You know your company needs to innovate in a certain area—maybe it’s hiring, product design, customer service, event management or all the above—but you aren’t totally sure how to execute.
Scheduling a brainstorming session can be great way to ignite a flow of creative energy from your staff members.
While exciting and filled with possibilities, brainstorming sessions can also turn into straight-up nightmares if run improperly. Feelings can get hurt, tempers can flare and, in some cases, the meetings can end without any actionable ideas.
Here, we go through a few of the ways to make sure your next session is super productive brainstorming session.
Designate a leader/moderator
The right leader isn’t always the CEO or business owner. Sometimes an outside consultant is the most appropriate for the job. Regardless, every brainstorming session needs a leader. Someone to manage the whiteboard of ideas, someone to call on people, someone to handle crosstalk (a no-no) and someone to set a positive, creative tone for the meeting. Without a leader, things can quickly go off the rails.
Create ground rules at the outset
It helps when people know what to expect, so explain how the structure of the brainstorming session before it starts. Tell everyone what time it will end, when breaks will be, when you will talk about which topics and so on. The more structure you can set up front, the more relaxed your participants will feel.
Allow ideas to flow freely and without criticism
The point of most brainstorming sessions is to come up with something new, something the company hasn’t done before or possibly even discussed previously. Finding something new can be a tall order for longtime employees, so give participants the freedom to throw out any ideas that come to them. Don’t allow any form of bullying (this includes micro-aggressions and back-handed compliments) and let people speak before processing the content of their ideas. The safer feel, the more ideas will flow.
Let everyone have a chance to talk
This one can be tough, and something in which we can all relate. Most of us have been in meetings with one or two very active talkers who dominate all conversation. This type of dynamic doesn’t make for a productive brainstorming session (or any other meeting, for that matter). Facilitators are smart to cut off the chatty Cathys nicely and assertively and create a structure around allowing everyone in the room to have the space to contribute.
It’s hard—some would say downright impossible—to be creative on demand. Lots of people need space to think and breathe before producing. Take this knowing and build frequent breaks into your brainstorming sessions.
Get out of the office
Changing locations can work wonders for unlocking creative barriers. Can’t afford a shiny corporate retreat location? No problem. If your team is small, have them over to your house for an afternoon. Or reserve a picnic area at your local park. Or the back room at a restaurant (pro tip: go during an off-time—lunch, perhaps—for a discounted room rate). There’s a reason retreats are so popular for producing ideas. Replicate this concept with your team and watch as the ideas roll in.
Get moving and make it fun
Sometimes the act of physically moving your body can help unlock innovative ideas. Start your brainstorming session with a dance party. Or keep things chill by starting with a meditation session. At the very least, start with a casual meet-and-greet over coffee so people can get warmed up to the idea that they will be stuck in the same room with each other for hours on end.
Then, make it fun. Schedule some surprise games and prizes. Games don’t have to be related to your business (although bonus points if they do), and prizes don’t need to break the bank. Allow yourself to brainstorm your brainstorming session (so meta) before holding the session and see what comes up.
Schedule next steps
Brainstorming sessions can be enlightening and empowering and fabulous, but without takeaway action items, they may as well be throwaway meetings. Build in time at the end of your brainstorming session to establish clear next steps for each topic discussed. Assign team captains who will make sure things get done and follow-up meetings and watch your team members go back to their offices more energized and productive than ever before.