“Damn! I have an upcoming brainstorming session next week”
Ever felt anxious about hosting or taking part in a brainstorming session?
“How do I plan it?”
“What are the ground rules?
“Oh my God, what if I do something wrong?”
There can be a million questions in your head. We understand how it feels and we have a solution to make your brainstorming process as seamless as possible.
Take a look at 14 brainstorming rules to follow and why they matter.
- #1 – Set goals and objectives
- #2 – Be inclusive and accommodating
- #3 – Find the right environment for the activity
- #4 – Break the ice
- #5 – Choose a facilitator
- #6 – Prepare notes
- #7 – Vote for the best ideas
- #8 – Don’t rush the session
- #9 – Don’t choose participants from the same field
- #10 – Don’t restrict the flow of ideas
- #11 – Don’t allow judgement and early criticism
- #12 – Do not let one or two people control the conversation
- #13 – Do not ignore the clock
- #14 – Do not forget to follow-up
Why do Brainstorming Activities Need Ground Rules?
Sure, you could just gather a bunch of people and ask them to share ideas on a random topic. But, will any mediocre idea do for you? Setting up brainstorming rules will help the participants in getting not just random ideas, but breakthrough ideas.
Helps in maintaining the flow of the process
In a brainstorming session, while people share their opinions and ideas, there are chances that some participants might interrupt the others while talking, or some might say something offensive or mean, without realising it and so on.
These things can disrupt the session and might lead to an unpleasant experience for all.
Allows the participants to focus on important points
Worrying about what to say and what to do can take out a major chunk of time for the participants. If they’re given a heads up about the rules to follow, they can focus purely on the topic for the session and build ideas that add value.
Helps in keeping order
Brainstorming sessions can get pretty intense at times with disagreements, differences of opinion, and overpowering talks. To prevent this and offer a safe discussion zone for everyone, it’s important to have a set of brainstorming guidelines.
Helps manage time efficiently
Defining the brainstorming rules helps in managing time effectively and focusing on the ideas and points that are relevant to the session.
So, keeping these things in mind, let’s dive into the dos and don’ts.
7 Do’s of Brainstorming
Guiding or hosting a brainstorming session can sound pretty easy when you look it from the outside, but to make sure it’s headed in the right way, with maximum benefits, and excellent ideas, you need to ensure these 7 rules are met.
#1 – Set goals and objectives
“When we leave this room after the brainstorming session, we will…”
Before starting a brainstorming session, you should have a clearly defined answer for the above-mentioned sentence. Setting goals and objectives are not just about the topic, but also about what values you want to add at the end of the session, for both the participants and the host.
- Share the goals and objectives with everyone involved in the brainstorming session.
- Try to share these a couple of days ahead of the session, so that everyone has enough time to prepare.
#2 – Be inclusive and accommodating
Yes, generating ideas is the primary focus of any brainstorming session. But it’s not just about getting the best possible ideas – it’s also about helping the participants improve and develop some of their soft skills.
- Make sure the ground rules are inclusive of everyone.
- Suspend any possibility of judgements beforehand.
- “The budget doesn’t allow this / the idea is too huge for us to execute / this isn’t good for the students” – keep all of these reality checks for the end of the discussion.
#3 – Find the right environment for the activity
You might think “eh! Why not have a brainstorming session anywhere?”, but the location and the surroundings matter.
You are looking for some exciting ideas, and for people to think freely, so the environment should be free of distractions and loud noises as well as clean and hygienic.
- Make sure you have a whiteboard (virtual or an actual one) where you can note down the points.
- Try to have the social media notifications off during the session.
- Try it in a completely different place. You never know; the change in routine could really spur some great ideas.
#4 – Break the ice
Let’s be honest here, every time someone talks about having a group discussion, or a presentation, we get nervous. Brainstorming especially can be quite intimidating for many, regardless of what age group they belong to.
No matter how complex the topic of discussion is, you don’t need that nervousness and stress right when you start the session. Try to have an icebreaker activity to start the brainstorming session.
You can have a fun online quiz using an interactive presentation platform like AhaSlides, either related to the topic or something just to ease the mood.
These quizzes are simple and can be made in a few steps:
- Create your free AhaSlides account
- Choose your desired template from the existing ones or create your own quiz on a blank template
- If you’re creating a new one, click on a “New slide” and choose “quiz and games”
- Add your questions and answers and you are good to go
Or, you could start by asking the participants to share an embarrassing story about themselves, which research says improves idea generation by 26%. . You will be able to see the conversations unfold naturally while everyone is sharing their stories and the whole session gets relaxing and fun.
#5 – Choose a facilitator
A facilitator need not necessarily be the teacher, the group leader, or the boss. You can randomly choose someone who you think can handle and guide the brainstorming session to completion.
A facilitator is someone who:
- Knows the goals and objectives clearly.
- Encourages everyone to participate.
- Maintains the decorum of the group.
- Manages the time limit and the flow of the brainstorming session.
- Recognises how to guide, but also how not to be overbearing.
#6 – Prepare notes
Note-making is one of the most important parts of a brainstorming session. Sometimes you might have ideas that cannot be explained well at that particular moment. It doesn’t mean that idea is trivial or not worth sharing.
You could note it down and develop it when you have better clarity about it. Assign a note-maker for the session. Even if you have a whiteboard, it’s important to write down all the ideas, thoughts and opinions shared during the discussion so that they can be later filtered and organised accordingly.
#7 – Vote for the best ideas
The main idea of brainstorming is to try and arrive at a solution through different perspectives and thoughts. Sure you could go all traditional and ask the participants to raise their hands for counting the majority votes for each idea.
But what if you could have more organised voting for the session, which could even fit a larger crowd?
Using AhaSlides’ brainstorming slide, you could host a live brainstorming session with ease. The participants can share their ideas and thoughts on the topic and then vote for the best ideas through their mobile phones.
7 Don’ts in Brainstorming
There are some things that you shouldn’t do when it comes to brainstorming. Having a clear idea about them will help you in making the experience memorable, fruitful and comfortable for everyone.
#8 – Don’t rush the session
Before planning a brainstorming session or deciding on a date, make sure you have enough time to spend on the session.
Unlike an impromptu focus group discussion or a random team building activity, brainstorming sessions are a little more complex and require plenty of time.
- Make sure to check everyone’s availability before deciding on a date and time.
- Keep at least an hour blocked for the brainstorming session, no matter how silly or complex the topic is.
#9 – Don’t choose participants from the same field
You are hosting the brainstorming session to generate ideas from areas you might not have considered before. Ensure diversity and make sure there are participants from different fields and backgrounds to get maximum creativity and unique ideas.
#10 – Don’t restrict the flow of ideas
There are never “too many” or “bad” ideas in a brainstorming session. Even when two people are talking about the same topic, there might be slight differences in how they perceive it and how they put it across.
Try to not put a specific number of ideas you are planning to churn out from the session. Let the participants share their ideas. You can note them down and filter them later, once the discussion is over.
#11 – Don’t allow judgement and early criticism
We all have a tendency to jump to conclusions before hearing the whole sentence. Especially when you are part of a brainstorming session, some ideas may seem trivial, some might seem too complex, but remember, nothing is useless.
- Allow the participants to share their ideas freely.
- Let them know that no one should pass rude comments, make irrelevant facial expressions, or judge an idea during the meeting.
- If you come across anyone doing something against these rules, you could have a fun penalty activity for them.
One of the most effective ways to prevent people from being judgmental is to have an anonymous brainstorming session. There are many brainstorming tools that allow sharing ideas anonymously so that the participants are able to share their ideas freely.
#12 – Do not let one or two people control the conversation
Most often, in any discussion, one or two people tend to control the conversation, knowingly or unknowingly. When this happens, the others naturally go into a shell where they feel their ideas won’t be valued.
If you or the facilitator feels the conversation is getting restricted to a few people, you could introduce some fun activities to engage the participants a little more.
Here are two activities you could play during a brainstorming session:
Don’t we all remember the classic “if you were stuck on an island” game? Desert Storm is a similar activity where you give your participants a scenario and ask them to come up with strategies and solutions.
You can either have the questions customised to the topic you are brainstorming for, or you could simply pick out random fun questions, like “what do you think was a better ending for Game of Thrones?“
This activity is quite similar to rapid-fire rounds in games, where you are asked questions one after the another and you get only a few seconds to answer them.
You’ll need to have the questions prepared in advance for this activity – it can be either based on the idea you are brainstorming for, or a random topic. So when you are playing it during a brainstorming session, the game goes like this:
- Make everyone sit in a circle.
- Ask the questions one by one to each participant
- Each of them gets 10 seconds to answer
Need more activities? Here are 10 fun brainstorming activities you play during the session.
#13 – Do not ignore the clock
Yes, you should not restrict participants from sharing their ideas, or from having fun discussions. And, of course, you can take a detour and have some uplifting activities that are not related to the topic.
Nevertheless, always keep a check on the time. This is where a facilitator comes into the picture. The idea is to use the whole 1-2 hours to the maximum, but with a subtle sense of urgency.
Let the participants know that each of them will have a time limit to speak. Say, when someone is talking, they shouldn’t take up more than 2 minutes of time to explain that particular point.
#14 – Do not forget to follow-up
You can always say “we will follow up on the ideas presented today” and still forget to actually follow up.
Ask the note-maker to create a ‘minutes of the meeting’ and send it across to every participant after the session.
Later, the facilitator or the host of the brainstorming session could categorise the ideas to figure out which are relevant now, which can be used in the future and which need to be discarded.
As for the ideas that are kept for later, you could make a note of who presented them and follow up with them later through a Slack channel or email to discuss them in detail.