You know the feeling when your team is perfectly synced in a brainstorming session? Diverse ideas are bouncing around, great questions are being explored, actionable plans are coming together, and you leave feeling connected and motivated around a clear objective.
Brainstorming and ideation meetings can be a powerful addition to your team’s workflow by facilitating collaboration and creativity to develop new ideas, solve complex problems, and create actionable goals. But, when brainstorming meetings are ill-planned, misused, or organized without a purpose, they can actually have the opposite effect and leave your team feeling uninspired and overrun – but most unfortunately, completely waste everyone's time.
The method of brainstorming was famously created by advertising executive Alex Osborn in the 1940s to foster quantitative creative ideas. But the sad reality is most meetings aren’t fueling great results. The average professional sits through a shocking 39.3 meetings/week – but employees report 71% of meetings are unproductive and keep them high-value task work.
To turn this narrative around, organizations must become more intentional about time spent (and time wasted!) in group meetings. When properly executed, brainstorming sessions have the potential to boost productivity, develop breakthroughs, foster cohesiveness in a team, and maximize innovation for the company.
In this post, we’re going to explore the different types of brainstorming meetings, their benefits and challenges, and how you can plan for a productive ideation session to boost your team's brainstorming results.
What is brainstorming?
First things first – what exactly is brainstorming, and what is ideation? Brainstorming is a creative process used to efficiently generate ideas and solutions around a defined objective or problem. In professional teams, brainstorming sessions, or meetings, are organized to get together a relevant group to discuss a specific objective, share context, make decisions, and ultimately push projects forward. In the same category, the ideation phase comes from the ‘Design Thinking Methodology’ process, where teams similarly explore and develop ideas using techniques like brainstorming, among others.
Here are some top benefits of brainstorming:
- Diversifies perspectives
- Limits bias on project plans
- Generates high-quantity ideas
- Fosters creativity
- Creates collaborative discussions
- Boosts team morale
While brainstorming meetings can produce amazing results when properly executed, there are also common hurdles to take into account when planning a brainstorming session for your team. Oftentimes, people think if you just get enough people together in a room you'll come up with your next big idea, but brainstorming meetings should really only be used to ideate around a very specific problem that you need to solve.
Challenges of brainstorming meetings:
- Waste of time when organized without an objective.
- Unequal discussion when certain members dominate the meeting.
- ‘Anchoring Effect’ limits value when the discussion gets stuck on the first points.
- Lack of contribution due to unpreparedness leads to only surface-level discussion.
- Dispersed teams face technical and social challenges of virtual group meetings.
To be productive, these meetings require a huge amount of preparation before it makes sense to get everyone together and take time away from your busy team members' workdays. Whether you’re exploring a new feature design, reviewing technical issues, or kicking off a new development project, each person needs to come with a clear understanding of the objective, their strategic assets, research and data, basically any pre-work that will ensure the discussion is not cut short due to missing information on the opportunity.
Different types of brainstorming meetings
Here are the 4 most common types of brainstorming and ideation meetings that you’ll find scheduled across product teams:
Design brainstorm meeting
These meetings are used to ideate and decide on the design direction for a new product feature, generate shareable assets, and align design, engineering and product management on UX goals. You’ll find your design lead, product manager lead, engineering lead, and occasionally engineering management present at these meetings. The big consideration around this meeting is if product management and engineering have properly set constraints so design can move forward.
Technical / operational review meeting
Also known as the “how will we build it” meeting, these are used to review customer needs and requirements and technical UX constraints. The overall goal is to decide on architectural and technical requirements and generate shareable assets that can be used to take the project to the next stage. You’ll find your engineering lead, architecture lead, project management lead, and occasionally engineering management and design leads.
These meetings are used to create a plan outlining all of the development needs for the project, to align key stakeholders, and for the entire project team to understand the project objectives and outcomes. Kickoff meetings tend to be a bit larger, including the core product team for the project which consists of design, engineering and product management, as well as outside stakeholders in marketing and sales, and key managerial stakeholders. With this large group, and usually a much longer time block for the meeting, some participants may only need to attend a portion of the meeting relevant to their role.
Requirements review meeting
This meeting is organized by product management to align engineering and design with customer needs. Product management will use this time to share customer stories and data with the technical team to correct areas where there may be misalignments or disagreements around the purpose of the build. The group is then able to document or amend existing requirements to realign around the needs of the end user. Requirements reviews include the product manager, engineering lead, design lead, and occasionally engineering management or key GTM personnel.
Tips for productive team brainstorming & ideation meetings
Now you know the different kinds of brainstorming meetings you could introduce to your team, it’s time to take a look at some essential tips to make sure the session is a success.
1. Limit the attendee list & assign a moderator
To keep discussion on topic, high-value, and avoid time wasted on context explanation – the attendee list for a brainstorming meeting should be limited to only team members who have the needed perspective and knowledge for the discussion. This also ensures that other team members aren’t wasting valuable time that could otherwise be spent on productive deep work vs. meeting that doesn’t pertain to them. So instead of sending four people from a single department, choose one representative who can share ideas on the behalf of their team.
It’s also a good idea to assign a moderator to help direct the meeting, make sure everyone gets floor time, and record detailed notes and ideas that can be used to generate next steps from the discussion.
2. Define clear objectives
Even though brainstorming meetings are generally more dynamic and free-flowing, this doesn’t mean you should go into one without an agenda. Ideation and brainstorming meetings should never be organized without a crystal clear goal and objective oriented towards making decisions. And in order to have a productive discussion, you need a game plan before the meeting so everyone can come prepared.
So, if you’re planning the brainstorming meeting, set time aside to clearly outline the objectives in an agenda and share with attendees beforehand so they have sufficient time to prepare their own contributions. If you’re attending, schedule some focus time on your calendar to do some individual brainstorming, and be ready to share your thoughts around the outlined objectives.
3. Encourage contribution & foster inclusivity
Creating an environment where team members feel confident about sharing their ideas and perspectives is foundational to the success of brainstorming sessions – so be open-minded to all ideas and keep judgment out of this meeting room. Sometimes the most unexpected idea is the breakthrough you’re looking for!
Fostering an inclusive company culture and team-building outside of meetings is a foundational starting point. Positive feedback from managers and executives during group meetings can also help build confidence in more reserved team members. Implementing techniques like a Round Robin Brainstorm, where every attendee contributes a point to the discussion, is also an easy way to allow everyone’s voice to be heard and maximize perspective in the meeting.
4. Make your meetings engaging
The last thing you want is your creative ideation sessions to become another meeting the team dreads. To encourage innovative thinking and a positive disposition, explore different brainstorming techniques to see what works best with the dynamics of the team to keep the meetings engaging. Some interesting brainstorming examples to look into include: the Step-Ladder technique, Starbursting, and the Eidetic image method.
5. Schedule your meetings as-needed
Brainstorming and ideation meetings should not be recurring, as they’re only scheduled on an as-needed basis around the needs of a project and its timeline. Too many meetings are unproductive because they’re scheduled on a recurring basis when they really don’t need to be. So, schedule ideation sessions intentionally, and set a time limit for them – so that your team can bring their 100% every session.
6. Set next steps
So you just experienced an inspired ideation session with your team and generated a ton of ideas to move forward with – now how will these decisions and assets get disseminated?
The product manager or assigned moderator will usually take the lead on documenting the high-level strategy and plan created during the meeting, but each design, engineering, or other team lead should be taking their own detailed notes on how these decisions will be incorporated into action items for their team. To effectively direct the creative momentum from the meeting, make sure that next steps for each participant are determined and discussed before the meeting ends. Follow up with attendees to share relevant project plans and to delegate additional task work so your productive brainstorming meetings go from ideation to action.
Maximize your team’s brainstorming meetings 🧠
So why is brainstorming important? Brainstorming meetings are an effective way to bring together key players on your team to solve a specific problem through their diverse perspectives and knowledge so you can generate inspired ideas and solutions. They say “two heads are better than one” - but getting the right heads from your team together to solve a problem (and using their time efficiently) is what takes an ideation meeting to the next level.
With proper preparation, clear goals, fostered inclusivity, intentional scheduling, and a well constructed plan for next steps – brainstorming meetings can deliver huge value to your workflow by continuing to push progress across product development.