You probably have an idea of how brainstorming is meant to work in group settings. Everyone gathers around and starts discussing ideas. Then, members consider the list of proposals and determine how they should be implemented. This is the standard method for getting everyone’s input and reaching an actionable conclusion.
Simple enough, right? What could go wrong? As many leaders learn through painful experience, quite a lot. There are several factors that can derail a group brainstorming session. For example, the more extroverted personalities in the team might dominate the conversation, not giving others a chance to contribute.
Another common situation is when members are unprepared, leaving the room in an awkward silence and having the meeting cut short to end the discomfort. There’s also the anchoring effect, which occurs when participants run with the initial ideas that were presented and unknowingly ignore any new suggestions, thus preventing progress.
Of course, none of these scenarios are ideal for generating innovative ideas. The good news is that they’re all avoidable. You just need the right tools for the job. Here are the key elements of productive team brainstorming.
As we increasingly find ourselves geographically separated from other team members, it’s important that we find ways to stay in touch and continue collaborating. By making use of new technological solutions, we can also raise productivity and get more done in less time. This is known as brain netting.
While apps like Slack and Google Docs can facilitate real-time digital brainstorming, there are more effective, dedicated solutions. For example, you can use an online brainstorming tool that allows members to add their input to a central location via numerous formats including calendars, diagrams, and sticky notes.
Since content can be added from anywhere at any time, team members can throw in their ideas whenever they arise, and the rest of the team can check in later to see the updates. You can also allow people to make anonymous additions to the concept map if it helps them feel freer to contribute.
Write and Pass
Let’s begin by addressing the three aforementioned pitfalls. In this nonverbal brainstorming technique, each member of the group writes down their ideas for the topic in question. When everyone is ready, the notes are passed to the person on the left or right. That person then builds on the ideas, be it with a simple list or their own take on the strategy.
After a few minutes, the process is repeated until the papers have circulated all the way around. From there, the ideas are discussed together and the group determines what to pursue. Such an approach ensures input from the entire team and that all ideas are given equal consideration.
This technique, which is commonly known as rapid ideation, involves writing down as many suggestions as possible in a set time frame. In doing so, you create a sense of urgency while also allowing each member to put forth their proposal before anything is discussed or critiqued, thus ensuring that everyone has their say.
It’s important to limit the amount of time that team members have to note their proposals, as this can stop them from prematurely disregarding an idea – another frequent group brainstorming pitfall.
In scenarios where the team might not have adequately prepared or needs to create solutions on the fly, the eidetic image method can serve as a useful way to generate new ideas. Here’s how it works.
- Have the group close their eyes and set an intention for what they want to create.
- Explain that their idea needs to be unlike existing solutions.
- After the intention is set, have everyone close their eyes again and think of the current solution.
- Then ask the group to think of how the solution can be improved upon.
- When everyone is ready, ask a random person to share what they thought.
From this point, have everyone consider the presented idea and begin layering theirs on top of it. This method doesn’t necessarily aim to create new solutions but to build upon existing ones. By encouraging a state of deep focus, you open up the opportunity for people to generate ideas outside of what might be thought of in more intense situations.
This technique provides another way to overcome the common hurdle of getting everyone’s input during brainstorming sessions. As teammates can sometimes be hesitant to offer their suggestions, try picking a well-known figure – it can be a celebrity or fictional character – and discussing how that person would approach the problem at hand.
It may seem silly at first, but figure storming is a great way to collect input as hesitant team members can route their ideas through the chosen person and help the team take different approaches. Doing this has the added benefit of eliminating certain barriers that may restrict creative thinking, such as limited resources and time.
Regardless of the brainstorming technique you opt for, the following best practices are worth keeping in mind:
Set Time Limits
It is said that creativity thrives under pressure. While providing adequate time for each team member to think through their idea is important, putting time limits on brainstorming sessions can help teammates maintain their focus and stay engaged in the task. Letting meetings drag on can lead to a loss of momentum.
Use Sticky Notes and Handwriting
In settings where the team is together in one room, traditional methods of noting down ideas can have a positive effect on thinking and improve creativity. This is particularly true for handwriting (as opposed to typing), while sticky notes make it easy to connect, group, and move ideas around.
Perhaps most important of all is making sure that everyone is given equal opportunity to present their ideas. The tone of your brainstorming sessions must be collaborative – not competitive, as the former better encourages creative thinking.
Putting these strategies into action during team brainstorming can make a world of a difference. Be sure to keep them in mind for the next session.