If only it were as simple as titling a meeting, “Brainstorming Session.”
Instead, the efficacy of idea-generation meetings often comes down to the brainstorming techniques your team employs. These strategies make the difference between silent sessions that result in zero solutions and collaborative meetings where even the quietest of voices contribute innovative ideas.
Brainstorming is any type of creative problem-solving practice with the goal of generating ideas based on the spontaneous contributions of a single individual or group. No matter the method you choose, the process usually involves three steps:
- Capture every idea, no matter how unorthodox
- Discuss and critique each contribution
- Select the best idea for execution
- 12 effective brainstorming techniques
Whether meeting in person or remotely, keep your group productive by incorporating these brainstorming exercises into your next meeting agenda.
Brainwriting is a non-verbal group brainstorming method that produces a broad range of ideas by reducing inhibitions. Here’s how it works:
- Everyone writes down three ideas (remote teams can use DMs and an ordered list of names to share their thoughts)
- Everyone passes their paper to the person on their right (or to a coworker via DM)
- That person builds on these ideas by adding input via bullet points
- After a few minutes, the paper moves to the next person on the right for another round of additions (or to another coworker virtually)
- The cycle continues until everyone has added to each paper/idea
- The facilitator captures all ideas on a whiteboard, and the group spends the rest of the meeting discussing each one’s potential
Brainwriting creates a level playing field for participants by removing bias and preventing idea anchoring, which occurs when the first idea becomes the base for everyone else’s thoughts. The activity’s structure forces the team to consider multiple scenarios and encourages everyone to participate.
3. SWOT analysis
Leverage this strategic planning exercise to evaluate rather than brainstorm ideas by considering potential solutions with the following criteria:
- Strength: how does this solution stand out?
- Weakness: what are its flaws?
- Opportunities: what does it capitalize on?
- Threats: what are the potential risks with this solution?
Once you’ve defined a solutions list, run the top contenders through this acronym with your team. At the end, identify the option worth pursuing.
3. Mind mapping
Help visual thinkers brainstorm more effectively by placing an idea in the middle of a whiteboard and encouraging participants to add words to the page that speak to the idea. Connect new ideas to the central term with lines, and add sub ideas for those.
If you’re trying to increase a product’s visibility, you could use the term “brand awareness” as the center point. During the first part of the session, your teammates might add terms like “SEO,” “influencer marketing,” and “social media strategy.” After the next round, the second layer might include “dedicated Twitter feed,” “paid Google ads,’” and “content optimization.”
Continue adding layers to illustrate the challenge and a list of viable fixes.
This methodology asks brainstormers to look at an idea from different perspectives. You’ll consider the following for each viable solution:
- Substitute: what happens when you swap option A with option B?
- Combine: what’s the result of adding option B to option A?
- Adapt: can you adapt the solution to solve a new problem?
- Modify: can you change something to make the solution more effective?
- Put to another use: is there another problem this idea could solve?
- Eliminate: what can you remove to simplify the solution?
- Reverse: can you reorganize the idea to create a higher-impact solution?
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so consider following up a SCAMPER session with brainwriting to capture and thoroughly evaluate every idea.
Brain-netting, also known as online brainstorming, facilitates the capture portion of the process by empowering people to contribute ideas whenever inspiration strikes. This is another non-verbal way to encourage remote team members to participate in brainstorming activities.
For this to work, you need a central location for participants to add ideas. You could use a Google form, Slack channel, or spreadsheet stored within a project management tool. The facilitator posts a problem and a link to the ideation document. After a set period, the group reviews the brainstorming results to choose an option.
Starbursting is a later-stage brainstorming strategy used to thoroughly understand a chosen solution. Here’s how it works:
- Create a diagram by placing your idea at the center of a six-pointed star
- Each point represents a question: who, what, where, when, why, and how
- Addresses the central idea by developing related questions for each point, like:
- Who’s the target audience?
- Why would people want to purchase this item?
- Where will we produce this product?
- Each answer builds on another to provide an informational foundation for launch
Answering these questions helps you identify potential solutions and challenges before the project starts.
Begin your brainstorming session by identifying your current state and desired outcome. Fill in the space between by asking your team, “How do we go from here to there?”
Use a flowchart or mind map to jot down the required steps and any potential roadblocks to create a list of workable solutions and a clear path forward.
8. The five “Why?”s
Enlist your inner three-year-old to get to the heart of a problem with this brainstorming exercise, which involves asking “Why?” a minimum of five times. Use sticky notes to create a fishbone diagram or flowchart and visually map out answers.
Answering this question repeatedly helps you identify setbacks and potential solutions. With that knowledge, you can begin the process again to evaluate a solution’s effectiveness and bring any new potential issues to the surface.
9. Stepladder brainstorming
Introduce a topic to your team before asking everyone except two team members to leave the room. Those two brainstorm together briefly before a third person joins. That third person offers their thoughts before the other two present theirs. After a short discussion, add a fourth person to the mix. Continue the cycle until all participants return to the meeting room to discuss their ideas.
A stepladder brainstorming session is effective but time-consuming. Consider limiting the number of participants to a small group so no one feels overwhelmed.
10. Round-robin brainstorming
This is another strategy that ensures every member of a medium-to-large team participates in the brainstorming process.
Solicit one idea from every team member in turn — nobody can pass. Then circle back once everyone’s had a chance to think of an alternative.
The team only moves onto the discussion phase after everyone offers their solution, meaning all members must contribute, before teams evaluate each idea.
11. Rapid ideation
Want to inject a little competition into your brainstorming activities? Give rapid ideation a try.
At the beginning of a brainstorming session, create a sense of urgency by setting a time limit on idea generation. During that period, participants write down as many ideas as possible. Once time’s up, capture everyone’s thoughts before moving to the discussion phase. If the same suggestion shows up repeatedly, it’s an excellent candidate for exploration.
The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible while limiting the time someone has to talk themselves out of presenting one. And creating a list of potential solutions before anyone can discuss them prevents prematurely shooting down an idea.
Figure-storming puts you in someone else’s shoes to solve a problem. This offbeat approach encourages fresh perspectives on an issue and is especially constructive if the brainstorming process feels a bit stale.
Choose a well-known figure — Marie Curie or Michelle Obama, for example — and discuss how that person would problem-solve the issue from their unique point of view.
Attaching someone else’s name to an idea removes personal constraints to the suggestion. After all, it’s not your idea — it’s Michelle’s. This shift in perspective encourages participation and eliminates considerations that stifle creative thinking, like budget and time constraints.
6 tips for creative brainstorming
If you’re facilitating your team’s next brainstorming session, here’s how to set everyone up for success:
- Offer prep time: send team members an agenda to provide session context and an opportunity to think ahead.
- Establish goals: set your intention for the meeting by clearly stating the idea types you're looking for, like quick wins or long-term effort, and what next steps look like.
- Choose quantity over quality: there are no bad ideas. Even the most unorthodox suggestion might prompt some creative problem-solving.
- Stay focused: apply constraints to your brainstorming. If there are time considerations, tell your team to shelve any projects that take three months or more.
- Change the routine: no brainstorming technique is a one-size-fits-all solution, so shake things up. Use different methodologies, start with an icebreaker, or take the group outside for fresh air — whatever gets people out of their standard mode of thinking.
- Laugh: studies show that groups who share funny or embarrassing stories increase the number of ideas produced by a brainstorming session by 26% across 15% more categories. So go ahead, be silly.
Get creative with Tempo
A brainstorming meeting is only as productive as the tools you use to save, share, and implement your teammates' great ideas. Prioritize the results of your sessions with audience-friendly project roadmaps from Roadmunk. And use Tempo’s project management suite to easily organize and monitor ideas to keep the conversation going.