Hitchhiker’s Guide to a Successful Brainstorming Session

By Laura Müller

We all know the situation: Somebody calls for a brainstorming session about a vague topic. Some people are late, maybe some have to leave the meeting early, so the actual time to brainstorm is way too limited. During the meeting the exact task is not clear, so people may just sit there and chitchat. In the worst case, people kill alleged crazy ideas due to the budget or technical reasons. So in the end, you’re left with mediocre ideas that satisfy no one.

To avoid this scenario, I offer a handful of tips. Some of them might seem trivial, but they will help you succeed (trust me).

1. Be on time

It’s an open secret that meetings that start on time are usually more productive and also more respectful to the other participants. I would recommend mentioning the importance of being punctual in the invite and send a friendly reminder the day before the meeting. This usually is enough for everyone to be there on time.

 2. Set a goal

Write the goal of the meeting on a flipchart or whiteboard so everybody is aware of what the outcome should be. This helps everyone stay focused and avoids discussions that don’t help the purpose.

 3. All ideas matter

Choose a method of conducting the meeting that integrates the introverted attendees and eliminates hierarchies. No matter which method you choose, it’s always good to have a neutral moderator who makes sure each participant is given the same room to express his or her ideas. Objective evaluation criteria for the creative output should also be defined. Ideas must be evaluated from a rational point of view and not a subjective one. Just because someone has a loud voice and might be higher up within the organization does not mean that his or her ideas are more valuable.

4. Stick to your timeline

If you moderate the meeting, stick to a set timeline. The meeting and the time slots need to be planned before starting the meeting. Each attendee should know how much time he or she has for certain tasks. Be friendly but communicate clearly; the participants will appreciate it.

5. Document as much as possible

Depending on your method, the output of a meeting can vary. Avoid a lack of documentation. People tend to forget the details quickly, and all your work and effort might be for nothing. Take pictures of each iteration, and write a summary afterward. At most, this protocol takes half an hour and helps each of the participants remember the ideas. This is especially important if you have follow-up meetings and want to pick up where you left off.

6. Have fun, fun, fun…

When people are having fun, they tend to relax. Being relaxed can help the creative process and result in better ideas. The meeting should feel like fun and not like work. You can turn a meeting room into a creative space by putting things in the room that might inspire the participants. Sweets also help. Move the furniture around to make the room feel welcoming.

I hope this helps you have successful creative meetings. It might take some getting used to, and preparing for a meeting like this requires more than just sending out invitations, but the outcome is often much better, and the participants have a great time in the process.

Laura Müller is Team Lead / Senior UX Specialist at MetaDesign Berlin.

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