Here is a method you can apply and customize as much as you want when you need to brainstorm in groups.
It will work best if you have only 1 hour to 90 minutes and want to create new leads and ideas, but I will focus only on the ideation phase here.
So we are not going to see how to pick the best ideas, vote for them, and implement them because I want to focus on the ideation phase, although those steps are essential to creativity.
If you want to go further, come up with a complete solution and eventually test it, I highly recommend the book SPRINT from Knapp, Zeratsky, and Kowitz that gives you the tools to facilitate a 5 days session with a dedicated team and solve problems in details.
The first thing you need to know is why you are having this brainstorm and what is the point of it. Prepare the subject, define the problem, the what, the why, and keep the main goal simple to understand. If the subject is 3 sentences long no one will get at the heart of the problem.
Who do you do it with? Invite people who are willing to share, listen to others, and who are usually optimistic or at least not buzz killers. Because this will ruin the workshop and you’ll have to manage it and take responsibility for it. Other personalities are very useful for later stages though!*
For more details, check out my other article: “Making different personalities a strength on the ideation phase.”
How do you do it? If I were you, I would designate a person who isn’t taking part in the brainstorm and only focuses on what is being said. If you can’t do this, have them write ideas at the same time or designate one person.
Where do you do it? The environment is very important. Your brainstorm can totally work in your place or in a standard meeting room but it can work better in another place. Pick an original place, a stylish coffee place, or “pimp” the room you are in! Bring funky objects like a magic 8 ball, a sword, cool books, and a piece of background music.
It is always recommended to start with an ice-breaker and I, of course, use magic. But not everyone is a magician (whaaat?) so you’ll have to find something else. I recommend a fun team exercise and warm-up (there are millions on the internet).
My advice is more on how you introduce that.
I always found it ridiculous and useless to do this because it was not explained properly to me. You can change this with a simple sentence:
“We are going to do a short team exercise just to disconnect from work and our daily lives and to have fun together (we will need it to think like kids again!). It is going to be super ridiculous but fun and we will get to work together already… are you ready for that?”. Done. You set up the context.
Then, start directly. Lots of people recommend time to chat have a coffee and snacks for a while before you get into it. I don’t. You can have all this while you are doing it!! Airplane mode activated, give the authorization to take pics and yawn loudly, put a piece of nice instrumental background music and explain directly the goal or you’ll lose precious time with useless chat. Explain that you are going to keep it as short as possible and that you need full attention.
This is a very important phase. It doesn’t need to be very long in a 1-hour session but you can’t skip it. The team has to “decode” the topic, define the words of the problem, untie the knots…and ultimately I recommend that they rephrase the problem, topic, or theme of the brainstorm.
The aim is for the team to go at the heart of it. So, sentences like “what is really the problem with that part of the problem” or “What is it that we really trying to do here?” or “So if I understand, the real goal is to ___” are great sentences for this phase. Encourage this type of thinking and have the team re-write the problem in a non-bullshit way.
What I always suggest is that each participant starts alone. You need to think about a topic before your ideas meet your colleague’s ideas, thought and the pieces of knowledge you were missing. Remember, this phase is about quantity and not trying to be smart in front of others!
Now the team can brainstorm together… BUT. There is a “but”. There are rules :
-Even when you judge (because you will inevitably), still build on each other’s ideas
– It is forbidden to say “yes, but…”, you have to say “Yes, and…”
– Everyone must have approximately an equal time of speech or the more extroverts will overshadow the “shy foxes” of the group.
My advice here: have a role-playing session with a team member to show an example on the “Yes, and…”. The person will find it hard to not say “yes, but…” and everyone will laugh. They can even try between themselves for 20 seconds. When the energy is high, start the session and tell them it is for 7 minutes only before they take time to review their ideas by themselves for 3 minutes.
During the brainstorm, you can remind them mid-way to try sentences with what if you feel like they are stuck.
Remember, ideation is about the dynamic, within the group but also when alone. Have everyone take individual reflecting time on the group ideas and try to create connections.
Do this until you feel like the team is going somewhere or until the end of your available time. The more you go, the more you give time to the group.
Even if you have a lot of time, I wouldn’t go over 90 minutes, because the energy will go down and it will be better to classify ideas, vote the best ones, and/or plan the next meeting’s goal at this moment.
The most important when you finish is to have the next phase in mind and to communicate it to the team. Are you going to clarify? Prototype? Choose ideas to follow? You have to let your team know what is next and why they did all this. They are probably excited about the possibilities and they deserve a plan!
And that is it! Again, there are a million ways to do this depending on what you do and what you want and the convergence phase is as important as the divergence one. So don’t forget that this method is like a starting point to open new doors…but that it is only the beginning.