How to Run Your First Brainstorming Session [Guide]
If you've been tasked with running a brainstorming session for the first time, you might feel a mix of excitement and dread. You've likely endured a fair share of unproductive brainstorming sessions with random ideas flying around in all directions and people talking over one another.
The good news is that, as a leader, you have the upper hand and can steer your next brainstorming session toward a productive and creative idea generation. Proper preparation and the right approach can transform a potentially chaotic meeting into a structured and innovative brainstorming experience.
Others prefer a more open brainstorming environment that doesn’t rely on structured brainstorming techniques. This approach encourages blue sky thinking and promotes idea meritocracy, welcoming even the most unconventional and far-fetched ideas.
Choose Between Online/Offline/Asynchronous Brainstorming
If you want to run an in-person brainstorming session, you’ll need to decide where to meet with your team. This could be your conference room or somewhere outside the office.
If you plan on having the meeting online, you’ll need to choose a video conferencing tool that allows you to record the session.
Some people don’t work well in a team setting, so you might want to resort to asynchronous brainstorming. In this case, you’ll need an idea management tool to create an ever-accessible platform that lets your employees and coworkers contribute their ideas anytime.
Prepare the Brainstorming Session in Advance
The worst mistake you can make is to lead your brainstorming session unprepared. To ensure it’s productive, you must come armed with clear goals, a defined problem statement, and an established idea management process.
First of all, define what you want to achieve during your session. Set clear guidelines to keep the session organized and create a safe environment for sharing ideas, but avoid overly restrictive boundaries to allow some room for creative thinking.
Next, create a problem statement to help your brainstormers understand the problem you're trying to solve. It will act as a guiding focus, preventing the discussion from veering off track.
Then, decide which brainstorming methods you’ll use during your session and have a few alternative ones in your pocket.
Preparation is the first phase of a productive brainstorming process.
How many phases are there in brainstorming?
Brainstorming typically has 3-8 phases. Preparation, Problem Pitch, Idea Generation, Open Discussion, Conclusion, Follow-Up, Idea Execution, Feedback Loop are the eight phases to be achieved for a successful brainstorming session.
For a minimal brainstorm you'll only need to go through the Problem Pitch, Idea Generation and the Open Discussion.
Prepare the Tools You Need for Your Brainstorming Session
Proper preparation is key to guaranteeing a successful brainstorming session, and this includes ensuring you have the right tools at hand.
If you plan on running your session in person, you might need brainstorming tools like a whiteboard, pens, blank sheets of paper, water bottles, etc. You can also print a copy of the brainstorming rules for every team member.
For an online session, you’ll need a video conferencing platform and digital tools that support your chosen brainstorming techniques.
You’ll also need an idea management tool to collect and organize the ideas that emerge during the session.
D-Day: How to Lead Your First Brainstorming Session
If there's one essential element that no brainstorming session can do without, it's a capable leader. But the role of the leader isn’t easy, especially if it's your first time.
Let's explore essential strategies and tips on how to lead your first brainstorming session effectively.
Start the Session by Breaking the Ice
“Icebreakers” are an effective method to begin your brainstorming session and engage participants in a conversation.
Breaking the ice with games and light questions creates a relaxed and open atmosphere where participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas and voicing their opinions. This creates a safe space for ideas to flow freely.
Remind Ground Rules for the Brainstorming Session
A leader’s role during a brainstorming session is to make everyone feel comfortable and encourage them to share their ideas openly. However, the leader is also responsible for setting and enforcing ground rules for effective brainstorming.
For instance, one such rule is no instant criticism. A leader should ensure that all ideas are welcomed and no idea is criticized or shot down too fast.
For many people, social anxiety is the number one thing that prevents them from sharing ideas in a group setting. That’s why creating a welcoming and judgment-free atmosphere is key to keeping your team engaged and inspired during the session.
Make Sure You Engage All the Participants
Keeping your brainstormers engaged leads to a productive and dynamic brainstorming session. You can do so by implementing various group brainstorming techniques that can stimulate creativity and enthusiasm.
One way to keep your participants engaged for longer is to use techniques that encourage different viewpoints and contrasting opinions, such as Six Thinking Hats.
You can also use methods such as groovy brainstorming or rapid ideation to give those quieter members of the group a chance to share their ideas in a calmer way.
It’s important to come to your brainstorming session with a plan to execute it. However, your plan may not always stick with your team.
If you notice that a particular brainstorming technique isn't resonating with the group or if the session starts to flow in unexpected directions, be ready to pivot and explore these new possibilities.
How long should a brainstorming session last?
People's attention decreases after 45 minutes so if you plan on brainstorming longer or feel like you have not found the right solution yet take a break or revisit the topic after some time. With asynchronous brainstorming you can also set a target like 100 ideas or a timed deadline.
Finish the Brainstorming Session by Explaining What the Next Steps Are
Wrap up your brainstorming session by talking about what comes next and reassuring everyone that there is a process to take their ideas further.
If you use an idea management tool, you can easily keep track of all ideas gathered during the session and guide them through a transparent workflow. With a platform like Ideanote, you can collaboratively evaluate, short-list, test, and implement those ideas.
This builds trust and shows everyone that their ideas matter.