Brainstorming is an essential tool for problem-solving, but it can be difficult to do effectively without guidance. In this post, we'll provide a guide to conducting an effective brainstorming session, using brainstorming methods and techniques that have been proven to work in traditional office, hybrid, distributed, and remote settings.
An important factor in every brainstorm is keeping an open mind. Be intentional about creating an environment where ideas can flow freely and participants can think outside the box. Remember, it’s about the quantity of ideas that your team can produce within the session — it’s not the time for criticism.
Finally, remember that brainstorming is a team activity — and that means everyone involved in the brainstorming meeting. Use this guide to get all stakeholders engaged in generating ideas, and build on each other's ideas to create even more possibilities.
What is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving technique with the goal of generating as many new and innovative ideas to solve a problem or challenge. Brainstorming often takes place in an informal, relaxed setting, where participants are encouraged to share their thoughts freely, build upon the ideas of others, and explore a wide range of possibilities.
Brainstorming can be done individually, but it is often more effective when done as a group. Group brainstorming allows for a greater variety of ideas to be generated, and it also helps to prevent people from getting stuck on one idea.
In order to brainstorm effectively, it is important to create an environment of psychological safety, where all ideas are welcomed and no one is afraid to speak up. The best brainstorming sessions are those in which participants feel free to share any and all ideas, no matter how crazy or outlandish they may seem. Only by brainstorming freely can the best solutions be found.
Key benefits of brainstorming
Because it's an open-ended activity that celebrates original thinking, brainstorming has many benefits within any organization.
Creates a pool of diverse ideas
When you brainstorm, you allow your mind to explore all sorts of possibilities without judgment. This can help you to come up with ideas that you may never have thought of before, or considered too tangential to be of benefit. Brainstorming is a great way to get your creative juices flowing , expand your thinking, and generate as many new ideas as possible.
Helps clarify your thoughts
In a collaborative brainstorming session, you are forced to articulate your thoughts clearly and concisely. This can help you to better understand your thoughts and ideas, as well as those of others. Sharing ideas can also help to identify any gaps in your thinking and to clarify your overall objectives.
One of the goals of brainstorming is to free yourself and your team from what you already know or what has been done before. This can help you to come up with truly innovative and original ideas. Brainstorming is a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, think outside the box, and leverage the different perspectives from your other team members.
Enhances problem-solving skills
When you brainstorm with your team, you can look at problems from different angles and perspectives that may lead to unforeseen solutions. This can help you to identify the right problems to solve and overcome obstacles that might otherwise seem insurmountable. Brainstorming is a great way to find new ways around old problems.
Facilitates teamwork and collaboration
When you brainstorm with others, you have the opportunity to build on their ideas and to create something even better than either of you could have created on your own. Brainstorming is a great way to collaborate with others, foster team-building, and craft unique solutions.
How to conduct a brainstorming session in 5 steps
To run an effective brainstorming session, you'll need to think through the preparation, environment, process, and follow-up. Here's how to set you and your team up for success.
Step 1: Prepare for the session
In the words of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, “failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” One of the most important components of crafting a successful brainstorming session is establishing expectations.
Create an agenda
While the brainstorming session itself is meant to be free flowing and exploratory, it’s vital to set boundaries and define the problems as clearly and specifically as possible so that the outcomes inform actionable next steps.
One aspect of preparation is creating an agenda. This should include time for a warm-up or ice breaker in order to make participants feel comfortable and ready to share their ideas.
Next, set aside time to outline the problem you’re trying to solve, and handle any questions up front so that everyone can begin the session with a shared understanding.
Once you’ve set the stage, it’s time to brainstorm! Use a guided method for best results (more on that below). Again, set aside an amount of time for the brainstorming exercise so that you’ll have space to come together and build next steps and bring everyone together for an energy check-in at the end of your meeting.
Related: How to Create Effective Meeting Agendas
Create a shared space for the brainstorming session
A central component of a brainstorming session is a shared space. In the past it was very common to bring everyone together in the same room and use physical sticky notes on a whiteboard to record and organize ideas. These days, however, it’s not always possible to share a physical space — but your brainstorming can be just as effective.
In fact, there is evidence that virtual or online brainstorming is more effective than traditional, in-person brainstorming.
Regardless of your work environment (whether you’re in person, hybrid, or remote), using an online whiteboard or collaborative digital platform like Mural makes it easy to conduct your brainstorming session, as well as organize and analyze your ideas so that you can quickly build action items. Some items to consider include:
- Structuring your session and presentation so that everyone is aligned, feedback is more meaningful, and your brainstorming is more effective (does your setup have a visual component so that it’s easy to follow along and ideas can be quickly categorized?)
- Broad engagement and participation (how does your chosen format help ensure that everyone is contributing to the discussion?)
- Capturing, saving, and organizing all your ideas (how will you use your brainstorming results to inform your next steps and create a path to solving the problem?)
Invite the right stakeholders
Another critical brainstorming tool is a diverse group of people. The more perspectives you have in the room, the better. Carefully consider who needs to be involved in order to cover as many angles as possible, so that your ideas and solutions are thoroughly thought out and not vulnerable to blind spots.
Pro-tip: Help the whole team get engaged by empowering the introverts of the group to contribute in your brainstorms
Choose the right tools
Using the right tools in a brainstorming session is critical for capturing and organizing the brainstorming creative process. Having a dedicated space to ideate within is critical. Mural has dedicated tools and functionality to run a well-structured brainstorming session from anywhere. Combine individual brainstorming with group ideation by enabling Private Mode, keep everyone on task by setting a timer, and gather better feedback with anonymous voting.
Make sure you bring all these tools together with the most important aspect of a successful brainstorming session: a facilitator. Effective facilitation can keep the brainstorming sessions moving, guide the discussion, and make sure everyone feels heard. If you're brainstorming on your own, set a time limit for yourself and make sure to stay focused.
Step 2: Define your brainstorming topic
Before you get started, it's important to define the right topic to brainstorm. The problem should be specific and clearly outlined, and it should be one that can be solved with a creative solution. Describe the problem in terms that all stakeholders can understand, and ensure that any questions are answered either before the session or as you describe the problem within the context of the meeting.
Brainstorming topic examples:
- How can we increase conversion rates on our landing pages?
- How can we make sharing easier inside our product?
- What is the most important feature we should add to our product?
Related: 25 brainstorming questions you should ask to generate better ideas.
Step 3: Set ground rules, give context and establish parameters, and define key terms
With your topic outlined, it’s time to establish the parameters and scope of the brainstorm, as well as define key terms. Again, the more you can do to ensure that everyone enters the session well informed and with a shared understanding of the problems and goals, the more productive your meeting will be.
Examples of ground rules:
- Quantity over quality: Remind your participants that the goals will include collecting as many ideas as possible
- No judgment: Don’t criticize your colleagues’ ideas, and ask for clarification before giving feedback
- Everyone’s ideas count: Make your brainstorming session visual, so that everyone can more easily participate and ideas can be organized into themed categories
Related: Simple Ground Rules for Brainstorming
Step 4: Start brainstorming!
When you're ready to begin, leverage your chosen brainstorming framework to help guide your team and get the most out of your session.
Choose a specific approach
Having established an agenda, a shared space, a topic, and ground rules for your brainstorming session, the next phase is to determine the best method. Structure boosts creativity, so the more clearly you outline your strategy and tactics, the better your results will be.
Also, there are specific methods that are ideally suited to particular scenarios.
For example, if you’re trying to set up a brainstorming session that tackles a new problem that has a lot of associated variables, a mind map brainstorm is likely to be the best technique.
Using the mind map technique, you begin by placing the core problem you’re trying to solve in the center, and then build outward as you brainstorm all of the variables and related ideas. These can be organized by their level of influence.
If instead you’re looking to have your teammates build upon one another’s ideas so that the results are as collaborative as possible, then the Round Robin technique may be the best option.
With the Round Robin approach, team members are asked to not only contribute new ideas, but also build upon the ideas of their colleagues, resulting in multi-layered suggestions and (likely) more holistic solutions.
Related: Brainstorming Techniques for Better Idea Generation
Step 5: Explain the next steps and action items
When the brainstorming component of your meeting has come to an end, it’s time to bring everyone back together and analyze your findings so that you can craft constructive next steps.
Using a shared digital space and online sticky notes makes it easier to collate and organize your ideas — color coding, tags, and groupings help visualize different themes or categories that can form the basis for solutions. With all your ideas at hand, you can begin the process of assigning tasks, setting deadlines, and establishing metrics for future analysis.
The bottom line: brainstorming should be collaborative and fun
Brainstorming is a great way to generate creative new ideas, clarify your thoughts, think outside the box, build on the ideas of others, and overcome obstacles. And, when done right, it should be fun, too.
How to run a successful brainstorming session:
- Prepare for the session — create an agenda and define a shared space
- Define your topic — be as clear and specific as possible
- Set ground rules so that everyone is comfortable and knows how to participate
- Use a proven brainstorming technique
- Organize your ideas, define and assign next steps
By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure that your brainstorming sessions are effective and productive. With the right preparation, environment, process, and tools, you and your team can create something truly special.
Brainstorm better with Mural
With a suite of features and tools built specifically for collaboration and brainstorming, Mural is the best way to engage with your team, visualize and organize your ideas, and craft actionable next steps.
Get started today with a Free Forever plan, invite unlimited visitors to your brainstorming murals, and see how our templates and guided methods can lead to better brainstorming and enable your team to find the next big idea.
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