Last year, I was given the responsibility of heading up an event for a few hundred leaders. The purpose of the event was to cast vision and to generate energy in their leadership. This was an event that had taken place in the past, but it had fallen flat in recent years.
I assembled a team and presented the question, “How do we cast vision and energize these leaders?” To help us identify creative solutions to this question, I led the team through a brainstorming session to identify hundreds of possible answers to the question.
Brainstorming is a technique in which your team takes a specific problem or issue and creates a large quantity of possible solutions. It is the best tool that I have found for coming up with creative solutions to problems.
It should be one of the leadership tools that you use as well.
But great brainstorming sessions only occur if you follow these seven rules.
1. Quantity leads to quality
Have you ever been in a meeting where your whole team could only think of one idea? That usually guarantees that your outcome won’t be great.
In brainstorming, you want to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can. Quantity leads to quality.
2. Set a time limit
If you don’t set a time limit, ideas could flow for the rest of the week. Limit the amount of time that your team brainstorms. If your team gets stuck, they know that the time will end. If good ideas are pouring out, you can always give the team more time.
3. Give personal brainstorming time before group brainstorming time.
Extroverts often come up with their best ideas interacting with others. But introverts usually need time to process ideas before they share anything.Introverts need alone time before brainstorming sessions to think through their ideas. Click To Tweet
Let your team know what they will be brainstorming before the meeting so introverts have time to think. If not, you can give 3-5 minutes for introspective brainstorming during the meeting. Some people need time to think, process, and write out their ideas before diving into a group experience.
4. There are no bad ideas.
This rule is critical in brainstorming. You must let your team know that there are no bad ideas during brainstorming. Some may share ideas that sound crazy. But everyone else should keep their reactions to themselves. The craziest ideas can lead to other ideas which result in great ideas.
Give your team the freedom to have any idea — as long as they’re focused on the solution.
5. Pass no judgment — either positive or negative.
Your team will not share their ideas if they are afraid of being criticized. You have to let them know that they must defer judgment on ideas until a later time. No one should say, “That’s a terrible idea!” or “I don’t think that will solve the problem.”
But it’s equally bad for someone to pass positive judgment. If someone says, “I really like that idea,” it skews the conversation toward that idea.In brainstorming, positive feedback can do as much damage as negative feedback. Click To Tweet
Your team should feel the freedom to share their ideas without any sense of peer pressure.
If someone does pass judgment, it’s your responsibility as the leader of the meeting to say, “Right now, we’re in brainstorming mode. We are not judging any of these ideas yet. Please hold all feedback until we start making decisions.”
6. Build on ideas
One of the best parts of brainstorming happens when your team builds on each others’ ideas. One person throws out an idea. The second person takes that idea and adds to it. The third person takes that idea and modifies it.
Your ideas multiply quickly as your team builds on each others’.
7. No arguing or making your case.
When people share an idea, they need to share the idea quickly. It kills momentum when a person spends 10 minutes explaining their rationale.
It’s fine to spend 1-minute providing clarity but no more. After the brainstorming ends, people can go back and provide a greater explanation.
Brainstorming is the best tool to help your team think about a solution to an issue in creative ways.
What happened with the team I led? After brainstorming hundreds of solutions, we selected the best ones that we believed we could carry out. The leadership event had the highest satisfaction rate since its inception!
It all started with a great brainstorming session that followed these seven rules.
Question: What decision are you making in which you use brainstorming as a tool?