Effective brainstorming can be accomplished by following simple brainstorming do’s and don’ts with your team. A brainstorming session is a tool for generating as many ideas or solutions as possible to a problem or issue. It is not a tool for determining the best solution to a problem or issue.

Before beginning any effective brainstorming session, ground rules must be set. This does not mean that boundaries are set so tightly that you can’t have fun or be creative. It does mean that a code of conduct for person to person interactions has been set. It’s when this code of conduct is breached that people stop being creative.

The best way to have meaningful groundrules is to have the team create their own. Try performing a mini-brainstorming session around creating brainstorming groundrules. It should provide a nice opportunity to practice the skills necessary for an effective brainstorming session. This also allows the team to take ownership of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Only if the team hasn’t addressed the key groundrules should you (as the facilitator) add to the list. Once the groundrules list is generated, be sure to gain consensus that the session will be conducted according to them, and post them in a highly visible location in the room.

With that, here are four key groundrules that are useful when conducting a brainstorming session:

1. There are no dumb ideas. Period. It is a brainstorming session, not a serious matter that requires only serious solutions. Remember, this is one of the more fun tools of quality, so keep the entire team involved!

2. Don’t criticize other people’s ideas. This is not a debate, discussion or forum for one person to display superiority over another.

3. Build on other people’s ideas. Often an idea suggested by one person can trigger a bigger and/or better idea by another person. Or a variation of an idea on the board could be the next “velcro” idea. It is this building of ideas that leads to out of the box thinking and fantastic ideas.

4. Reverse the thought of “quality over quantity.” Here we want quantity; the more creative ideas the better. As a facilitator, you can even make it a challenge to come up with as many ideas as possible and compare this team’s performance to the last brainstorming session you conducted.

Other brainstorming preparation questions:

  • Who will lead or facilitate the brainstorming session?
  • Who will participate in the brainstorming session?
  • Who can write very quickly to record the brainstormed ideas without slowing down the group?
  • Where will the brainstorming session be held?
  • What materials are needed for brainstorming (easel, paper, white board, pens, etc.)?
  • What is my brainstorming session desired outcome?
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