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How to Engage Your Employees with Brainstorming

Learn how to structure a brainstorming session that keeps your employees engaged. Explore brainstorming techniques, tips, and pitfalls to avoid.

As a business owner or manager, you’ve put together a team of employees that all bring something unique to the workplace. Planning a group brainstorming session is a great way to get the team involved in generating ideas and making changes that can lead to increased brand recognition, revenue, and growth.

Yet, coming up with marketing campaign ideas doesn’t just happen without some type of planning. A brainstorming session allows your team to work together on a specific goal, and it can lead to a diverse range of new ideas when you hold one effectively.

Knowing how to brainstorm is just as important as being a creative thinker when you’re the one leading the session. Exploring these ideas will help you prepare for guiding your team through the process of sharing their own ideas and finding creative solutions that drive your company’s growth.

What is brainstorming?

At its most basic core, brainstorming is simply the sharing of multiple ideas at once to hopefully find an answer or several potential solutions to a problem. Your company might use a group brainstorming session to come up with marketing campaign ideas or to figure out how to solve a complex problem.

Most likely, you’ve engaged in brainstorming in the past, and you might not have even been fully aware of it. For instance, jotting down ideas on a piece of paper as a form of problem-solving is a type of brainstorming. Web charts are another type of brainstorming that you might’ve used in college or during a company meeting.

How brainstorming can improve projects

The whole purpose of brainstorming ideas is to get as many ideas on the board that you can use to enhance your company’s projects. For example, you might ask your creative team to come up with a list of blog titles that you can use for an upcoming marketing campaign.

Alternatively, you might have your group generate ideas regarding the potential pitfalls of a new project. The ideas that the team comes up with can then be used to develop solutions that your company can use proactively to prevent potential fallout.

In either case, having as many thoughts as possible is important for steering the project in the right direction.

4 steps for scheduling a brainstorming session are 1. Provide advanced notice, 2. Announce the topic beforehand, 3. Choose a safe and comfortable environment, and 4. Invite people from other departments

How to schedule a brainstorming session

Knowing how to structure a brainstorming session helps you to ensure that everyone stays on track so that it is more productive.

Ideally, you’ll want to start planning your meeting a few weeks in advance, but you can also plan one spontaneously for urgent needs once you know the right steps to take.

Provide advanced notice

As with most major meetings, it is best to give your team a week or so of notice that allows them to clear their schedules. If an unexpected need arises, then send out the notice as soon as possible. This gives everyone time to mentally prepare for the session so that they can show up without other concerns on their mind.

Announce the topic beforehand

Giving everyone the opportunity to do some pre-brainstorming on their own makes it easier for the group members to arrive with some insights already prepared to put up on the board.

Depending upon the needs, you can keep the topic fairly open. For instance, you might simply tell everyone that you are looking forward to coming up with new marketing campaign ideas. You can also narrow the topic to specific goals, such as solving an urgent problem.

Choose a safe and comfortable environment

Everyone should feel safe sharing their ideas, which could mean taking the meeting to a different location. If your company building has a designated meeting space, then this might work to help everyone instantly feel comfortable in a familiar environment.

However, some closed-door meetings might need a little more privacy. If your brainstorming session involves sharing ideas that your team might not prefer to have overheard by other departments, then renting out a conference room in another location could create a safer space for people to provide their insights.

Invite people from other related departments

As a general rule, having a diverse range of attendees can help to get more creativity flowing. For instance, you might want to invite members of the marketing team as well as the product designers to work together on a project that impacts everyone.

Your team could also include a range of people in varying levels of roles within your company. Getting lower-level employees to share their ideas with members of the management team allows people to shine, and it can lead to ideas that everyone agrees are helpful for fostering company growth.

4 brainstorming ideas: Stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, SWOT analysis, brain netting station, and group sketch.

Brainstorming techniques

Once you’ve set up your brainstorming session, you want to find the best way to get everyone generating business ideas to make the session successful. You’ve got multiple brainstorming techniques to choose from to find a method that fits your session goals and the working styles of the people participating.

As you read through these techniques, take a moment to think about how each one could foster a specific environment and thought process to determine which type best fits your company’s needs.

Encourage free thought with stream-of-consciousness brainstorming

This technique is the one that comes to mind the most often when someone wonders about how to brainstorm. With stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, you simply allow the team to generate ideas without any real rules to follow.

Allowing your employees to relax and come up with any and all ideas possible allows for more creativity. While you might need to occasionally step in to keep everyone on track, it leaves room for more innovative ideas that people might not come up with if they are following a specific set of guidelines.

Do a SWOT analysis

The SWOT analysis technique is frequently used by entrepreneurs and other decision makers to make swift and effective changes within their companies, but it also works well for brainstorming sessions. Once an idea is on the board, you can ask your team to assess its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

You can conduct a SWOT analysis as the main part of the brainstorming session by having everyone analyze each aspect of a problem. Or, you can use it at the end of a session to determine which ideas are worth moving forward.

Set up a brain netting station

This brainstorming technique is ideal for when you have a team of remote workers who can’t necessarily connect at an in-person meeting. With brain netting, you’ll invite everyone to share their ideas in a central location, such as on a shared document or a company app.

Brain netting is something that you can use as an ongoing creative solution for problem-solving. You can also set up the brainstorming site so that contributors can be anonymous, which could open up people to sharing ideas that they might not want to speak up about in a face-to-face meeting.

Create a group sketch

If your employees tend to be more visual and hands-on kinds of thinkers, then generating ideas might be easier if you encourage group members to put them in picture form.

You’ll start this strategy by having someone draw a picture that is related to the question. Then, they can pass this around so that everyone gets to add their insights to the drawing.

Brainstorming pitfalls to watch out for: distractions, boredom, making a session too long, and negative reactions to ideas.

Ways to engage with employees

One of the biggest pitfalls that can occur during a brainstorming session is allowing things to get off track.

If the session goes on too long, then your team might get tired. Boredom can also lead to mental blocks that hinder creative thought.

Give everyone a chance to get acquainted

When you bring a group of people together, you can expect that a few of them might want to catch up with members of the team that they haven’t seen in a while. You might also have a few members of the group that don’t know each other.

Take a few minutes before you begin to let people chat about their weekend or say hello. Then, make introductions to any new or key team members that others might not know well.

Set goals at the beginning

Giving the team a goal to work on helps to guide their ideas, and it will cut down on off-topic statements.

Try to keep the goals fairly open and simple so that they don’t hinder the thought flow or creativity but give everyone a general direction to work towards.

Allow for ideas to flow without judgment

Certain brainstorming techniques are bound to lead to a few ideas that are obvious duds. However, you don’t want to instantly nix any ideas while the primary brainstorming is occurring.

Simply write them down and keep on with the session. You’ll have time later to eliminate the ones that don’t work.

Reframe the question or change techniques

As the session starts to lose steam, you can re-engage your employees by shifting things in a new direction. For example, you might ask them how to turn ideas into blog names. This is also an effective way to start turning ideas into actionable items that people can leave with to begin using them while they have momentum.

Get those ideas brewing

Brainstorming sessions should be fun, fast-paced, and filled with positivity. Once your team has pooled their creative ideas and found the perfect ones to launch your marketing campaign, your next step is to execute their vision.

Mailchimp has a variety of products and services available that will help you move your team’s vision to the next phase of the action plan. Following through with your group’s decisions not only grows your business but also provides feedback that helps future brainstorming sessions be even more successful.

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