So you’ve gathered your four senior team members for an epic brainstorming session that will decide the future of your organization. After an initial flurry of the most obvious ideas, Suzy is bored and ordering her fall wardrobe from ThredUp on her phone. Jenny gave Nichole the side eye when she suggested that the annual Labor Day picnic should include vegan choices. And Ashley, the newest member of your core group, only said about six words.
After two hours, you are left with a few scribbled notes and a disengaged team. This did not work out like you thought it would.
Brainstorming sessions can be the most valuable way to inject new ideas and new energy, but if done poorly, it can be overwhelming and de-motivating.
To avoid a brainstorming meltdown, try these ten tips to get the most out of your session.
- Start with prayer – I’m so used to opening every meeting in prayer in all of my ministry opportunities that it feels weird not to at my secular job. And believe me, those work meetings could use some divine intervention! Inviting God into your brainstorming session is a reminder that all of this work is for Him and His glory. His opinion matters and his Holy Spirit will inspire and guide you as you make decisions.
- Have an agenda – Free-form, no-holds-barred brainstorming has it’s place, but usually, an agenda ensures that all the important topics get covered.
- Give your session some structure – Use one of these brainstorming methods to avoid the awkward silences and scattered thoughts.
- Assign a scribe – When the ideas and agreements start flowing freely, it will be easy to lose track of the good ones and the action items everyone was assigned. Your scribe can record everything so you can review it later for follow up.
- Get a facilitator – Consider bringing in (or hiring) a facilitator to guide you and the team through your session. An experienced facilitator will make sure everyone is heard, even drawing the Ashley’s into the conversation. A person without a dog in the hunt brings objectivity and practicality as you process through the ideas.
- Be present – I’ve tried to do brainstorming sessions through a group phone call and it’s hard. People are easily distracted by their surroundings. Hiding behind that phone line is an excuse for partial participation. If everyone cannot be in the same room together, at least use some kind of video call option. There are lots of free services today, including group Facebook Messenger video chats or Zoom. Seeing faces creates deeper connection, honesty and transparency in your brainstorming group.
- Go someplace creative – Get out of your normal surroundings. On a project at work, we held a two-day brainstorming at this place in Chicago. At first, we thought the bright, boho atmosphere and retro toys everywhere were kinda hokey. But it wasn’t long before the group loosened up. Lines between teams and org chart layers began to blur and candid discussions were taking place over pick-up sticks. You may not have a cool place like this near you, but even just getting out of your normal work space into a meeting room at a local restaurant can have a similar effect.
- Set some ground rules – We’ve all heard the most important one. “No rank in the room.” And this is super important. No one’s idea is better than anyone else’s just because of their position. It’s not the only important ground rule. “Everyone participates.” “No dumb ideas or questions.” “One speaker at a time.” One that often gets forgotten is “Mind your body language.” Rolling eyes can shut down a timid contributor in a heartbeat.
- Take frequent breaks – I don’t know about you, but I can’t think straight when I have to go to the bathroom so bad my teeth hurt. If your brainstorming session is scheduled to run several hours, a break every 90 minutes gives your brain and your body a break. It also gives everyone a chance to check messages, answer a couple of emails, reducing the likelihood they will be doing those things during your session.
- Wrap it up neatly – At the end of the session, review the key points you’ve covered, action items and assignments. Let the team know what they can expect to happen next. And above all, thank them for their attentive, creative, inspiring participation in your brainstorming session.
Share in the comments about your very best brainstorming session and what made it amazing!