Rules + brainstorming?! Like many iconic duos (i.e. Beauty & The Beast, Siskel & Ebert, WALL-E & EVE!) opposites attract. So while it may seem counterintuitive, setting clear rules of brainstorming can make all the difference when coming up with new ideas. Brainstorming guidelines bring out the best and most innovative ideas because they help everyone on the team feel safe to participate.
What is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a group activity focused on generating creative solutions to address a need or resolve a problem. It’s a process in which all team members come together to share their thoughts and insights. These sessions can have varying degrees of structure and can take place either face-to-face or virtually.
Why is Brainstorming Important for Teams?
Brainstorming gets team members out of the daily grind of to-do lists and into a head space to think more creatively and strategically.
Brainstorming has lots of benefits, including the following:
- Increased Innovation: These days, every business needs to generate new ideas in order to adjust to our rapidly changing world. And innovative solutions don’t typically appear in the midst of the status quo. Teams have to intentionally take the time to find novel approaches.
- Stronger Connections: When people can share thoughts without judgment, this builds connections between team members and improves working relationships.
- Higher Energy: Lively brainstorming sessions – when ideas flow and build – create a palpable feeling of excitement. Also, teams that rally around innovative solutions may feel newly energized.
- Boosted Creativity: The creative thinking that’s spurred on during brainstorming can have a spill-over effect to positively impact other projects that could benefit from some out-of-the-box problem-solving.
- More Fun: Last but not least! Brainstorming is fun and brings out a sense of playfulness. This can be a refreshing change of pace from the monotony of daily work.
Why Would We Need to Use Rules of Brainstorming?
While brainstorming is an incredibly valuable tool, it can be ineffective if not facilitated well. You’ve probably experienced a brainstorming meeting that’s gone off the rails, and it’s no bueno – the session either lasted too long, got far into the weeds, felt scattered, or was dominated by one or two people.
Setting clear rules of brainstorming is what separates successful discussions from ones that fall short. These rules help everyone feel comfortable speaking up, ensure that all voices are heard, and bring out the most creative and innovative suggestions.
Here are Some Rules of Brainstorming to Consider:
Wacky ideas welcome: The old adage of brainstorming is that “there are no bad ideas,” and it’s true! Even if a suggestion seems silly, it just might spark another thought or solution. And, in some cases, the wacky or risky idea is what leads to a more significant breakthrough.
A “yes and” mindset: This is a classic rule from improv comedy, and the idea is to accept what’s said by someone (the “yes” part) and then expand on it (the “and” part). In this mode, team members build on each other’s ideas to see what can be created collectively.
Set practicality aside (for now): During brainstorming, practicality shouldn’t be a concern. Otherwise, people will limit their suggestions and you won’t generate as many new or innovative possibilities. People need permission to temporarily set aside limiting considerations, like budget or resources. You can bring these practicalities back into focus later.
Everyone has a voice: It’s important to make sure everyone has an equal chance to speak and share their thoughts during brainstorming. This is especially relevant in a big group, where some team members may be more introverted or reserved. Creating an environment in which everyone feels able to speak up helps ensure that all ideas are considered.
No talking over each other: In a brainstorming session, it’s essential to listen actively to others and wait for a good time to chime in. Interrupting or talking over others can stifle creativity and prevent team members from feeling heard.
Wait to evaluate: It’s important to separate idea generation from evaluation. Evaluating suggestions too early can stifle creativity and prevent team members from sharing as many suggestions.
“Regular brainstorming is as critical to an organization as regular exercise is to your health. It creates a responsive, innovative culture." - Tom Kelley
Stay out of the weeds: This can be tough, especially when most people on the team are probably in roles that require more of an emphasis on tactics. But when brainstorming discussions get too focused on the details of implementing one particular suggestion, it’ll take time and energy away from generating as many ideas as possible.
Write down all ideas: It’s helpful to record all the thoughts shared during a brainstorming session. This ensures that no suggestion is lost and sends a message to your team that everyone’s opinions matter. Plus, displaying ideas on a whiteboard engages the visual dimension of learning, which can spark different ways of thinking.
Communicate with respect and positivity: This is always true, but feels especially important in a brainstorming session, where team members may be sharing vulnerable or creative suggestions. Encouraging positive and respectful communication helps to foster a safe and supportive environment where all team members feel valued and heard.
Set a time limit and stick to it: When team members know the session is time-bound and not gonna drag on, they’ll be more likely to engage fully. But when discussions go on and on without a defined ending point, employees will check-out or get frustrated.
Combine like ideas into groups: As you and your team are observing all the ideas going up on the whiteboard, grouping similar concepts together can help you see the most dominant themes. This can point you in the direction of the most relevant or powerful suggestions to consider developing further.
Send out notes afterward: After the brainstorming session has ended, it’s helpful to send out notes summarizing all the thoughts and themes shared. This provides a record of the session that can be referenced later and allows team members to keep building on ideas, even after the meeting has ended.