Brainstorming Sessions that Lead to Outcomes

When was the last time you walked away from a brainstorming session feeling a sense of accomplishment? A good brainstorming session should feel good, but we know that is not always the outcome. I was thinking about the last few brainstorming sessions that I attended and just how good they were. Here’s what

Invite the right stakeholders. Keep a diverse representation but avoid having too many people. A good mix of stakeholders when brainstorming about any product or service could consist of those who will play a part in the development or end users. Consider who should be invited to your next brainstorming as the problem seers, subject matter experts (SMEs), end users, product developers, comms and change manager. These are now your session participants.

Set the meeting duration and location to play a key role. Group brainstorming sessions take time. Depending on the number of participants, schedule 90 minutes or more for this exercise. A problem that demands a brainstorming session deserves proper time allocation. We already know that location is important. Select a comfortable onsite location or go virtual. Some believe that virtual brainstorming creates more ideas. People participate more generously when they are in a space they like.

We once did a series of brainstorming exercises by the pool. That were amazing!

Use pre-reads to set the tone. Share the topic and the outcomes you want from the session. The best ways to spark innovations are by defining the objectives of the session and setting priorities. This would allow the participants to come prepared. If they should bring their own pens and sticky notes, remind them to do so.

Activate the power of connections. Facilitate a warmup exercise connected to the discussion. Some warmup exercises can encourage creative design thinking while also creating a sense of connection between participants. Participants could answer an easy question about their own creative ideas or even engage in a fun hands-on exercise like the 30-circle challenge.

Set the stage. Share more about the problem you are striving to solve in under 5 mins. Any longer and you will get tuned out.

Facilitate brainwriting within the allotted time: Brainwriting works very well for a group of diverse participants because everyone gets a chance to contribute to the idea right from the start of the discussion. You now have a room full of active creative thinking. Participants can write down their ideas on post-it notes and stick on a designated board for all to read. If you are leading this session virtually, using boards such as jam board, mural and zoom whiteboard work great. In true brainstorming style, remind participants to write whatever comes to their minds without the filter and fear of them being looked upon as odd. The more people become comfortable participating, the more ideas on hand to choose from.

Brainwriting is a technique in which participants write down their ideas about a topic before sharing it with the group.

Enjoy a robust discussion: Once the ideas are written down, you could have them displayed on a board. Everyone can have a chance to briefly explain their ideas. A couple of outcomes can be expected from the discussion: 1) Trends: Some ideas will overlap in concept and could be grouped together on the board.

2) Quick wins: Some ideas will emerge as low hanging fruits that can be executed sooner than other ideas to get some quick wins on the problem.

Remember that the point of brainstorming is to generate ideas and not discourage any so that participants are open to sharing. Breakdown traditional walls to identify innovative ideas and alternatives. No one should dismiss an idea when the brainstorming starts. Endeavour to create an atmosphere of openness and trust.

Conclude with an action plan: The purpose of a brainstorming session is to also have a plan to move forward. It’s not just about gathering ideas and leaving them in a folder somewhere. Set a timeframe for conclusions, development and implementation of ideas. Push similar ideas to prototyping stage or create a plan to follow up in the future.

Keep the engagement going: An easy way to keep stakeholders engaged is to keep them about next steps and outcomes in a timely manner. Keep the collaboration ongoing.

Stay positive about the process and about all the ideas.