It doesn’t matter where you work and what your job role is, if you work with other people together as a team, you will always encounter the same challenges:
- Unclear goals and miscommunication that cause busy work and overtime
- Unstructured meetings that leave attendants tired, confused and without clear outcomes
- Frustration builds up because internal challenges to productivity are not addressed
- Sudden changes in priorities lead to a loss of focus and momentum
- Muddled compromise takes the place of clear decision-making, leaving everybody to come up with their own interpretation.
In short, a lack of structure leads to a waste of time and effort, projects that drag on for too long and frustrated, burnt out teams.
AJ&Smart has worked with some of the most innovative, productive companies in the world. What sets their teams apart from others is not better tools, bigger talent or more beautiful offices. The secret sauce to becoming a more productive, more creative and happier team is simple:
Replace all open discussion or brainstorming with a structured process that leads to more ideas, clearer decisions and better outcomes.
When a good process provides guardrails and a clear path to follow, it becomes easier to come up with ideas, make decisions and solve problems.
This is why AJ&Smart created Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ). It’s a simple and short, but powerful group exercise that can be run either in-person, in the same room, or remotely with distributed teams.
It’s based on the same simple, but powerful principles as the Design Sprint:
1. Getting started is more important than being right
Rather than having endless, circular discussions about what the one, “perfect” solution could be, we embrace an action-oriented and experimental mindset and aim to make progress fast, even if it’s based on assumptions.
2. We work together, alone
Instead of working in an open forum where the loudest, most extroverted person can push their ideas on the group until they get exhausted and give in, we create an environment where every individual can contribute ideas, without any group discussion or debate. All participants work alone, but aligned on a common goal with the rest of the team.
3. Don’t rely on creativity
Good ideas can come from anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself to be a creative person or not, our process will help you to contribute ideas.
4. Tangible beats abstract
If you describe an idea to your team, everybody will have a completely different interpretation of what you were trying to communicate. This leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion. Instead, when presenting our ideas, we make them as tangible as possible, whether through sketching them out, or showing comparable examples.
Since we introduced Lightning Decision Jam in 2017, it has become immensely popular and it is now used by companies and teams all over the world to give structure to meetings, retros and brainstorming sessions. We are pleased to offer this LDJ facilitator guide that will tell you, step by step, how to run your own LDJ session easily, whether it’s in-person or remotely.
The most important thing is: Get started! Wherever you are, LDJ gives you a perfect tool to uncover challenges, leverage the power of creative collaboration and find solutions.
When should you use the LDJ?
Use the Lightning Decision Jam whenever a group of people needs to identify challenges, solve problems and make decisions. It’s helpful to frame LDJ with a broad topic, for example:
- Keeping up with our competition
- Improving the sales process
- Better team communication
- Onboarding new hires
- Increasing growth
Who should participate?
The ideal group size strikes a balance between getting a wide range of input and ideas and keeping the session short (it’s called “Lightning” for a reason). The more people take part, the longer LDJ will take.
The minimum group size to use in LDJ is 3, the sweet spot is 4 to 6 people. We usually recommend a maximum number of 8 participants. More than that can make it challenging to keep the group focused on the session.
If you want to run a session with a lot of people, it’s possible to break them up into smaller groups. This is a great way to popularise LDJs in the entire company and also a fun team building exercise, but we recommend you do this only when you are really comfortable running the exercise and you have co-facilitators that can jump between groups to help you.
Who should facilitate the session?
It’s important that somebody takes the responsibility of facilitating the session and driving the process. This can be either you, or any other team member that is familiar with LDJs. As a facilitator, you can take part in the process and contribute ideas, but you also need to make sure that the entire group stays focused and doesn’t get distracted or tangled up in discussions.
If you notice that a discussion is starting, you should (politely) shut it down.
Here are a few phrases that can help you:
- “I don’t think we can come to a satisfying conclusion on this right now, let’s come back to the exercise and revisit your point afterwards.”
- “I think this discussion might not be relevant for other people in the group right now, can we move on?”
- “If you feel strongly about this, take note of this on a sticky and let the group have a chance to think about solutions together.”
- “We don’t have much time left for the exercise, I’d rather have us move on and discuss this later, if it’s okay.”
- “I know it feels strange doing this in silence, but it’s important to let everybody get their ideas out without influencing each other.”
How much time do you need?
Depending on the size of the group and the amount of problems you are tackling, the LDJ can take as little as 45 mins and as long as 1.5 hours.
The durations for each part of the LDJ are guidelines. We suggest that you stick to them if this is the first time you are facilitating the LDJ, but you might want to adapt them to suit your situation better.
How is Lightning Decision Jam structured?
- Start on a positive note
- Capture problems
- Prioritise problems
- Reframe the problems as standardised challenges
- Ideate a mass of solutions
- Prioritise solutions
- Decide what to execute on
- Make solutions actionable
What materials do you need?
If you want to run LDJ in-person, with the entire team in one location, you’ll need this:
- Rectangular sticky notes in yellow
- Square sticky notes in two different colours. We like pink and blue.
- Dot stickers in two different colours, we like red and green.
- A big whiteboard or sufficient wall space. A window can work in a pinch, too.
- Sharpies or another type of felt tip pen (preferably with broad tips to keep notes brief and easily readable)
- A timer, ideally one that’s visible to the entire group, for example a Time Timer. But using a smartphone alarm is okay as well.
Since we first introduced Lightning Decision Jam, remote work has gone mainstream. Today it’s normal to work in a distributed team that’s spread all over the world, and it has a lot of advantages. However, working as a remote team also increases the potential for miscommunication, losing track of who is working on what, and what challenges everybody encounters.
The good news is that LDJ is perfect for aligning teams, and it’s easy – and fun – to run remotely, even if you have never facilitated a remote workshop before. In fact, remote LDJs might be the easiest way to gain experience as a facilitator because setting them up is very simple, and all the outcomes are already in a digital format and can be easily put into project trackers or digital roadmaps.
If you want to run LDJ remotely with your distributed team, this is what you need:
- A virtual whiteboard with real-time collaboration, for example Miro or Mural.
Miro and Mural are currently the most popular virtual whiteboards and they offer you everything you need to run the entire LDJ: Endless virtual sticky notes, infinite workspace, timer and voting features. But there’s no shortage of amazing tools, so just try which suits your situation and environment best.
You can use templates that are already perfectly set up to run a remote LDJ. You can find the templates here:
For Miro: https://miro.com/app/board/o9J_kt1PIic=/ For Mural: https://mural.co/templates/ldj
- A video conferencing tool like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet.
You can use whatever your team is most comfortable with. If you use Miro, you can also use the built-in video conferencing feature.
That’s it! The instructions for running LDJ are exactly the same, whether you do it remotely or in-person.
Now, let’s get started!