Why are brainstorming sessions so important?
Some of the best ideas can come from a brainstorming session. There can be a lightbulb moment that then sparks a whole new project, or a new direction and focus for the company. And this project or direction could be a remarkable one. Everything starts with an idea, and from ideas successful business grow. Nowadays at work, often we’re so busy actually doing our jobs, replying to emails and rushing from one meeting to another, that taking time out to step back from the minutiae of everyday tasks gets forgotten. It is in these lost moments of calm, when you are given space and time to think creatively and look at the bigger picture, that big ideas happen. Or small ones, that can spark a big change! We can’t stress enough the importance of finding time for these moments, and even more effective than taking time out on your own is thinking aloud in a small group. One idea is a catalyst for another . . . and another . . . and PING, you’ve cracked it! These ideas sessions can happen organically, but sometimes they need a helping hand to get started. If you’re wondering how to do a brainstorming session that really delivers results, we’ve got some group brainstorming tips and suggestions for you below.
Be Prepared for Your Brainstorming Session
In our opinion, one of the most important things you can do to make your brainstorming session as productive as possible is plan. The last thing you want is everyone seeing the brainstorming session as just another meeting and just turning up with a notepad and pen and one eye on their watch. However possible, make your brainstorming session something people are looking forward to attending (see below for some incentive ideas!), and something that is quite clearly not a meeting. Ask everyone to bring along some ideas – say two or three – on the topic you’re brainstorming. Maybe get each person to write their ideas down anonymously and then start the session by reading them out. This way, people should be fearless about throwing in some ‘out there’ ideas and you have got everyone energised and thinking creatively from the beginning. If you think it’s unlikely that people will give enough time and attention to any preparatory work before the brainstorming session then at the start of the get-together ask everyone to go off to a quiet space and write down their ideas.
Fewer is Best
The more people you invite to the group brainstorming session the more unwieldy it becomes. It runs the risk of producing too many ideas (which can actually detract from creating top quality ideas) and there is also the potential problem that certain people will dominate the session over others. It’s best to keep the group small and focussed. Make sure everyone there has an interest in the project and a reason to be there, but if possible try and keep the group varied. That way you will hopefully get some more creative and original ideas at your brainstorming session!
Be Active, Not Passive!
Following on from the practicalities of how to facilitate a brainstorming meeting – namely by keeping it small – think about ways to get the most out of everyone in the group. Encourage everybody to speak; ask each person for their opinion in turn or get every member of the team to suggest an alternative or an amendment to an idea you’re working on. Maybe spend some time with people working in pairs – there’s no place to be passive in that situation! You could even turn it into a competition by asking each pair to pitch their idea or solution to the problem and persuade the rest of the group. This will encourage some real critical thinking and analysis of your new ideas.
Just Another Meeting?
As we said before, make sure it is clear from the moment you invite the team that this is NOT a meeting. Organise it during a quiet period in the office – don’t pick the busiest week of the year! Give everyone an incentive – will you all go out for lunch during the brainstorming session? Or finish a bit earlier than usual and go for some team bonding drinks? You could even go one step further and pair it with an activity day – say, a cookery class followed by discussing new ideas over the food you’ve just made. Breaking the ice may be a cliché, but it is important that the group feels at ease with one another before you ask people to feel comfortable throwing out ideas in front of everyone else.
Look for Ideas in New Places
Another way of making sure it feels different to your usual meetings and of generating some energy is by hosting the session in a new environment. Plenty of co-working set-ups have Spaces for hire and these places are full of innovation, creativity and endless possibilities. The atmosphere and mood is perfect for a productive group brainstorming session!
The Writing’s on the Walls
Don’t just rely on discussions around a table when thinking about ways to brainstorm. Writing ideas down on walls or screens or whiteboards not only helps you keep track of what you’re talking about, but it also means that you are – literally – surrounded by ideas. Which in turn will help you all generate even more ideas!
Keep the Momentum Going!
As well as writing down the big suggestions or brainstorm ideas ask someone to come along to your brainstorming session and take some detailed notes. There will probably be plenty of moments where you suggest an action point, but it gets forgotten in the conversation that follows. Whoever circulates all of these notes and action points after the meeting should set as short a deadline as possible for completing them. The longer these ideas remain just that, ideas, the more people lose enthusiasm and drive, get distracted by something else and find that momentum to push their great idea though has completely dissipated.
So, these are all our favourite ways for how to do a brainstorming session successfully. And, as you can see from the ideas, productive group brainstorming takes more than half an hour on a Monday lunchtime. It needs proper thought and prior preparation and a whole morning, afternoon or day if possible! Just remember, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of time, break the day up into manageable chunks and different styles of working. Great ideas need energy and focus.
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