The ground rules in brainstorming

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Brainstorm withMartijn

The ground rules in brainstorming

In order to run an effective brainstorm with your team, you need to establish some ground rules. Put them on the first slide in your presentation deck. Or write them on a flip chart and hang them — clearly visible — somewhere in the room. You can always refer back to them during your session, to get everybody back on track. Agree upfront with your team in the first minutes of the brainstorm.

1. Postphone judgement

Brainstorming is essentially a process of divergence — getting as many ideas as possible — followed by the process of converging — in which you and your team members select the best possible solutions. You first need to stimulate the creative right part of the brain. Therefore the group needs to postpone their judgement. At first all is possible and nothing is weird.

2. Build upon each other

The sole purpose of brainstorming with a group is the opportunity for people to build upon each other ideas. Otherwise everybody could have given their input individually. So stimulate your team members to actively listen to each other’s ideas. And to build further on what other people have said. As a process facilitator you can explore some ideas in more detail — either selecting one or two yourself, or when you notice the group dynamics favours a particular direction.

3. Dare to dream

To come up with new, innovative solutions you and your team need to dream. So create a safe environment in which all participants dare to speak their minds freely. Nothing is stupid or strange. Remember that every idea, hunch or notion can form a stepping stone for that one eureka moment. It is very liberating to “free wheel” a bit at the beginning of the brainstorm, before setting more strict borders by introducing boundary conditions. Agree that everything said during the brainstorm is only shared as one collectively crafted outcome.

4. Trust the process

Both you and your team need to trust the process. The brainstorm participants need to agree to sit back and enjoy the ride. Ask them to actively participate and just go with the flow. Ensure there is a vision behind certain creative exercises. You as a facilitator already know what is coming, so you can help steer the group in the proper direction. But you can’t predict the outcome. So you also need to trust the process. And be able to improvise and alter your approach based on the group dynamics.

Bonus Tip

Be sure to change the tools and creative techniques you use during your brainstorm session. First use flip charts to capture ideas. Then move to sticky notes or let people draw their ideas. Vary plenary group brainstorming with individual activities. Have your team develop ideas one step further in small groups and let them present their results back to the rest. This is always a great way to round up a brainstorm.


Tomorrow I will be sharing with you more creative techniques to use. If you need more inspiration for running a brainstorm, just let me know.

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