Running effective team brainstorms: How to plan for success

Redhead man talking to his team about new business ideas on a meeting in the office.

In this helpful resource, we’ll explore the steps required to run your upcoming sessions successfully, ensuring they properly align with your business objectives and put everyone’s time to good use.

Brainstorming sessions tend to end up one of two ways: it’s either fertile ground for innovative, effective ideas or a dispiriting meeting of minds that ends up frustratingly fruitless. If the majority of your meetings often fall into the latter, it’s possible that your methods and approaches are where the problem lies.

Whether it’s a lack of focus or a failure to put into action any ideas that were mentioned, there are plenty of things that get in the way of an effective brainstorm. There are, however, a number of different approaches you can take to leverage the talents of everyone involved and make sure your sessions are as productive as possible.

In this helpful resource, we’ll explore the steps required to run your upcoming sessions successfully, ensuring they properly align with your business objectives and put everyone’s time to good use.

Before the brainstorm

Do you need to brainstorm?

We can get caught up in the idea of brainstorming to the point where we don’t consider whether we actually need to go through with the process in the first place. Yes, it allows the team to engage and lets people know you’re open to ideas, but is it necessary at this point?

Business people meeting at office and use post it notes to share idea. Brainstorming concept. Sticky note on glass wall.

If you’re ready to set your project in motion, then is this brainstorming going to help, or will it be counter-productive? By going forward with the session, it creates an unrealistic expectation that employees’ input will affect the project’s direction

Lay out the problems to your team

Inform your team of the problem a few days ahead of the session, so that they can come up with some ideas and solutions beforehand. It’s rare that good ideas are created on the spot; avoid half-baked thoughts and concepts by giving them the necessary amount of time to really think about things.

This also saves valuable time at the meeting itself, as you’ll be ready to jump in and get discussing from the get-go. By listing out your goals, you can link them in before, during and after the brainstorming session, giving the meeting greater focus than there might otherwise have been. Additionally, if people come into a meeting with a few different potential solutions, it avoids people anchoring to one objective, which can stop productive brainstorming in its tracks.

Choose only the necessary participants

It might be tempting to think the more the merrier when it comes to brainstorming, but don’t get carried away by inviting people who aren’t invested in the issue. It’s unlikely that they’ll feel the need to participate as a result. Also, consider your potential participants’ track record in meetings; go for people who are creative, enthusiastic and willing to discuss problems to ensure the best results from your interaction.

female employee in light blue jumper leading a team meeting by drawing on a whiteboard and talking to three other employees

Choose the right venue for you and your team

Choosing the right venue ahead of time not only helps with organisation, but it ensures your participants are comfortable over the course of the session. Go for somewhere that you’ll know they can be free from distractions, and provide snacks if they need any more convincing.

Running the brainstorming session

Knowing what you want to get out of your session is key to optimising its productivity. Directing where the process needs to go over the course of the session can aid you in making things a success. Consider some of the following next time you’re sat down with your team.


From the outset, present the goals and issues you want to address, any expectations you’ve set, and where things need to go next following the meeting. Clearly outlining your plans gives your team a sense of what they need to achieve.

If you need to, don’t be afraid to play teacher and arrange participants in particular seats if you think there’s a chance certain groups may start talking amongst themselves. Depending on how you want to approach the session, you might want to nominate a timekeeper, so everyone has a limit on speaking time and critical comments.

Young people work in modern office.

Avoiding challenges and roadblock

Repetition and drying up: The session might reach a point where it’s tough to come up with any further ideas. This might be because everyone has touched on everything they wanted to bring up, or it might simply be that they need to take a break. If that hasn’t broken the deadlock, then revisit some of the ideas that have been brought up to see if anyone can build on them at all.

Finding the right level of creativity: If your brainstorming is lacking in efficacy, it may be a result of too much creative thinking or not enough. If it’s too much creativity that’s the problem, this can lead to deliberately ridiculous suggestions, at which point things can end up off-topic. At the other end of the scale, if your team is being too conservative in their thinking, it can stifle the session sooner than you might have anticipated.

Staying on topic: If you do stray from the path and move away from the goals and topics you’ve laid out, then use your facilitation skills to put everyone back on course. Be constructive in your response if their responses are serious, but make sure you course-correct if things get too out there.

They rely on their ability to function as a team

Ensuring everyone participates: If someone is contributing too much, or certain people aren’t saying anything at all, then this can cause problems. Every person is different, but brainstorming needs the input of everyone to be truly effective.

If this is happening, then ensure equal communication by having everyone present their ideas, one after the other. Alternatively, go around the team in a less-predictable manner, choosing people at random so that people avoid the problem of spending their time waiting to speak.

Maintaining focus: It’s a good idea to keep your sessions on the shorter side of things. People are less likely to start flagging if they know things will be wrapped up soon. Aim for around 20-30 minutes for each session, as that will give people little time to be distracted anyway.

If you do need to go longer, then make sure you take regular breaks, and that you mix things up with multiple brainstorming techniques. Things like ‘brainwriting’ (writing an idea down, then passing it along) and ‘starbursting’ (where you start with the question, rather than the answer) help to keep people alert and invested; two hours of brainstorming can be tiresome for even the most focused of workers.

Portrait of senior woman sitting at table in office and reading few paper work. Business manager working on some documents at office.

After the brainstorming session

Ranking ideas

Once the session has ended, the next step begins – selecting the best ideas to then put into action. You might want to ask the participants to group the topics into good, better and best categories to reach this conclusion. Consider putting the list of ideas in an accessible location and asking individuals to post their comments about said ideas over the next few days.

Creating working groups

Now that the best ideas have been chosen, you’ll need to set up groups of people who will help you put them into action. How they carry out their task depends on the ideas, and whether they’re affected by funding, changes to employee structure or new hires. Additionally, they’ll need clear, actionable objectives and to know what’s expected of them at certain milestones.

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