Even the highest performing creative teams can hit a wall. When your team hits that wall it might be time to bring everyone together for a brainstorming session. These collaborative sessions let marketers and content creators get 'unstuck' and generate ideas that may eventually be developed into usable projects. Even if not all of the ideas are keepers (and you know they won’t be), brainstorming is a great way to increase the volume of ideas to choose from.
Here are some points to consider when setting up a brainstorming session:
One of the main reasons that brainstorming sessions fail is that all of the necessary elements have not been put into place. Ideal location, trusted facilitator, realistic time expectations, clearly-communicated rules, and useful tools are all needed to set up for your session. Tools may include a whiteboard with markers, sheets of paper, tape, easels, stock photo books, magazines, and even toys help keep minds working.
As a brainstorming facilitator, make sure the people in the room understand what you are trying to accomplish. Be sure to clearly identify the direction you are headed or the outcome you are looking for. Describe the problems that need to be solved or the ideas that need developing or refining. Share your objectives with your team a few days before the brainstorming session so your team can can begin reflecting on ideas they can bring to the session.
Hand Over the Reins.
If you’re the boss, you may want to consider asking someone else to facilitate your brainstorm session. This allows your participants to feel more relaxed by changing up the hierarchy a little bit, letting the facilitator act as a neutral party. Whoever facilitates should be sure to clearly communicate the rules and expectations from the start. As the boss you may also consider being more of a listener and guide during the session rather than a full-on participant in the process. Let your team works its magic - that's why you hired them.
Set up the Rules.
Free-for-all brainstorming sessions typically end in frustration and accomplish little. Communicate your rules ahead of time to maintain trust and respect. These might include:
- Crazy ideas are welcomed. (Speak first, think later.)
- No negativity.
- Go for volume.
- Everyone contributes something.
- Listen when you aren’t speaking. (Take turns.)
- Try to stay on topic.
- No outside interruptions (cell phones, etc.)
- Short breaks will be scheduled.
Start with a Warm Up.
Choose some exercises to get people thinking and relaxed. These can be silly teamwork games and may even elicit some eye-rolling, but you need a way to get the people in the room working together. For instance, try an exercise where the facilitator starts with one sentence and then each person adds another sentence to create a story. The goal with a warm up is not to accomplish anything except for getting the people in the room to start talking and thinking.
Room for Bad Ideas.
Quality control will come later when you toss out all of the bad ideas. During the actual brainstorming session, just aim for massive numbers of ideas and refrain from allowing the phrase “that won’t work” to be part of the equation. Rather than shooting down ideas, participants should be encouraged to build on them.
Even if an idea isn’t a good one, encouragement helps to break down the barriers some people might feel when sharing ideas. Just a quick comment such as “good thinking” or “nice” can build the trust that is needed to help hesitant people take risks and share more.
If brainstorming is done in a formal manner, then you probably won’t get very far. Laughter and fun diffuse tension, allowing ideas to flow more readily. Being able to let the inner child through for a bit (without fear of judgment or embarrassment) allows us to laugh at ourselves in a healthy way, promoting enjoyment and creativity.
Productive brainstorming sessions accomplish much if you set your goals ahead of time, gather the right people, encourage thinking outside-the-box, and create a safe space from which ideas can flow. Once you’ve come up with masses of ideas, then you’ll have a chance to evaluate the ideas and assign next steps toward turning ideas into reality.