How to run a successful brainstorming meeting

Marlo Oster

Brainstorming meetings are the lifeblood of your team’s collective creativity. They’re an opportunity for team members to put their heads together and discover solutions to complex problems. But as any manager or meeting facilitator knows, brainstorming meetings can often end with a lot more questions than answers.

In this post, we’ll break down brainstorming meetings, including how to create a brainstorming meeting agenda and how to facilitate an effective brainstorming session.

What is a brainstorming meeting?

A brainstorming meeting is the process of coming up with new ideas with a group of your coworkers and peers in a creative, open-minded, and non-judgmental environment. Brainstorming meetings bring the entire team together to solve complex problems as a unit so that all voices are heard, and everyone can be involved in the solution.

By coming up with many, many different ideas from several different perspectives, you can minimize biases and find unique solutions to tough problems as well as problems that don't have a clear right or wrong answer.

Aside from finding creative solutions that one person may not have come up with on their own, another major benefit of a brainstorming meeting is team building.

Brainstorming meetings are all about creativity, communication, and collaboration, so they’re a natural and excellent environment for team building. Team members can explore, ideate, innovate, and have fun together, strengthening the bond they have with each other and further building rapport.

Brainstorming meeting agenda: Preparing the template

Decide on your brainstorming objective

Any meeting needs an objective—without an objective, you’ll never know whether or not the meeting was successful, and you could end up wasting everyone’s time. No one needs another meeting just for the sake of having a meeting.

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The first step in planning a brainstorming meeting is to set a clear objective. What do you hope to accomplish? What is the problem you are trying to solve? The aim of the brainstorming session is the objective of the meeting, which should guide your agenda. Make sure the objective is clear, visible, and understood by everyone who is attending.

Set ground rules

Ground rules are needed in a brainstorming meeting to ensure the meeting is a safe, welcoming space where team members feel free to express themselves and generate ideas out loud. If a coworker suggests an idea that they’re roundly mocked and ridiculed for, they may think twice before ever offering an idea again.

Ground rules keep everyone on the same page. These aren't strict rules per se; rather they are guidelines and best practices that everyone is expected to follow for the good of the meeting and the team.

For example, you might have a ground rule that says, “there are no wrong answers” to ensure everyone is open to expressing any and every idea, no matter how good or bad it may be perceived to be. Brainstorming is not a space for judgment—it’s a space for coming up with ideas. Set a few ground rules so that all ideas and perspectives are encouraged and welcome. 

Choose a brainstorming activity

Next, you need to choose the brainstorming activity. There are many activities to choose from, and the technique or activity you choose may depend on the type of problem you’re trying to solve. You also might choose to combine a few different techniques over the course of the session.

Some common brainstorming activities include:

  • Forced Connections
  • Free Association
  • Mind Mapping
  • Storyboarding
  • Worst Ideas
  • The Wishing Exercise
  • Question Your Assumptions
  • Sketching

Choose the activity and make sure there’s at least one facilitator who knows how to guide the group through the activity. If the team hasn’t participated in a brainstorming meeting before, it can be helpful to share instructions and general information about the brainstorming activities in advance. Ideally, these instructions will be included with the agenda so that not too much of the meeting time is used up explaining how the activities work.

Share and refine ideas

The best meeting agendas are created collaboratively. This allows the team to share ideas and refine the agenda before the meeting begins. If you have a large team, work on the agenda with leadership or a few meeting facilitators to ensure it has more than one set of eyes on it.

Is there anything missing? Is there enough time allotted? Are all of the appropriate people invited to attend the session? Does everyone who needs to speak know they will be speaking?

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How to facilitate brainstorming sessions

Prepare and share the agenda in advance

A meeting agenda should be prepared in advance of the meeting and, ideally, shared with everyone involved. Ensure any relevant materials or information are included so that everyone can arrive at the meeting prepared. For example, you might share brainstorming meeting ground rules or information about the brainstorming activity in advance.

Create an open and comfortable space

Brainstorming requires a safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas. There are no wrong answers. In fact, some brainstorming activities specifically call for you to express your worst ideas.

If you like, you can open the meeting by asking everyone to express the absolute worst idea they have. This will break the ice and get the team laughing together.

Review agenda and ground rules

At the beginning of the meeting, review the agenda and the ground rules that have been established for the meeting.

Set a clear picture of what’s expected and reiterate how this meeting will be different from others. Brainstorming meeting best practices aren’t the same as for other meetings, and you want to make sure people feel as comfortable as possible.

Ask if anyone has any questions before moving forward.

Document everything

No matter how bad you may think an idea is, it needs to be documented. What seems like a bad idea at first may contain a kernel of inspired insight, so take care to document everything. Even if, by the end of the meeting, you think you’ve found the best idea, you may need to look back on the session at a later date.

This includes anything your more introverted teammates might mutter under their breath or start to say but then shrug off as stupid. Every insight and idea is valuable, as you never know which different direction the project or product could take moving forward.

Take photos, notes, etc., to ensure nothing from the meeting is lost.

Utilize tools to make good decisions

Brainstorming meetings are excellent for coming up with ideas, but teams can struggle with choosing an idea to run with when it comes time for the meeting to end. Which idea was best? How do you decide which direction to choose? How do you get everyone to agree?

Utilize the session to narrow down your ideas and make smart decisions. There are a number of different tools and techniques you can use to optimize your decision making.

One of our favorites is the impact vs. effort matrix. An impact vs. effort matrix is a powerful but simple prioritization tool that’s designed to align your team on company or project priorities. The matrix gets everyone on the same page and helps teams arrange tasks based on what will offer the most impact with the least amount of effort.

Gather meeting feedback

At the end of the meeting, set aside a short amount of time to collect feedback about how the session went. What went well? What didn’t go so well? What could you do better next time?

Feedback is essential to ensuring your meetings continue to run efficiently and effectively for all involved. Since your team is hopefully feeling open-minded and conversational after a long brainstorming session, the end of the meeting is an ideal time to collect honest feedback.

This feedback will be an invaluable resource whenever you begin planning your next brainstorming meeting. Make sure any and all feedback or insights are documented and available when the next meeting agenda is prepared.

Master your meetings with Charma

Save your brain space for coming up with great ideas. Charma providestools and AI to help you manage agendas for both one-on-one meetings and team meetings, action items, team collaboration, 360 reviews, continuous feedback & recognition, and transparent goal-tracking — all in one place. With Charma, you can collaborate on meeting agendas, save action items, plan follow ups, and put feedback into action.

For more content dedicated to running efficient and effective meetings, check out our resources. Have a question? Reach out to our team at any time!

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