How to Run a Successful Brainstorming Session

In this article appearing in, Leigh Espy provides a useful guide on how to conduct a successful brainstorming session. Let’s get to it.

  1. Know the Problem: Knowing the problem will help you guide the session and will also help you arrive at objectives for the solution.
  2. The Right Participants: Think about the problem and then focus on the right people to invite so as to arrive at a solution. Choose people from varying areas of expertise and even those who aren’t as close to the problem to get a range of perspectives. Besides this, also consider group dynamics and relationships between the invitees.
  3. The Right Number: While more intimate sessions work well, sometimes you may need inputs from a larger number of people. In this case, divide them into smaller working groups of 8-10.
  4. Prepare Attendees: Inform attendees in advance of the objectives and outcomes. Encourage them to think of solutions before the session. Provide background info and constraints too.
  5. Location: The location should allow for collaboration and must be equipped with whiteboards/projectors.
  6. Material: Ensure that you have large flip-charts, post-it notes, markers and maybe even snacks.
  7. Facilitator: Institute an experienced facilitator for the session – the facilitator should have good communication and listening skills and should keep the session moving on productively.
  8. Starting Out: Follow these steps for a productive session:
    1. Review the agenda
    2. Explain the goals and process
    3. Plan breaks
    4. Organize participants
    5. Lay down ground rules
    6. Identify timekeepers and note takers
    7. Include an icebreaker
    8. State the problem
  9. Generating Ideas:
    1. Ask participants to share ideas
    2. Record everything
    3. Steer the session
    4. Plan for a lack of ideas
    5. Engage everyone
  10. Rank Ideas: List the ideas, and have participants vote on them.
  11. Top Choice: Make the group discuss and vote on the top choice to pursue.
  12. Next Steps: You may need to break the group into smaller execution units, or in fact, the choices may require further investigation or collaboration. Lay down dates and objectives for each group.
  13. What to Expect: Let the group know if progress will be shared via an email or a follow-up session.
  14. Follow-up: Carry out the steps you had outlined, and keep others informed of progress and actions taken.

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