5 Tips for Better Brainstorming

5 Tips for Better Brainstorming

By Morgan Atkins

Within healthcare organizations, teams are now a fundamental unit of organization. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues at many companies.

With the emphasis on teamwork, it’s important for the practices of these teams to be thoughtfully considered. Particularly, the common and important team effort of brainstorming new ideas together. “Studies show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction.” The New York Times Magazine reports. Knowing that, we wanted to discuss how brainstorming can be an effective team experience.


Here are five ways you can improve brainstorming and create more productive team interactions.

  1. Let the crazy flow. Research shows that the most successful brainstorm sessions are ones where quantity leads to better quality. You definitely want quality ideas shared, and the act of tossing out as many ideas as possible increases your chances of getting more quality input than if your team is thinking small, realistically, or within a box. Allow your team to dream big—don’t let the thought of budget, time, resources, or skill stop the ideas from flowing. As explained by Walt Disney's Creative Strategy, the first stage of brainstorming should allow the team to share their dream without restrictions or criticism. This belief is based on the idea that “the creative process unlocks the mind’s capabilities to dream and form unexpected ideas and solutions for existing problems.” Teams should save logical thinking for later in the process. In the first stages of brainstorming, creativity should be able to roll unhindered. One example that proves how any idea can be a good one: Animal Planet’s puppy bowl. Their team "knew" there was "no way" they could compete with the Super Bowl. Yet someone on their team had an idea: “why don’t we just show a live feed of puppies all day?” Puppy Bowl XII aired on February 7, 2016, and was watched by about 2.2 million viewers in its initial airing. It was the number one non-sports program on cable among adults aged 25-to-54 and among women aged 18-to-49 during its initial 3 PM-to-5 PM airing. It was the number two most-watched program on all television (cable and broadcast) from 3 PM-to-5 PM among adults aged 25-to-54 and among women aged 18-to-49. Only the Super Bowl itself had more viewers. This was the fourth year in a row that the Puppy Bowl's initial airing was the second most-watched program in the nation those demographic groups. This story, proves that a free flow of ideas in a good brainstorm session could be the first step to uncovering a great idea.
  2. Don't be afraid of failure. Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work." Part of the scientific process of invention is learning to prove things wrong. It’s the same in brainstorming and ideation—not every idea will be a home run. But, you learn more from your failures than you do successes. As noted in this Forbes article on why failure is essential to success: “We never learn to move out of our comfort zone if we don’t overcome our fear of failure. The most progressive companies deliberately seek employees with track records reflecting both failure and success. That’s because someone who survives failure has gained irreplaceable knowledge and the unstoppable perseverance born from overcoming hardship.” The acknowledgement and acceptance that an idea may fail and if it does, that’s OK, is key to a good brainstorming session. Group member must feel comfortable sharing ideas that may not work, without fear of ridicule or repercussion.
  3. Try to create environments where everyone has to give input. Groupthink—when individual members of a group unquestioningly follow the word of a leader and strongly discourage any disagreement with a consensus—can be a major hindrance to both a thriving team dynamic and effective brainstorming. To avoid Groupthink, it is important to have a process in place for checking the fundamental assumptions behind important decisions, for validating the decision-making process, and for evaluating the risks involved. Additionally, you can try one of these methods:
    1. Have everyone present their ideas one at a time, without feedback. Then once everyone has shared an idea, open up the floor for a fair, honest discussion about the ideas presented.
    2. Have everyone come to the meeting with an idea written on paper. Then once everyone is in the room, the idea is passed to their left and the next person gets 2-3 minutes to add to the idea. Repeat this several times. Once each idea has been built upon, it can be shared with the larger team.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask for opinions outside of your department or from someone with less experience. Sometimes we have blinders on about how things can or should be done. It can be hard to get a new perspective, think outside the box, or consider an opportunity from a different vantage point. We tend to view a situation through the lens of our personal experience, whereas someone with some distance from the situation may easily consider a creative, new solution.
    The key is, we must be open to hearing their unique observations of the problem, or we could miss out on a great idea. This line of thinking goes hand in hand with an idea shared in this article about Google’s research study Project Aristotle. “In the best teams, members listen to one another...” In other words, who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. An effective brainstorm my result from a collection of team members with varied backgrounds and viewpoints. What counts is that all members of the group have equal opportunity to share ideas from their unique vantage point.
  5. Create an open and comfortable environment. Brainstorming sessions should be judgement-free zones. This is probably the most important of all the tips because for a team meeting or brainstorming session to work, everyone must feel they can share their ideas openly and without criticism. This idea is often defined as providing “psychological safety” for team members. When Google’s Project Aristotle addressed the idea of psychological safety, they found it didn't matter how skilled a team was, successful teams treated each other with respect.

    “To be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recrimination. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

    To ensure this setting, Stratasan lives by a few meeting rules:

      1. No cell phones - we want meeting attendees to be mentally present
      2. No titles - everyone's opinion is equal
      3. No interrupting - it is important everyone is heard
      4. No judgement - people must feel comfortable to present opposing opinions, but in a positive manner. Some specific ways this value can be observed:
        1. Everyone in the group must be given the opportunity to speak so that everyone feels their opinion is valued
        2. Structure your brainstorming time so that feedback is given later in the process, that way ideas can be shared without immediate input

The Takeaway

A team won’t succeed because it’s made up of a group of smart, likeable people. Rather, a successful team abides by an often unspoken set of team rules and norms—like making sure the team has clear goals and by creating a culture of dependability. In the same way, there are strategies you can put into play that will significantly improve your brainstorming time. By putting the tips listed above into practice, your team will be equipped to experience planning and strategy sessions with more fruitful outcomes.


Article by Morgan Atkins, Director of Innovation for Stratasan

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