A brainstorm mtg is an excellent way to promote team collaboration and stimulate the flow of original, creative ideas—if you know how to run it effectively, that is. When many leaders think about hosting a brainstorm session, their first impulse is to call everyone into the conference room (or Zoom link), present an issue that needs a solution or a strategy that could use more innovation, then hope to make some eventual progress.
But while that might be the default brainstorm format, it’s not always successful. This loosely structured let’s-see-what-sticks approach will often lead to one of three unproductive outcomes. The first possibility is a few team members dominate the conversation, and no one else has a chance to contribute. The second is that everyone talks over each other, and it becomes a chaotic free-for-all. Or the third scenario: most of the ideas or solutions generated will not work. So what began as a solid effort turns into a waste of time.
As a result, your team will leave the brainstorm mtg with no plan of action or concrete decisions, which can weaken collaboration instead of reinforcing it. Fortunately, there are better ways to run a brainstorm, elicit valuable contributions and achieve viable outcomes. Here are a few tactics to help you coordinate the perfect brainstorm mtg.
Organize the Brainstorm Around Four Key Questions
A brainstorm mtg can be informal, but it should have at least some structure to keep the conversation on topic and filter out any impractical ideas. Framing your brainstorm around these four questions will clarify the main goals and shift everyone’s focus toward workable solutions and actionable strategies. Not only will these questions lead to efficient, productive brainstorming, but they’ll encourage maximum creativity, too:
- What are we planning to do? Define the primary objective that you want the brainstorming to center around.
- How will we do this? Build a framework of concrete action steps to help you achieve this outcome.
- Who will have a role in doing this? Communicate responsibilities and allocate tasks to optimize collaboration.
- Why are we doing this? Evaluate whether the objective aligns with your mission and if this is the best way to pursue it.
Break with Convention and Try a Brainwriting Session
If you want to nurture an inclusive brainstorm mtg atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their input, ditch the verbal brainstorm format and opt for brainwriting instead. This is especially well-suited to team members who are introverted or take a while to formulate their thoughts and can’t just spew ideas like some of their more vocal colleagues. Here’s how to facilitate equal participation with a brainwriting session:
- Using the questions above as a blueprint, ask all team members to write their top three ideas or solutions on a notecard, then set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Once the timer goes off, instruct each person to hand their notecard off to the coworker sitting next to them (if you’re on Zoom, have team members share their list in a private chat with the colleague whose thumbnail screen is next to theirs).
- Set the timer for another 10 minutes, then instruct each team member to expand further on the list of ideas they just received from their coworker. Once that timer goes off, have them pass this newly revised list to the colleague on their other side. Continue repeating this cycle until all the notecards have been passed in a full circle.
- Collect all the notecards, write each idea on a whiteboard (or type them out and share your screen on Zoom), then discuss the pros and cons as a group.
- Ensure all the notecards remain anonymous to minimize potential embarrassment or anxieties around contributing, so everyone feels safe to participate.
Remove External Distractions with a Brainstorm Retreat
Sometimes the most brilliant innovations and successful problem-solving measures come to the surface when you eliminate other distractions. This is where a brainstorming retreat comes in handy. When team members have a change in the scenery outside of their normal routines, it’s easier to discover new angles or examine different perspectives. The focused, intentional time away together can reinforce collaboration and team bonding at all levels. Here are a few tips for running an effective off-site brainstorming retreat:
- Be strategic about your location and time frame: choose a central location accessible for all employees (this is crucial for remote or hybrid teams scattered in various regions). Then plan to meet for a set amount of time—three days is perfect to nurture team cohesion and maximize productivity, but even half a day can yield results
- Eliminate all environmental distractions: encourage everyone to disconnect from the hectic pace of daily life. Turn off phone notifications and limit technology use. If there’s an urgent issue, you can deal with it, of course—but the goal of this retreat is to collaborate offline face-to-face.
- Reflect on the wins, then identify areas to work on: recognize all you’ve been able to accomplish as a team, but also be honest about where you need to improve. This will help clarify where to focus the brainstorming efforts.
- Break into smaller groups to brainstorm solutions: separate team members into small groups. Then block out an hour for each group to brainstorm solutions for the areas of improvement you all identified together.
- Reconvene to share and process ideas as a team: allow each group to pitch their solutions to the rest of the team, hash out the potential benefits or drawbacks, and choose a few ideas to activate or explore further.
- Cast vision for bringing these ideas to the office: create a long-term action plan to translate these ideas from the retreat into the workplace. Ensure this plan is realistic, concrete, and specific. Determine how much time, resources, and labor it will take to actualize everything from start to finish.
Use these Strategies to Plan the Perfect Brainstorm
If you’re wondering how to make a brainstorm – or brainwriting – mtg more effective, these strategies have you covered. They’re simple to initiate and result in successful, creative outcomes. So next time there’s a problem to solve or an innovation to explore, you’ll be ready to transform your brainstorm mtg from lackluster to exhilarating.