Helpful Tips for Effective Office Brainstorming
When it comes to generating strong, effective ideas for the workplace, a good brainstorming session can go far — but only when it's done correctly. In fact, with the right techniques and tools for creative thinking, an office brainstorming session can bring out the very best ideas for your company. The key is following a few simple, but important, rules.
Organizing your brainstorming team
Before you even begin your office brainstorming session, you have to put together a team to generate constructive ideas. You're not going to put just anyone in the mix and hope for a positive outcome.
Choose a moderator
For each brainstorming session, you'll want to select a moderator to lead the discussion and ensure it stays productive. Yes, brainstorming is about the free flow of ideas, but without any structure, it's easy for a session to get off track and lose its whole purpose.
Remember that every team needs a leader. And the purpose of a brainstorming session leader/moderator is not only to keep the meeting on track, but also to encourage everyone participating to share their ideas.
Diversify your team
When putting your brainstorming team together, be sure to include at least one person who works in a completely different job than the rest of the group. For example, let's say your group consists of mostly designers. Mix it up by adding a developer to the team, or even someone who knows nothing about creating websites, either designing or developing.
It's easy to think that adding an outsider to the group might bring more chaos to the brainstorming session. A developer on a team of designers is bound to bring about some clashing ideas. And that's exactly the point.
A developer (or someone from HR or sales, for example) will think more like an end-user than a designer. And that may be just what a team of designers need. More often than not, designers are designing for other designers. What they really need is an inside look at how a user thinks to help influence their ideas.
Identify your goals
For the most effective brainstorming session, your team must set goals before starting a meeting.
What is the purpose of this brainstorming session? What would be the ideal outcome?
The best way to identify your goals is to start your session with an overview of the project at hand. A refresher will help everyone get on the same page. And from there, set a clear goal. Don't waste time by going into a brainstorming session without a goal. You won't get much out of it.
Utilize smart goals vs. ineffectual goals
It's critically important that your goals aren't too vague. The more specific, the better. The best goals are clear and focused. Aim for results that can be easily measured. "Identify 10 ways to improve our website" will go much further than simply "Make a great website."
If you don't have a clear purpose, your brainstorming session is bound to lose focus and end up in a direction that's counterproductive for your company.
Think about the SMART criteria for project management when it comes to your office brainstorming. SMART is an acronym for the five characteristics of productive goals.
Set ground rules for your brainstorming session
Once you get started, there are a few lessons to remember as your team gets the juices flowing and starts producing ideas. Remember that brainstorming should be fueled by creativity. There are no bad ideas in a brainstorming session, and you don't want to limit yourself.
Don't judge ideas
Whatever you do, don't waste time by evaluating each idea. There will be another time for that. Each brainstorming session should be about quantity rather than quality. Sometimes even seemingly bad or outrageous ideas can turn out to be good ones. That's to be decided at a later time.
A positive environment is key to keeping a brainstorming session productive. That means plenty of laughter, tossing around ridiculous ideas and keeping criticism out of the room. The leader and moderator must ensure the mood stays uplifted, and that no one insults anyone else's ideas. Criticism stifles the flow of ideas.
Sometimes there will be one person in the group who just doesn't get it. If someone insists on continually insulting other ideas, simply ask that person to leave the brainstorming session. If a team member isn't helping to further the session, there's no point in keeping him or her on the team for this particular meeting. "Don't judge" is a pretty simple and straightforward rule to follow.
Embrace the absurd
Think you've got a crazy idea? Share it. Not only do you want to discourage your team from judging other ideas, you actually want to encourage everyone to put forth their zaniest ideas. Sometimes the best ideas are born out of what seem like the worst ideas. Forget all your company's constraints — like time and money — and see what people come up with.
Beware of groupthink
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a group of people is so concerned with maintaining peace and harmony within the group, they all conform to the same line of thinking to avoid conflict.
But the problem with this is censorship. Not everyone agrees all the time — and that's OK. That's part of the brainstorming process. You want your group to come up with a range of different ideas as part of the creative process.
Yes, positive reinforcement is an important part of brainstorming. But so is critical thinking. And when groupthink takes over, the diversity of ideas takes a sharp decline.
To avoid groupthink, encourage the group moderator to take on the role of devil's advocate. When a team member presents an idea, the team leader should respond with some tough questions and alternative ideas. The idea is that the rest of the team will follow. Remember, there's a difference between friendly debate and simply shutting down an idea. You want everyone to think critically and present their own original thoughts.
Expand your thinking
It's human nature to make assumptions. And we're bound to do the same in a brainstorming session. But when we make assumptions, we limit our thinking, and thus limit our ideas.
As you're brainstorming, list all the assumptions you have about the task at hand. Get them out of the way. Your assumptions are barriers.
You know, for example, that a chair has four legs and is used for sitting.
Take all the assumptions you have about the task at hand, then reverse them. A chair is not for sitting. It does not have legs.
And then use the reversal to come up with new, innovative ideas. You might come up with a new, unique kind of chair that doesn't have the usual four legs, or furniture that allows users to kneel rather than sit.
The idea is to think outside the proverbial box. And only when you put all your assumptions out on the table and throw them to the wind will you generate ideas that push boundaries.
Choose the right furniture for your session
No matter how you're conducting your brainstorming session, you want everyone to be as comfortable as possible. And that's why your office environment is also important to ensure your session is productive.
- If your brainstorming team is a small group, consider using a Thinkpod as the setting for your session. A Thinkpod creates a partial or full enclosure, and a flexible spine connects Thinkpods together in several different configurations to accommodate the size of your group.
- If you need flexible seating for your brainstorming session, consider Element mesh seating. Wheels give it easy mobility, and the chair's mesh back and over foam cushion provides maximum comfort and support — so your team will be able to focus on cultivating ideas rather than their discomfort. You could also try the Focus Work chair, which also offers ergonomic back support and comfort.
- Having a virtual brainstorming session? Try the River soft seating line from Global Total Office. These chairs include options for power, with USB ports built into their units. High-back models also serve as perfect video conference backdrops. You can choose one seat, or several in a communication-enhancing arrangement.
- If you want to make it easy for team members to bring their laptops to the brainstorming session so they can quickly look up anything necessary, try an Alba conference table. The table provides plenty of space for laptops and other tools you may need, and it comes in a range of shapes and laminates to suit your office style. Many manufacturers also offer power integration in their tables — including Arcadia Contract, which has tables that support conference technology requirements.
- And if you really want to get everyone involved so your brainstorming session is truly a collaborative effort, try covering a wall in a meeting room with dry erase paint. Writing ideas on a wall adds a visual element to your meeting and will encourage everyone to contribute. Or install a magnetic projection-friendly Sharewall in your brainstorming center.
Pick your brainstorming methods
There are several effective ways you could approach your brainstorming session. Try different methods to find out what works best for your team.
Try online brainstorming
Electronic brainstorming offers a long-term solution to generating ideas. Create an electronic document on a central server so all team members can access it. Sometimes ideas spring up at unexpected times, and this gives your team a way to quickly add to the list before someone loses an idea.
Consider rapid ideation
Sometimes over-thinking can stifle creativity. Adding a time limit to a brainstorming session gives people no choice but to come up with ideas quickly, with no time to over-analyze or change their minds about whether it's a worthy idea. Depending on the complexity of your topic, give your team anywhere from five to 45 minutes.
Discover stepladder technique
This brainstorming method encourages everyone to contribute their ideas before being influenced by their team members. The team leader starts by sharing the topic with the entire team, then everyone leaves the room except for two people. The two members discuss their ideas before an additional member is added to the group.
That third team member then shares his or her idea before the other two discuss theirs. The pattern continues until everyone is back in the room, and there you have it — everyone has contributed their ideas without any influence from their fellow group members.
Brainstorming that works for you
There are plenty of brainstorming methods proven effective you could try for your group session. It's just a matter of what you and your team prefer. But above all, remember to set goals for your group, to welcome all ideas, to maintain a positive and comfortable environment and to encourage critical thinking. Once you've got all these key elements down, you're bound to have a productive brainstorming session that results in some seriously innovative ideas for your office.
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