7 tips for improving your brainstorming sessions
Ah, brainstorming sessions. They always sound so promising, even exciting! Putting aside the typical workday to find new and better solutions to problems. Being part of a team of motivated employees, exercising your creativity in meetings dedicated to idea generation.
Unfortunately, that’s not what most brainstorm meetings are like. Plenty of ideation, yet not enough focus. And as louder voices prevail, other participants lose interest. So much for teamwork.
Want tips on how to get more effective ideation and brainstorming sessions from your team?
With just a few must-haves and some basic guidelines, you’ll know how to run an effective brainstorming meeting in no time. It begins with a simple, but important, decision for the group.
7 tips for improving brainstorming sessions
1. Assign the facilitator
What’s a boat without a rudder? Pretty much the same thing as a group brainstorm without a facilitator: a frustrating situation that lacks any sense of direction. The role of facilitator is critical to conducting effective brainstorming meetings and making sure time is well spent.
When choosing a facilitator, pick someone who is impartial, who isn’t afraid to guide (or redirect) the conversation as needed, and who will strive to ensure everyone gets a chance to contribute.
The facilitator of a brainstorm meeting is also the one who will outline, clarify, and enforce the rules with the group. At the conclusion of the brainstorming session, the facilitator will help keep track of the best ideas, explain next steps, and share learnings with the company.
Once you decide on the right facilitator for your group brainstorm, you should be ready to move on to tip number two.
2. Assemble a diverse team
For an effective brainstorm meeting, choose your group wisely. Invite people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines in your organization. Of course, the team members you select should have some connection to the issue you’re trying to resolve in the brainstorm session.
If a participant doesn’t find the brainstorm topic relevant or feels too far removed from the problem, it might be hard for them to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.
Besides bringing together employees with different perspectives on your product, company, and its clients, take pains to ensure your group is neither too large nor too small. For most brainstorm meetings, that magic number lies somewhere between six and 10 participants.
3. Outline the team agenda
Like any meeting, a group brainstorm session should have an agenda. Everyone should understand the objective of the ideation beforehand so they can be ready to jump in and participate.
Besides, putting together an agenda and outlining the objectives of the brainstorming for your team will serve a second purpose. It will help you (and your facilitator) stay accountable for seeing it through. Effective brainstorming starts with preparation and planning ahead.
The agenda of your brainstorm could include some of the following elements:
- Start with a practice brainstorm
- Describe the problem to solve
- Ask questions to inspire team
- Allow everyone to pitch ideas
- Write down any ideas pitched
- Elaborate on the related ideas
- Wrap up and plan next steps
Depending on just how complicated or serious the problem is that your team is attempting to solve, the team brainstorm and ideation session may require a few follow-up meetings.
4. Inspire others to ideate
Brainstorming doesn’t come naturally to everyone. With the group dynamic at play, there’s added pressure to quickly solve a problem. But mostly, the biggest challenge is just getting started.
That's why it’s helpful to kick things off with an icebreaker to get the creative juices flowing.
This can be a low-stakes activity with no connection or relevance to your actual brainstorm meeting. The intent is to give everyone a moment to relax and to encourage out-of-the-box thinking from the entire group.
Here are some simple but effective icebreaker activities:
- Word association: It’s as easy as it sounds. Choose a topic and create a list of words.
- Backwards brainstorm: Take random words. Ask what products those words inspire.
- Circular storytelling: Give a basic intro. Everyone adds on to it to keep a story going.
- Extraordinary brick: Have the team list every use for a brick. The weirder the better.
Once the group is warmed up, having fun, and thinking freely, it’s time for the facilitator to get the actual brainstorm meeting underway. So you won’t lose momentum or enthusiasm, it’s helpful to frame your team’s thinking around one or more “How Might We” questions.
HMW questions are worded in a way that suggests a solution is possible while sparking the team’s imagination. For example, if your brainstorming names for a new smartphone with a great camera, ask “How might we describe a phone made for creative and artistic people?”
When asking a HMW question, make sure that it’s not too broad (“How might we name a new phone?”) and not too narrow (“How might we name a phone with 441 pixels-per-inch sharpness combined with 1200 x 2640 pixel resolution on a 6.58-inch OLED-type screen?”).
Used correctly, HMW questions will provoke meaningful, inspired, and nuanced ideation.
5. Try to document everything
Once the ideation session is in progress, you’ll want to record and write down as much as you can. You won’t strike gold with every idea or suggestion, but that’s not the point. Often, it’s the fragment or notion of a concept that will lead you and your organization to the right solution.
In the spirit of trying to document as much as possible, you’ll want to:
- Assign someone in the brainstorm to take notes/record the meeting.
- Use a digital whiteboard, easel pad, or dry-erase board in the session.
- Send a group email afterward with a recap of the meeting/next steps.
During the meeting itself, have plenty of sticky notes and markers on hand. The intent is to make things fun and less like the typical workday. The presence of sticky notes alone can be enough to encourage group participation. As an added perk, sticky notes help document your process.
6. Allow for individual ideation
Obviously, not everything can be accomplished or solved over the course of one brainstorm meeting. Less obvious to some, not everything is meant (or expected to be) figured out only as a team. In fact, group brainstorming can be less effective than individual brainstorming.
That’s why you need to set aside time where each team member can continue an ideation session of their own, starting from wherever the group brainstorm meeting left off.
The reason that individual ideation is more effective is that, working alone, people are free of judgment and not inhibited by the opinions of others. An idea that someone might feel hesitant to bring up in a group can transform into something amazing if given a chance.
This can happen as part of your group brainstorming meeting or between brainstorms if you are breaking things up over multiple days. In either case, it is important to share ideas and discuss similarities when the team regroups. Then, see if the talk sparks new thoughts.
7. Elaborate on shared ideas
During the initial brainstorming, creativity is welcome. Nothing is too far-fetched. Quantity over quality. Spontaneity is key. You will want to gather a large list of ideas to choose from.
But once the dust clears, patterns will begin to emerge. You’ll start to notice similarities between concepts.
You’ll want the facilitator to organize and categorize these ideas, using them as the basis for further discussion. When everyone’s had the chance to contribute, it becomes easier to work together toward a solution. People commit more readily to ideas they helped develop.
Bringing it all together
Remember, running a brainstorm and conducting ideation sessions are only meant to help your team come up with the possibilities for a solution. Putting those ideas into action is something that will take place at a later date. To facilitate more successful and effective brainstorm meetings and get to those solutions faster, incorporate Lucidspark into your suite of applications.
Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard that helps you and your team collaborate to bring the best ideas to light. It comes packed with all of the sticky notes, freehand drawing tools, and infinite canvas space you need to capture that next big idea. And it’s built for collaboration. Think of it like a sandbox where your team can bounce ideas around and innovate together in real time.
Brought to you by the makers of Lucidchart, trusted by 25 million users worldwide, including 99% of the Fortune 500.