There are five steps to conducting an effective brainstorming session as below:
Prepare the environment:
The facilitator or organizer should first create an environment which is comfortable and have all the tools and resources needed to run the session. Once the room is ready, a diverse team such as people with different skill sets or thinking styles are invited. The organizer should also appoint one person to record the ideas on sticky notes or the whiteboard. All participants should be able to see the sticky notes or ideas.
Provide an overview of the problem statement:
The organizer presents the problem to the participants along with any historical data or information related to previous attempts to solve the problem.
Set the schedule and establish rules:
The organizer explains the agenda or the schedule of the meeting to the participants. He also communicates the rules for this exercise as below:
- Generate as many ideas as possible
- No idea is bad
- Analysis or judgement of ideas is not allowed until the session ends
- Everyone can build upon other’s ideas
Run the session:
The organizer asks all participants to write down their ideas on sticky notes (preferable one idea per sticky note) for first 10-15 minutes.
Then he asks each participant to share their ideas one by one, while encouraging other participants to build upon the shared idea and create new ideas.
The organizer stimulates more ideas by asking the participants to perform role based thinking. He also keeps the discussion focused always.
Organize ideas and act:
Towards the end of the brainstorming exercise, the facilitator removes any duplicate or unrelated ideas. The participants then group the ideas into categories or themes. There are different tools that are available to guide you in organizing and analyzing the ideas such as Affinity Diagrams (a business tool used to organize ideas).
There are many variations for conducting the brainstorming exercise. Two popular variations are freewheeling and round-robin. In freewheeling approach, participants are encouraged to shout out ideas freely until no one has any more to add. The ideas are written on a white board or flip chart exactly as they are spoken. In round-robin approach, each member is asked in turn to call out or contribute to an idea, until nobody has anything more to contribute.
Other variations include nominal group technique and directed brainstorming. In nominal group technique, participants write down their ideas anonymously. The facilitator collects all the ideas and the group votes on each idea. The top ranked ideas are then pursued for further discussion. In directed brainstorming, the participants brainstorm individually and write down their main idea. The written ideas are then shuffled and randomly distributed within the participants. Each participant is asked to improve the written idea and create a new one.
Learn more on Brainstorming and other problem solving tools with “An Expert Guide to Problem Solving” available at Amazon.