For the last few decades, brainstorming meetings have been the strategy du jour any time new ideas are called for. The thinking is that bouncing ideas off each other can help generate better ones and inspire people to think creatively. But you really don’t need to spend an hour in a meeting tossing around ideas and scribbling them down. There is a better way to brainstorm!
The concept is simple: ask participants to come up with ideas individually ahead of time. Then, spend the meeting time to share everyone’s ideas and solutions, and then to choose the best ones. Okay, we realize this reveal may sound anti-climactic. But it’s an outcome that’s actually been proven by various researchers. It turns out, brainstorming as a group can actually cause a loss in productivity because we are better at coming up with ideas — both with respect to quality and quantity — when we think alone.
Defining discussion points in advance of the meeting time gives the team an opportunity to be thoughtful and to reflect on their ideas. By applying a self-filter, they can fine-tune their ideas, even let them sit – “marinate”, if you will- for a while before refining them. Because everyone is doing this independently, there’s no risk of the meeting’s host or team leader influencing the group’s direction. It also gives everyone an equal opportunity to weigh in, especially those who don’t love speaking out in a group (or off the cuff).
So here’s a step by step guide to start this process on your own team.
1. Define the problem.
Within the very first agenda of the scheduled meeting, state the problem you are trying to solve or idea you want to come up with. Clearly state the objective of the solo brainstorming in the calendar invitation: “This meeting needs to solve X” or “Our Objective is to Create Y.”
2. Give ample lead time.
Consider the varied working styles of your team. Some enjoy a more spontaneous style and won’t need much time to prepare. Others need a few days to mull things over and let their thoughts develop in their head. And, prepare to speak about them.
3. Set expectations.
Outline the process for the team discussion before the meeting. Explain the criteria they should use for generating ideas, and specify what format you’d like to share them. Does everyone get 5 minutes to share their idea? Or will it be a more open and free-flowing discussion? Be clear about what’s going to happen within the meeting and stick to
4. Do a deep dive – but keep things moving.
Here’s where the real magic happens. Since the ideas were formed before the meeting, so you and the team can have deeper discussions during the meeting about what’s been shared. As the meeting leader, its up to you dig deep into the ideas, and at the same time keep things moving. If you’ve set expectations around timing, set a timer for each presentation to keep things on track. And make sure you leverage all the brainpower in the room, because that’s what everyone is there for. Ask others what their feedback is on the ideas presented.
5. Track against the goal you set.
Decide in advance what actions you’ll take at the end of the meeting to move things forward. Will you ask the participants to vote on the best solution in the meeting, or send in written comments by the end of the day? Will there be any other follow-up? Be sure to save five minutes at the end of the conversation to close out and set up next steps. Remember that the purpose is not to simply collect great ideas —it’s to act on them. If you’ve thought through your objective and agenda before asking everyone to put in the time, this final part should be easy.