How to run a successful brainstorm

Brainstorm meetings are useful for solving problems, coming up with new ideas, and decision making. The goal of a brainstorm meeting will be individual to your circumstance, but overall, you’ll want a conclusion, and some actionable items to work on. Or, at the least, several new ideas to further discuss. This is what makes an effective brainstorm meeting.

Whilst many outspoken individuals sometimes take over these meetings, it doesn’t have to work this way. Every individual on your team is sure to have a new or different perspective that could prove to be constructive.

Here are some of our tips on how to run a great brainstorm (in person or virtually).

Don’t invite too many people to the meeting but a smaller, diverse group

Often, if there are too many people, this is when the more confident and bigger personalities will dominate the conversation. On top of that, it’s likely there will be people talking over each other leading to an ineffective sharing of multiple ideas and shutdown of those ideas which commonly becomes hard to keep track of, especially on a video meeting.

A smaller, diverse group allows for individual communication, fresh and different perspectives, as well as less chaos and more structure.

If you are organising a team brainstorm, make sure you create a structure for your meeting.

Communicate goals and context before the meeting

To give people time to think and deliberate, provide the context and the goal of the project to those involved with ample time before the meeting. It is rare for people to think of great ideas on the spot or with too much pressure on them.

Ask invitees to come prepared with ideas

Following on from this, ask them to come with ideas prepared already. This not only ensures people don’t have to think in flash, but it also means you will get to hear from everyone and no one’s point of view is hidden or squashed.

Give the meeting some structure by asking each individual to talk OR alternative means to ensure each person shares their thoughts

Different facilitators and teams will require different ways of sharing ideas. This may be going around in to each person and hearing from everybody whilst someone puts these ideas on a whiteboard (or word document/virtual whiteboard if brainstorming remotely). Or, it could be giving everyone a moment to write down their thoughts on a sticky note and then placing these together on a wall to discuss (or sending in a note to the facilitator to add to the online document that everyone can see). The ideas can be categorised and new ideas can be written down below the original note that it stemmed from.

It’s important to write down and create a pathway of the brainstorm, this ensures there’s no going too far off track and it also helps to visualise a plan or the best course of action. It’s great for people to refer back to as well.

As mentioned, this can all be done in a virtual session easily by sharing an online document via Google Docs or Teams for example.

Foster a ‘no idea is a bad idea’ attitude – BUT – don’t spend too much time talking over an idea that you probably won’t go with

This is a tricky balance, but you want everyone to feel comfortable sharing ideas, even if it’s not the brightest one they’ve ever had. To make sure you’re not shutting people down entirely, give a fair reason why an idea might not work in this case and move on to the next idea. Make sure to ask that person what they think about other things (especially if they seem a little deflated after their idea was shut down).

Allow for anonymous idea submissions after the meeting

Despite a structured meeting where everyone shares their thoughts, keep the conversation open for a day or two after the meeting before settling on something completely (if there were still some question marks). This gives people time to think of more ideas or share things they might have been hesitant to share otherwise. You can then re-group if anything jumps out to you and add this to the brainstorm pathway.

You may come out with a wonderful plan and decision after your next brainstorm... or you may not (even if you do all the right things). Don’t put too much pressure on one meeting to come up with the result you desire. If you think another brainstorm at a different time will produce more ideas, then go ahead and plan it! Creativity of thought is not often a structured experience and sometimes people will simply have better ideas at a different time, in a new week, on a fresh day...

All the best with your next brainstorm!