Yes, And: 5 Ways to Facilitate Productive Brainstorming (Plus One Bonus)

How many times have you crossed paths with an idea, work of art, or solution that seems as obvious as it is brilliant and grudgingly muttered to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, unless you’re a prodigy like Mozart, the truth is that creativity rarely happens in a vacuum.

All around the world, from conference rooms to coffee shops, people rely on one another to bandy about ideas, weigh the pros and cons, and ultimately decide on the best course of action.

We’ve covered the best brainstorming tools in the past, but it takes more than tools to make a brainstorm productive. So, what are some of the best ways to facilitate brainstorming in your workplace?

1. Switch Up the Scenery

This will depend on you, your team, and your needs, but a change in scenery is often all that’s needed to help facilitate a productive brainstorming session. If your office is too noisy, cluttered, or distracting, get out of there for the day and find somewhere that’s comfortable and relaxing. Try a plush hotel meeting room or local park.

On the flip side, you may need to find a place that allows you to feed off the buzz and energy. Coffee shops are an obvious choice thanks to the abundance of caffeinated beverages, but a co-working space like NextSpace, Industrious, or COCO might provide the jolt your right-brain needs.

Wherever you go, make sure you have a way to share all the ideas being generated with the entire team. Most conference rooms come with white boards or good old-fashion markers and giant notepads, but if you’re going mobile, Google Docs allow for real-time collaboration within a single cloud-based document.

2. Define Your Goal/Objective

The idea behind a brainstorming session is to get people thinking and talking. To let them explore different paths and tangents, but that can get out of control if you don’t have a specific destination to keep everyone moving in the same direction.

3. Covet Bad Ideas

We’ve all heard that “there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.” And we all know that’s not exactly true. There’s always more than one bad idea, but their utility lies in their ability to make us feel comfortable sharing our ideas and working through the process.

Have everyone on your team start the session by throwing out their worst ideas. Maybe give out a prize for the absolute worst of the worst.

Once you’ve lowered the bar as far as possible, people will be more comfortable sharing their ideas.

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Silence

It may be golden, but nobody likes awkward silences. And, in a brainstorming session, silence can make you feel like you’ve hit a dead end. But silence should not only be embraced, it should be encouraged.

Take frequent breaks to allow your team to think on their own or expand on someone else’s idea, then regroup to share progress. Rinse and repeat.

5. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Schedule more than one brainstorming session and give your team a few days between each. That way, they won’t feel pressured to come up with the perfect idea on the spot, and they’ll be able to further develop ideas on their own between meetings.

Bonus Brainstorming Alternative

One of the criticisms of brainstorming is that it innately focuses on the critique of shared ideas. This presents the possibility that the loudest voices can shut down certain opinions or influence the thought process of others. Enter: BrainSwarming

How is BrainSwarming different?

  • It’s facilitated almost entirely in silence
  • Criticism of ideas is not allowed
  • “Yes, and…” is king

Wait. If participants can’t talk, how does a BrainSwarm work?

  1. Participants are encouraged to have ideas ready before the meeting even begins.
  2. When the meeting begins, everyone writes their ideas on a white board or slaps Post-it notes on the wall.
  3. The ideas are read aloud by a facilitator.
  4. Swarmers assess the various ideas and try to expand on them, or add a new idea that was sparked by the process.
  5. Repeat steps 3-5.

In a BrainSwarm, the best idea should emerge naturally as participants continue to build on each other’s suggestions, constantly tweaking and refining them, until a concrete solution can be chosen.