For some reason, brainstorming sessions always never quite seem to make the mark. Whether it’s an onset of post-lunch lethargy cutting into the group’s concentration or another case of groupthink, it’s always something.
Logically, having a group of people come together to think of ideas should be more productive than doing it one by one. In reality, brainstorming sessions often prove to be so ineffective precisely because of the way group members interact. To that end, here are six tips on how to maximise team brainstorming output during your next ideation meeting.
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When deciding who to call up for the ideation meeting, try and ensure that the group you assemble is as cognitively diverse as people. As far as possible, enlist the help of people trained in different disciplines, and with varied thinking styles.
For example, some people naturally tend to think more creatively, which you can leverage while generating ideas. Others are more analytical in their thinking, making it advantageous when it’s time to eliminate ideas that aren’t viable.
It may also be helpful to include a few members who can offer some fresh outside perspectives on the problem.
Brainstorming is generally understood as a creative endeavour requiring as much open-endedness as possible. The problem with this is that clarity of purpose is often sacrificed for the sake of eliminating barriers to creative thinking.
Start off every ideation meeting with a clear statement of the purpose of the meeting, a well-defined problem statement, and any constraints that need to be taken into account. This goes a long way in providing a direction for brainstorming and makes it much easier to sift out the most effective and practical solutions later on.
An intellectually hostile environment can be a major killjoy for a group attempting to generate ideas. If people feel as though their ideas as unwelcome, they will self-censor. It makes for a far less effective brainstorming session with significantly lower ideation output.
Facilitators and team leaders need to ensure that they set the right tone at the beginning of the meeting. Letting everyone know that open communication is of the utmost importance is vital to minimising self-censorship.
It’s also essential to give introverts the room and space to speak up. Unsurprisingly, extroverts tend to dominate group discussions, but this is counterproductive to group brainstorming. Simple acts like calling upon each group member to share their ideas one by one can make a big difference.
One of the most common phenomena afflicting brainstorming sessions is groupthink. When people come together to discuss ideas, they start to zero in on two or three particular ideas prematurely, without giving enough consideration to other ideas.
Depending on the group’s size, during the idea generation stage, get the group to break up and generate ideas separately before reconvening to move on to the criticism stage. Here, smaller groups benefit from individual brainstorming, while larger groups can be broken up into mini-groups.
One way to do this is by practicing “6-3-5 brainwriting”, where 6 group members are given 5 minutes to each write down 3 ideas on a worksheet. It’s a modified brainstorming technique that ensures equal participation in idea generation across group members.
Once the five minutes are up, each worksheet is passed along to another member, and another 5-minute, 3-idea round commences, until there’ve been 6 rounds in total (commensurate with the number of people in the group.) Then, the group reconvenes to critique and work through the generated ideas together.
Sometimes, the best ideas come during “Eureka!” moments, which, unfortunately, can fade from memory quite fast. By the time you get the chance to share your idea with the group (without cutting anyone off), you might have already forgotten what you wanted to say.
It’s simple: write it down. It doesn’t matter whether you use the Notes app on your iPhone, your notepad, or a Post-It, get it down so that it doesn’t slip from your mind.
Additionally, having a visual representation of ideas is a proven aid to creativity; providing writing materials to this end facilitates drawing, mind mapping, and other helpful visualisation techniques.
If all else fails, think about carrying out your brainstorming sessions online. It might seem counterintuitive, but online brainstorming has the advantage of eliminating social judgment, which is a huge inhibitor towards participation in ideation meetings.
Psychological research refers to this as “evaluation apprehension”; people are afraid to share their ideas because they’re afraid of negative social judgment. Online brainstorming substantially reduces this fear. There’s also no need to worry about forgetting what you wanted to say since you don’t have to wait for your turn during online brainstorming.
Also, because you can access the group chat history at any time, you can go back and refer to it any time you need to afterward without having to physically approach anyone to ask if they might remember that one comment they made during a meeting two weeks ago.