How To Create An Encouraging Space For Teams During Brainstorm Meetings
If you take a look inside my brain, 70% of the time it’s a dried up creek with faint cricket noises in the background – nothing much to offer except a burning sensation of incompetence.
This becomes a massive inconvenience when it comes to brainstorming sessions because how do you brainstorm when you’re in a brain drought? On top of that, what if the unconducive environment does not help with the situation?
While the first issue can be a nuisance and hard to deal with, we can take some steps to tackle that by focusing on changing the latter.
1. Do not reject any ideas before hearing them out.
This also means allowing the seemingly ‘bad’, ‘crazy’, or ‘impossible’ ideas.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who conceptualised the ‘mental flow’ state – a state in which people are so involved in whatever they’re doing, that nothing else really matters, states that an important part of creating is “to find at least a line, or a verse, that starts to sing. Sometimes even one word is enough to open a window on a new view of the world, to start the mind on an inner journey…”.
The very purpose of brainstorming sessions is to open as many windows as possible and explore where each one takes us. Following Csikszentmihalyi’s theory, any ‘bad’ idea may lead to an eureka moment; but that cannot be done if there is no freedom to voice out any idea that comes to mind that does not make sense on the surface.
So the next time someone says something stupid during a brainstorming session, don’t shut them off immediately. Don’t let your perception of a ‘good’ idea restrict them; hear them out, let them have their running thoughts verbalised, and it may open multiple windows that can help with the project.
2. Do not interrupt someone’s train of thought.
I think most of us can relate to the frustration of being so invested in an idea, passionately explaining it to your team, just to have someone cut in with questions of doubt.
Once the seed of doubt is planted, it can be hard to feel as passionate or excited about your ideas anymore – your confidence falters, the lightbulb above your head flickers, and you just find it easier to dismiss it with a “Nevermind, it sounds impossible anyway.”. The window closes, and with it the multitude of possibilities will never be realized.
Similarly to the first point, let people talk, and let them talk without interruption. Even if it’s an unskeptical statement, save it for when feedback is asked; because it may not discourage them, but they may still lose track of their train of thought due to the interruption and forget how to continue.
Of course, it’s important to ask questions and address irrational points, but as mentioned previously, you can make a mental note (or better, write them down lest you forget), and then raise those questions when it is time to fine-tune the ideas.
3. Be prepared to get the ball rolling.
No one likes an unfruitful brainstorming session, but it happens. This is why a list of prompts can be a huge help. Preparing for brainstorming sessions beforehand can avoid the first few minutes of the “I have nothing right now, you go first” scenario, it gets things started, and it gets things going.
A good practice would be to also assign different relevant prompts for the attendees a few days ahead so that they will have time to think about them, which cuts down the annoying brain buffer time during the meetings.
If prompts are not applicable, a template may work, too! If the project at hand is less creative and requires more structure (usually applies to recurring projects with a set of given objectives or rules), then it would be helpful for attendees to have certain guidelines to light their intellectual spark.
4. Give constructive feedback.
I’m sure most of us understand the importance of constructive feedback by now. At the end of the day, we are all looking to better ourselves in everything we do, and blatant criticism is the last thing that will help.
If we are following the suggestions above and allowing people to voice ideas freely, there will be some that are not feasible. Instead of completely dismissing the idea – try giving one or two aspects that may be improved upon. Who knows? With those tips and advice given, the attendee may come up with the next best idea for your upcoming projects. Similarly, if you’re on the receiving end of the rejection, be proactive and seek constructive feedback so that the others at the table may benefit from it as well.
At the end of the day, we should look out for quantity first during brainstorming sessions, and then quality after when it is time to filter the selections. For that to happen, leaders and participants alike should keep a non-judgmental mindset when ideas are being presented, be prepared so that the meeting is fruitful, and close the meeting on an encouraging note by giving feedback that serves to educate and not discriminate.