December 20, 2016
Make your creative meetings as productive as possible with these tips.
As a manager, your hope is that your team members are always brainstorming, always thinking of ways to innovate and grow. If you’re an effective manager, chances are high that they are, but it isn’t enough for your team members to just be nurturing their own ideas. It’s important to periodically gather your team for group brainstorming sessions.
If your team is not accustomed to gathering to brainstorm, it may need a little coaching. Today, a great deal of inter-office communication happens digitally. An in-person brainstorming is going to be a bit foreign. So, here’s how you get started:
Give the Meeting a Purpose
Brainstorming is only effective if first there is a problem that needs to be solved. The facilitator should have a clear goal in mind and know what information she hopes to collect from the session. Communicate the purpose clearly to the group and provide any essential background information.
If the group knows nothing about the issue presented, its ideas are not likely to help you solve the problem. If you are brainstorming about a new product, indicate what the product does and provide additional details.
Give Everyone a Voice
Once you have established the meeting’s purpose, let everyone have a chance to voice ideas. Use a whiteboard to record every single idea, even those that do not immediately make sense. Try to save criticism and evaluation for a later time. Both kill creativity.
Encourage your team to record the ideas, too, with the expectation that their notes will be handed in. Even if you have 10 people recording the same session, chances are that they will all record it slightly different. They may unconsciously make side notes that upon later review turn out to be the solution to the problem.
If there are teammates who tend to hang back from the conversation, try playing to their known strengths. Coax them into the conversation by asking questions and introducing prompts that you know will get talking. Try not to blatantly single anyone out, but the goal is to get everyone involved, not just the Type A personalities in the room.
Walking has miraculous effects. According to a 2014 study by Stanford University, walking or moving also improves creativity. In fact, the study found that creative output increased by 60% when participants were walking versus sitting.
Of course, taking your entire team for a walk during your brainstorm session may not be ideal. To reap the benefits of movement, organize the meeting space so that people have room to get up and roam during the session. Consider providing raised writing platforms so that people can easily take notes if they choose to stand and move around. This also helps the meeting feel more laid back, which will make everyone feel more relaxed and open.
Throw all constraints out the window. Encourage the team to suggest any idea that comes to mind. The sky is the limit. What would they recommend if money were no object? How would the plan change if there were no deadlines and resources were unlimited? You will find that when all limitations are removed, even hypothetically, ideas flow more freely. You may be faced with some far-fetched ideas, but far-fetched does not have to mean impossible.
Create an Action Plan
What good are ideas if they are never put into action? The brainstorming session is just the first step.
Before you start doling out assignments, take a deep breath and let everyone unwind. Have everyone disperse with instructions to forward any new ideas that may come to them over the next few days. If you have recorded every idea and asked your team to do the same as recommended above, you must now review and organize the ideas.
Let’s say your team is working on a marketing campaign for a new product. The session produces a plethora of ideas including design ideas, strategic actions and bits and pieces of possible content. In the days following the meeting, take time to sift through the ideas and take note of all the ideas that are possible. Organize the usable ideas into an action plan and assign teammates to different tasks.
Since everyone being tasked was in on the meeting, they will have an idea of the bigger picture and feel more invested in the overall project.
It may take more than one session to get your team used to collective brainstorming, but you will be amazed by what happens when people have the opportunity to share and refine ideas without the fear of embarrassment. Do you have any brainstorming ideas that have worked for your team? We would love to hear them in the comments below.