I’m a big believer that brainstorming sessions should to be free flowing and somewhat unstructured. Fortunately, there are a few ways to organize a session that can add some structure but will actually allow it to become even more more free-flowing and creative. Consider a few of these ideas:
- Go somewhere new – force people out of their daily routines. Hold the event at some place fun that is far away from their daily lives. Zoos, aquariums and museums often have business conference rooms. Maybe borrow a conference room from a friend or client. I avoid hotel conference rooms when possible – they are usually drab and can stifle creativity.
- Invite 4-10 people – with less the four people, you risk having too little diversity in your group’s thinking. And, with more than 10, it becomes difficult for everyone to contribute. Too few or too many and creativity suffers.
- Get a facilitator – a neutral facilitator who understands the brainstorming topic can help ensure the most creative ideas get surfaced.
- Go all-in – if possible, keep your brainstorming team “in the zone”. Keep them away from their jobs and normal lives for the duration of your event. The longer they are able to stay laser focused on your brainstorming topics, the more creative and out-of-the-box the ideas will become.
- Schedule lots of breaks – brainstorming meetings can be intense and even emotional. Schedule breaks, at least 30 minutes each. Breaks reduce the intensity so people will relax and randomly connect with each other. I’ve seen some of the best ideas emerge after meetings or on breaks.
- Eat lunch and dinner together – have your team eat their meals together. Leaving the meeting room but staying together accelerates trust among your team and, like I said before, the best ideas are often born on breaks
- Stay over a night, or two – research shows that sleeping is critical for people to organize and correlate what they learn each day. Try focusing the first day on fact gathering. Then let everyone sleep on it. The next day, your brainstorming team is likely to be more effective at connecting far flung facts and ideas.
- Create an agenda but don’t feel like you have to stick with it – great brainstorming sessions don’t often follow your original agenda. To help ensure this is a good thing and not a problem, try framing your agenda in traditional, hour by hour sections. But also create a higher level half-day by half-day set of goals. This way, even if your main agenda goes off track, you still have a high-level plan to help ensure you ultimately achieve your brainstorming session outcomes.
- Bring in outside speakers – consider inviting a speaker from outside your brainstorming team. Having an outsider present for an hour or so not only brings in fresh new ideas but it changes the tempo in the room which often spurs more creativity.
What other organizing ideas have you seen that improve creativity and build trust among the team members?
Here are all the parts in my brainstorming series: Part 1: Rules of Engagement, Part 1B: Five Rules, Part 2: Organizing Creativity, Part 3: Rev up the Creativity Engine and Part 4: Tools and Techniques.