Steps to Get the Most Out of Brainstorming Sessions

A small business is always just one great idea away from breaking through to the next level. However, great ideas usually don’t just appear out of thin air. More often than not, innovative ideas are a combination of various thoughts by different people.

If you notice that your small business is encountering some sort of issue, then it’s time to get your trusted team members together and hold an old-fashioned brainstorming session. 
Brainstorming as a team is an effective way to generate creative ideas in a short amount of time that can lead to the extra piece your business is looking for. Here are five steps that can help your team get the most out of the session.

Be Specific
Start with a central focus for the session and keep the discussion as on-topic as possible. Rather than asking a broad question like “How do we increase our customer base?” provide your team with something more focused like, “How can we better utilize social media for marketing efforts?” 

Also, do not be afraid to add limitations and constraints to the types of ideas you want team members to bring in. Don’t worry about limiting creativity; imagination can be all over the place in terms of idea generation, and giving the team very little guidance can be especially frustrating.

Keep it Organized
Make sure to give the team ample time to prepare for a session beforehand. Inform them about what the topic of the session is, and tell them to come in with a list of five to 10 ideas, depending on the size of your team, and to be prepared to generate more. Have every team member take turns listing off an idea. Be sure to take copious notes. If possible, use a large white board to write everything down. This way all the ideas are organized in one place and visible to each team member.

Don’t Dismiss or Criticize
Now that everyone can see what other ideas have been brought to the table, more ideas are sure to follow. Create an atmosphere where team members can freely shout out their initial thoughts without fear of judgment. Criticizing or shutting down ideas is a surefire way to ruin even the most productive brainstorming session. While ideas do need to be realistic, your team should not feel like you don’t care about what they have to say. If you see the session going off the rails, or there are too many ideas that are simply unachievable, make sure to clarify what kind of things you’re looking for.

Encourage Everyone to Speak
Oftentimes, only the loudest voices in the room get heard. If you are facilitating the session, you must make sure everyone has time to contribute. A dominating team member can be great for the purposes of getting the ball rolling, but they can also prevent other participants from contributing their ideas. 

If you notice that someone is hijacking the conversation, feel free to ask other, quieter team members for their thoughts. Asking everyone to contribute their opinions is a great way to make sure that each participant is fully engaged and invested.

Plan Next Steps
After all the dust has settled and your team has developed some applicable solutions to the problem at hand, it is time to take action. After all, what good are all those ideas if you don’t follow up on them? 

Make sure to assign further steps for team members to take to develop these ideas. Perhaps have them conduct further research or start the planning stages. Take the initiative to schedule follow-up meetings to share the progress that has been made. Above all else, always be sure to demonstrate how the team’s ideas are valuable to the overall success of the business.

As a small business owner and leader, it is up to you to take on the role of facilitator and guide the brainstorming sessions. Always be thoughtful when sharing your ideas as they may inadvertently steer the group’s thinking. Make sure to provide feedback, encouragement and actionable next steps. 

For more information about how to effectively brainstorm solutions for your small business, contact Susan Strong at sstrong@advicoach.com.