When is the last time you walked into a team meeting, stood at the whiteboard and asked for your team to brainstorm a solution to a business problem—and got blank stares? Forcing creativity in the moment might sounds like a good idea, but it doesn’t always lead to productive conversations (especially if your team has already spent an hour in the conference room).
Here are 12 ideas for making your next brainstorm session less painful from some of our council members:
Get the Right People
Oftentimes finding a solution is easy once the problem has been identified precisely. Make sure you get a 360 degree view of an issue by inviting on-the-ground operations, customer service, and sales staff into management meetings. Even better, ask your customers to participate.
– John Rood, The Next Step Test Preparation
All of our meetings start with a focus on personal and professional wins. I’ve seen my team walk into a meeting looking stressed, had everyone share positive experiences and watched people do a complete turnaround. It’s increased the level of enthusiasm and collaboration during brainstorm sessions significantly.
– Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central
Use Post-It Notes
The key to a successful brainstorm is getting people to feel comfortable sharing ideas, even half-baked ones. In order to do this, start with post-it notes and have everyone write their initial thoughts down. Put those up on the wall, and make it clear that no idea is a bad one. There will be some silly ones, and encourage discussion around those. You’ll find that the best successes come when someone’s “crazy” idea inspires an actionable one from a peer.
– Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
Whenever possible I try to start our meetings or brainstorm sessions out with a completely ridiculous activity. Just today I “twerked” before getting started, which—believe me—is not a good look. But it got everyone laughing, engaged, and focused. Those blank stares and drifting minds will disappear pretty quickly if you give them a reason to smile.
– Vinny Antonio, Victory Marketing Agency
Have a Glass of Wine
It helps that we sell it, but honestly, when trying to come up with great ideas, having a glass of wine loosens things up and gets people excited enough to think boldly.
– Henry Glucroft, Henry’s / Airdrop
Prepare Thoughts in Advance
The biggest challenge in a brainstorming session occurs when people don’t work well off each other, but everyone absolutely agrees. Avoiding “groupthink” like this isn’t easy, but a sure-fire way to avoid this is asking people in advance to prepare ideas and bring original thoughts to the table.
Get Outside the Office
When was the last time a great idea came to you while sitting at your desk? Conversation in a new environment or over a meal often leads to brand new ideas and creative thinking.
Spend Time Alone
It’s important to encourage employees to take chunks of quiet, alone time to think creatively. The majority of our design team is in London, which means they have five undisturbed hours to work before our NYC team wakes up to bother them.
– Rameet Chawla, Fueled
Think Like Customers
Because we release about 50 products each year, we’re constantly looking for new creative ideas. I always challenge our employees to think like customers: What would a customer want this product to be if they could have anything in the world? It’s amazing how much creativity can come from simply shifting your perspective to another’s viewpoint of your product or service.
– Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
Encourage Dumb Ideas
Be sure to open the floor to “dumb” ideas. Sometimes an idea seems absurd in a person’s head, but the concept can be transformed into a gem with the input of others. Encourage employees to propose ideas that seem ridiculous because most really creative concepts do come across as ridiculous at first. Through collaboration, these off-the-wall ideas can be packaged into programs that drive a business forward.
– Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.
Talk Over Happy Hour
It’s always nice to grab some pizza and maybe even a beer after regular hours with an individual or a team. I’m not talking about getting drunk, but just getting away from the office and talking about work in a low-pressure environment. The bottom line is that if you’re having a beer with your boss, you probably feel more relaxed and free to say what’s on your mind.
– Jim Belosic, Pancakes Laboratories/ShortStack
You have all manner of preconceived notions about the way things work, about how feasible things are and about what the best direction for the company is. Leave them at the door. Nothing will shut down employee creativity faster than you, their boss, invalidating their ideas.
– Emerson Spartz, Spartz
What is your favorite way to brainstorm? Let us know in the comments.