Brainstorming is one of the most popular tools used by professional teams to find innovative solutions and ideas. It’s a quite popular technique and I’ve heard many times of people suggesting a brainstorming session to find innovative solutions for difficult problems. However, to be effective, this technique needs to be carefully led. I’ve seen many brainstorming meetings that derived in a disorganised discussion without achieving any concrete results.
After leading many brainstorming meetings I’d like to share with you 9 tips for running a successful brainstorming
- Send the topic and guiding questions in advance
If people arrive at the meeting with only a vague idea about the topic and the objective of the session, you’ll waste time explaining the whole situation. Furthermore, when you provide information in advance, especially in question form, people can think about possible ideas beforehand and they can even look for supporting material to bring to the meeting.
- Set the time and duration of the session.
As every business meeting, this session should start on time and you should state the duration at the beginning. The most effective session length depends on many factors like:
- How complex the topic is. For really difficult topics you may need to spend the whole morning or day. On the other hand, it is harder to keep people focused for long periods of time. Sometimes it’s better to divide the session in different stages and carry out one by one on consecutive days. In this last case, it’s advisable to not separate the sessions too much to avoid loosing the inertia and to keep the ideas flowing.
- How many people are participating on the workshop.
- If the participants are used to long meetings. For example I led brainstorming sessions with technicians who worked at the production line. In that occasion I set one hour sessions well guided to get the most of the group before they start loosing concentration.
- The urgency to get the outcomes. Sometimes you need to discuss about a problem that is currently affecting the plant, so there is no chance to split the sessions. In that case the group need to find a solution as soon as possible and you must work until it is found.
- Plan the brainstorming in advance
Brainstorming is about sharing ideas without judging them (at least at the beginning). But it isn’t a free discussion and must be organised. In general terms we can divide the process in steps:
- Once the objective is clear, everyone starts suggesting ideas and nobody is allowed to judge them
- Once we have enough ideas or a specific time have passed, it’s necessary to classify them
- Then it’s time to analyse the ideas individually, to see their characteristics, pros and cons.
- After that we select the best ones to go deeper in the analysis
- If necessary, we select the best one or a tern as the workshop outcome (depending on the objective of the workshop)
This process varies depending on the objective and nature of the problem. For example, if we’re looking for a solution to a problem in a complex equipment, installation or process, we can divide it by areas or modules and repeat the steps above for each one.
- Do it in a proper place
Work environments can be very distracting. If you carry out the brainstorming in the same office where the people work, there are more chances that they will be distracted or even called by their bosses for an “emergency”. Try to find a place to separate the participants from their daily activities.
Other times if the topic is related to a specific equipment or area, you can do the brainstorming at the same place to facilitate the analysis and the generation of ideas.
In this post I pinpointed the main key points to bear in mind in the planning of the brainstorming session. In the next post I’ll give you the specific tips for leading the session and keeping the groups focused and productive.
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Thanks for reading!