At their best, brainstorming sessions are a fun opportunity to share ideas and get the ball rolling on your next successful endeavor. At their worst, they leave everyone feeling like they wasted an hour of their time, only to come away with nothing to follow up on. Especially in the world of Zoom meetings and Skype conference calls, it sometimes feels impossible to orchestrate an effective brainstorming session that keeps everyone engaged and excited.
So how do you keep the brainstorming blues from taking over? Luckily for us, decades of in-office brainstorming sessions have given way to some best practices to ensure that these meetings are, more often than not, sources of inspiration and renewed momentum.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your sessions, either in person or virtually:
Set a time limit. Some might think that the longer you are sharing ideas, the better the results. After all, the more time spent in the meeting, the more ideas will be shared — right? Not always. In fact, setting a time limit of about 25 or 30 minutes helps participants stay on task and feel more in the moment, giving them less time to overthink or doubt their suggestions and making them more likely to speak up sooner. This also helps avoid the feeling of “wasted time” that often plagues us because a 22-minute meeting is a lot easier to squeeze into a day — and a lot easier to shrug off if it’s unsuccessful. You can also avoid squandering any in-meeting time with a rule of no laptops or phones.
Give participants time to prepare. This is essential to making the most of a shorter session. By giving your team members a couple of days to prepare, you increase the chances of them coming to the meeting with their best ideas and being willing to share them. While some prefer to perform under pressure, most of us find it difficult to come up with our best ideas in these settings. It’s when we’re given time to reflect and analyze that we feel the most confident in our pitch. In fact, according to a Leo Widrich article onBuffer.com, our best ideas often come when we are relaxed or distracted, or after a dopamine dump in our brains sometimes associated with exercise or listening to music. Before your meeting, make sure to communicate what the session will cover, who will participate and what the goal will be. Encourage your team to come into the meeting with some ideas written down.
Diversify your team. Chances are your team has been working closely together on projects, which is great for a sense of camaraderie and unity but doesn’t always promote creativity. Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to mix it up in much-needed ways. By inviting some members from other teams within the company, you’re more likely to spark an idea or two that can surprise and reignite excitement for the project.
Encourage bad ideas. This may seem counterproductive, but the truth is, there will be bad ideas. And that’s OK. Of course, it’s important to not waste time on them, but it’s also important not to discourage participation for fear that an idea might not be “good enough.” A bad idea might lead to a good one, after all. By allowing room for mistakes, creativity and an honest flow of thought, your team will feel comfortable enough to share good ideas freely as well.
Everything from on-screen distraction to Zoom fatigue can make brainstorming sessions feel like a chore for remote teams. When conducted properly, however, a digital meeting can offer unique advantages that produce results as impressive as those from a face-to-face meeting. Here are some tips for making the best of a digital meeting:
Share documents. Keeping a shared note or Google Doc for everyone to add ideas to in the time leading up to the meeting ensures that everyone has a chance to have their ideas seen and heard. This can be especially useful in engaging employees who may be hesitant to speak up in person or on a call. Have everyone pull up the document at the beginning of the meeting, then go over the ideas together to maximize creativity.
Keep everyone engaged. It can be especially hard to avoid distraction in a virtual meeting, as we have all learned in the past couple of years. To ensure engagement from each member of the team, try giving everyone a job within the parameters of the meeting. For instance, ask someone to keep time, someone to take notes and someone to monitor the chat.
Outline next steps clearly. Once we hop off a call, it’s easy to move quickly to the next thing and forget details. Spend some time at the end of the call going over next steps, delegating action items or even encouraging the team to start preparing for the next session.