How to lead productive brainstorming meetings

More sturdy solutions and a more motivated team result from brainstorming. Lack of brainstorming meetings can lead to a continuance of the status quo, which can lower morale.

Prior to the meeting

Days, if not weeks, before the meeting, the struggle for a fantastic brainstorming session begins. The folks I wanted to invite to my meetings were preoccupied with the dozen or so tactical things on their to-do lists. They didn’t have time to consider the strategic shifts I wanted to discuss. The worst brainstorming sessions occur when participants arrive without having given the issue any attention. Unfortunately, this happens rather frequently.

One of two things normally happens in a bad brainstorming session. The indifferent audience is the first path. This is a gathering when no one cares about the topic or the meeting except the organizer. The participants will wait until the organizer explains the answer that they have been considering before agreeing or dismissing it in any manner imaginable with high level negative preconceptions. The idea barrage is the second path. People toss up high-level answers and ideas that haven’t been thought through at these discussions. Though this appears to be an active session on the surface, it seldom leads to follow-up and action.

The struggle for a successful brainstorming session begins days, if not weeks, before the meeting.

To avoid inconvenient meetings, the organizer must make an effort to persuade brainstorming participants to consider the issue before to the meeting. This has been done in a variety of ways, and I’ve tried a couple of them myself. The first stage for the organizer is to set up the meeting and tell the attendees about the topic and aims of the brainstorming session. Though this may be done by email, it is better done in person when everyone’s focus is on you.

Once the discussion’s terms have been communicated, people should be able to think about it on their own. Wrong! Most people will put off thinking about the subject until the last feasible minute. Discussing the issue with individuals one on one is a simple and efficient technique to persuade them to think about it beforehand.

During the discussion

The card game “War” is a good analogy for successful brainstorming sessions. Once the cards are sorted and dealt, the game of “War” is predetermined. The game is a test of predicting predetermined outcomes. If a brainstorming session goes smoothly, it might be considered merely disclosing predetermined results. People will arrive at the meeting full of ideas and prepared for potential traps and challenges. They will discard or change their beliefs based on direct comparisons to the thoughts of others.

To keep the meeting productive, I’ve found that reaffirming the topic, difficulties, and goals that the group is concentrating on is the best way to start. Then, before we start debating everyone’s ideas, I prefer to go through an activity where we debate and agree on the criteria by which we will evaluate them. If we’re talking about methods to improve project management, we can agree that one way to evaluate a suggested solution is how well it increases communication and reduces time to market. This will enable easy comparison of alternative ideas, reducing needless back and forth, especially if one proposal plainly matches the aims better than another. Before going forward, it is vital to discuss ideas extensively with participants, comparing them directly to the goals and hearing each participant’s perspective.