How to improve your brainstorming sessions

July 2nd, 2020
How to improve your brainstorming sessions

What do these five Florida companies have in common: Ultimate Software, Publix Super Markets, JM Family Enterprises, BayCare Health System, and Baptist Health South Florida?

These companies made Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2019 for being employee-focused and committed to providing a positive work experience for their staff. They value their employees and appreciate the skills and ideas that they bring to the table.

If you want your Florida-based company to be included in future Fortune’s top 100 lists, then you need to nurture a company culture that encourages everyone, from rank and file to top management, to speak their minds. This means knowing how to best manage meetings and brainstorming sessions.

What is brainstorming? What are its pros and cons?

The objective of a brainstorming session is to generate innovative ideas. This is necessary when tackling long-entrenched problems that organizations can’t seem to solve.

Many people think brainstorming is easy. Put together a group of people, provide them with lots of sticky notes and whiteboard markers, then tell them to come up with ideas without limits or criticisms. And bingo! You get to choose the best out of a pool of creative solutions.

But that’s not often the case. People are told not to criticize others’ ideas during brainstorming, so that participants can speak up without fear of judgement. Eventually, people do need to criticize and judge all ideas presented in order to pick the best ones. More often than not, the quantity of ideas does not equate to the quality of ideas. And if a brainstorm ends with no follow-through, the problem remains unsolved.

A well-managed brainstorming session produces out-of-the-box, innovative solutions. A badly managed one will just be a waste of time, producing insufficient ideas, stale or recycled recommendations, and safe suggestions.

How to conduct a successful brainstorming session

You need to structure your brainstorming session so that you can overcome problems of:

  • Group dynamics that may hold certain people (for example, introverts) back
  • Having an authority figure who interjects a lot of excessive feedback or comments in the session
  • Saying what you think others will want to hear
  • Quantity without quality of ideas

Here are some tips on how to properly manage a brainstorming session:

#1 Have a designated moderator for the session

The leader or manager of the team shouldn’t necessarily be the moderator for their brainstorming sessions. And you’ll encounter bigger problems if the CEO or business owner moderates the session, as this is likely to result in people clamming up.

The moderator’s role is to manage the session. This includes setting the tone of the meeting, overseeing the whiteboard to ensure all ideas are accounted for, and handling the participants so that they join in and behave properly. Without a moderator, a session can easily go off the rails.

#2 Let participants know what to expect

If people don’t know what to expect, they’ll be stressed the whole time. Establish the ground rules at the beginning. Provide the participants with a schedule and explain the structure of the session. Tell them when the breaks are, and to try to stick to the schedule. Knowing what to expect will allow the participants to relax.

#3 Sharing of ideas should be free-flowing and without criticism — at the start

People should feel comfortable to share their ideas without fear that people will make fun of them. Trust between participants should be established at the start. The moderator should also ensure that everyone participates and no one monopolizes the discussions. But while everyone gets to contribute ideas at the start…

#4 ...choosing the best ideas will require maturity and an open mind from the participants

Eventually you will decide which ideas will win. Part of the ground rules should be: “Don’t take things personally. This is about the idea, not the person. And some of the best solutions are a combination of two or more ideas born out of the session.”

You can also change the tone of the discussion by turning it into a problem-solving workshop. Ask how a particular idea will solve a specific problem. The focus then shifts to the idea, not to the person/s who thought of the idea.

#5 Take breaks

Creativity needs room to breathe and let fresh ideas in. Include appropriate breaks in your schedule to help stimulate the minds of the participants. Step out of your physical meeting place. Have lunch in a different venue. Or have the team take a brisk walk outside during a coffee break. Physical movement also helps stimulate the mind.

#6 Don’t forget to schedule the next steps

All those innovative ideas will go to waste if there’s no follow-up. At the end of the brainstorming session, don’t forget to establish clear next steps. Make sure to assign people in charge so that there’s someone responsible for every idea to be pursued.

These days, it takes more than having an employee-centric company culture to make it as one of the top 100 best companies to work for in the United States. You also need a top-notch, well-managed IT network to succeed in business and stay ahead of the competition. If your business is based in Tampa, Sarasota, or Orlando, you should partner with us at HERO Managed Services, LLC. We provide our experience and expertise to Florida businesses so that they get maximum return on investment for their technology. Contact us today and book a free IT consultation!

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