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5 Methods to Run an Effective Brainstorm

Reading time7 min
Successful decisions are being achieved by the efforts of individuals. Their collaboration is the key to success. No matter if they have won a basketball champ or released a new software product.

Where does the team path to success begin? In this post, we share ten essential tips on how to improve team meeting discussions and describe five powerful methods that accelerate brainstorming sessions. IT professionals, this will perfectly suit you too.


Brainstorming, in general meaning, is an idea creation method for generating numerous creative ideas in a short period of time. The process seems essential when a broad range of options, creative ideas, and participation of the entire group are desired.

As an idea, brainstorming first emerged back in 1942. The process was introduced by Alex Faickney Osborn, the founder of BBDO, the famous US advertising agency. He described brainstorming as a creative technique inspired by the working atmosphere in the agency.

Osborn observed the everyday work in the office and found out that during the team meetings, the employees were not proposing brilliant ideas and creative solutions.

The brainstorming concept includes defining a problem for which solution different ideas are generated. These ideas are later accepted or rejected. The process accelerates the stimulation of human minds towards creative problem-solving.

This group activity has become a revolutionary method that can find its use in startups and global corporations regardless of industries.


How to run effective brainstorming? 10 rules

Thorough preparation

Even considering corporate ethics, it's important to announce a brainstorming agenda within a few days to let team members be prepared in advance.

A project manager/product manager or other meeting moderator notify all participants and reports the place and time chosen.

The subject of brainstorming defines who should be invited — a content specialist will unlikely be useful in development issues, and the financial director does not have to be present to discuss the concept of the company's blog and content plan.

Presenting issues correctly

When problems are formulated clear and correctly — they have more chances to be solved successfully. This is important to all team members. It is necessary to identify the problem without any additional clarifications.

Setting goals

Goal formulation is also crucial for achieving global results. The more clear data will be provided, the more efficient the brainstorm will be.

Do not try to discover continents, just follow the great rules of the SMART goals concept, setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound purposes.

Ideas generation

It is predominantly the most important stage when you observe how real solutions to the problem are born.

Ideally, this is a continuous stream from the most trivial ideas to the great and amazing solutions. Most active participants usually present the most successful ideas during the brainstorming session.

Visualization of thoughts

Downloading your thoughts will help to find a solution to any problem faster. Do not be lazy and fix your initiatives on paper. It will help to generate additional ideas or build a chain from abstract thoughts.

Draw illustrations and charts or use professional helpers — convenient Kanban-boards with cards.

Criticism (but constructive)

Actually, it is better without it at all. Remember that it is important to not only to listen but also to hear attentively. Do not interrupt your colleagues and let them speak out to everyone. Even the craziest idea has a right to exist. Unruled сriticism may bring down the pace or even offend but at the same time may improve brainstorming processes.

Evaluation and prioritization

The stage of evaluating and ranking ideas begins after active discussions. This is the best time to remind about smart prioritization techniques and frameworks that empower brainstorming.

There are various online tools and apps aimed to make prioritization as part of the brainstorming process and visualize the most important and extra ideas.

For example, many of these tools propose to use the frameworks based on the Eisenhower 2X2 matrix.
The Backlog Priority Chart in Hygger.io provides the following criteria:

  • Quick Wins – for the prime ideas.
  • Big Bets – for ideas with high priority, but which can be executed later.
  • Maybes – the ideas with less value and urgency, they can be postponed.
  • Time Sinks – the ideas of the most recent priority.

Third-party help

Discussions may reach a deadlock or the votes of the participants can be shared equally. If this happens, do not hesitate to call “fresh” heads.


The coordinator of brainstorming should constantly manage the process of brainstorming and not «leave» the agenda even for a minute. There are always shy participants who do not speak out on time. It's important to track the timing, ask leading questions and give the voice to everyone.


Do not be distracted and do not lose conclusions during the brainstorm. Fix all your thoughts to have the opportunity to return to them later and to analyze something again.

Studying the subject, I've stumbled upon the Quora’s post by Ron Gibori, the Head of Creative Dept at Ideabooth. Among the typical tips on how to improve brainstorming, he suggests the following:
Encourage «Individual Champions». Collaboration helps broaden understanding and perspectives, it unleashes ideas an individual may not have thought of by themselves. It’s the idea that no one else quite sees, it’s clear in the individual’s mind, but has not yet been illustrated or thought through enough to intrigue the group. That is the role of the Individual Champion.
Holding brainstorms, you are able to set your own rules or follow the principles of one of the famous methodologies created especially for successful discussion.

5 techniques and practices for empowering brainstorms

Stepladder technique

Decision making may not always go smoothly. There can be more active participants and the team members who prefer to remain silent if their position does not gain the necessary power.

Stepladder methodology is one of the most simple but effective approaches for stimulating the entry of team members into the decision-making group.

Some people may gain credibility from the first minute and someone will need a lot of time to fight for recognition. This factor can be the reason why brainstorming can get out of control.

The Stepladder was described in 1992 by Steven Rogelberg, Janet Barnes-Farrell, and Charles Lowe. The technique motivates team members to participate on an individual level, without undue influence. It excludes the pressure from the more active team members and does not force people to “close”.

Stepladder consists of 5 stages:

  1. Before the brainstorming, people learn the details about the problem that will be discussed. They form their opinions and ideas on how to accomplish the task or solve the problem.
  2. They form groups of two people and begin to discuss the problem among themselves.
  3. A third participant joins the group. He/she shares own ideas to the first two participants before hearing their ideas. After all three participants have presented their solutions, they discuss the possible options together.
  4. Then the fourth person joins the group and the process is repeated, and so on and so forth.
  5. After all team members have presented their ideas and discussed them, the final decision is being reached.

This systematic approach involves all group members and allows everyone to be heard.

Delphi technique

The Delphi method lets consider the opinions of all group members, by consistently combining proposals and conclusions.

The method is quite similar to Stepladder but its approach to brainstorming is quite different. All participants in Stepladder are equal.

Here's how it works according to Delphi. The coordinator controls the group and manages the flow of information. It assumes the anonymity of group members. Participants may not know who else is participating (while in Stepladder meetings are run face-to-face).

This practice requiring more people. They are divided into two groups:

  • Experts to present their views on the problem.
  • Analysts to bring expert opinions to the common conclusion.

There are 3 consequent stages:

  1. The preliminary stage is about selecting experts (up to 20 people).
  2. The primary stage, when experts are studying the main question and break it down to the smaller pieces. Analysts select the most common questions and form a questionnaire. The experts receive this questionnaire and then they need to recognize if there is anything to add. They offer own solutions and explore alternative positions, assess the effectiveness, availability of resources and the relevance of solutions. Then the analysts identify the main opinions and try to bring them closer. The steps are repeated until the consensus is reached.
  3. The analytical stage is about agreeing with the opinions of experts, analyzing the results and final recommendations.

Reverse brainstorming

It is always easier to communicate negative than positive. Negative emotions provoke to speak, so the reverse brainstorming can turn into an exciting event.

The reverse method looks useful in case when more traditional approaches are no longer work.
This kind of discussion is a radical way to improve the team’s activity and come to successful outcomes from the opposite. Someone may name it as a negative process because instead of generating the best ideas, people are asked to offer impossible goals. Perhaps, the negative thoughts help the group members receive useful info about what does not work.

The reverse brainstorming is effective when the company has got at “dead end” or the team members are burned out.

Rolestorming technique

The role-playing brainstorming is a game process, better suitable for creative teams. Sometimes this non formal approach allows to go beyond the accepted and get completely new ideas by presenting the problem on behalf of another person.

You can generate your ideas as whoever you want. Put on the mask of Napoleon, then imagine that you are Aretha Franklin or John Travolta.

Every group member describes own character and presents the challenge with its possible solution from the point of view of the person described. All ideas are discussed in the group.


To apply the Round-Robin methodology you will need to run a brainstorming session with the principle of circular ideas creating.

This lasts not as long as the previous techniques. The more participants, the better results will be achieved. The Round-Robin brainstorming is best conducted with a large round table.

  • The moderator announces the problem to the audience.
  • Each participant writes own decision/solution on a sheet of paper.
  • All papers with the entries are sent clockwise to the next one.
  • Each group member should come up with their idea on the basis of the written idea and also write it down.
  • All papers are transferred and the rounds are repeated until every person returns his/her sheet. Finally, each participant receives his/her own “bank of ideas”. After that, discussions begin.

What method to choose?

You will definitely find your better approach to hold successful brainstorm sessions, but it will take some time.

Testing the techniques, you will find out that brainstorming is not a verbiage waste of time, but a real act of improving team productivity. Try them all and feel free to share your thoughts.
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