8 brainstorming techniques to harness the power of teamwork

October 1, 2021 - 20 min read

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What is brainstorming?

4 benefits of brainstorming

What are the best brainstorming techniques?

5 steps for brainstorming

What could go wrong?

Brainstorm your way to team success

Empower your team with brainstorming techniques

Coming up with a solution to a problem always feels like a win. Especially when it’s productive teamwork that has helped you achieve your team goals.

But sometimes, you hit a wall in the problem-solving process. It feels like your team is going around in circles, discussing the same thing. 

This kind of mental block isn’t uncommon. And it’s the kind of situation that calls for a group brainstorming session. 

Although simple, brainstorming can be a powerful tool for the creation of new ideas. This is especially true when you and your team need to get your creative juices flowing.

Ready to learn about some new and creative brainstorming techniques? Read on to discover how the right brainstorming session can boost your team’s productivity.

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a model for extracting fresh ideas from a group of people. 

It’s a method used by everyone from school children to executives. It generates inspiration and imagination in the problem-solving process. 

During a brainstorming session, a group of team members comes together, either as equal co-contributors or under the supervision of a facilitator.

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The fundamental principle behind different types of brainstorming techniques is that no idea is too wild or too unrealistic. This allows the team to think beyond the structured boundaries of the workplace and truly tap into unique creative potential

Instead of coming up with a ready-made, perfectly thought-out plan from the get-go, team members are encouraged to think big and then tailor to fit. 

Removing conceptual boundaries opens up the potential for the team to be bold and innovative during their collaboration.

4 benefits of brainstorming

Brainstorming has numerous benefits for both individuals and the team. 

Let’s take a look at some of the many advantages you can expect from using brainstorming techniques.

1. Promotes teamwork

When left to their own devices, team members tend to become individualistic and wrapped up in their own preferred methods and ideas. They might also be driven by ego. As any effective leader will know, this approach is not conducive to innovation.

It takes a team of dedicated minds to come up with truly unique solutions to problems. All of whom can contribute something slightly different to the process. 

The best brainstorming techniques get everyone together in a room with the sole purpose of collaborating.

2. Encourages creative ideas

When conceptualizing solutions to a specific problem, it is easy to get stuck in a mental rut that bears no creative fruit. 

The process of brainstorming seeks to actively remove the limitations and boundaries we set in our own minds.

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This encourages team members to think outside the lines and put their creative thinking hats on. While not every idea conceived in this spirit will be feasible, there will undoubtedly be at least one or two that show promise. 

3. Provides different perspectives

No matter how diligent or accomplished you might be in your field, you need to draw on the experiences and viewpoints of those around you. This helps to get a holistic picture of the needs you are trying to meet. 

Bringing people together in the spirit of problem-solving invites input from different walks of life. This ensures that your ideas hold strong from all angles. 

4. Generates many ideas in a short amount of time

Throwing creatives in a room together and removing conceptual boundaries might sound like a chaotic way to spend an afternoon. But by the end of it, you are guaranteed to have a whiteboard full of new ideas or directions to pursue.

Again, not all of them will be pure gold, but at least a few of them are bound to show promise. 

What are the best brainstorming techniques?

The number of brainstorming methods to choose from can seem overwhelming. Let’s look at some of the most effective brainstorming techniques for rapid ideation and creative solutions.

1. Mind mapping

Mind mapping is probably one of the most well-known brainstorming techniques. It helps teams visually represent a hierarchy of ideas and how they are interconnected. Generally, you start with a central ‘umbrella’ term and break it down into smaller components. 

If you’re unsure where to begin, use a mind map template to help your team visualize the process.

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Drawing a mind map helps all team members keep track of the problem’s structure. It also helps them think coherently around a common thread and see theoretical connections in a concrete way. 

Studies have shown that mind mapping helps people retain and work with information more effectively.

2. Gap filling

Gap filling is a useful tool in product development. It involves using a timeline to plot past and future actions or realities in order to identify the best course of action for the present. Starting with the past refreshes the mind on how you got where you are and what needs you are trying to meet. 

Filling in the future helps you and your team decide on a common goal — what you want reality to look like after your intervention. This way, you can make logical and creative connections between the needs of the past and the goals of the future

3. Brainwriting 

Brainwriting is an effective method for getting ideas out of all members of the group. 

Instead of everyone trying to shout over each other, team members have a few minutes to privately write down their ideas on a piece of paper or post-it.

When everyone is done, the group can discuss the raw ideas one by one. This harnesses the potential of each individual and encourages introverts to speak up and contribute

4. SWOT analysis

‘SWOT’ stands for ‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.’ 

Each category is allocated one quadrant of a page. The team can then break down the elements of an idea into these categories and weigh the pros against the cons to see if it is worthwhile. 

5. Rolestorming

Rolestorming is a relatively unusual type of brainstorming technique. It combines role-playing and creative collaboration. 

The idea is to help team members overcome the shyness and sensitivity behind their contributions. This is done by presenting ideas from another’s perspective. It also forces the team to consider how important figures might respond to their ideas.

For instance, somebody could role-play a customer or client. This will help them understand their clients’ needs better by adopting their point of view.

6. Starbursting 

The structure of the starbursting technique is simple. It focuses on identifying the right questions before trying to come up with solutions. 

In this technique, a six-pointed star represents six root questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? From there, more detailed questions are developed that guide the team in unique directions. 

7. The five whys 

Although it seems simple, this technique is surprisingly effective at locating the root of a problem. It draws on the power of intellectual curiosity. The idea is to start with the most obvious, surface-level problem and ask why it is a problem. 

Establish a factual, robust answer to this, and then repeat the process with the secondary problem. This method helps burrow through the various layers of an issue and eventually reach the underlying root cause.

8. Stop-and-go-brainstorming

This method involves rapid switching between modes of thinking. For a select period of time (usually no longer than ten minutes), the team will focus on idea generation. 

After, they will evaluate those ideas and give feedback to determine their potential. Some teams find that this method helps avoid creative fatigue. It gives the brain a chance to exercise different cognitive skills instead of overusing one. 

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5 steps for brainstorming

Ready to come up with some great new ideas? Here are the steps to follow for a productive brainstorming session.

1. Prepare the group

The loose structure of most creative brainstorming techniques is essential to their success. However, it can lead to chaos if the group isn’t managed properly

Take a few minutes to explain the workflow and purpose of the gathering. Outline exactly what you expect from the group for the duration of the exercise.

2. Present the problem or goal

The next step is to familiarize the team with the problem you’re trying to address or the goal you’re trying to achieve

Give them a foundational understanding of the issue. Inform them of any past attempts to grapple with it and tell them why it’s important.

3. Capture all ideas

Depending on the technique you’ve chosen, make sure all necessary resources are provided for the team to record ideas.

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The best brainstorming techniques are the ones that get ideas on paper, no matter how broad they are. Other tools to capture ideas are whiteboards, notepads, pens, markers, and sticky notes. 

Empower your team by giving them the tools they need to get their thoughts down in print. 

4. Share and discuss ideas

All ideas should be given their time in the spotlight. Work through each one methodically. Give everyone a chance to speak and contribute. Listen to everyone’s ideas and record changes or revisions as they come up. Just like there are different ways to learn, there are also different ways to listen.

Encourage constructive criticism. Remind the team that 90% of raw ideas will be discarded or revised before they can be implemented. There is no need to feel defensive or spiteful if their ideas are dismissed or criticized. 

5. Make an action plan 

This is the final step. Once all your ideas have been explored and fleshed out, identify the strongest ones. Take all suggestions into account, and convert them into actionable tasks to be delegated to the right person.

The agile methodology is a great method to help teams stay on task and measure progress. Have a look at our agile methodology guide for more on this popular type of project management.

What could go wrong?

As with any collaborative effort, brainstorming sometimes doesn’t go according to plan. 

Here are some possible hiccups you could experience during the process and how to address them effectively.

1. Brainstorming session is dominated by one person

Sometimes, one or two people at work seem to always want to be the center of attention. Whenever the opportunity arises for them to take center stage, they do so, regardless of whether they are casting a shadow on someone else. This kind of toxic trait could be counterproductive for the brainstorming session.

This is where a skilled facilitator comes in handy. They know how to hold space gently and respectfully for everyone to contribute equally. This may involve asking someone to step back and stop talking over less assertive members of the team

2. Ideas are criticized by others

Another common problem in brainstorming groups is the tendency of some people to be overly critical without suggesting alternative solutions. In some cases, gaslighting at work is used to belittle others and give them a constant negative narrative about their ideas.

It is important to clarify that constructive criticism and feedback need to be communicated with respect. Encourage team members to come up with suggestions for improving the idea that’s being criticized.

3. Lots of ideas are generated, but no action comes of it

Without eventual action, no number of brilliant ideas is helpful. Including a senior supervisor in the brainstorming session is a good way to combat a lack of action.

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Once all the raw ideas have been broken down into actionable tasks, they can delegate responsibilities.

Brainstorm your way to team success

Here are six tips to help you facilitate a better brainstorming session with your team.

1. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking

This is the golden rule of all brainstorming techniques. Don’t limit the creativity of your team. In fact, encourage them to put concerns of practicality out of mind for the duration of the session. 

It only takes one idea to revolutionize the way we think about certain problems. 

2. Put a time limit on your session

Brainstorming involves dealing with loads of information on a surface level. This means it’s easy to get distracted by rabbit holes of conversation. 

Giving your team a set window will prevent time wastage and keep them focused. If necessary, you can schedule a follow-up session to discuss important points that were missed. 

Time blocking is an effective method to keep track of time during your brainstorming session. With this time management technique, the team focuses on a single task or a group of similar tasks within a set time block.

3. Guide the discussion

A skilled facilitator knows when to let the conversation flow and when to step in. If the discussion is drifting too far away from the task at hand, the facilitator must be able to bring the focus back gently but assertively. 

Experienced facilitators should use the right management styles to guide the brainstorming session. For example, a democratic leadership style will ensure the facilitator is working closely with all team members and building rapport.

4. Focus on quality over quantity

While brainstorming will inevitably give rise to many ideas, not all of them will show merit or warrant further discussion. The facilitator should be able to guide team members into discussions that focus on developing the ideas with more potential and fewer obstacles. 

5. Set ground rules

Even the best brainstorming techniques lead to sessions that get out of hand quickly without some basic guidelines.

The discussion should always be kept respectful and professional. Furthermore, irrelevant tangents and anecdotes should be avoided. 

6. Recognize and reward input

Putting yourself out there by sharing an idea isn’t always easy, especially for more introverted members of the team. Basic psychology tells us that people will be more willing to contribute when their input is recognized and rewarded

Acknowledge team members’ contributions and thank them for their participation. This will build confidence quickly and get the conversational momentum going. 

Empower your team with brainstorming techniques

Fostering effective collaboration and creativity in the workplace is no easy feat. But it's crucial for your business' success.

With more employees working from home, the brainstorming process can seem even more daunting. But with the right technology and remote working support, online brainstorming (or brain-netting) lets virtual teams brainstorm ideas in real-time.

There are plenty of group brainstorming techniques you and your team could try for your next session. It's just a matter of learning what works for you.

Get access to the most effective techniques by getting in touch with a BetterUp coach. Our robust coaching experience guides teams down the path to a more productive tomorrow.

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Published October 1, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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