The Art Of The Brainstorming Session

Courtesy of carolynconner/Creative Commons Licenses

I’m on a staff writing retreat and looking around the room, it looks like a war room.  Large sticky notes are pasted on the windows, laptops, ipads and folders are strewn across tables tables and bodies passed out on the floor (Okay, maybe not so much the last one).
It’s amazing to see the many ideas that have appeared and the conversations that have flowed from the brainstorming process that’s taking place.  The goal is to emerge with a calendar for our upcoming year filled with message series.  We want to know how it will flow, what will it affect and when is the right time to say what.
When it comes to brainstorming many of us underestimate it’s power and think it’s just about:

  1. Getting people around a table
  2. Giving everyone a turn sharing their ideas
  3. Having the team vote on their favorites
  4. Sending people home

If it were that simple then ideas would be flowing out of the woodwork; however, more times then not leaders forget to include these five basic principles:

  • Set A Goal: Don’t just brainstorm to throw out ideas and see what happens.  Goals bring motivation to a brainstorming session, without them it’s just a conversation.  You need to answer the question, “What do we want to walk away from this session accomplishing?” Is it one idea, two?  A program, event or message?  You want to be open to where the Spirit might take you, but you also want an initial destination. 
  • Form An Agenda: You need to schedule a start, stop and break time during a brainstorming session.  People will be using their energy, emotions will get high and tangents could derail the overall goal.  By structuring the flow and giving yourself limits, you create a focus on the purpose of brainstorming which is to turn ideas into actions steps.
  • Capture Ideas: If you are leading it’s easy to shutdown ideas that you don’t agree with; however, by not allowing an idea to be heard and then developed be a huge mistake.  Ideas grow at different rates, some develop in minutes, while others need time to mature.  An idea might pop out about a program while you are brainstorming about message series, instead of killing it, write it down and revisit it later.  
  • Create Actions Steps:  Coming up with ideas is the easier part, putting them into action is a whole different process.  BUT, you cannot leave a brainstorming session (or any meeting) without assigning action steps.  If you don’t delegate actions steps to the team your ideas will grow old, moldy and die.  They need to be nurtured and pruned to grow.
  • Follow Up: It doesn’t have to be a meeting, just a system of checking in.  Following up is a time when you can see how ideas have grown, what obstacles stand in the way and what next step you or your team needs to take.  Don’t leave your brainstorming session die in vain, make sure it’s a continuous process.

A brainstorming session should be an organic process where ideas flow in and receive the attention they need to grow.  While not all ideas are good ideas, the goal of the brainstorm is to put them out there, give them a chance, and a voice.  Just because it’s a brainSTORM doesn’t mean it should be chaotic, give it some parameters.

What else makes a good brainstorming session?