How to lead effective brainstorming sessions to 5x your team’s productivity and collaboration5 min read

effective brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming: sitting together in a meeting room, knocking heads together until an idea bursts forth into the open air, and then furiously scribbling it down. Rinse and repeat. As a leader, it’s important that your team generates ideas often to keep your business or product alive – and to match up to your competitors. But sometimes these sessions might prove to be a waste of everyone’s time. How do you lead effective brainstorming sessions, then?

Before we get to the how, let’s talk about the why.

The science behind trying to lead effective brainstorming sessions

effective brainstorming sessions

Collaboration is something that’s always brought up, whether it’s during a student’s FYP semester or in the office itself. And while it might seem like having more brains in the room will surely lead to better idea generation, reality might spell a different story.

In 1957, a man named Osborn pitched the idea that brainstorming would “increase the quality and quantity of ideas produced by group members.” In the years that followed, many studies and experiments were conducted to prove or debunk Osborn’s theory. What were the prevailing results?

Group sessions didn’t yield more productive results than if individuals were left on their own to brainstorm. You might even say that having too many people around directly interfered with one’s creativity and productivity. (Oops, open office spaces!)

Factors that make it difficult to lead effective brainstorming sessions

There are many reasons why your team members are failing to squeeze ideas from their brains. Let’s take a look at what happens in the conference room (for real this time).

effective brainstorming sessions

  1. Free riding

Think about any group project setting, especially from university days – you will often hear about “freeloaders” and “slackers” who do nothing but the bare minimum. Why does this happen so often, at every level of school and work? Here’s the hard fact: in a group setting, there will always be people who feel less obligated to pull their weight. Since other people are pitching their great ideas, it won’t hurt if I just give a shallow idea. This is a big hurdle between you and having effective brainstorming sessions.

  1. Hesitation and fear

In a group session, some people might feel less inclined to be more upfront about their ideas. Maybe it’s just that they’re feeling a little too shy, or that they simply don’t have the confidence that their one idea will sound as good as Mark’s. Conversely, others might feel like criticising someone’s idea is rude. What happens in the end? A meeting room full of polite, hesitant people. I think your idea is okay. It’s not bad, we can still use it! Does that spell productivity for you?

  1. Refusing to reach for new heights in the presence of others

As the group brainstorming session continues, it might soon become clear that everyone is trying to accommodate to each other. Rather than being accused of trying too hard, the more talented members of your team might water down their ideas to match others’. Because you’re in a room full of people who will no doubt grant you a certain amount of attention (and judgment), you’re more inclined to pitch your ideas in less-than-awesome ways. At the end of the day, all you have as a leader is a handful of mediocre ideas.

How you can lead effective brainstorming sessions: alternatives to going with the flow

With all of these factors in mind, you’re probably worried about how you can still achieve effective brainstorming sessions in the office. Here are a few ideas you can use to get started on changing things up in the name of productivity:

  1. Standing meetings

Say goodbye to your chairs if you want effective brainstorming sessions. Standing meetings have been proven to increase levels of productivity. This is because people are more inclined to make full use of their time in an efficient way. Instead of getting together for a discussion or brainstorming by sitting around a conference table, consider getting everyone on their feet (yes, even that guy who always sits in the back and says nothing)!

  1. Independent brainstorming

This is a total 180 from the idea of group brainstorming sessions. Your idea generation will benefit more if people came up with ideas on their own. These ideas can then be submitted straight to you, the manager, or the facilitator. Take the chance to cut down on similar ideas before posing them to the group before making a decision. There’s no chance to freeload or ride off of others’ suggestions, and people are less inclined to be conscious about what they’re suggesting. Win-win!

  1. Mind the group dynamics

This requires a bit more intuition and observation on your part as a team leader. Is there someone who’s more outspoken? Is Jane from Operations too quiet because she keeps getting drowned out by Tom? Make these observations and think of a plan to counter it – like providing a proper structure to your brainstorming sessions where everyone gets a turn to speak.

  1. Give someone veto power

If it isn’t you, empower someone else to be the final decision-maker. This helps with roadblocks like when there’s an evenly split vote. The final decision-maker doubles as a facilitator to help guide the session along. Language matters, though. Be sure not to deliver lines like: “OK guys, you can start pitching your ideas for project Z. Anyone?” No one will step up even if you gave the meeting three whole hours! Try instead: “Alright, on the topic of our platform – can we get started with some suggestions on the user interface? Bob, what do you think we can do better?”

The next time you attempt to lead effective brainstorming sessions, keep these solutions in mind. Change things up a little and see how they work out for you and your team. Idea generation is crucial for growth and advancements, but hindering productivity will only end up wasting your time – and everyone else’s. Try it out and give us a shout if it works!

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