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The Perfect (Brain) Storm

Categories: Effective Meetings, Facilitation Skills

Never been in an effective brainstorming meeting? You’re not alone. Many of us have participated in brainstorming sessions that yielded no tangible results.

Whether your company needs to break through a block, chart a cutting edge course, or find new ways to lower costs -- brainstorming is a classic technique.

Many people imagine brainstorming as a free-for-all, but there are some basic principles that can help you create the perfect brainstorming session.

Follow these 9 tips for an engaging and productive brainstorming session:

  1. Invite the most diverse group possible to participate.
  2. Select a meeting facilitator and a scribe, to write everything down. This could be the same person, or not. The best facilitators give just enough structure to make the meeting flow smoothly -- but don’t control or take over.
  3. Think communication, not competition.
  4. Define the problem and the goal clearly. Have it written on a white board or other visual aid. (It’s amazing how easy it is to drift off a topic.)
  5. Set ground rulesDifferent factors influence what ground rules will work best for your team. Consider trust and comfort levels in setting ground rules.
  6. Encourage team members to have fun and speak freely.
  7. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute.
  8. Don't evaluate or comment on ideas. The goal is quantity over quality. Evaluating ideas as they come up cuts off people’s creativity and inhibits unconventional ideas. 
  9. Allow for periods of silence so team members can percolate new ideas.

After the brainstorming session, move on to the next part of the meeting.

Once the brainstorming session is over, the process of evaluating, fleshing out, researching, and otherwise finding optimum ways of implementing the ideas begins.

Start by looking for -- and either combining or eliminating -- repetitive ideas.

Next, group like concepts together. For the visual learners (approximately 65% of the population), a diagram or mind map might be helpful -- with the goal in the center and ideas radiating out from it. Discuss the remaining responses as a group.

Brainstorming can be fun, invigorating, and a team-building experience -- creating trust, letting creativity run rampant, and vaulting a business to the next level.

Effective facilitation and ground rules are the keys to success.

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