If you work as part of a team, you’ve likely been a part of a brainstorming session at some point. It’s a common process that many businesses use to generate new ideas, and come up with solutions to problems. Often, “brainstorming” is used as a catch-all term for any activity that helps teams gather new ideas. But did you know that there are many different brainstorming techniques that you can use depending on your team structure, goals, and even the personality of your participants?
This article will explain some of these common brainstorming techniques, including:
- Brain writing
- Figure storming
- Brain netting
- Rapid ideation
- Round robin brainstorming
- Star bursting
- Stepladder brainstorming
- “Why” analysis
- Reverse brainstorming
- Mind mapping
Afterwards, we’ll walk you through a sample brainstorming process you can use to execute your session. Let’s get started.
Common brainstorming techniques
As mentioned, there are many different types of brainstorming that can be used to think about problems in different ways, and engage your team more effectively. Each team, problem, and desired outcome will undoubtedly be different, so choosing the right brainstorming technique is important to setting yourself up for success.
Let’s dive into some brainstorming methods you can use with your team.
Brain writing is a brainstorming technique that aims to separate idea generation from immediate discussion and critique. In these sessions, the facilitator will share the topic or problem with the team, who will break out individually to write down ideas. Once this is completed, the team reconvenes and shares their ideas with the group for discussion.
This type of brainstorming is effective at eliminating anchoring bias; a situation where only a few people produce most of the ideas. By openly encouraging everyone to create and share ideas, it generates a full, 360-degree view of all ideas and perspectives. This technique is also great for introverted team members, as it helps them think through their ideas individually before sharing them.
Brain writing is particularly effective for teams who tend to jump on the first idea presented, or who have issues with one or two loud voices taking over the conversation.
Figure storming is a brainstorming method that prompts your team members to think about a problem as if they were somebody else. Instead of asking “how would you solve the problem?” the facilitator asks the team to think about how a specific person or people would tackle the issue. For example, you might ask your team to solve the problem as if they were the company CEO, or an external consultant.
This type of brainstorming is great for getting team members to consider different perspectives in their ideas, which can facilitate fresh new ways of looking at the problem. Figure storming is particularly effective if your team is stuck, or if there’s an issue of coming up with the same ideas over and over again.
Brain netting is an online brainstorming technique that is part of a wider initiative for remote team communication. It aims to bring dispersed teams together for a brainstorming session using a variety of conferencing and recording tools. This is particularly useful for remote teams who have trouble thinking collaboratively about specific issues.
To achieve this type of remote brainstorming, you’ll need a central platform on which to record you questions and ideas, and a reliable web conferencing platform. For example, the facilitator might use a program like GoToMeeting alongside a mind mapping tool like MindManager to create a collaborative environment for generating, recording, and analyzing ideas.
Rapid ideation is what you’re most likely to picture when someone says “brainstorming session”. This technique starts by bringing a brainstorming team together into a room, and presenting them with the context for the meeting. For example, the facilitator could introduce the problem or questions that need to be solved, and provide necessary context like budgets or deadlines.
From there, the team will write down as many new ideas for the problem as they can within a set time period. Ideas should be produced and recorded as quickly as possible, with no filtering taking place. The overall goal of this brainstorming method is to generate a high volume of ideas quickly, and then refine and expand upon ideas afterwards.
This type of brainstorming session should be conducted using a reliable tool that can gather ideas quickly. It’s great for teams who find themselves getting sidetracked, or who need a clearer focus in their meetings.
Round robin brainstorming is a technique that aims to get everyone on the team participating as much as possible. Team members form a circle, and the facilitator introduces the topic that needs to be addressed. Each participant will then take turns sharing an idea until everyone has contributed. The facilitator records each idea, which are evaluated after this process is completed.
This brainstorming method is great for ensuring that everyone on your team is actively participating and sharing their ideas.
Start bursting focuses on creating questions related to a problem or goal, rather than on generating ideas or answers. It’s a great way to look at a problem from a different perspective, and work backwards to find the solution. The facilitator introduces a problem, and tasks the team with coming up with as many questions about that topic as possible. Once this is completed, the team should have generated a list of all the questions they need to address to complete a specific project or tasks.
This brainstorming technique is perfect for teams who have a tendency to overlook certain parts of a project, or who have been known to rush into tasks without proper planning.
Stepladder brainstorming aims to remove groupthink from the equation as much as possible by creating a system where team members can share their ideas individually without prior influence.
For this type of brainstorming, the facilitator introduces the topic to the whole team, and then everyone leaves the room except for two people. Those two team members discuss the topic between themselves, and generate ideas as a pair. One by one, more people are added to that conversation and contribute their ideas before they’ve heard anything from the group. This process is repeated until everyone is back in the room.
This brainstorming technique is ideal for groups of 5 to 15 people, and is a great option for incorporating individual thinking and group participation in the same session.
The “why” analysis technique is used frequently in quality control and project management as a way to get to the root cause of an issue. Lean Six Sigma, for example, is an efficiency auditing framework that incorporates this “why” analysis to identify problem spots in a large process or workflow.
As a brainstorming technique, a “why” analysis can be performed as a group to clarify where issues are likely to be occurring. The facilitator will introduce the problem, and the team will collectively ask five “why” questions to get to the heart of the issue. This can be completed as a group or individually.
In a group brainstorming session, a “why” analysis is great at encouraging open dialogue that can lead to new ideas for solving a problem or improving efficiency.
Reverse brainstorming is another great technique for looking at a problem from different perspectives. Rather than taking a problem and attempting to solve, this brainstorming method flips that process on its head. Instead, team members are asked to find ways to cause the problem.
As the team thinks of ideas for how to cause a specific problem, the facilitator records the ideas using their brainstorming tool of choice. Once finished, those ideas are reversed from problem causers to problems solvers. For example, if one way to ensure that a project is completely disorganized is to never communicate as a team, then reversing that shows the importance of a clear communication strategy.
As these ideas are reversed and refined, new ideas for how to solve the problem (or possible causes) come into focus. This brainstorming method is great for teams who might be stumped by a specific problem and need a strategy for identifying new insights that might have been overlooked.
Lastly, mind mapping is a proven brainstorming technique that is great for quickly capturing, sorting, and expanding on ideas from a central topic. Mind mapping addresses the challenge of capturing and sorting ideas during a brainstorming session, enabling facilitators to quickly and easily organize the thoughts for analysis and refinement.
Mind maps typically start with a central topic – the focus of the brainstorming session – and radiate outwards using sub-topics. As the mind map expands, new ideas and categories become clearer, and relationships can be made between disjointed ideas. This brainstorming method’s biggest strength lies in its ability to mimic the way the human brain works so that the process doesn’t face roadblocks along the way.
It’s important to take the time to consider which brainstorming technique will be most effective at engaging your team and generating ideas before you start. Understanding your problem, choosing the right team, and deciding on a technique method are all necessary parts of the brainstorming process.
Now let’s take a look at some common brainstorming steps you should consider for future sessions.
How to get started: the brainstorming process
When holding a brainstorming session, it’s imperative that you take the necessary steps to ensure success. That means thinking through each stage of the brainstorming process in advance, being clear about the problem you’re trying to address and your desired outcomes, and then executing on the plan with your team.
The brainstorming process will vary from team to team, and project to project, but it’s important to understand what goes into one of these sessions, and why each step is important. Additionally, it’s important to firmly understand what brainstorming is, and what it isn’t. That is: don’t use brainstorming as a fall back technique to solve all of your business problems. It’s a technique and process that has a particular use case and outcome. With that in mind, here are some common brainstorming steps you can follow.
Step #1: Define the problem and goals.
The project leader or manager should clearly identify what is trying to be accomplished, and what success looks like. This will form the basis for why you call a brainstorming session.
Step #2: Choose your team and facilitator.
Based on the project focus, choose the team members who will be involved with this process. They should be familiar with the project or the problem, and be knowledgeable enough to contribute in a brainstorming session.
Step #3: Come up with the right questions to answer.
Establish what questions and tasks you will assign to your brainstorming team. Keep this to one or two man questions to keep your session has focussed as possible to ensure that you’re tackling the right topics in the meeting.
Step #4: Choose your brainstorming method.
Think about which brainstorming technique will produce the best results, based on the makeup of you team and the complexity of the problem. For creative projects, a technique like rapid ideation could be useful. For more complex technical problems, a “why” analysis might be the way to go. Don’t be afraid to try different types of brainstorming to discover what works.
Step #5: Branch out for individual brainstorms.
Once you’ve selected your team and technique, you can send your team off to think of ideas individually. This will help every team member come prepared to the meeting, and give them adequate time to flesh out their ideas. For some brainstorming techniques, this might not be necessary, and you can move directly to the group sessions.
Step #6: Come back for a group brainstorm.
This is where the fun begins. Using your brainstorming method of choice, work through the session and capture ideas using your tool of choice. Make sure to keep your meeting focussed to the problem or question at hand, and try to stick to only one type of brainstorming. The more focused your brainstorming meeting is, the better the results will be.
Step #7: Record the new ideas.
Using your tool of choice – be it a whiteboard, mind mapping software, or other platform – keep track of all the ideas that are presented during the meeting. Your record of the meeting should contain all ideas and follow-up discussions, and will serve as your resource for project management after the session is completed.
Step #8: Make a project plan.
Based on the outcomes of your brainstorming process, you can create a detailed work breakdown structure for the next steps. This can include outlining resources, budget, deadlines, and success metrics, as well as dolling out task responsibilities to your team.
Step #9: Execute on the project.
Finally, the work can begin towards achieving your team goals. Execute your project plan using the parameters outlined in your WBS.
Step #10: Review the results.
Once work on the project is complete, review how you did and whether or not you achieved your desired results. This is a critical step for auditing how effective your brainstorming session was, and whether or not you effectively moved from planning to execution.
Again, your steps may be different than what is outlined here, and that’s fine. Your goal should be to ensure that you have a plan in place before you start working, and that you execute on that plan throughout the brainstorming process.
- What is brainstorming? And why is it important?
- Popular brainstorming tools, and when to use them with your team
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