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Nine Ways to Ensure Successful Brainstorming Sessions With Your Team

Good ideas start with open-minded teams.


WHILE ANY ONE person can be a particularly good problem solver or a master of creativity, leveraging the power of a group and the multiple minds within it can often unleash some of your company’s best ideas. However, when not handled in the right way, what could have been a productive brainstorming session can easily turn into a quiet room or an argument among colleagues. 

To ensure your team’s next round of brainstorming yields promising results, consider the following advice from the business leaders of Rolling Stone Culture Council. Here, they share their insights on how to open your team’s minds, encourage them to speak up and generate thoughtful, actionable ideas.

Allow for Brainstorming in Advance

Give your team space to come up with ideas in advance rather than spur of the moment. There is something to be said for spontaneous ideas, but they are often generated from a cross-section of initial thought-out ideas by the whole team. So, rather than springing brainstorming on the team, inform everyone in advance and have them do their own individual brainstorming first. – James Simpson, GoldFire Studios

Meet Consistently

Consistency builds muscle. At ShearShare, that means our leadership team meets every quarter for a strategic planning retreat. Each department head collates raw data from their respective groups, and we throw giant Post-it notes on the wall to start identifying obvious themes. Together with active and focused participation, open discussion and a supportive environment, we’re able to brainstorm quality ideas.– Courtney Caldwell, ShearShare, Inc.

Implement a ‘Freeflow’ Format

We practice freeflow, or conversations where anyone can share any idea and let the team get carried away with it — or not. Every week, we have an open-ended call to explore ideas without bias, expectation or requirements. It enables team-building and naturally filters new things worth pursuing to the top while illuminating what priority level an idea should be. – Tim Jack, Rise

Establish Clear Ground Rules

The key to successful brainstorming is recognizing that generating lots of ideas is a completely different process from evaluating them. Start by establishing ground rules that nobody is allowed to critique any idea until you have a hundred suggestions, and only then move on to evaluating and prioritizing them. Otherwise, the most creative ideas get killed off before they have a chance to develop. – Phil Barry, Blokur

Let the Bad Ideas Fly

All ideas suck at first. Fresh ideas have very little context in execution. Start with the bad. Let all the stupid ideas fly with a diverse group of aligned people. Let everyone play advocate, and then let everyone play adversary. People are smart. The best ideas will float to the top. Ultimately, if there isn’t consensus, you get to decide as the leader. Rinse and repeat. – Marcus Cobb, Mozaic.io

Introduce Outside Voices

I like to introduce other voices from outside of the industry. It brings surprising new perspectives to ideas that challenge everyone to think differently and can unlock new ways of developing and executing initiatives. – Michael Klein, cannabisMD

Create a Comfortable, Relaxing Environment

Promising ideas come when people feel comfortable. Do not underestimate the power of a relaxing environment, good food and laughter. Get away from the office. Use icebreakers to warm up. Encourage wild ideas while also providing some structure, such as a round-robin format for sharing. Foster collaboration, comfort and divergent thinking, and the creative results are sure to astound. – Jason Fiber, THX

Listen First, Then Ask

As important as sharing your vision and idea with your team is, there needs to be room to listen. After listening, form a question that shows you care about what they said and how they would implement it even if, from your experience, you don’t think it will work. Brainstorming is allowing ideas to collectively gather, assess and simulate. – Susan Johnston, New Media Film Festival®

Foster a Culture of Innovation

Successful brainstorming hinges on a clear objective, a diverse team and a structured approach. Encourage idea sharing, curbing groupthink with solo ideation first. Limit the session size and time. Seek quality over sheer idea volume, and validate externally. Iterate on ideas with feedback, data and stakeholder input. At the core, it’s about fostering a culture of innovation, not just gathering ideas. – Joshua Adragna, Eyerate