Tori’s Take: Better Brainstorming
Each quarter, we bring you “Tori’s Take” featuring a guest post by Market Street Talent’s Operations Coordinator, Tori Leavitt, as she takes a look at popular workplace concepts and trends.
Creative processes like brainstorming seem like they should happen naturally – in a perfect world, ideas come to you at convenient times and you have no trouble turning those ideas into concrete plans. In the professional world, brainstorming is often a team effort. This is great when you have a room full of people who are prepared and excited for the process, but it can also be a time-waster if nobody is feeling creative. Is there a problem your team is currently trying to solve? Try out the following strategies to get everyone thinking and working towards your common goal.
Set Up for Success
Give your team a heads-up about what you’re hoping to accomplish. Try to keep it light and positive – nobody wants to sit in a near-silent room and feel put on the spot to share their ideas. Send a short email to your team, or if your office is small enough, mention that you’d like to bring the group together for a brainstorming session. Be specific about what you want to talk about, and give everyone a few days to think so no one feels rushed.
Schedule the meeting for a morning, but not too early – and definitely not on a Monday! Most people are playing some degree of catch-up on Monday mornings, which means they’re likely to be a little bit rushed. Creative thinking is easiest when you’re relaxed. I personally like Tuesday mornings for meetings: it’s early enough in the week that you’re not looking towards the weekend yet, and the pace is a little less hectic than on a Monday. Bring in coffee and snacks, and kick off the session once everyone has a chance to settle in. The key is to keep it casual so the pressure is off, and people are happy to be there.
Identify the Problem
Staying on task when trying to strategize is important. You can’t take too many tangents into different topics without losing momentum, and risking the rest of the room losing focus. Start the meeting by getting to the heart of the issue at hand: are you evaluating customer feedback and brainstorming solutions? Targeting new clients and looking for ways to connect? Get a white board and write out the problem in clear terms. The visual reminder helps keep everyone focused on what you’re trying to solve, and (hopefully) keeps the meeting on topic.
It’s probably a good strategy to have an idea of your own to use as a jumping off point. Maybe your team is full of enthusiastic, outspoken people who all want to be the first to speak up – you might have a surge of ideas right at the beginning. More likely, you’ll have a mix of personalities in the room and things will start off a little slow. Share a suggestion and ask for input. The goal is to lead people in the direction you want at the beginning, and expand from there.
Aim to keep the meeting an open conversation, where everyone gets to speak and negative feedback is kept to a minimum. I’m not suggesting the “every idea is a good idea” method, but there’s always a way to give constructive criticism without discouraging one of your people in front of a group. Continue using your whiteboard to keep track of the conversation in whatever format makes sense: bullet points, columns of pros and cons, idea maps, or any method you want to use. Keep the session under an hour to avoid idea fatigue.
Identify Next Steps
Brainstorming sessions will naturally come to an end point as people start to lose focus. When you notice that happening, take the lead in the conversation to summarize what you’ve discussed and create action items for everyone going forward. Pull together a document to remind everyone of what was discussed and assigned, and remember to thank your team for participating!