Brainstorming has become a common ritual in the modern workplace. Whilst this activity can sometimes get a bad rep for being a waste of time, this usually stems from the times you’ve spent pouring over endless flip charts and post-it notes, trying to make everyone’s ideas come together cohesively.
You may then find yourself asking if brainstorming sessions actually work. And like most things, the answer is yes – if you conduct them in the correct way. Whilst group brainstorming has its advantages, the way you conduct them and the setting in which you do so will have a significant impact on the productivity and success of your outcomes.
So, don’t feel put off if you’ve had a few unfruitful group brainstorms. There are plenty of tips you can bring into play to help you conduct them more effectively. Read on to discover some practical techniques you can use to make your next group brainstorming session a creative success.
“You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note.”
– Dough Floyd, The Spokesman-Review
Successful group brainstorms lie at the starting point. If your team goes into a brainstorming session with the wrong mindset (which they may not even realize they have), then you’re setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. It’s vital that you conduct brainstorms creatively, and that they are free from judgment, restrictions and ‘herd-mentality’ thinking. So, what is the key to starting things off the right way?
We tend to think of brainstorms as solely being large group sessions. However, individual brainstorms can set you up in the right frame of mind to get your group brainstorm off to the most successful start.
So, which is better – individual or group brainstorming? The truth is, effective creativity depends on a mix of the two. Give your team time to go away and think about the problem or topic you want to brainstorm before bringing everyone together. Most of us tend to get our best ideas when we’re on our own – and often when we least expect it. As such, this will stop you from trying to force innovative ideas out of your team in a scheduled and specific timeframe.
Carrying out individual brainstorms beforehand will also help you avoid being influenced and swayed by other people’s opinions, as you will have already generated your own suggestions that are free of external input. With everyone bringing their own ideas to the table to kick things off, you’ll find it easier to build and expand upon each others’ initial ideas, rather than dismiss your own in favor of maintaining harmony across the group.
When you take the time to brainstorm individually beforehand, this also gives you the opportunity to break away from your critical-thinking mindset before coming together as a team. For example, if you’ve spent the day at your desk focusing on your tasks, then get called into an impromptu brainstorming session, it might be difficult to snap out of your analytical mindset. Brainstorming sessions should let you step back from this mentality and allow an ‘anything-goes’ attitude, where your creativity is not restricted by rational thought.
With this, our natural sense of pessimist self-doubt can come into play. It’s easy for us to immediately pick faults with an idea, such as saying “Do people really want this?” or “This will probably fail”. If, like many of us, you fall prey to this type of thinking, try to push past these thoughts as they appear and continue full-steam down your creative train of thought.
How often have you found yourself clinging onto an idea you came up with during a meeting, to the point where you’ve unconsciously started blocking out suggestions which counteract it? This type of selective thinking can lead you to immediately accept or reject other ideas which ‘don’t fit’ alongside yours – which goes against the entire point of a brainstorm.
With this in mind, be careful not to get too attached to one particular idea during the brainstorming process. When you do so, it can be difficult to see past it to other possible solutions. It’s natural for your brain to lean more favorably towards a preferred idea, but this should ideally come at the end of your brainstorm, when you have moved onto the decision-making process.
During the brainstorm itself, try to separate yourself from your preferred ideas and think outside the box for new and different suggestions. This will stop you from letting one idea guide and influence your contributions, which can make your train of thought more narrow-minded then you may believe it to be. Brainstorming sessions should allow your mind to think of the bigger picture and capture a wide range of ideas – with no wild idea going unspoken. Once you’ve gathered these suggestions, then you can allow yourself to effectively analyze these and pin down the ideas you want to take forward.
Groupthink occurs when teams of individuals are more concerned about securing approval from the rest of the group than they are about sharing their true ideas or opinions. It’s natural for people to want to maintain a sense of harmony within the group; especially amongst close-knit teams who are used to working together regularly. This is more common than you might think – if you’ve ever been in a meeting and held back from voicing an opinion in fear of going against the group consensus, you wouldn’t be alone.
Avoiding conflict is a natural impulse for many of us. However, brainstorming sessions should be open spaces for people to express any ideas they have, without them being immediately dismissed or waved aside. Be sure to create a non-judgemental atmosphere during your session and encourage your team (especially your more introverted members) to share their ideas with the group. This will help stop your team from feeling self-conscious or even embarrassed to share some of their more ‘out-there’ ideas in fear of being shot down.
Try beginning your session by asking each team member to share the ideas they came up within their individual brainstorm before the group session, then add these ideas to a board or into a Mind Map. Once everyone’s ideas are captured, you can then work as a team to build and expand on each of them – making sure no idea is dismissed or left forgotten.
If you’ve just run a successful brainstorm, the chances are you’ll have lots of ideas floating around on post-it notes or whiteboards. These can then very easily become difficult to sift through. Capture ideas instantly in a Mind Mapping tool (such as Ayoa) so nothing gets lost. From here, you will easily be able to organize ideas into different areas, then expand on these as a group whilst keeping everything in one, handy space.
Mind Maps are designed to reflect our natural thinking processes, where one idea instinctively branches off into other trains of thought. Encouraging your team to snowball each other’s ideas will get your imaginations fired into overdrive. Mind Mapping software like Ayoa provides an endless canvas for you to build on your ideas (unlike the traditional pen and paper) – so no idea is restricted or left forgotten on a scrap of paper that fell under the desk.
There are plenty of practical and effective ways to get your group brainstorms to produce dazzling and innovative results. Here are some quick takeaways to help you get started:
Say goodbye to scattered, unproductive group brainstorms. With Ayoa, you can brainstorm both your individual and team ideas into a dynamic Mind Map, then turn these directly into tasks that you can assign to team members and track from start to finish. Ready to turn your greatest ideas into reality? Discover more here or sign up for FREE today.
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