September 6, 2021

5 Tips to Help You Conduct Successful Brainstorming Sessions

Brainstorming is a great way to come up with content or designs. This idea generation process lets you link problems to potential solutions, develop action plans, and produce surprising insights in the right conditions. It's regrettable that brainstorming gets a bad reputation, though. For many people, it only results in half-baked ideas. Their experience involves getting drowned out by outspoken team members or more senior members of the team. It doesn't have to be that way, however—there are ways to ensure that your brainstorming session is successful.

Know What You're Trying to Solve

Clearly defined goals will keep your brainstorming session on track. The first step you must do is determine the problem you're solving. You should also know the context and explain it to everyone present.

Be very specific. Instead of asking questions like, "Why aren't we productive?" or "Why aren't we meeting our goals?" try asking, "What changes can we implement so we can raise productivity levels?" The question should be solution-oriented instead of problem-oriented. 

Also, inform your team that you don't want them suggesting solutions right away. Make it clear that the entire brainstorming session will be for fleshing out ideas. Tell them to think of the answers before making suggestions. Then, you need to set boundaries for the solutions your brainstorming produces. For example, the solutions need to be implemented within a year.

Establish Key Terms and Definitions

After everyone gets on the same page about the context of the problem, ask them what they want to know. Before starting with the suggestions, you need to compile questions participants have and present answers during the session. Also, it's important to establish definitions. If you have people working on different assumptions, there'll bound to be misunderstandings about the solutions offered.

For example, if your question is, "How do we decrease the cost of production?" the two most important things to define are 'cost' and 'production.' Are you talking about overall cost or financial cost? Does production refer to units of your products? 

Choose Participants Carefully

Before you begin, you should have a facilitator in mind. This person needs to be someone who can keep the proceedings on track, be unbiased, and have experience with brainstorming. Make sure you choose someone who will see to it that everyone talks and gets their ideas heard.

Your brainstorming session should also include people from different departments and teams. Ideally, choose employees affected by the problem question. Include both experts and non-experts, and ensure you have at least three and at most eight participants. Any more than eight and the facilitator will have a hard time wrangling all the ideas and asking people to participate.

It's good to have a combination of experts and non-experts. On the one hand, you need people who have in-depth knowledge of the matter. They can help you direct the conversation to more productive ends. On the other hand, beginners are great to have onboard because they have "fresh eyes" and approach the problem from unconventional angles.

Allocate Enough Time

Set out the boundaries, problem question, context, and definitions in 20 minutes. You can start with the actual brainstorming when you're sure that everyone is on the same page. Divide it into two parts—"diverging" and "converging." Diverging allows participants to explore options and become creative with their suggestions. This should not take more than ten minutes.

After diverging, you can converge when you sort ideas and discuss them to figure out the best ones. It takes time to do converging—usually, you need 20 minutes to sift through ideas and get the best ones. Finally, you can wrap up the session and ask people to note action points that have arisen from the brainstorming.

Have a Structured Session

When letting participants engaging in divergent thinking, the key is to encourage creativity. You can hand out sticky notes and give everyone several minutes to write ideas. Then, put the sticky notes up on a whiteboard or a wall. Then, the facilitator reads the ideas, gets clarifications if necessary. Afterward, the facilitator and group members sort the ideas into three or four categories—if new points come up, the group can add them later.

Next, you can proceed with converging. At this point, you can ask participants to put a checkmark on the three to five ideas they like best. You will have multiple "top" picks, depending on the number of people in a room. The output could be a list of the most popular ideas and themes that come out of this list. You should also highlight innovative ideas, even if they don't get a lot of votes. It gives people an incentive to try coming up with original ideas.

The output that the brainstorming group produces shouldn't remain in the room. You need to take these suggestions to a planning or strategy session for those directly involved in execution. Finally, the facilitator should explain what will happen to their ideas. The participants then get a summary of the top suggestions that arose from their efforts.

Brainstorming involves leveraging collective thinking. It can be compelling, but it is also highly distracting to work in groups. Introverts tend to stay quiet, while extroverts dominate. The session leader must ensure that the team has a healthy atmosphere where the shy people will feel confident speaking up.

Having a warm-up activity could also get people in a creative mood. When you ask them to do simple exercises at first, you help build the team dynamic. Finally, the facilitator should ensure that the team has a solution-oriented approach and stays on topic. Be flexible about finding solutions. You're not there to find the "holy grail" for your problems or resolve it in one go. Instead, you need to mine your group for nuggets of good ideas and "refine" these later on.

Conclusion

An in-person brainstorming session is one of the best ways to generate ideas. Whether you're with a couple other people or your entire team, sitting down and working through the steps outlined here can help you make sense of what your team needs to do. When you get the hang of it, brainstorming sessions will soon become a must for your teams before you start a project.

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