Key Strategies for Conducting Brainstorming Meetings – Part 2

Individual Brainstorming

Next let’s talk about individual brainstorming. A recent research study conducted in 2012 showed that individuals actually generate twice as many solutions compared to groups so think about that. I was blown away with that statistic quite frankly. You think about, “Well wait a second, brainstorming… I thought the whole thing was to have the diversity of the group. How do you do that together?” Let’s talk about some of the steps, and we’re going to be quick, obviously, in this discussion. I’d be happy to talk to you more, and I can send the link into the research so you can see more of the details yourself if you’d like.

First of all, you have an initial meeting to introduce the problem so that everybody is on the same page. We are still talking about a group, but we’re implementing the part of the brainstorming session individually. You want to in the group discussion ahead of time, or in the introduction to it you want to define expectations. You need to be very specific because, again, people won’t be used to this and they’ll be looking for a better understanding of what you want.

You’ll want to be very specific for what type of contributions you’re expecting from people and it’s going to be important to give people time to prepare, think seriously about the problem at hand and what the objectives are, so it’s not just pop something on them in the morning and then get together in the afternoon. People generally prefer a couple of days to process these expectations, but you don’t want to do too long, so we recommend not more than a week.

Have a deadline and what you’re going to ask people is to submit their ideas to the facilitator or the leader ahead of time and then, what you’ll do is convene a group meeting to discuss all of the submissions. What the research shows is that you’ll actually get a much larger number of actual ideas at the onset and then whittle them down and refine them. You will get better results using this method as well.


Let’s talk about virtual. The key, as we talked about at the beginning is having this energy that comes from a wide group of people and one way to help make sure that happens is by having a virtual meeting. What does that do? It blends different perspectives from people. A lot of people think “well let’s get everyone together to make sure no one sits too quiet on the phone or is on mute,” but actually, that can cut both ways. A conference call is a very effective way to do brainstorming sessions and often what that brings to the table is it’s easier to find this broad mix of personalities because you can access more people within the company that may physically not always be convenient or easy to get together. I would encourage this as it’s appropriate within each of your organizations, to tap outside vendors and other partners. These can be a great resource to participate in brainstorming sessions, again, as it would be appropriate.

Michael Samson has done a lot of work with virtual meetings. He has two suggestions. One would be wiki-based and have people type in their ideas individually when they’re in a virtual brainstorming session. What’s nice about this is that not only can everyone see all of the ideas but you can hold virtual votes. Then with comments and things like that you can continue to refine, whether it’s at the end of the brainstorming session or in a subsequent session after the initial brainstorming, you can develop the short list of ideas further and you’ve got the comments from the brainstorming session all captured and that can be very helpful. In a regular conference call with a shared screen you can capture ideas very quickly as they’re brought in. As you do this we really recommend having a designated note keeper so that they’re capturing all the ideas as they’re put out there and people aren’t required  to both listen and think about thinks and be inputting the information themselves. What this also allows is broader participation because some people might feel more comfortable inputting things via the chat pane or via email and you can facilitate the discussion by moving around the table.

If you do this then the conferencing tools are going to be important so I want to talk about those just for a minute. Background noise, of course, can be an issue so you want to make sure that you can control that background noise. You as the leader and the facilitator will be able to see peoples audio levels so that you can mute people if needed, or mute where the background noise is coming from. You want to have a very faced paced conversation and some conferencing systems don’t allow that very effectively without talk over. In other words people talking over one another, people talking at the same time, that’s typically not the person or the people actually being rude, but it’s the conferencing bridging equipment that is not effectively muting people appropriately or allowing people to hear other people talking. That’s usually why it’s happening, because the people don’t hear the other person and that’s a bridging equipment problem. There are better solutions if you experience that, and Adigo is one of them so feel free to contact us if you’ve experienced that before.

You also want to consider having breakout sessions, which the conferencing system should be able to easily facilitate for you. If you’ve got a large group of a dozen people participating and then for part of the session you want to have 2, 3, groups of people, you should be able to separate them and then, whether its 20 minutes later, bring everyone back together. Obviously, you’ll need to have a moderator that has control of the entire conference, that’s very helpful and recording can be a very important tool for brainstorming sessions, to capture the whole activity as it’s happening.


Just a couple of quick key take-aways, diversity and a less structured meeting is typically what is going to be more involved. You want to make sure the playing field is level. By that what I really mean is not allowing the conversation to get taken over by anyone or couple of people.

You want to make sure any consensus is really broad base consensus rather than what appears to be consensus from just a few people. To get that energy and mojo you want to make sure it’s fun and to do that you really need to plan each of these different components and think about them ahead of time and how you’re going to make sure that these do happen the way you want.

Think about different peoples styles and how will you address someone if they’re quiet or if you know so and so is often somewhat loud or negative, how? Think ahead of time, “How am I going to address that if it does happen?” Do this so that you’re prepared, and then have that warm up session at the beginning that’s just key. And think about the individual brainstorming like we talked about.

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