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Brainstorming meetings are our favorite tools for creative problem sorting. They are fun and vibrant, but also focused and productive. Let's see how can it be achieved.
What's the purpose of a brainstorming meeting? This form of the meeting has a generative purpose: a lot of value is supposed to be created out of thin air. It's a wonderful and creative way to create new ideas, come up with interesting solutions and generally step out of the box. Contrary to the update meetings or decision meetings, they are loose and less structured, while keeping the general idea of agenda with an open ending.
Which topics make for a good brainstorming meeting? When no clear idea or a set of possible solutions can be discussed and decided on, it's time to invite constructive chaos: brainstorming meetings are best for finding out solutions, looking for alternatives, wondering about the future, and dreaming a little. Some people called it thinking about castles in the sky and it's a beautiful metaphor for brainstorming in general. When you're not sure what you're specifically looking for and are open-minded about the end effects, this form of the meeting will work great.
How to facilitate a decision meeting? While brainstorming invites chaos into play, it must be structured. That means that while minds are running free, they still stay inside some productive boundary and stay in the frame of the brainstormed topic. In general, this form of meeting should be considered as two consecutive parts: green phase and red phase, and participants should work autonomously and together as needed.
Green phase is the whatever comes phase, the facilitator should start it by presenting the topic and signal loose expectations as a guideline. A smart option would be to include that information in the meeting agenda sent before the meeting itself. They should ask each participant to work autonomously to come up with their ideas. Working alone ensures different perspectives emerge, instead of following the group consensus. It's a very important aspect: the green phase is best done alone. The facilitator should estimate half of the time for this part of the meeting, but shouldn't announce time progress, as it could stifle the creativity and rush or stress participants. Any amount of ideas are acceptable, even ideas that are the opposite or feel almost impossible. The green phase is about meeting the mind to roam creatively free.
Red phase is the analysis phase. Its goal is not to criticize or discredit the ideas, but to have a mindful and kind evaluation one by one:
- is this idea achievable?
- does it come with unforeseen risks?
- what is the cost and effort required to make it happen?
- could anything be added to the idea?
Every participant should consider each idea and propose their feedback, which should be carefully documented by the facilitator and stored for meeting documentation. No idea should be discarded yet — it will be a task for a decision meeting.
Contrary to the common understanding of brainstorming as expand and narrow, you should be aiming for a more productive expand and extend approach to the ideas. As in generate ideas, then add details and smooth over, keeping the process exciting, motivating, and full of happiness.
A good idea is to have a clear agenda and share the guideline before the meeting to let the participants start their creative thinking ahead of the meeting.
How long should be a decision meeting? Since creativity takes some time, at least 1 hour should be allowed for the brainstorming meeting. Quite often it's beneficial to extend the time to 1.5 or 2 hours, depending on the progress of the red phase: evaluating many ideas can take a lot of time.
Brainstorming meetings are our favorite form of meeting. With a bit of discipline and smart facilitation and kindness, they can bring amazing results and best of all: feel like fun!