When it comes to creativity, multiple minds are (often) better than one. It’s why companies and organizations of all types use group collaboration techniques like brainstorming to innovate ideas, kickstart problem-solving, and generate fresh perspectives.
People don’t like looking silly or feeling different. It’s why many aren’t always keen to share off-the-cuff ideas — especially in professional settings, where they might fear being criticized for thinking unconventionally.
Rolestorming is one way to stop your team from holding back in collaborative sessions. In this guide, we’ll break down how rolestorming works, some of its benefits, and how to get started.
What is rolestorming?
Rolestorming is a brainstorming method pioneered by author and consultant Rick Griggs. In rolestorming, members of a group roleplay as someone else during a brainstorming session.
The idea behind rolestorming is simple: To negate the natural inhibitions that hamper the flow of creative ideas in a typical brainstorm. Rolestorming asserts that assuming the identity of others can help teams move beyond the ‘obvious ideas’ and lead to more dynamic, out-of-the-box ideation.
For example: let’s say you’re Steve from marketing. But during a rolestorming session, you try on the persona of Steve Jobs.
Imitating the famous charisma and mindset of the visionary Apple founder is fun. (The black mock-turtleneck tee is optional.) But it might also help you freely discuss solutions that feel out of your wheelhouse, as Steve from marketing. In that sense, rolestorming can facilitate a conversation that diverges wildly from your typical marketing team syncs.
How does rolestorming fit into the brainstorming process?
Rolestorming can complement or take the place of a traditional brainstorm.
Where anxiety and familiarity can cause regular brainstorms to move in a predictable direction, rolestorming offers teams the chance to switch things up.
Teams can approach rolestorming in a few different ways. For example, they can choose to divide a typical brainstorm into two sections, with the latter half going toward the roleplaying part of a rolestorm. Teams might also elect to swap a regularly scheduled brainstorm for a rolestorming activity.
The point is to get creative and take advantage of the opportunity to approach familiar challenges through a new lens.
4 benefits of rolestorming for group collaboration
Rolestorming capitalizes on the downsides of traditional brainstorming to help teams share openly. Some of the benefits of the approach include:
Improved innovation: People working on a problem from the inside tend to suffer from familiar patterns of thinking. But what if you could see things through the eyes of a struggling client or a visionary consultant? Roleplaying as someone else expands the horizon of possible solutions, which can help teams innovate.
Boosted creativity: When teams default to the status quo, innovation tends to lag. But assuming someone else’s perspective helps teams and individuals embrace creative thinking without the fear of rejection. In that sense, rolestorming is a salve for anxious teams.
Effective team-building: Similar to traditional brainstorming, rolestorming is an opportunity to rally team members around a common goal. But one major benefit of rolestorming is its relative freshness compared to traditional brainstorms. As Griggs describes in his explainer video, many people have preconceptions of brainstorming based on prior experiences. Rolestorming poses a fresh opportunity to engage individuals from different parts of an organization.
Better collaboration: Rolestorming encourages productive team collaboration. But the roleplaying element of rolestorming is helpful for cutting through the traditional dynamics of team meetings. For example, rolestorming allows less vocal contributors to discussions to cut through the dynamics of individual personalities in your group, encouraging further collaboration.
Looking to try out rolestorming with your team? While approaches can vary based on your goals, here’s a basic outline to follow.
1. Use a framework
The first thing you’ll need to get started is a brainstorming technique to follow. Brainstorming techniques help set expectations and provide structure for the conversation.
Some examples of brainstorming techniques include:
Hybrid brainstorming encourages participants to think individually on their own time before the meeting begins. Then, teams sync up to vet top ideas and select the most important to work on together. Hybrid brainstorming is a great approach for distributed teams.
Mind map brainstorming
This technique helps teams easily conceptualize the numerous variables and tangents surrounding a central focus area or problem. To get started, simply select a central topic for the center of your map. Then, add secondary topics as branches jutting off from the central topic.
One of the main benefits of brain-netting? It’s perfect for remote teams and easily lends itself to asynchronous collaboration.
Pro-tip: Be sure to define an overarching goal and communicate clear next steps to maximize effectiveness during the brainstorming session.
2. Choose a character to roleplay
This is where rolestorming begins! With your approach defined, you and your team can get down to identifying the personas to adopt for the rolestorm.
You and your team can choose your own roles or draw characters at random. The only rule? These personas shouldn’t be someone who’s actually in your group. Some examples of personas to consider include:
Customer personas: If you’re part of a marketing or sales team, it’s likely you’ve worked with customer personas before. Rolestorming gives you a chance to bring these to life. For example, you can embody the role of an enterprise sales manager that relies on your company’s CRM to accomplish daily tasks.
Specific clients or accounts: Where customer personas reflect general ideas, your most important client accounts probably have specific problems and needs. These can be fertile sources for ideation in rolestorming sessions.
Famous personalities from the past or present: Whether you try your best Steve Jobs impersonation or go with someone else, it’s important to pick a notable personality. This will make it easier to interact with the subject matter through a distinct lens.
3. Take on that character for the brainstorming session
Don’t break character! The goal here is to allow you and your teammates sufficient time and creative license. Don’t be afraid to step outside the confines of your job description or everyday duties.
Take turns and allow everyone the opportunity to speak in character about the central idea or problem. Your team should feel at liberty to speak without criticism in a context removed from the constraints of day-to-day limitations.
When done right, rolestorming is an opportunity for both remote and in-person teams to unlock new modes of thinking and drive innovation.
Brainstorming is the precursor to rolestorming, and Mural offers a host of templates and other resources to help you take your collaboration to the next level.
What is Mural?
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