A strategy for effective team collaboration.

July 31, 2023
Team Facilitator

What’s your go-to activity when you need ideas?

For many teams, the answer is a brainstorming conversation. But those fully unstructured conversations rarely produce sound and strategic ideas, and often they look more like this.

I love this image from Jake Knapp’s book Sprint, and it really captures the essence of many brainstorming discussions.

A critical weakness of the traditional brainstorming approach is that people are simultaneously trying to internally imagine and reflect while simultaneously externally sharing and responding. The human brain doesn’t work like that, so the discussions stay scattered and shallow. 

But ideation sessions don’t have to be like that. 

By applying a technique like note-and-vote, you add just enough structure to the conversation to allow ideas to effectively be formed, shared, evaluated and chosen. 

How do you move from the chaos of a hundred ideas to prioritized, focused action?

Note-and-vote is simple yet powerful. It can be used in a design sprint, a critical strategy sessions or even to set a real-time agenda for a meeting. 

As you might expect, the process has two steps, note and then vote. I’ll explain each in detail so you can apply it to your next meeting.

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The note phase is where we gather ideas and possibilities. It it the expansion half of the double diamond.

Noting combines two ways of thinking internal asynchronous and external collaborative. Let's explore each.

Internal asynchronous.

The team starts by stating the problem being solved or the question being answered. Then each person begins the individual asynchronous work of writing down ideas. 

Instruct everyone to write their ideas on sticky notes with one idea per note. 

This is a time for internal processing, reflection and slow thinking. There is no talking during this time, though playing a little music can help those who struggle with silence. The key is to give people space to think and write.

People will write what they might not say.

The silence draws out a depth of thought where the volume of brainstorming sessions keeps you shallow.

This phase is time boxed to a few minutes. It’s best to have a visible timer, so everyone knows how long they have. Once the timer goes off, let everyone finish writing that last thought and move on to the next phase.

External collaborative.

Now that you’ve drawn out the depths of ideas, it’s time to expose everyone to one another’s depths.

You're going to go around the room, and one person at a time will read each idea out loud and stick it to the board. They can add a sentence for context if needed, but ideally, the words on the note should stand on their own, so people don’t have to expend energy remembering what it means. 

This is an interactive time to connect and build on each other's ideas

Then the next person will do the same thing reading their notes to the team and adding them to the board. If they have an idea similar to a note on the board, they can put them close to each other. 

If team members have questions about a note, they can ask, but this isn’t the time for evaluating yet. 

Once all the notes are on the board, it’s time to organize them.

Group similar notes, create category labels or write a new note that summarizes two or three others. But leave those original notes with it because they likely include more detail and nuance. 

This is an interactive time to connect and build on each other's ideas. You’re adding breadth to the depth from the beginning of the exercise. 

Encourage discussion during the process to allow for nuance and understanding. Once the team is satisfied with how they’ve organized the notes, you’re ready to move on to the voting phase.

It’s easy to feel stuck or have an obstacle and not be sure how to begin to overcome it. I can lead your team through workshops for discovery, ideation, problem-solving, and solution testing.


How do you move from the chaos of a hundred ideas to prioritized, focused action?

After the discussion, everything is still in your short-term memory, but you’ve given it all significant attention. You and your team are well-primed to make effective decisions.

Remind everyone of the problem being solved or the question being answered. When voting, the facilitator should frame the question so everyone has it in mind. Here are a few examples.

  • Which risk has the most significant chance of knocking us off course?
  • Which client base will provide the most future revenue?
  • Which part of the process should we focus our next discussion on? 

If you don’t provide this instruction, everyone will vote using their own criteria, and the exercise loses its effectiveness.

Give everyone multiple stickers to use for votes. I feel like somewhere between 4 and 8 stickers is effective. Tell them they can use them however they want and encourage double or triple voting on ideas they think are outstanding.

Note-and-Vote adds just enough structure to the conversation to allow ideas to effectively be formed, shared, evaluated and chosen.

You should see a heat map of the best ideas when the voting is done. But it’s not a democracy.

At the end, someone is the decider.

During a design sprint, you choose the decider before the week begins. If you’re using note-and-vote during a typical meeting, the decider is either the boss or the person responsible for solving the problem.

The decider should look at the board with the votes forming a heat map representing the shared understanding of both the problem and likely the solution. 

At this point, the decider chooses one. There may be many great ideas or solutions, but for the team to make effective progress, they will have to focus.

Once a solution is chosen, the exercise is over, and the team continues whatever larger process the note-and-vote was a part of. 

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Action Plan

Do you want to learn more about facilitation?

Note-and-Vote is just one among many facilitation techniques. Facilitation is an essential skill for any leader. I’m building a facilitation guide and will add more resources throughout the year.

If you want help identifying how you can apply facilitation skills in your own leadership, I offer a handful of free 30-minute coaching sessions each month. Or feel free to reach out on LinkedIn

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Design Thinking?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves a deep understanding of user needs and experiences to create innovative solutions. It is a human-centered methodology that seeks to empathize with users, define their problems, ideate potential solutions, prototype and test those solutions, and iterate based on feedback.

Design thinking emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and experimentation, and it can be applied to a wide range of challenges, from product design and development to service design and organizational change. It involves creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement, where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Some key principles of design thinking include:

  1. Empathy: Design thinking starts with empathy for the user, seeking to understand their needs, motivations, and pain points through observation, interviews, and other research methods.
  2. Iteration: Design thinking is an iterative process, involving the creation and testing of prototypes to refine and improve solutions.
  3. Collaboration: Design thinking is a collaborative approach that involves bringing together diverse perspectives and skills to ideate and create solutions.
  4. Visualization: Design thinking often involves visualizing ideas and concepts through sketches, diagrams, and other visual representations.
  5. User-Centeredness: Design thinking prioritizes the needs and experiences of users, creating solutions that are tailored to their specific needs and preferences.

Overall, design thinking is a powerful approach to problem-solving that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and user-centeredness. It can help organizations develop innovative solutions to complex challenges while creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Learn more about design thinking.

What are the five steps of design thinking?

Design thinking typically involves the following five iterative steps:

  1. Empathize: This stage involves understanding the user's needs, desires, and challenges. Designers use empathy to put themselves in the user's shoes to gain a deep understanding of their experiences.
  2. Define: In this stage, designers synthesize their research findings and define the problem statement, which serves as a guiding principle throughout the rest of the process to ensure that solutions are focused on addressing the problem.
  3. Ideate: During the ideation phase, designers generate a wide range of ideas and potential solutions to the problem statement. Brainstorming, sketching, and other creative techniques are commonly used to help facilitate the generation of novel ideas.
  4. Prototype: In this phase, designers create a prototype of the best solution or solutions that emerged from the ideation stage. Prototypes can take many different forms, but they are typically visual representations that allow users to interact with the potential solution and provide feedback.
  5. Test: Finally, the designer tests the prototype with users, gathers feedback, and observes how the user interacts with the prototype. This feedback is then used to refine the prototype further, leading to an improved solution or even new ideas and further iterations of the design thinking process.

Overall, design thinking provides a structured approach to problem-solving that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and user-centeredness. It enables designers to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of the users while also providing value to the organization.

Learn more about design thinking.

What are some of the best design thinking exercises?

There are many design thinking exercises that teams can use to generate creativity and innovation. Here are some examples:

  1. Empathy mapping: In this exercise, team members map out the user's experience and emotions to better understand their needs and pain points.
  2. Idea generation: One classic idea generation exercise is brainstorming, which involves generating as many ideas as possible without judgment or critique. Another popular exercise is "Crazy 8s," in which team members sketch eight ideas in eight minutes.
  3. Prototyping: Prototyping exercises include creating low-fidelity prototypes using materials like paper, cardboard, or clay to help teams visualize and test their ideas.
  4. Role-playing: Role-playing exercises help teams empathize with users by acting out different scenarios and personas.
  5. Collaborative sketching: This exercise involves having team members collaborate on a single sketch or drawing, each taking turns adding to the design.
  6. Mind-mapping: Mind-mapping exercises help to organize thoughts and ideas by visually representing the relationships between them.
  7. SCAMPER: This acronym stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. This exercise is helpful in generating new ideas by encouraging teams to brainstorm ways to modify or adapt existing products or processes.

Overall, these exercises help teams to generate and test ideas, refine solutions, and work collaboratively towards creating innovative solutions that meet the needs of users.

Learn more about design thinking.

How to use Design Thinking

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