How To Brainstorm At Work (With Examples)

By Abby McCain
Sep. 20, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Whether you need to come up with a snappy social media caption or develop an entire onboarding process for a company, brainstorming is often the best way to solve a problem or reach a goal.

Key Takeaways:

  • Brainstorming is a problem solving method where ideas for a problem or goal are considered without judgement before ideas are edited.

  • Make sure to choose your brainstorming members wisely, that the problem is clear, the session is organized, there is record of the session, and build on your ideas.

  • When brainstorming virtually you can try to have everyone meet on a call, break up people into smaller groups, or create a shared document for editing.

  • In brainstorming remember to start abstract to work towards specifics and set a timer.

  • 5 techniques of brainstorming are: mind mapping, slip writing, collaborative brainwriting, drivers analysis, and step ladder brainstorming.

How To Brainstorm At Work (With Examples)

What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is the process of letting any and all ideas about reaching a goal or solving a problem flow out without judgment. By doing this, your mind is allowed to be as creative as possible, which often results in a much better idea much faster than you would have gotten otherwise.

The second part of this process is building on and editing those ideas until you find the solution. Rarely are you going to come up with the perfect plan on the first try, but if you continue to work with a thought, it might grow into the solution you’re looking for.

You can complete this whole process alone, in a group, or both: It just depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your brainstorming session.

How to Brainstorm

There are many ways to brainstorm: alone or in a group, during a set amount of time or over a week or two, and in-person or remotely.

However you do it, there are some steps you can take to make this process go as smoothly as possible:

  1. If you’re leading a group brainstorm session, choose your members wisely. Instead of simply inviting everyone you can think of who could be involved with the problem or goal, start by thinking about the expertise you need to find the most effective solution.

    Once you’ve done that, find people to fill those roles. You might even need to ask around for recommendations on who would be best. You may end up with a group of people you haven’t worked with much before, but this is often where the best ideas are born.

  2. Make sure the problem is clear. Whether you’re brainstorming alone or in a group, make sure everyone understands the problem you’re trying to solve. This includes all of the different aspects that the solution needs to cover.

    For example, if you’re deciding on a party theme, you should start by laying out your budget, time constraints, and location requirements before the ideas start flowing.

  3. Keep it organized. If you’re leading a group brainstorming session, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re keeping the conversation productive. Don’t be afraid to redirect it if it’s staying on one train of thought for too long or if it’s too off-topic.

    You can also help people who are less inclined to speak up find room to share while ensuring that the more naturally vocal individuals don’t steal the spotlight for the whole meeting.

    Make sure that you go into the brainstorming session with a purpose and leave it having reached that purpose, or at least with a concrete plan for how to continue forward.

  4. Keep a record. Whether you’re brainstorming with others or by yourself, it’s important to write down every idea you have, good or bad.

    You can do this by simply jotting notes on a scrap piece of paper, by writing each idea on a separate sticky note, or by having someone take notes and then post them for the group to edit later.

    After all, your brainstorming session is all but pointless if you don’t have a record of your ideas after you’re finished.

  5. Build on your ideas. Often the best ideas come to be not during but after a brainstorming session.

    You likely thought of the root of it there, but it may not be fully formed until you put it through more thinking and iterating. This is how brainstorming is supposed to work, so don’t be afraid to end your session without the perfect idea.

    If you’re at the end of your session and you don’t have a solution, though, keep communicating with the rest of the group, and maybe even schedule another meeting where you can revisit and build on your top ideas until you find a solution.

How to Brainstorm With a Group When You’re All Working Remotely

It’s becoming more common for large numbers of employees to work remotely or at satellite campuses. This has its benefits, but it also has its downsides for things like brainstorming sessions.

If you can’t all meet up in the conference room, what do you do? Here are some tips for brainstorming remotely:

  1. Try to have everyone join virtually. If you do have some group members who can meet in person, it may be tempting to have them run the meeting with everyone else calling in. While this sounds like a great idea in theory, it rarely goes as well as expected since it’s easy for those calling in to go unheard or become disengaged.

    Instead, make it a remote conference call for everyone. Even if meeting members are sitting next door to each other, having them all call in levels the playing field and allows everyone to keep up with the meeting and share their thoughts.

  2. Start the process individually or in small groups. Since it is more difficult for everyone’s voices to be heard in a virtual meeting, try having everyone start brainstorming on their own or in smaller groups.

    Send out the problem you’re trying to solve and ask everyone to come prepared with a few ideas, or have each group come up with a few to share with the rest of the team.

  3. Create a document that everyone can edit and add to. Make your meeting record into a shared document so that everyone can continue building on each other’s ideas even after the meeting is over. If you also have it open during the brainstorming session, this might be another good way for the less vocal group members to share their ideas.

Brainstorming Rules

While there is no one right way to brainstorm, there are a few general rules that will help it all go more smoothly, no matter how you go about it:

  1. No idea is a bad idea. This is the most important rule of brainstorming. To be as creative as possible, it’s essential to turn off your filters and let the ideas flow. Even if you immediately realize that one of them won’t work, just write it down anyway and keep going. You can go back and revise it later.

    If you’re leading a group brainstorming session, it’s important to set this culture from the beginning, as this is how you’re going to get your best ideas. You can even challenge your team not to use an eraser or hit the delete key while you’re generating ideas.

  2. Every idea can be improved or changed. It’s easy to get attached to your own ideas, but it’s crucial to hold everything loosely while brainstorming. Don’t be afraid to improve on your ideas, and don’t be offended when someone else adds or takes away from yours. This is how the best solutions come about.

    Again, this is another essential expectation for you, the meeting leader, to establish early on in the meeting to curb any inhibitions about editing someone else’s work.

  3. Start abstract and then get more specific. It’s good to start broad when you’re brainstorming, but don’t stay there. Encourage your team or discipline yourself to keep working on your ideas until they are specific enough to be useful.

    That means that if you’re brainstorming for a party theme, you may start out with ideas such as “elegant” or “the party of the year,” but you want to end up with more concrete, actionable ideas such as “masquerade” and “chocolate fountain.”

    From there, you can make a plan about how your team is going to make it all happen.

  4. Set a timer. Especially if you’re working by yourself, setting a timer for how long you’re going to brainstorm is vital to ensure you’re staying focused and productive.

    The purpose of brainstorming is to get to a goal or solution, so allowing yourself to think on it forever defeats the purpose.

    If you’re brainstorming in a group, this is also important so that you ensure you’re respecting everyone’s time and keeping everyone focused. Take breaks during the meeting to boost creative juices and give your minds a rest.

5 Brainstorming Techniques and Examples

There is no shortage of brainstorming techniques and theories, both for groups and individuals. Here are a few of the most popular that you can try if you need some help getting your wheels turning:

  1. Mind Mapping. This is one of the most popular brainstorming techniques, as it adds a visual element to the process and allows thinkers to see how one problem relates or contributes to another. Having the visual element also helps keep you and the rest of your team on track so that you can find an effective solution.

    To start your mind map, write your problem or goal in the middle of a whiteboard or paper (you can also find mind mapping software online if you prefer). For example, if you’re trying to increase your customer satisfaction rates, write that down. Then write down any issues or ideas related to that main goal and draw lines connecting them to it.

    In this case, you may write “old phone system,” “poor web forms,” and “more training needed for customer service reps.”

    Next, you’ll do the same thing again with those ideas. “Poor web forms,” for example, might expand into “outdated website,” “overworked graphic design department,” and “inconsistency across the website.”

    These may then lead you to the idea of hiring a contract web developer to update and improve your website.

    Repeat this process for the “old phone system” and “more training for customer service reps” until you find solutions for all of them.

  2. Slip Writing. Also called brainwriting, this method is useful if you want to hear ideas from a large group and avoid the groupthink phenomenon.

    That’s when individuals who would normally solve a problem very differently from one another all get caught on the same train of thought when they’re talking about it as a group.

    With the slip writing method, you’ll have everyone in the group anonymously write down their ideas on notecards.

    Then you’ll collect the notecards, and either have one person read them all aloud or mix them up and pass them back out to the group to share. The team members can then discuss them all, critiquing and adding to them as necessary.

    This way, people can share their honest opinions and ideas without fear of embarrassment, since no one will know who came up with them.

  3. Collaborative Brainwriting. This is an excellent solution for generating anonymous ideas without having to call a meeting. To do this, put up a large piece of paper or poster board in a public area of the office (away from your line of sight), and write your question, problem, or goal on it.

    Let people know that you want them to write down any and all of their ideas on the poster board throughout the next week or few days. Then, at the end of the set period of time, you’ll have a collection of creative ideas from a variety of different perspectives.

    For example, say you’re trying to brainstorm about something like improving your organization’s social media presence. While employees who don’t work with social media on a daily basis may not be able to provide you with technical answers to this question, they may have some great ideas for content.

    In this case, you could write, “What content do you want to see on our social media?” and see what rolls in.

  4. Drivers Analysis. Behind every problem or challenge is usually an unexpected driver, and the key to solving that problem or challenge is finding out what that driver is. Doing a drivers analysis, or working with a team to figure out what is going into the problem behind the scenes, is the best way to do this.

    For example, if your organization has a high employee turnover rate and you’re trying to figure out how to lower it, this would be an excellent exercise to do. You might discuss how the onboarding process is lacking, how new employees don’t necessarily know who to go to for help, and how some aspects of company culture may be causing burnout.

    When you’re trying to find these drivers, ask for your team’s honest opinions, and then keep asking, “Why?” to drill down deeper and analyze what’s behind the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

  5. Step Ladder Brainstorming. This is an interactive brainstorming method for large groups. Start by sending everyone a prompt to develop their own ideas to solve the problem outside of the meeting room. Keep two people inside the room, however, and have them start working on solutions together.

    After a few minutes have passed, call in one more person to add their ideas to the mix, and continue this until the rest of the group members have come in and shared their ideas.

    This is an effective way to make sure every individual’s voice is heard, and it means you’ll get a wide variety of ideas to work from.

Benefits Of Brainstorming

Clearly brainstorming is more than just throwing words on a whiteboard. There are many methods to ensure your brainstorming session will be effective. When done correctly, the benefits of brainstorming include:

  • Encourages creative thinking. Brainstorming gives people the chance to think outside the box by relaxing constraints. This fosters creative thinking in employees which can carry over outside the brainstorming session.

  • Adds diverse ideas to the workplace. People will be more willing to share new ideas in brainstorming sessions where they won’t feel judged. This helps keep the workplace open to new ideas, some of which may never have been brought to light if it weren’t for brainstorming.

  • Builds teamwork and group morale. Brainstorming provides people the chance to provide input and work together to find a solution. This gives people a sense of agency and incentivizes collaboration.

  • Provides many ideas in a short time. Brainstorming allows you to consider a problem from all sorts of angles in a short amount of time. You are given the opportunity to work with a whole collection of possible solutions.

Final Thoughts

Brainstorming is a valuable tool in the workplace. It is important to remember to do it correctly. Do not let your brainstorming session get out of hand, otherwise people might get bored or you might waste time. Instead, remember to provide a constructive framework that allows ideas to be presented without judgement and work towards a solution.

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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