A team that brainstorms together is far more powerful than any single visionary within a company. It’s a clear situation in which the total brain power in a room (virtual or physical) is greater than the sum of its parts.
As anyone in the startup scene can attest, brainstorming isn’t just a nice way to pass the time and float ideas – it’s a crucial step in business development and the advancement of the company to something bigger, better, and more lucrative.
However, just putting a bunch of smart people in one place isn’t enough to spark a legendary brainstorm session. Team leaders need to set the right conditions and uphold their end of the bargain to make it work.
Here are some effective ways to improve team brainstorming sessions, with insights from entrepreneurs who have taken their businesses from zero to 100.
Set the Stage Properly
Every meeting needs structure, including brainstorms. Go into the session with a plan and stick to it, then learn from the experience with lessons for next time.
“You can’t just expect your employees to feel immediately comfortable and confident in themselves at the beginning of a meeting. This is why setting the stage is so important as a manager, supervisor, or team leader. Take some time to explain the purpose of the gathering, point out a few goals or concepts you want to work with, and then open up the floor in a natural way. This will give you much better results than pointing around the room and looking for ideas from people who are unprepared or caught off guard.” – Vincent R. Chan, Chief Financial Officer, Christina
How much preparation is too much for a brainstorm session? Sometimes it’s better to hold an impromptu meeting and just see what happens.
“Depending on your management style and your relationship with team members, you may want to hold a creative meeting with zero prior notice. That may seem too intense for some people, so planning ahead for a brainstorm may be a more appropriate way to handle this. There is some value that comes with a sense of urgency, but you also want your teammates to feel prepared and confident in what they have to say. Giving everyone a few days of prep time allows them to gather thoughts and shift gears into a more creative mindset from the start.” – Haim Medine, Creative Director, Mark Henry
Use Tech to Your Advantage
Digital transformation has impacted every aspect of the workplace, including creative efforts and coming up with ideas. Don’t miss the opportunities they offer.
“There are tons of tech tools – many of them free – that can make the brainstorming process much more enjoyable and productive for everyone involved. Whiteboard programs are available that allow designers to throw their ideas out from a tablet or desktop, while others add their own twists in real-time. Note-taking software is also highly advanced and gives everyone a leg up when processing and sharing their own thoughts. Finally, don’t hesitate to record meetings via audio or video. You never know when you might forget a brilliant idea that you mentioned on a whim in the middle of a busy conversation.” – Max Schwartzapfel, CMO, Fighting For You
Why should a brainstorming session end at a certain hour? Keep the ideas flowing, even when you’re not on the clock.
“Today’s technology allows us to facilitate brainstorming sessions with far more speed and intention, and expand them into longer timeframes as well. Rather than having a single, one-hour session per week, it’s now an ongoing open forum for team members and contributors throughout the week. You can jump into a collaborative document or chart at any time, from any device, and chip in your latest, greatest ideas. Whether you’re riding the train or hopping out of the shower, there is no more excuse to let those winning ideas fall to the wayside.” – Omid Semino, CEO and Founder, Diamond Mansion
Avoid Common Pitfalls
While brainstorming is a pretty open-ended activity, many organizations go about it the wrong way and stifle their results. Recognizing these pitfalls is key to avoiding them in the first place.
“You can mess up a brainstorming session before it even starts by putting an unnecessary amount of pressure on people to show up with revolutionary ideas. Never lead into a meeting by making team members feel like their jobs are on the line or like they have an obligation to say the perfect thing right off the bat. That’s a bad recipe for everyone involved. It’s way better to have some structure and a clear goal in mind, but also keep the environment relaxed without unneeded judgment or bad vibes.” – Tony Chan, CEO and Co-Founder, CloudForecast
Sometimes you need to make mistakes to recognize them in real time. Don’t worry – it’s all part of the learning process.
“There is a phenomenon called ‘anchoring’ that happens when a team becomes fixated on a single idea early in the session, then can’t seem to move onto other topics and modes of thinking. This is where the facilitator must intervene and keep things moving forward. Another pitfall is allowing one person to dominate the conversation, which is bad news for any creative endeavor. Make an effort to hear from everyone in the group and get a diverse array of opinions, even from people who aren’t super vocal. Finally, a brainstorm session is only useful if the ideas are put into action. Be sure to highlight the best ideas and actually implement them, or else all that time spent collaborating will be wasted.” – John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner, Berry Law
The more sessions you facilitate, the better you’ll become at leading the group through ups and downs, and reaching a productive conclusion.
“It’s all about keeping the session moving forward while making sure you don’t stagnate or lose momentum. That’s the toughest part of brainstorming, especially with larger teams. As the facilitator, you need to get a feel for when it’s time to move on, or when it’s appropriate to pause and focus on an idea. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too controlling, because that’s a creativity killer. I recommend being more hands-off at first, but getting involved if you feel that time is being wasted or if the conversation needs a jumpstart to get back on track.” – Tyler Read, Founder and Senior Editor, Personal Trainer Pioneer
Reflect, Revise, and Rethink
Once all those ideas are formulated and on the table, the hard part is picking and choosing the best of the bunch.
“Now is the time to judge ideas,” said Evans Baiya, Managing Director at TTI Success Insights Kenya. “From the collaboration that occurred during the preceding stage of discussion, there should be multiple people providing input to improve the original concept. No idea discussed remains the same – exponential value is added, and this is realized during the improvement stage. Your team can now experiment with interconnecting, combining, substituting, subtracting, adding, reversing, and modifying multiple ideas or parts of ideas.”
The moments after a brainstorm meeting are important, so take advantage of those creative sparks and be sure to summarize your findings.
“Always take a few minutes to follow up with team members after the conclusion of a brainstorming session, large or small. This is how you solidify the experience and ensure that it was a good use of time. It also keeps the ideas fresh in the minds of the participants and allows you to look at these concepts in a new light. It’s a bit like catching lightning in a bottle, but it’s highly effective if you can pull it off. Furthermore, a follow-up message will set the stage for the next brainstorming event and give team members a reason to keep brewing up new ideas in the meantime.” – Ray Leon, CEO, Pet Insurance Review
Before long, your company will build a continuous brainstorming culture that benefits everyone.
“Unfortunately, most ideas formulated during brainstorming simply get left behind and gather dust. That’s the reality of business and creativity in general, but you can do your part to ensure that good ideas don’t get scrapped or forgotten. This means going back over your notes, highlighting items of interest, working them into your list of priorities, and actually executing on the tasks that need to be done. That’s how you go from a theoretical brainstorming session to real, substantial improvements in your company. – Rym Selmi, Founder, MiiRO
Maintain a Healthy Culture
Culture is at the core of every company initiative, and the health of that culture will be on full display during a brainstorm project. For better or worse, you will learn a lot in the process.
“One significant change we’ve seen is an increased interest in mental health and the overall well-being of employees,” said Oshrat Binyamin, Vice President of Human Resources at Monday. “This shift is huge and will hopefully continue into the future. As companies become more in tune with the needs of their employees, and employees become more vocal about these needs, we’re often left with one question: How can we create a culture where employees are happy and fulfilled in their work?”
If brainstorm sessions are not yielding the results you want, it might be a matter of team members feeling unwelcome or unmotivated. It’s your goal to fix that upfront.
“We all understand intuitively that only a few ideas from a brainstorm are going to be implemented, but this should not discourage employees from continuing to show up with their best ideas and share them with enthusiasm. Give credit where it’s due to teammates who deliver winning ideas, but also encourage other participants to get more active and involved in the process. It’s often just a matter of people being shy or unsure of themselves. You can bring out the best in them by being open and inviting, and showing that it’s okay to make mistakes.” – Michael Fischer, Founder, Elite HRT
Some of your biggest discoveries, innovations, and victories will come from brainstorming, whether it’s an impromptu session or part of a weekly protocol.
No matter how you approach it, these tips and leadership insights will help you make the most of every brainstorming moment, and get maximum mileage from every idea.