HD’s Design and Operations Director, Lee Smith shares his top tips to improve productivity of brainstorm sessions

Are your brainstorming sessions not producing the results you’d like from them? Want to know some practical tips on how to optimise your sessions? In this article, we’ll share seven tips that will help you boost your team’s fresh thinking and productivity.

You see, many professional teams will be using brainstorm sessions as a primary source of idea generation. There are many other techniques for teasing out innovative, out-of-the-box ideas; however, good old-fashioned brainstorming can still work well. The majority of our team’s inventions and smart ideas have surfaced quickly within well-organised brainstorm sessions.

So how do you make sure your team aren’t going to waste time, effort and more importantly miss that exciting, innovative solution that’s hiding in obscurity. Well, if you follow these seven tips, we promise they will help you and your team succeed.

  1. Define the scope.

Set-up a preliminary discovery meeting or briefing document, to fully define the session topic, try to identify the root cause of the problem, challenge or opportunity. At this stage, avoid any suggestions of possible solutions or avenues of thought. Then, allow team members to immerse themselves in the challenge before the main session. This ‘pre-charging’ instils confidence, allowing for a fluid start to the session and a catalyst for an explosion of ideas.

  1. Manage your group size.

More minds will often increase the breadth of ideas; however, more than 5-6 people can sometimes stifle progress and participation. Split up larger teams into sub-groups; this can usually generate some friendly competition and energy. More importantly, space and time for ideas to be quickly shared and nurtured. Also, allow the sub-groups to present their ideas to each other, this can often spark further hybrid ideas and refinement.

  1. Avoid mind-set!

Identify members that may be suffering from ‘mind-set’ due to being exposed to the session’s topic for too long.  Unfortunately, they could hinder the free-thinking of those new to the issue, more so in the initial sessions. However, these team members will hold useful insight and knowledge; for example, being aware of potential drawbacks, previous failures etc. So, it is all about timing to get the best of both worlds; benefiting from new perspectives but also leveraging existing knowledge. We tend to invite clients into the second half of sessions to achieve this critical balance.

  1. Make the sessions enjoyable and not too long!

If possible, allow your team to come together in a comfortable, safe and inspiring space. Office space isn’t mandatory; however, minimise distractions and have access to plenty of space to collate ideas. We use large glass boards and marker pens for everyone in the room. Ensure the originator initial their sketches and notes – this will be useful later on if there are any queries and patent applications.

Try not to cram in too much thinking time as it can be exhausting, and the session efficiency will fall quickly. For example, 1-2 hour sessions with comfort breaks work well, with multiple sessions split across a week or month. Quality coffee and cookies help!

  1. Who’s the friendly referee?

It’s important to nominate a session leader; someone who will keep the peace, encourage participation from all attendees. The leader should help avoid railroading from more assertive members, refocus back onto the scope, ensure all ideas go on the board, control timing and comfort breaks. Do not forget to capture all the ideas – take a photo of the boards and collate post-it notes.

  1. Know when ideas are drying up!

There will always be times when ideas start to dry up, and it is essential to recognise this before teams become despondent or frustrated. There are many specialist innovation tools and techniques to supplement such sessions, which we will be sharing soon. But if the session focus is on a particular technical challenge then we’d recommend you researching TRIZ, an excellent tool for testing technical contradictions and flipping thought processes.

  1. So how do we pick the winning ideas?

A successful session can create such a vast range of innovative ideas; it can be daunting to filter and make choices. Remember, your team members will be eager to learn whether their favourite idea meets the grade for further development. With everyone invested in their favourite ideas, a structured process is required to select the more promising ideas fairly. Use an idea judgement matrix to capture all the ideas, then systematically score each idea against a set of criteria bespoke to your project/ problem/ product. An average of these criteria scores will help you sort the ideas, identifying the good, the bad and the ugly.

We hope these practical tips are helpful to you and your team. Here at Haughton Design, we are always learning and optimising our systems and techniques, so if you have any tips or thoughts to share, then please let us know, thank you.

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