Some tasks and problems cannot be resolved in just a few minutes, and especially not by one person alone. So management invites everyone for a brainstorming session. In most cases, everyone comes together, sits down in a room, looks on expectantly – and nothing happens.
If someone does make a suggestion, it soon vanishes into thin air: ‘We tried that already. We’ll never get that implemented. Do you think that’s creative? We don’t have the resources to make that happen.’ In the end, the team leaves empty-handed. Even worse, all the participants are disappointed. Time wasted, no creativity shown, no results produced.
Sound familiar? Then the next paragraphs might be just what you need. You can find rules, tips and guidelines on how to get the most out of your brainstorming sessions, and find out which mistakes you should definitely avoid.
When does brainstorming make sense?
The best time to use this method for idea generation is when you have a task for which everyone initially thinks: ‘I can’t think of anything.’ Use brainstorming methods for challenges that the participants don’t come up against every day.
For example: a company is lagging behind its sales and profit targets and wants to know which new target groups it can target for its product.
How successful brainstorming works
Moderator: Every brainstorming session needs a moderator. Their job is to motivate, stimulate, focus and structure. It is important that this is a neutral position. Promoting ideas out of personal interest damages the process and the result. Therefore, ideally this role should not be taken on by the boss.
These tasks are part of moderation:
- Preparing the brainstorming session – everyone must be aware of the question and the aim
- Establishing the agenda: communicate the process, duration and start time
- Writing out the rules and bringing them to the brainstorming session
- Ensuring the rules are adhered to; clearly separating idea generation and idea evaluation
- Providing analysis, moderating and structuring idea evaluation
- Documenting results and distributing them to everyone
Duration: Limit the time for brainstorming. And communicate the timeframe in advance. Participants will then work in a more focused way. Anything from five to 30 minutes is sensible. If things are going well, you can add on a few minutes. You should take another half hour to evaluate the ideas. A brainstorming session should not last longer than an hour in total.
The question matters
Formulate a clear, unambiguous question or task. Without this, you will not achieve a good result. No participant should lose sight of the question at any point during the meeting, so write it in large lettering on a flip chart.
Your brainstorming needs these four stages
Each participant has a sheet of paper and a pen to hand so they can write down their ideas if they can’t voice them because others are talking.
All the ideas are noted down on cards and hung up by the moderator.
Everything unimplementable is immediately discarded. This leaves a list that only contains promising ideas.
Even the greatest idea is no use if no one follows up on it. During evaluation, identify together which ideas you will develop further. Assign responsibility and establish in writing what steps are now necessary to implement the ideas and find a solution.
Four basic rules for traditional brainstorming
This is perhaps the most important aspect of this creative technique: brainstorming sessions require clear rules and always the same workflow. You make it easier for all participants to generate new ideas if you make these rules visible at the start of the meeting on a flip chart or whiteboard.
Do not judge the ideas, regardless of how absurd they seem. Always give everyone in the group a chance to say their piece. And avoid sentences like ‘That doesn’t work.’ They inhibit creativity.
Encourage everyone in the team not to hold back in the idea generation. Everyone wants to shine, but it is not yet time for evaluation. Get it all out. Because having a lot helps a lot.
- There is no such thing as ‘my idea’
Stealing ideas is expressly desired. There is also no such thing as ‘I said that first.’ Ideas are picked up and taken further. Not everyone finds this easy, but it is necessary to get a good result.
- Always say what you’re thinking – whatever it may be
Brainstorming sessions are meetings that have to differ from ‘normal’ meetings. So if everything seems muddled, it’s going to plan. A comment that seems completely absurd at first glance might help another participant in the group come up with the idea.