A Guide To Team Brainstorming: How to Unlock Creativity and New Ideas on Your Team Constructively 

Not all brainstorming is equally effective. Knowing how to use brainstorming well, and understanding the various methods involved can help your team expand creatively, and help it make better and more productive decisions. 

Brainstorming is one of the most well-known methods for bringing teams together to think, whether the purpose is to create new ideas, work through problems, or make decisions. There’s so many great uses of brainstorming, which is why we have suggested it on multiple occasions.

And that’s not all. Brainstorming can also be a great team building exercise in and of itself. Brainstorming gets teams to communicate and share ideas, all the while allowing team members to learn more about each other. Especially when brainstorming is more relaxed or has a fun element or activity added to it, it can be a way for teams to have fun and enjoy each other’s company.

However, not all brainstorming is created equal. Because brainstorming itself is hard to categorize definitively and encompasses such a wide range of methods, there are lots of ways that teams can fail to use it effectively, or not use in a way that makes sense for their needs. 

There are actually lots of different styles of brainstorming, which many teams might not know about. Understanding these different methods and styles can help teams to branch out of their usual “fallback” option, and perhaps provide some much-needed reinvigoration to their creative process.

Another problem with how brainstorming is used is that there’s not always a lot of thought or intention put into it. Sticking your team in a room and telling them to “brainstorm” for an hour might produce results, if your team members are already creative or have a good creative rapport with each other. But for many teams this might not be the most effective way of brainstorming.

One last thing to take into account when it comes to brainstorming is that certain brainstorming techniques may be more or less effective at different stages of a project. For example, your team might want a more fluid and open brainstorming technique at the beginning, when the goal is to think creatively. But later on in the project, you may want to use a more focused brainstorming approach in order to come up with more specific ideas.

So in the following blog post, we’ll guide you through how to brainstorm effectively. We’ll give you some points to consider about brainstorming, as well as a list of different styles of brainstorming that will hopefully inspire your team to think differently, and help them choose the method that is most effective for them.

What does brainstorming achieve on teams? 

First, let’s talk about some of the reasons why teams should use brainstorming, and the benefits that it provides. As we said before, brainstorming can be used for a variety of different goals. Anything that requires creativity. Thinking through problems, or coming up with different options for decision-making can benefit from brainstorming. 

Here are some of the major benefits of brainstorming on teams:

1. Inspire creativity

Getting team members thinking together encourages the flow of ideas. They can bounce ideas off each other, work off of each other’s ideas, and inspire each other to think more creatively. In this way, brainstorming is a key way to establish a collaborative environment where team members inspire each other.

2. Get more new ideas

Along with promoting a more creative work environment in general, brainstorming actually leads to the development of more new ideas as well. In terms of sheer quantity, brainstorming on teams produces more ideas than other forms of ideation, partly because you are working with others and letting your thoughts flow freely. And as we’ve said before, the more ideas and options you have, the better your decision-making and strength of purpose as a team will be.  

3. Build better relationships

Brainstorming has positive effects beyond just creating new ideas, though. The act of thinking, sharing opinions, and talking together builds stronger relationships on teams as well. Moreover, when more team members are involved in the brainstorming process (in whatever form), the team will be more motivated about the project and more team unity there will be. 

Things teams can do to make brainstorming more effective

In just a minute we’re going to go through our list of different brainstorming methods, which can be great at shaking up your brainstorming process as a team. However, you don’t always need to go so far as switching up your brainstorming style. Sometimes, you can refresh your team brainstorming by simply making a few adjustments.

So the following is a list of ways to ensure that you are practicing brainstorming effectively, and some simple suggestions for improving the process easily. 

1. Give your team members time to think alone first

We mentioned earlier that simply throwing your team into a long brainstorming session doesn’t all work. One of the reasons why is team members often need to be given some time to think and brainstorm on their own. Most people can’t think of ideas on the spot (and even for people who can, they’re not always the best ideas). Giving team members time on their own to think gives them the chance to think through some ideas and get more prepared for when the brainstorming session does happen. 

2. Create a psychologically safe environment

New ideas can only thrive when team members feel completely free to share their opinions, feelings and thoughts. If team members feel worried about sharing what they honestly think, then the whole point of a brainstorming session goes out the window. So in order to create an effective space where team members can collaborate, turn your work environment into a psychologically safe space. 

3. Leave the room if you need to

To that end, it might be good to leave the room if you are a manager or superior. Being in the room can sometimes mess with the rest of the team’s dynamics, or create a strong incentive to conform to what you want. So read the room, and if you need to, trust your team to brainstorm on their own. 

4. Switch up the location 

A great idea for invigorating your brainstorm sessions is to do them in a different location. Physical spaces impact our thinking in a lot of ways, and influence our perspectives. Always thinking in the same board room can get a litte, well, boring. So mix it up by brainstorming outside, like at a park or even while walking or playing sports. Or head to a nearby cafe or restaurant. And if your team really needs a deep rethink, maybe consider going on a trip somewhere together. 

5. Let your team take their time

Brainstorming is a process, not an instant remedy. Brainstorming, when done effectively, really does require a lot of time because the whole point of it is to create and develop lots of ideas and possibilities. So don’t cut off the brainstorming session before it really gets going, even if you think you have some good ideas already. Remember to accept the process, and trust your team. 

5. Allow team members to get in touch with their creative sides

Because brainstorming is an ultimately creative process, the best way to stoke the fires of creativity is to promote team members expressing their own artistic sides during the session. Give them paper to write, draw and doodle, for example. Some have found that giving members clay or silly putty also inspires more creative thinking during brainstorming. Basically, help the creative process along as much as possible by setting team members’ creative sides loose.

Brainstorming techniques to spice up creativity

Now we get into some specific brainstorming methods that can make your regular sessions a bit more interesting. If your brainstorming methods are already working for you, that’s great. But there might be a time when you want to try something else out, maybe because you have a different team dynamic, a particularly challenging project, or you just want to see what it would be like. 

So the following are eight different brainstorming techniques that can help you diversify your brainstorming as a team. 

1. Brainwriting 

This is a great brainstorming technique for teams that are shy, or that are at the very beginning of a project, since it helps draw out ideas in a nonverbal way. First, give each team member five or six minutes to write down three ideas related to the topic or problem you are discussing individually. Then have the team members pass their list to the person on their left. Again, give team members five to six minutes, this time to add onto and expand the ideas on the list they were given. Afterwards, have team members pass their revised list again. 

Continue the process until team members receive their own papers back again, or until you feel like enough ideas have been developed. Then discuss the ideas you came up with together.

2. Mind mapping 

Mind mapping is a common method of brainstorming, and one you’ve probably used before. Start out with an idea or topic and put a circle around it. Then connect it to as many sub-ideas or sub-topics as you can and draw circles around them as well. Keep doing this, expanding your map outwards and using lines to connect ideas to other sub-ideas or even ideas. 

This method is a good way to get team members to make connections that might not have thought about otherwise, as well as to visualize the scattered thoughts of the team. Once you can see all the different ideas and the connections they have, it sometimes becomes easier to find new worthwhile new ideas or solutions.    

3. Starbursting

Starbursting is similar to mind mapping, except that it is mostly used to focus on one idea or topic. This makes it useful at later stages of the project, when you need to focus on pushing an idea forward and answer more specific questions about its development. Start again with one idea or topic and draw a circle around it. Then from this circle draw lines to different questions (Where, when, how, why, etc.) They can be as particular as you want. Answer each of the questions you pose with different ideas and connect them to the questions with lines. You can even use each of these answers as the nodes for more ideas as well.

4. Round-robin brainstorming 

The round-robin style of brainstorming adds some physical activity and moving around to the brainstorming process. It’s also a good method if you have a number of topics and ideas already set to discuss. 

To see this method, set up a room with tables in a circle, one for each question or idea. On each table place the question or idea written out, plus a sheet (or sheets) of paper and pens. Have the team spread out to each of the tables and give them five to six minutes to write any ideas, thoughts or solutions they have. After the time is up, have team members move on to a different table and do the same thing. Continue until all team members have visited each table, and then discuss the results afterwards.

5. The step-ladder technique

We mentioned the step-ladder technique when we talked about methods of decision making on teams, too. With brainstorming as well, this technique is a good method for bringing team members in slowly, a dew at a time. This might be good if your team is very busy, or if you don’t want to overwhelm a project with a lot of new ideas all at once. 

Start out with a core group of two or three team members and have them brainstorm ideas together. When they are finished, bring in another team member, and have them give their ideas and opinions, based on the ideas of the last group. Continue this process, adding one new member (or more if you want) each round. 

6. Eidetic Image method

This brainstorming technique is kind of like a guided meditation, where the goal is to visualize a solution or idea. Obviously, this works with more concrete ideas that have visual components, such as product designs, or that involve imagining an ideal state, like how you want the perfect team environment to be. 

Have team members close their eyes. Then present the problem or question and ask them to start imagining the solution or new idea in their minds. Continue to ask more specific questions, such as how the solution feels, smells, what color it is, size, shape, etc. When team members have visualized their new idea or solution, have them open their eyes and then discuss.

7. Rapid Ideation

In this method, the goal is to whip out as many ideas as possible. Simply give team members a topic and a time limit, and have them write down all the ideas or solutions they have. While this may sound like a chaotic method, it actually does help team members to release their thoughts without fear of criticism (since they write them down before any criticism can take place). And it can produce a huge volume of ideas, which again, is always better for making decisions.

8. Bad idea brainstorming 

We put this last because while it is a bit silly, it can be highly effective at getting team members to think outside the box and imagine creative solutions. While the goal for the methods on this list so far has been to think of good ideas, in this method you want to think about bad ideas related to a topic or question–the worse, the sillier, or the more impossible the better.

But once you’ve come up with your bad idea, really work through the consequences and what it would take to achieve this bad idea. This can help you think in a new perspective, and perhaps inspire some ideas that you never would have thought about. This method is not just a  good laugh but also can become a useful exercise for learning how to problem solve and develop ideas, no matter how outrageous.  

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