How to Flip Your Brainstorming Meeting Around To Get More from Your Team

Let’s set the stage:  You have a team meeting in five minutes.  You’re ready.  You’re walking into that meeting, prepared with the ideas you’ve written down and you’re ready to share your brilliance with your co-conspirators.

What if we told you that you just failed the first step of collaboration?

Surprised? Annoyed? Ready to click off of our blog article? Okay, we get it. We’ve all been there.Your response is your reaction to our rejection of your ideas.

Most meetings intended for collaboration are run this way.  Everyone comes prepared with their ideas and then we’re all supposed to pitch in to finesse those ideas into The Next Brilliant Plan.

But that’s not what happens.  When you come into a meeting with your own ideas, you come in with a built-in agenda of showing those ideas and getting buy-in. It becomes about you and your need for recognition.  This is human. There is nothing wrong with this, in the right setting.

But if the goal is brainstorming something together, if everyone in the room is in that state of mind, how open is anyone, really, truly, to listening?

Because true collaboration isn’t about sharing your great ideas.  It’s about opening up the conversation and letting the ideas build together.

[Tweet “Collaboration is about opening the conversation and building something together.”]

Misty and I have had the opportunities to brainstorm a lot. With just the two of us, with a team full of people who get it and also with a team full of people who don’t.

By far, the most painful experience is in the room of people who come with their own protection wall around them.  The ones who don’t feel comfortable participating because they don’t feel they have enough to offer.  Or the ones who have a list a mile long and they want everyone to buy in to their way.

But you can direct a team meeting in a way that opens everyone up to thinking outside of their own box.

Brainstorming or “Storming my brain” as my hairdresser calls it is something that should be free flowing and carefree. You want to come ready to accept any idea and ready to throw out any idea.

If you are the boss you need to do the following to create a good brainstorming environment:

  1. You need to explain that there is no such thing as a bad, silly, annoying, crazy idea that all ideas are welcome and accepted.
  2. Follow through on rule one.

I have been in plenty of meetings where the person running the meeting says the first rule and then within minutes says, “I don’t like that idea.”  As a matter of fact, I had that happen today in a meeting I was running. The meeting was a photo brainstorm, prefaced by the statement that all pictures that fit our goal were acceptable and that there were no bad ideas. The first thing the company owner did was put down some photos presented by the team saying, “I don’t like the look of these images.”

What’s the issue with sharing your opinion about what you like and don’t like? In a brainstorming, it’s the difference between having the group feel free to reach outside of themselves and take risks or shut them down and keep them from offering any further suggestions.

So how do you keep them from choosing things that you don’t like?

Have the team keep spit-balling ideas throwing out all the crazy wild ideas they can for a certain amount of time and then start highlighting their ideas that you love.

See the difference there? You are selecting the positive and giving kudos. This encourages further idea sharing in the future.

[Tweet “Encourage great brainstorming by removing the immediate pushback on ideas.”]

As Jeannie said, we have brainstormed a lot together. We have come up with some crazy ideas— from sending people real potatoes in the mail and Mr. Potato ears to putting a muppet on an accounting Webio show.

What I like about brainstorming with Jeannie is that we laugh a lot. We feel safe around each other to bring out our inner child and just be wacky. Then we start honing in on what out of our zany ideas is resonating with us and we start tweaking it for our audience. Then we come up with the final idea that we both love and that represents the mission.

So remove the roadblocks, come open to having some fun, and enjoy the process.  Laugh.  Be crazy.  Color on the walls, not inside the box.  Your level of crazy is okay.  It’s PERFECT.  It’s when you get a room full of different levels of crazy and fun that you start to see amazing results.  You will be surprised at what your team can accomplish when you give them wings.

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