Group brainstorming—you know the drill. Everyone gathers around the whiteboard and throws ideas out—no matter how crazy—and then works through the list one-by-one to discuss and take action on the best ideas. It’s the tried-and-true method for getting input from everyone, taking the best ideas, and running with them.
Sounds great, right? What could go wrong?
Turns out, quite a lot.
After all, it’s not easy to come up with ideas out of nowhere. Without the right preparation, facilitator, and technique, you may end up with awkward silence, lackluster ideas, and wasted time.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Group brainstorming can still be a great tool for getting input and creative ideas and solutions from your team. You just need to use the right approach.
Turn your brainstorming woes into wins with these five group brainstorming techniques and best practices.
How to brainstorm
Brainstorming is a problem-solving method for generating creative ideas in a group setting. In other words, it’s a chance for everyone to get creative, throw ideas at the wall, and see what sticks.
The rules are simple:
- Don’t criticize any ideas.
- Encourage a wide variety of ideas.
- Build on each other’s ideas.
- Don’t be afraid to share unrealistic or unconventional ideas.
The goal is to create a judgment-free space for everyone to participate so that innovation can thrive.
Group brainstorming stimulates creativity and invites participation from everyone, making it a great tool for generating a wide variety of ideas in a short amount of time. It’s especially helpful when trying to solve a problem that you are really close to. Sometimes getting outside perspectives can breathe new life into a project and drive momentum towards a solution.
When done well, group brainstorming is a great way for participants to share, combine, and build on each other’s ideas so that you end up with a solution that is unique and effective.
Brainstorming is powerful, but it’s not perfect. If you aren’t careful, traditional group brainstorming tends to favor the quick thinkers and the loudest voices in the room. Quieter, introverted personalities (and their ideas) can easily get left out of the conversation.
It can also lead to something called the “anchoring effect” where people stop brainstorming midway through the session to focus on the first few ideas generated.
The magic of brainstorming happens when someone shares an idea that then sparks other ideas and possibilities that the group can expand and build on. But when anchoring happens, this process gets blocked. Creativity is stifled and fewer ideas get generated and discussed, leading to biased results.
Luckily, these issues can be avoided. The trick is to use the right group brainstorming techniques and strategies so you get the best out of your team every time.
5 group brainstorming techniques
There are lots of ways to conduct a successful group brainstorm session. Try the following techniques for brainstorming ideas in groups.
1. Mind mapping
Mind mapping is a non-linear, visual brainstorming method that helps groups hone in on the question or topic and connect the dots between different ideas.
Start by writing the topic in the center of the board. You can do this on paper, on a whiteboard, or online using a collaborative digital brainstorming canvas like Lucidspark. Then write each person’s idea as a branch off the center (or off another idea).
Mind mapping makes it easy to capture everyone’s ideas, build off others’ ideas, and visualize how they all connect.
Brainwriting is a great method for encouraging participation from all members of the group (including quieter, deliberate thinkers), and preventing anchoring and personality bias.
There are a couple of ways to approach it, but here’s the basic process:
- Everyone silently writes down their ideas on a piece of paper. You can set a timer and/or a minimum number of ideas that everyone needs to add to their list.
- Each person passes their paper to the person next to them who then adds to, and expands on, those ideas.
- Keep passing the papers around until they’ve gone full circle.
- When you’re done, share all the ideas on a whiteboard and discuss.
By the end of the group brainstorm you should have a solid list of ideas. Be sure to keep the papers anonymous so there’s no judgment or embarrassment. This takes away some of the anxiety around sharing ideas so everyone feels free to get creative.
3. Rapid ideation
This is a simple but effective brainstorming method for generating lots of ideas fast. Invite everyone to write down as many ideas as they can in a certain amount of time. When the buzzer goes off, collect the ideas, and share them with the group.
Rapid ideation is a lot like free writing—the goal is to just let the thoughts flow onto the paper without judgment or editing and see what you end up with. This method of group brainstorming is a great way to spark creativity and get a bunch of material to work with. Plus, it ensures each person gets a chance to participate and have their ideas heard.
Starbursting helps groups explore ideas by asking specific questions about the brainstorming topic.
To get started, draw a six-pointed star. In the middle, write down the challenge or question you’re trying to brainstorm solutions for. Then, label each point of the star with “Who?” “What?” “When?” “Where?” “Why?” and “How?”
Use each point to come up with questions about your challenge like “What do our clients want?”, “When will the product be ready to deliver?”, and “What timeline do we need to make this happen?”
These questions prompt deeper questions and spark ideas so you can develop a basic roadmap for your solutions.
5. Question storming
It can be difficult to think of solutions on the spot so approaching brainstorming from a different angle can help. Instead of brainstorming ideas or solutions first, question-storming invites the group to generate questions. These can be any questions they have about the problem or goal they’re discussing.
Question storming helps brainstorming groups ask the right questions before trying to uncover the right answers. Often, in the process of question-storming, teams will discover their initial assumptions about the problem were wrong, or surface more interesting solutions they wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
The process is simple:
- Pick a problem or goal to focus your discussion. Unlike a traditional group brainstorm, the topic should be written as a statement, not a question. For example, instead of “How can we generate more sales?” a question-storming topic might say “Sales are down 18% this year.”
- Set a timer and have everyone in the brainstorm group start writing down their questions. The key is to focus on quantity, not quality. Aim for 30+ questions per person. If the topic is “Sales are down 18%,” a brainstorm list example might include questions like “Where were sales the year before?” “Are sales trending up or down this quarter?” “Are we doing anything different compared to last year?”
- Gather everyone’s questions together and start filtering them. You can categorize them into buckets based on the type of question or its theme. For instance, any questions that challenge the underlying premise of the topic could be grouped under a “Challenger” bucket.
- Once your questions have been sorted, have the team pick their favorites to focus on. These are questions the team thinks should be answered and they lay the groundwork for a subsequent brainstorming session.
Question storming is a complementary exercise to brainstorming. It helps groups refine the problem, approach it with curiosity, and consider it from different angles.
Best practices for group brainstorming
No matter what brainstorming technique you choose, keep these tried-and-true best practices in mind:
- Time yourself. It may sound counterintuitive, but creativity thrives under constraints. Put a time limit on brainstorming sessions to keep people focused and engaged. Don’t let your meeting drag on or you will lose that creative momentum.
- Use sticky notes. Sticky notes make it easy to quickly document ideas and move them around the board to group them in themes and connect them with other ideas.
- Try handwriting (vs. typing). Go old school and write down ideas by hand. Turns out, writing by hand activates the brain differently than typing and actually helps us think more creatively.
- Collaborate. The best brainstorming sessions get people talking and working together on ideas and creative solutions. Don’t be afraid to try more collaborative brainstorming techniques and encourage your group to explore ideas together.
Brainstorming methods for team collaboration
Brainstorming groups can be great for generating ideas quickly, but if you aren’t careful, you could end up with a bunch of disorganized notes and no plan in sight.
So how do you bridge the gap between ideation and action? That’s where Lucidspark comes in.
Lucidspark is a visual collaboration workspace for teams to hold dynamic brainstorming sessions in real time, share and collaborate on ideas, and organize information into next steps—all in one convenient place. With features like infinite canvas space, online sticky notes, freehand drawing, activity timers, @mentions, and voting functionality, Lucidspark makes it easy to brainstorm, analyze, and organize ideas so you can find the best solutions together.
Get started with Lucidspark today.
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