As Dunder Mifflin has shown us time and time again with its endless conference room meetings, nothing spurs creativity like a team brainstorm. However, the most effective creative brainstorm is one that is organized. You must have a plan in place to achieve maximum results, otherwise your discussion might as well be a happy hour. Whether it’s a virtual meeting or in-person discussion, here are some tips on how to structure a creative brainstorm into organized chaos. 

Stay on Track

The best way to keep everyone focused in a brainstorm is to set goals before starting. Think of it like you’re preparing for a day at Disney World. While you may have fun aimlessly running around the park to various attractions, you’re more likely to make the most of your time with an itinerary. Develop an outline for your discussion with a defined goal and give it to your team at least a day before the brainstorm. The extra time allows everyone to start mulling ideas and generate better results from the meeting. 

That’s not to say that you can’t still socialize and have conversations that don’t pertain to your outline. A brief chat on an unrelated topic here and there – like a funny TikTok video or the latest Netflix show you’re binge-watching – keeps everyone loose and reduces the pressure to come up with the perfect idea. Just be mindful of how often these conversations are happening. If you feel the team is lingering on an unrelated topic, jump in and refer to the outline to get the discussion back on track. 

Don’t Overdo It

We all know the feeling of sitting through a meeting that’s taking entirely too long. Attention is waning, we’re drifting off somewhere else and retaining any information that’s being shared is going to be a challenge. Those same pitfalls await if your brainstorm begins to stretch into two or more hours. It’s best to cap your discussion at 90 minutes to make the most of your time and ensure maximum participation. 

If your team is having its brainstorm in person, consider setting a timer if you’re worried the discussion may get away from you. For virtual meetings – something we’ve all had to navigate during the days of quarantines and social distancing – a time limit can be set on many platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. Don’t fret if you feel that you didn’t develop enough ideas during the allotted time. You can always have a follow-up discussion with an individual or smaller group later.

Follow the Leader

Having a clear facilitator can go a long way toward keeping your brainstorm organized. Imagine the pandemonium of an auction without an auctioneer leading the way. There would be a barrage of prices thrown around the room with no clear identification of a leading bid. Just as an auctioneer ensures a smooth sale, a defined coordinator for your brainstorm will keep your team focused on the discussion. 

As long as they understand the outline, anyone on your team can serve as a facilitator during a brainstorm. Identifying a coordinator before starting the discussion ensures that at least one person remains focused on your goals and corrals any lingering irrelevant conversations. Keep in mind that while one person facilitates the discussion, another member of your team should be taking detailed notes. There’s nothing worse than wrapping up a productive meeting before realizing that you wrote none of your new ideas down. 

No Bad Ideas

When it comes to the concepts and solutions that are tossed out during a brainstorm, quantity is just as valuable as quality. Even if the initial idea doesn’t hit the nail on the head, it can spark a more in-depth discussion that ultimately leads to a concrete plan that accomplishes a goal. Ensure that everyone on your team feels comfortable to share their thoughts freely. Any idea that relates to your goals is always a valuable addition to your team brainstorm. 

Our team has adopted a “no bad ideas” mentality for all of our brainstorms. What started as a playful explanation for a less than stellar idea has since turned into a legitimate engine for thoughtful, engaging discussions. Sometimes the quietest person on the team has the best ideas—all they need is the encouragement to share those concepts with the group. 

Get an Outside Perspective

After you’ve completed your brainstorm and come away with a whole list of exciting new ideas, it’s easy to want to start working immediately. Resist the urge and instead explain the solutions to someone who was not part of the discussion. Saying them out loud gives you another opportunity to process those ideas in real time, while the outside perspective could further improve the concept. 

This outside perspective could come from another member of your team. Maybe someone was on a business call or in a client meeting during the discussion but generates a new idea after hearing the results of the brainstorm. If your entire team was present for the initial discussion, consider going outside your organization to a trusted friend or mentor. Along with the true outside perspective, those unaffiliated with your team often bring a completely different point of view that could produce a solution that you had not yet considered. 

In addition to the cultivation of creative ideas, a brainstorm can also be effective in establishing similar plans for your business strategy, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to find new ways of solving business problems. If you’re having trouble developing your plan, we have the solution in the form of a disruption session or co-creation workshop that puts you front and center with a group of experienced marketers to develop real solutions for customer challenges.