12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team


If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the person or persons in the room. Like, the actual number of people in the room.

That’s my first tip for you: Follow the “pizza rule” for brainstorming. If you’re unfamiliar with the “pizza rule, ” it’s the idea that if you have more people in a room than you could feed with a pizza, there are too many people in that room to hold a productive meeting.

The same rule goes for a brainstorming conference: If you’ve got a dozen people sitting around a table, expect a really long listing of truly mediocre ideas.

So, what else can you do other than bribe a group of two to six people with pizza to unearth good ideas? So glad you asked.

12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas

1) Invite a diverse group of people.

If your team works on all of the same projects together, goes to squad meetings together, sits next to each other in the office, and hangs out in the same group chats all day … well, needless to say, the ideas will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

Instead, invite new people from other squads to your brainstorms — people with different skill sets and experiences to help get you out of your rut and insure things in a new way. It’ll give you that great mixture of new the vision and contextual knowledge that’ll help you land on notions that are both original and doable.

2) Keep the meeting to 22( ish) minutes.

Nicole Steinbok advocates this technique, and it’s one I’ve used in conjunction with positive results.( I usually round up to 30 minutes, but what’s a few minutes among friends ?) It works particularly well for people like myself that flourish under the threat of a deadline.

In my experience, having a limited quantity of time to brainstorm only runs if all participants are actually ready for the session.( More on that in a minute .) But two other tenets Steinbok harps on are a no-laptop rule, and a no off-topic-banter regulation. While some might disagree with the latter, I have found that aggressive day constraints help keep people on task and delivering their best ideas as a result.

3) Provide context and objectives well before the meeting.

“Well before the meeting” doesn’t mean that morning. Offer any relevant information at least two business days in advance so people have a fighting chance at actually being prepared for the brainstorm.

In addition to providing any reading materials or contextual information that assistance set up the reason for the brainstorm( and explicitly asking that they read it, too ), describe what the ideal outcome of the meeting looks like. This will help people come into the meeting understanding the scope of what you’re all trying to do. I think you’ll find this helps you avoid wasting hour catching everyone up so you can get to the brainstorm right away.

If necessary, operate your meeting like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and dedicate 30 minutes specifically to softly reading in a group to bring everyone together — especially if they won’t have time to read before the meeting.

4) Ask people to come prepared with some ideas.

Often, great notions don’t show themselves when you ask them to. They pop up on the develop, in the rain, while you’re watching TV … basically any time you’re not actually trying to come up with the idea.

This is one reason why it’s good to provide a few days of lead-time before your meeting, but it’s also why you might want to explicitly ask people to think of some ideas beforehand. With this approach, you might find that you start the session off with pretty strong ideas from the get-go, and different groups can add to and modify them to attain them even stronger. In fact, this hybrid brainstorming approach was found to be more effective in a University of Pennsylvania study.

Frankly, I’ve also found that when everyone comes in cold turkey, the brainstorm often ends with a long list of very uninspired notions. At the least, whoever runs the brainstorm should come with a few ideas to kick off the brainstorm and give an indication of what a good idea looks like.

5) Say “no” to the bad notions. Fast.

It might be brainstorm heresy to recommend people squash bad notions, but I’ve watched one too many brainstorms go astray because people are too scared to say “no.” This is particularly important if you’re trying to run a quick brainstorm session.

Yes, there’s a fine line: Squashing bad notions could result people to fear speaking up, missing out on good notions as a result. But if you’re dedicating every idea equal due regardless of merit, then you get off-track real fast and end up down a bad notion rabbit hole.

Better brainstorms that yield better ideas leave time to fostering the strongest inclinations.

On that note …

6) Foster an environment where bad ideas are okay.

Yes, you should call out bad notions. But you should also make it okay that people had them. Call out your own ideas, in fact. If people can speak freely, but not feel stupid for doing so, you’ll get more notions out — which makes it more likely you’ll land on a good one.

7) Lean into constraints.

If you have every resource and opportunity in the world, creativity will naturally stifle. Lay out the constraints you’re working within in terms of goals and resources for executing any idea you come up with. Then, try to see those as a chance for creativity instead of roadblocks that make it impossible to come up with a good idea.

8) Lean into silence.

Anyone in sales already knows: Stillnes is power. In a brainstorm, silences are times when people get thinking done — either about their own notions, or how to build on the last notion that came up.

And hey, it might also encourage more people to speak up with an idea, just out of their animosity of uncomfortable silences.

9) Lean into failing … outside of the brainstorm.

If you have a team where taking smart hazards — regardless of outcome — is rewarded, people will have a better sense of what ideas are worth pursue and what’s worth passing on. Because, you know, they do it a lot and get a second sense for these things.

If experimentation is a part of your squad culture, that’ll manifest itself in better ideas than if your team is stuck in stasis. You’ll have better brainstorms where creative and smart, yet risky notions come out.

10) Be prepared to ditch the session altogether.

Sometimes in-person sessions aren’t the right format for unearthing good ideas. Certain brainstorms can be better performed digitally.

For example, we often resort to Google Docs or Slack for brainstorms when curating blog post or title notions across a large group of people. There’s truly no need to pulling everyone away from their work to participate in a brainstorm like that — and the benefit is that people can participate on their own hour, when they’re ready and eager to contribute notions , not when the meeting happens to occur.

11) Offer a place for anonymous submissions.

For some people, the “right” format might be an anonymous submission. Offer a place for anonymous idea submission both before and after the meeting. People might have some notions that they’re reticent to bring up in front of different groups. It’d be a shame to miss out on those notions due to shyness, inconvenience, or simply a preference for writing out ideas instead of to talk about them. This is easy to set up through a Google kind.

12) Be prepared to pursue absolutely nothing that came out of that brainstorm.

Don’t feel like you have to choose and pursue an idea just because you had a brainstorm. If the brainstorm didn’t yield any good ideas, that’s penalty. It wasn’t a waste of time. But you will waste your time if you pursue an idea that isn’t worth doing. Moving forward with the lesser of all evils is still … evil.

Instead, do some reflection on your own about why the ideas aren’t ready to see the light of day, and see if any are worth more thought before ditching them. Perhaps you’ll get another group of people in a room to iterate on them — or even the same group once they’ve had some distance from the ideas. Now that notions have started flowing, you might find a second round of brainstorming yields something even better.

What other tips do you have for getting more out of brainstorms? Share with us in specific comments . Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness .

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