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The best ideas come to us in a variety of ways. They spring up in our heads while we’re taking a solitary walk in quiet space; or they might get unearthed at lively brainstorming sessions. In the end, their brilliance isn’t to be found in how we discover them; it’s really about the impact they can (or do) have on the situations to which they’re applied. But while it’s usually more convenient to think up a solution to a problem and just run with it, it’s sometimes better to have a larger pool of ideas to choose from. That bigger pool could be richer in its depth of quality if it’s made up of suggestions from many different people. Having multiple perspectives on an issue allows you to understand it in ways you may never have if you just chose to tackle it alone. Participants at brainstorming sessions could contribute great ideas for business growth; or they may simply sit through the whole thing and not come up with any fine suggestions. When the latter is the case, such meetings become a drain on time and other scarce organizational resource. How do you ensure that your brainstorming sessions aren’t a rowdy but fruitless talking shop, or a drab gathering of solemn people who barely say a thing?

How to make brainstorming sessions work

Here’s how to have an efficient, target hitting brainstorming engagement with your business’s team.

Clearly define your aims

You’ll need to state the goal of the meeting as a first step. Make sure it isn’t too ambiguous or wide ranging. Being specific prepares ground for focused discussions and minimizes the chance of frequent deviations from the course that such discussions should take. Be sure to communicate the purpose of the brainstorming session to your team before it begins. Do this as clearly as you can.

Lay out the rules beforehand

As much as you want everyone to have their say and contribute to your pool of ideas, you should do what you can to keep the process organized and suitable for sharing and examining participants’ opinions. Draft rules for the process, and read them out to members of staff before you start things off. Some of these rules may cover ways in which contributions, responses and suggestions can be made, and at what stage of the meeting they can be made; or what materials participants should have with them (writing materials, for instance). You may also request everyone in attendance to switch their electronic devices to silent mode, or put them off, to quell distraction.

Meet in a comfortable environment

You’re not very likely to crank out your best ideas when you’re in a humid, stuffy room or sitting squeezed between other people. But if your meeting spot takes you in pretty well, you could put your problem solving skills to good use. This is true for every other person who’s taking part in meetings which exact a fair amount of thinking from them. Besides using comfortable spaces, you can also convene these sessions as small groups. This may be required if yours is a larger organization with a sizeable workforce.

Choose a suitable facilitator

In many cases, bosses are better off not presiding over brainstorming sessions at their own businesses. Some employees may feel too intimidated by their presence as facilitators in such meetings, and may shrink into their shells as a result. It might be better to appoint someone else to take on that role. In selecting a facilitator, be on the lookout for someone with good listening and comprehension skills, who can also help the more reserved people on the team voice their opinions. He or she should be capable of keeping things in focus, letting everyone have their say, and bringing the discussion back on tract when it’s veering off course.

Get everyone involved

There’s a danger that a few outspoken people will dominate meetings, and skew the final resolution in the direction of their contributions. While this might yield some fine ideas once in a while, it could mean that you’ll miss out on potentially better opinions from the more introverted team members. There are ways to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard at such gatherings. You might tell all participants to write down their ideas at once, and have all of them read out and discussed afterwards. They could also note their suggestions concerning the ideas proposed by others as they are being shared, so they’ll have a chance to present them in a coherent way when called upon to do so. Writing things down this way keeps things organized, helps participants use time more efficiently, and captures ideas that may otherwise “escape” as words are spoken.

Discuss ideas and pick the best ones

Take all the ideas you can at the start. Don’t discard them at that stage. Begin sifting after everyone’s solutions have been sought. Let criticisms of the ideas presented be aired, as long as they’re constructive. You and your team should turn things over until you settle for the best realistic ideas that could conceivably work for the business. Adjustments to original ideas may be made as your team talks them through.

Follow up

Having decided what the best ideas are, you’ll need to make sure they are implemented. Unless you have a mechanism for bringing your brainstorming session resolutions to life, it might end up gathering dust in the shelves of your memory. The first step to take in this regard will be to have a summary of ideas agreed upon at the meeting dispatched to every member of the team concerned. Appoint someone or a group of people (from your team) to oversee the execution of the plan developed from the ideas generated at the braimstorming session. It’s also not out of place to reward people who come up with really good ideas. That’ll keep your staff motivated to make even better contributions in your next meeting.  

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This article was first published on 9th July 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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