How to Lead an Effective Group Brainstorming Session was originally published on Ivy Exec.
We’ve all sat through ineffective brainstorming sessions. Maybe you’ve experienced one where you came up with dozens of great ideas but left without a plan of action – and never heard about any of those ideas again. Or perhaps your team always veers off on wild tangents that have little connection to the topic you actually wanted to brainstorm!
Whatever problems you’ve encountered with group brainstorming in the past, you can make these sessions more useful and relevant with these tips.
Set clear parameters about the solution you’re seeking – and stick to them.
One of the most annoying things about brainstorming is when it gets off track from the original purpose. This can happen if you don’t set clear enough expectations about the solution the brainstorming session should uncover. What exactly needs to be modified? What is the timeframe for the project in progress?
“For example, solutions may have to be implemented within six months or involve finding a new market. If you want a broad set of ideas, you’ll want fewer boundaries. If you’re looking for a very tight set of solutions, you’ll want tighter boundaries,” said Andrea Caulfield, Innovation Manager at BDC.
Next, decide who and how many people you plan to invite. Caulfield suggests that between three and eight participants are often the ideal size. Ideally, invite a mix of experts and non-experts. Individuals who are less familiar with a field and its tried-and-true strategies are often able to come up with the most out-of-the-box ideas.
Let people know the purpose and timeframe for the brainstorming ahead of time.
When you identify what you want to brainstorm and who you want to involve, set the intention and timeframe for the session ahead of time. Rather than springing the purpose of your group brainstorming onto them at the start of the session, telling them beforehand lets them prepare their ideas. In turn, this discourages “groupthink” by giving individuals time to think and write down ideas before sharing them.
You also want to set a timeframe ahead of time, so your brainstorming session doesn’t go off the rails. The more confines you set up ahead of time, the more likely your session will be successful.
Set up specific parameters during the meeting and stick to them.
When everyone assembles either in person or online, reiterate the purpose of your meeting and the timeframe. Then, share that you’re going to ask each person for the ideas they came up with before the meeting. This way, you’re not getting the most feedback from the most talkative members of the group; each person has an equal chance to participate.
After you’ve established how you want the meeting to run, then you need to re-affirm the boundaries you set. For instance, if someone on the team runs a little off-track, redirect them by saying something like, “That’s a great idea, but today, we’re just talking about ____. Why don’t you save that for Thursday’s brainstorming session?”
Write down all the ideas generated on a whiteboard (in person) or digital sharing tool (online). Avoid shutting down ideas immediately, even if you don’t like them; you’ll discourage creativity and open sharing of ideas.
Identify the most valuable ideas and next steps.
After you’ve written down everyone’s ideas, start grouping them into connected themes and categories. Perhaps there are several ideas connected to an app’s user-friendliness, for instance; connect these ideas under the same heading or category.
After you’ve made these categories, then ask participants to start their top ideas. The number of ideas you ask them to favorite will vary based on the number of categories listed, the ideas within them, and the number of participants.
Caulfield also suggests that the most innovative ideas from the session shouldn’t be lost, even if they didn’t receive the most votes.
Don’t let your brainstormed ideas go to waste.
Another pratfall in brainstorming is that you generate amazing ideas – but then never do anything with them. If you don’t follow up after you brainstorm, then you’re missing the point.
During the session, decide on the next steps for the most promising ideas. Ask your team members what they think should happen next. Some might want to follow up with the ideas they brought to the session, connecting with their colleagues to explore possibilities. Others may want to form small groups to explore the generated ideas. For instance, perhaps you assign three sub-groups from the brainstorming session to research the three themes that emerged.
Again, set a timeline for these next steps and then create another meeting invite for the follow-up. We’ve seen many exciting brainstorming sessions fizzle out when team members don’t have a timeline.
Participating in a Group Brainstorming Session that Works
Based on the parameters you set, brainstorming can be exciting and useful, or it can be nerve-wracking and worthless. So, decide what you want to discuss and who needs to be there beforehand, letting your team know your expectations for the meeting so they can prepare ahead of time. Then, establish clear boundaries and stick to them.
Wondering how to start off on the right foot managing a group? Read our guide on “Winning Over and Managing a New Team”!