve toyed with featuring more video blogs and finally decided to pursue the idea. While this format (an informal video while driving) may not be the one we continue using, it made sense for this video on strategic relationships and taking your hands off the wheel.

The topic of taking your hands off the wheel when working in strategic relationships with smart outside service providers has been kicking around for some time. The delay in publishing anything on it has been my reluctance to use a NSFW phrase that perfectly describes the predicament of a client not giving a professional services provider the latitude to bring their knowledge and skill to bear to benefit the client. While everyone I’ve shared the NSFW story with completely understands the message, it has never been an angle I wanted to use here.

Strategic Relationships – Take Your Hands Off the Wheel

The other day, however, the idea of client being willing to let a professional services provider “drive the car” after they’ve been hired suddenly clicked.


Enjoy the video and stay tuned for more future Brainzooming videos!  – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Looking for Ways to Develop a Successful
Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





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