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How to run an effective brainstorming session

How to run an effective brainstorming session
Bitrix24 Team
May 19, 2022
Last updated: May 19, 2022

When you’re bashing your head against a brick wall and your go-to strategies just aren’t working, it’s time to call a brainstorming session. 

If just hearing that makes you groan, imagining endless sessions that lead to nothing, then unfortunately you’ve been brainstorming wrong all this time. 

Here is a list of ways to make brainstorming more fun and effective. 

Right place, right time

The first step in how to run an effective brainstorming session is to think about the when and the where. Timing and location can have a huge impact on the success of your session.

First things first — keep it short. You only need your team to block out 30 minutes in their calendar when planning a brainstorming session, and they’ll be more motivated knowing it’s short and sweet. Similarly, a tighter time frame keeps people focused, rather than drifting off on tangents.

The time of day is also an important factor.You don’t want a post-lunch meeting when everyone is already exhausted, so schedule it just after a coffee break in the morning for fresh minds and even fresher ideas.

Finally, the venue. Break the associations your team may have with your regular meeting room. Us humans tend to drift into old behavioral patterns when placed in familiar settings, so shake it up and pick somewhere unusual, such as a local cafe, the building basement, or an outdoor picnic table. 

Pick your dream team

It’s a nice idea to have the entire company pitching in their contributions, but in practice, you’ll never come to a conclusion. We would recommend inviting no more than 10 people to your meeting so it can be constructive and everyone can be heard. But who should these people be? Resist the temptation to pick similar profiles just because they’re the ones directly involved.

For example, if you want to improve sales pitches, you don’t only want your sales team in your brainstorming session. Instead, alongside a few sales experts, you should invite a diverse range of profiles. While your experts know what is technically possible and what isn’t, your non-experts can offer outside-the-box ideas and different perspectives on the same issue.

However, you don’t want to have attendees who don’t know why they’re in the room. So, as you’re planning a brainstorming session, explain specifically what each person can bring to the table. Done in a professional way, you can also boost each individual’s confidence to get even better contributions.

Specify the problem you want to solve

Without an ultimate goal you want to achieve, teams tend to meander from one idea to another with no determination or commitment. As the organizer, it’s your job to make it clear to them.

Therefore, when you’re sending out calendar invites, include a clear question and get your team’s creative juices flowing. Examples could include “how do we improve sales in stagnant markets?” or “how can we increase our customer service closed deal rate by 10%?” There are some easy answers to these questions.

Improve sales by advertising on every open space in your slow-moving markets. Spend $1 trillion so each customer can have a personal customer service representative sitting waiting for their call. Easy. Clearly, there will always be boundaries you have to work within, so include them in your brief. For example, your sales team may have to operate outside of the target countries and your customer service team can’t request a higher budget this year.

There is no right way of deciding how many boundaries you add to your overall goal. It all depends on what you’re looking for. More context and restrictions will give you more focused responses, while the opposite will provide more general plans. 

Choose your facilitator wisely

Your facilitator is the most important person in your brainstorming session. Without the right enthusiasm, you can end up with flat, uninventive ideas.

However, without the right authority, you can drift off-script and come up with nothing solid as a result. A facilitator is responsible for structuring your session, and their specific tasks include:
  • Keeping the conversation on track
  • Reminding participants of time constraints
  • Reaffirming the rulebook, e.g. no idea is a bad idea
  • Eliciting responses from all participants
  • Leading discussion in choosing the best ideas
  • Planning the next steps at the end of the meeting

Don’t forget to analyze your own skills and weaknesses. Just because you are the organizer, it doesn’t mean you are best placed to be a facilitator. In fact, it could even be an advantage for you to stay out of the session if some workers perceive your seniority in a way that blocks their contributions. As long as your facilitator has the respect of the group and can be a driving force behind creative thinking, you can hand over the reins of control to them. 

Outline your agenda

Along with your overall goal and the boundaries related to it, you should send out an agenda for your brainstorming session. Your agenda exists to give structure to your session and avoid straying away from the task at hand.

Lay it out on a shared Kanban board for everybody to see. It works as a reminder of what is to come, as well as giving a motivational boost when you can check off a task. Here we’ll offer a brief agenda template with some strategic insights:

Warm up
Your warm up can be something silly and seemingly irrelevant, but it plays an important role — it sets the tone for the session. Pitching ideas on who would win in a fight between a praying mantis and a lion if they were the same size isn’t going to help you find solutions to your objective, but it loosens people up, encourages creative thinking, and shows people that they are free to contribute.

Diverging
Diverging is when your team breaks off into small groups or even individually to come up with potential ideas, free from outside influence. You can keep it old-school with a pen and paper, or use collaborative documents to keep everything in one place (and to avoid messy handwriting!)

Converging
The opposite of diverging, converging is where your team brings their ideas into one collaborative document. The facilitator can go through each idea one by one, asking for clarification where needed. Then, as a team, you can then sort your ideas, rank them in order of efficacy, and decide as a group which ideas to go forward with.

Next steps
Your next steps deal with how you proceed after your brainstorming session. We’d highly recommend using task management software where you can include task details, responsible people, deadlines, and more. With precise, focused instructions, you can get to work straight away without having to revisit tasks later.


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Prepare for setbacks

No brainstorming session is perfect, but the more you practice them, the more you can learn from your mistakes.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t tackle issues mid-session. Below are some common issues and how to deal with them:

Participants not participating

It’s not uncommon for brainstorming sessions to suffer from people who are reluctant to get involved. Whether it’s fear, boredom, or domination by another attendee, ideation sessions need everybody to be involved. As a facilitator, you can switch strategies, asking for contributions one-by-one, or eliciting contributions, rather than waiting for people to raise their hand. 

Boredom and distraction

Avoiding distractions is crucial to a productive meeting. It helps to keep your train of thought going as far as it can — not stopping at the first station. Smartphones are repeat offenders here, so when you’re planning a brainstorming session, kindly ask your attendees to leave their devices at the door.

Similarly, keeping your sessions short will allow people to stay on task. With that taken care of, you can go round individuals or groups, asking on-topic questions to counter off-topic chatter. Not taking the session seriously Yes, you want free-flowing creativity and no idea is a bad one, but it’s all relative. Encouraged by a lively warm up session, your more boisterous characters can often mistake your brainstorming session for their improv comedy group.

However, one of the best ways to deal with overly silly suggestions is to think on your feet and steer it into your context. If you hear ideas of tweeting Elon Musk for a healthy cash injection, bring them back down to earth by opening a discussion on realistic potential investors. 

Getting bogged down in the nitty gritty

You’re in an ideation session, not a calculus exam. Some (very much essential) personality types tend to focus on the minute details of fresh ideas, rather than whether the idea has potential or not. This slows down the entire session and can lead to a drop in motivation among other attendees.

You’ll certainly need this kind of thinking further down the line, but for now, what’s important is to keep the energy of your brainstorming session high. Let the detail-focused member know they have been heard while using your facilitation skills to bump up the rhythm and get ideas flowing again. 

Select your final idea

The whole point of a brainstorming session is to come out the other side with a valuable idea that can solve your problem. Your combined collaboration should ultimately result in one agreed strategy to move ahead with.

In your convergence stage, your facilitator will have pulled together all your ideas, opened them up to discussion, and ranked them. Now, it’s time to make a decision from all the best suggestions you’ve had so far. Selection techniques include: 

Choose in small groups, then as a whole

If you’ve got enough participants, break your group up into smaller teams. These mini-teams can select their favorite idea from all those discussed during the convergence step. With each selection submitted, the whole group can debate among the new shortlist and come out with a winner. 

First, second, and third

Each team assigns three points to their favorite, two to their second-best, and one to their third favorite. After all the votes are in, count them up and the one with the highest number overall is what you will move forward with.

One by one and a show of hands

A quick-fire way of cutting down your list is simply to point at each idea on a board and get a show of hands from the whole group. Say you’ve got a group of eight — six or more hands in the air means the idea makes the shortlist. Anything less and the idea is scrapped. Then debate amongst yourselves to choose the ultimate winner.

We have a winner! Now what?

Well done! You’ve compiled a wide range of ideas and whittled them down to your group’s final decision. But your work isn’t done yet. Rather than going back to your silos and arranging another meeting further down the line, follow up after brainstorming sessions with a list of subsequent steps while they’re fresh in your mind.

This doesn’t mean a roughly sketched out roadmap on a piece of paper. We’re talking in-depth details and instructions assigned to individuals, and with a deadline for each one. Undoubtedly the best place to write down your plan is in task management software. The best tools on the market have the capability to give you a framework that connects all your tasks into one overall project.

You can set KPIs, pull out progress reports, and use a vast array of extra features to make life easier for you and your team. Bitrix24, for example, will let you visualize all your team’s tasks in a Gantt chart, and even connect your tasks with dependencies. This means once one task is done, the next is assigned, with everybody kept in the loop through notifications.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got everything 100% clear right now, you can revisit your strategy as you go. But by making a plan, you show an intent to get started, rather than putting it on the backburner. 

Use tools that facilitate your work

Now you know how to run an effective brainstorming session from a strategic point of view, it’s time to turn to the technology you can use. With brainstorming sessions, you want to keep the fire burning, and with the right tools, you can remove restrictions to your creative thinking. 

If you’ve got a keen eye for detail, you’ll have noticed a lot of handy features scattered throughout the article that can streamline your work. Kanban boards, collaborative docs, task management tools, and calendars all help to reduce mistakes, take the admin pressure off your team, and bring out their best creative selves. 

Bitrix24 comes with all these tools and more, so it’s no surprise over 10,000,000 organizations already use it to power their business processes. Sign up today for free and see what all the fuss is about. 

FAQ


What are the 4 rules of brainstorming?

For a smooth-running brainstorming session, follow these 4 rules:
  1. No judgment of ideas.
  2. Think unrestricted.
  3. Quantity first, quality second.
  4. Collaboration is better than solo work.

What are the 5 techniques of exploring creative thinking?

The following 5 techniques will help you get the most out of your creative thinking:
  1. Brainstorm ideas individually and as a group.
  2. Role play scenarios to visualize success and identify flaws.
  3. Answer who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  4. Bounce ideas off third parties.
  5. Venture out of your own specialization.


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