Brainstorming in a group can be a really useful tool for pooling your team’s ideas and zeroing in on that hidden gem that might have gone unmentioned if everyone’s ideas weren’t laid on the table at once. But sometimes brainstorming sessions can become dominated by one voice, the discussion can be unfocused, or there can be the odd awkward silence. So in order to avoid those pitfalls, here are a few strategies you might want to implement to make your next group brainstorm more effective.
It is important to begin by setting a goal for the session so the group has an end result to work towards. This can serve to focus the discussion and ensure that everyone in the room is on the same page for what the session is aiming to accomplish. This simple step can have the added benefit of instilling the group with a sense of accomplishment when the brainstorming session is over and you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve. The key is to ensure the goal is attainable, as consistently being overly ambitious and missing your target can be demoralising for your team, so set yourself smart targets.
Agreeing on the session goal with your team beforehand can also help ensure they arrive at the session having done the prep work and brimming with ideas. This can significantly increase the chances of group members contributing something to the discussion, since they have already come to the meeting armed with something to say, rather than having to think of something on the spot. Asking participants to prepare something beforehand can also help safeguard against awkward silences, since everyone has the opportunity to refer to their prep work if they need to. That being said, there can also be benefits to spontaneity in brainstorming sessions, opening with an unexpected question can grab participants’ attention and make sure they’re on their toes and alert going into the main part of the session.
One of the benefits of brainstorming sessions is that you and your team can inject some fresh ideas into your collective thinking and this can have a hugely positive result in your organisation. But the downside of brainstorming sessions is that often these ideas are being voiced for the first time, and group members may be concerned that their ideas will not be taken seriously, or for some other reason may be reluctant to voice their opinions. For this reason, it is crucial to foster an environment of inclusivity, so that people feel as comfortable as possible vocalising their suggestions and getting their great ideas out in the open.
Even when you do manage to foster an inclusive, non-judgmental environment, some members of the team may still feel uncomfortable presenting their ideas for any number of reasons. Maybe they think their idea is too “out there”, or maybe they’re just worried that it’s not very good. One way to mitigate this problem and to encourage everyone to participate is to do it anonymously. This can be as simple as getting participants to write down their ideas on a piece of paper, mixing them up and working through them at random. Or, if you all know each others’ handwriting, you could always use a Mentimeter Word Cloud to get your ideas on the board.
One final crucial action for brainstorming sessions is to follow them up. It may be that the goal you set at the beginning is too big to be achieved in this session alone and it may just be that this session is just the first step of the process. Agree with the team by the end of the session which ideas should be acted upon and bring these actions to the next meeting to track your progress on bringing your ideas to life and meeting your goals.
Setting a goal and following up on the implementation of our ideas is an easy way to make your next brainstorming session more effective. Fostering an inclusive environment and inviting participants to engage anonymously can help to ensure no ideas go unexpressed. And encouraging your team to prepare beforehand can help ensure they come armed with great ideas to propel your organisation forward.