When it comes to idea generation and solving important problems, brainstorming can be a real boon. Or a real waste of everyone’s time. It’s an interesting tactic that can have wildly different results from workplace to workplace, group to group, or even day to day among the same people.
Because of its potential, because it can be a great team-building exercise, and because it promotes an inclusive work environment, brainstorming is definitely something to try. And it’s something to work at. With practice—and with the tips for effective brainstorming below—you can improve the efficiency and the results over time.
How to Have Better Brainstorming Sessions
- Assemble as diverse a group as possible for any brainstorming meeting; you want people with different ages, experiences, viewpoints, areas of expertise, problem-solving styles, etc.
- Give participants of your brainstorming session some time to prepare beforehand; even though it’s a collective effort, not everyone thinks best on the spot
- Try a creative warm-up and ice-breaking exercise before getting to the issue at hand; for example, challenge the group to come up with 100 uses for a brick within 10 minutes
- Start a brainstorming session by reminding everyone that you aren’t looking for a final solution yet—just possibilities; this helps keep people mentally flexible and throwing more variety out
- Make sure to clearly define the problem you’re addressing and the parameters for solving it before anyone begins offering ideas
- Maintain a comfortable and informal atmosphere
- Write all suggestions down—even the least viable—where everyone can see them; any idea can trigger a better one, plus this allows trends and themes to emerge
- Have questions prepared about the problem you’re working on to get people thinking about it in different ways in case there’s a slow start or you hit a wall
- Keep the room free of judgment; don’t permit any evaluation or criticism of ideas at this stage
- Break up brainstorming sessions with a break, or even a day off; this allows ideas to percolate and people to come back with fresh eyes and thoughts
- Watch for the inevitable lull; this is a good time to take a break, or to throw out a new perspective to change the way everyone is approaching the matter
- Bring in a few people who aren’t directly involved to look over the fruits of your labor halfway through the meeting; this is another way to potentially benefit from fresh eyes and thoughts
- If you find you don’t have much luck with larger gatherings, try creating multiple groups of three to five employees to work separately