Brainstorming Sessions: Why They Come up Short and How to Fix Them

Posted by jartese on Apr 10, 2014 3:00:16 PM

Guest post by JT Ripton

Collaborating with colleagues is a great way to come up with new ideas if you're stuck in a rut. But believe it or not, most brainstorming sessions waste time and end up in failure. In order to transform a problematic brainstorming session to a productive one, companies need to know why they're coming up short.

Here are five reasons brainstorming sessions falter and how companies can fix them.

Follow a Framework and Set Ground Rules

First and foremost, your brainstorming session should have a strong leader facilitating it -- someone whom everyone respects that has a strong voice in the room. Although keeping it free-flowing without any rules might sound like a good idea, this approach only encourages the loudest voices in the room to speak without the shy ones getting the chance to present their brilliant ideas.

Here are some ground rules that'll help you start your brainstorming session the best way. Also, keep in mind the foundational framework that'll take the session to the next level.

  • Ensure that your team focuses on the right challenge
  • Ensure the team members who attend the session care about the topic
  • Ensure that you invite team members with diverse points of view
  • Spend some time clarifying the current problem before working toward a resolution
  • Start the session with a fun icebreaker to loosen team members up and change their mindset
  • Ensure that team members participating practice "deep listening"
  • Encourage the telling of stories, playing of music, and using humor to spice things up
  • Collect all mobile devices so that there aren't any distractions during the session
  • Either go to an offsite place or put a "do not disturb" sign on the meeting room door
  • Encourage individuality, wild ideas, and risk taking from team members

Think First, Come Together Later

Speaking of individuality; before you arrange your brainstorming session, give your team members time on their own to think about the ideas they might share. Introverts usually need time by themselves to get their creative juices flowing; it often results in rewarding solutions.

Conversely, extroverts are usually more creative by feeding off the energy of the entire group. Accommodate both personality types to ensure you're getting the best of both worlds. The hybrid process of working alone and collaborating together works wonders for brainstorming.

Make it Mandatory to Contribute

By implementing the above ground rules, you create a comfortable atmosphere where people won't be afraid to contribute their ideas -- good or bad. Every team member who participates in the session should contribute at least one idea to everyone else. This will ensure that you compile a lengthy list of ideas to work from. It's common for weak ideas to turn into brilliant ones by the time the group gets talking about them. Make every idea count!

Follow the 'Replace a Bad Idea With a Good One' Rule

As stated previously, any weak idea could turn into a brilliant one. Make sure that if other team members oppose an idea presented to the group, they offer one that's better -- or at least an alternative. Doing so allows team members part of the brainstorming session to step on each other's ideas until they get to the ultimate solution.

Consider the 'Six Thinking Hats' Technique

Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats technique is a simple yet effective thinking process that helps people become more productive, focused, and involved. You can apply this by asking your team members to put on a hat to analyze each situation separately.

  • White hat: Calls for the “just the facts” information that’s known or needed.
  • Yellow hat: Look at the positive, the value, and the benefits.
  • Black hat: Look at the negatives, the difficulties, and the dangers.
  • Red hat: Use hunches, feelings, and intuition.
  • Green hat: Use creative approaches when considering new concepts and alternative ideas.
  • Blue hat: Typically worn by the group leader to facilitate the process and delegate to specific team members.

Once your brainstorming session is done, make sure your team members receive their mobile devices back so they can jot down a few last-minute notes down. Particularly when loaded with useful note-taking apps like Evernote or Google Keep and many Samsung tablets are particularly useful with their multi-tasking abilities.

Do you have any successful brainstorming tips to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Topics: Innovation Insights

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