Generating more productive brainstorming sessions among employees can help get new products, services, processes, and other initiatives moving in the right direction from the start. Of course, these group-think meetings can also be a waste of everyone’s time when they don’t go anywhere useful.
Done with the right structure, however, brainstorming sessions are certainly a tool worth using in the workplace. They can encourage creativity, problem solving, teamwork, synergy, and inclusiveness.
Keep in mind that different individuals naturally have varying enthusiasm and aptitude for this particular method. But everyone involved will improve with practice. Here are some general ways to help provide the right setting and approach for more productive brainstorming sessions.
Ways to Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions
- Let the session participants know ahead of time what they’ll be brainstorming about. While it’s ultimately an exercise in spontaneity and playing off other people’s ideas, not everybody thrives on the spot, and many people perform better—especially at the beginning of the session—having given the issue some forethought. This can help avoid dead starts.
- Prepare questions in advance about different aspects of the project or problem. These can be very useful for getting things going again or changing directions when a brainstorming session starts running out of steam or the ideas are staying too narrow or off the mark.
- Organize diverse brainstorming groups. Exposing the participants to a wide variety of perspectives from people of differing demographics and areas of expertise helps lead everyone in new directions.
- Don’t jump right into the mission. Open with some sort of warm-up activity to help get the creative juices flowing. For example, challenge the group to come up with 50 unique uses for a brick.
- Before opening things up, make sure the problem that participants are seeking to solve is clearly and concisely defined. Also, lay out any parameters that narrow the scope of the session or the possible solutions. Give everyone the opportunity to ask questions for clarification.
- Refrain from creating too much pressure. Let the participants know they aren’t necessarily looking for the final answer. Reassure them that this is the stage of exploring directions and possibilities.
- Keep things comfortable, informal, and judgment-free throughout the brainstorming session. Take a short break if the atmosphere becomes tense, if people appear to be getting antsy or losing focus, or if progress seems to have stalled.
- Transcribe all suggestions in a central location where all participants can read and review them. Don’t exclude any ideas, no matter how they strike you; it’s impossible to tell which thoughts will lead to something better.
- Include a new person or two in the latter half of the brainstorming session—even employees who aren’t involved in the project. This is a great way to benefit from fresh perspectives and get feedback and new ideas based on the work that’s been done.
- Consider small brainstorming groups of perhaps three to five people, rather than a single large group of five or more. Many people are more at ease in smaller groups, and this setup often generates more ideas that go in more different directions.