Effective Communication

How to Lead an Effective Group Brainstorming Session

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While holding a group brainstorming session isn’t always the best option for generating creative ideas in the workplace, there are times when it’s a necessary evil.

For many, these meetings can feel counterproductive if not managed properly. You can easily end up trapped in “group think” or mulling over old ideas that have already been analyzed and rightfully dismissed.

However, a well-managed brainstorming session can yield great results. When facing a challenge that needs a fresh set of solution-finding eyes, bringing in a team of your most innovative thinkers may be just what the doctor ordered. To help ensure an effective discussion, use these tips.

  • Define the problem prior to the meeting so attendees have time to think it over on their own.
  • Establish the ground rules up front. Make sure everyone understands that judgment should be withheld during the brainstorming phase. Encourage a free flow of idea generation where nothing is immediately marked as “good” or “bad”.
  • Set a time limit for brainstorming. Otherwise, people can get burned out if they don’t see an end in sight.
  • Keep the discussion flowing and focused. Don’t allow one idea to be too deeply investigated. The point of brainstorming is not to discuss the merits of ideas or make a decision—that comes later.
  • Encourage participants to build on one another’s ideas. This isn’t about one person having ownership of the “right” answer. It’s about working together to think in new ways.
  • Capture ALL ideas in a visible location. You can use flip chart paper, a white board or some other tool. Just be sure that the secretary has good handwriting and can grab a lot of information quickly. There’s no need to worry too much about organization of the ideas at this point, but everyone should be able to see the notes during the meeting. This will help trigger more ideas.
  • Create a means for anonymous brainstorming so participants can contribute without any attachment. This helps ensure people don’t judge an idea based on who came up with it (a natural psychological phenomenon that can hinder the process).

Perhaps the most important tip of all is to keep things positive. Too many people show up to meetings with baggage from the day and negative attitudes—and there’s nothing that kills creativity and encourages others to clam up faster than that. Start your meeting with some motivating comments and a quick, fun, energizing group activity to get people into the spirit. Take frequent breaks and, if needed, consider chunking your brainstorming session into several “mini” sessions to ensure the energy stays high.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.