5 team brainstorming tips to get the juices flowing
If you have a problem at work that you’re struggling to figure out on your own, brainstorming with your colleagues can be a good way to help you solve it. But how do you get the creative ideas rolling?
Melodi Guilbault, an online instructor in the University of Phoenix MBA program and a former marketing executive, suggests five tips to get the most from a meeting to pitch ideas:
Set guidelines and limits.
“Brainstorming [works] best if there is one clear idea or issue that is being put to the test,” Guilbault says. “If you have multiple issues, you might want to schedule multiple sessions rather than handling them in the same session.”
Allow no more than 10 people to participate, she adds, so there will be time for each person to have a say and less chance of people talking over each other. Ideally, she notes, one employee should just observe and take notes.
Put formalities aside.
Although employees normally fall into distinct hierarchies at the office, those stratified roles should not be a factor during brainstorming. The session facilitator should emphasize that the opinions of all participants count, no matter what their title.
Never say “no.”
Employees should be instructed to withhold judgment on ideas that are put forward, particularly at the beginning of the session, Guilbault says, adding that the goal is to encourage quantity over quality to spur creative thinking. No matter how ludicrous ideas might seem, she points out, they can trigger discussion on other topics, which may ultimately lead to the best solutions.
Once you start dismissing suggestions, she notes, you’ll likely inhibit the group’s energy.
Get out of comfort zones.
One method that can help make employees feel more comfortable is having them role-play during the session, using a technique called rolestorming, Guilbault says, in which members of a group assume other people’s identities to brainstorm.
“Let’s say you are trying to solve a problem having to do with production, but you’re talking to a bunch of marketing people,” Guilbault says. “If you tell everyone to pretend they are production people, it helps get them out of their particular perspective and create new ideas.”
Ease group tension.
“If you’re working with a group where there is already conflict and tension, which may get in the way of people sharing their ideas freely,” Guilbault says, “try the Stepladder Technique.”
Here’s how it works: Two participants share ideas on the brainstorming topic privately. When they’re finished, a new member is added, who expresses his or her ideas before hearing what the first two came up with. The group then continues to add members until everyone has participated.
The goal is for new members to express themselves freely because they haven’t been part of prior discussions, and not to edit themselves to conform to what’s already been said.
“This technique can also encourage shy people to participate on equal footing,” Guilbault notes, “because they don’t have to worry about having to try and dominate the conversation to get their ideas heard.”