Running a brainstorming or problem-solving session

October 21, 2018

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!

Just as ‘many hands make light work’, many brains can make for quicker and more robust solutions than what we could usually do on our own.

There will certainly be times when you can come up with great ideas - or solve issues - by yourself; for other times, when you know you need group assistance, here are some ways to ensure you get the best out of your brainstorming sessions.

  • Choose your one goal and deliverable. For a fast, efficient brainstorming session you should have one goal only, and it should be crystal clear and easy to articulate to the group. You should also convey what the deliverable will be that you expect the group to present at the end.
  • Pick your team. It’s important that you keep numbers to a minimum, and that everyone who is part of the brainstorm will contribute to the meeting and be willing to change their opinions during the process.
  • Covering costs. Be aware that when you ask for your colleagues’ assistance, you are pulling them away from their chargeable work. Try to ensure that your brainstorming time is covered in what you are on-charging to your client (another good reason to keep numbers to a minimum).
  • Allow enough, but not too much time. Brainstorming and problem-solving require creativity. Whilst a certain amount of time pressure can be beneficial to keep the creative thought process on-track, you want to allow enough time to explore all options and end up with a well-considered solution.
  • Tools of the trade. Ensure that you have the right equipment available to capture all the thoughts (e.g. whiteboard and pens, large sheets of paper and markers, pads and pens, sticky notes, etc.).
  • Bribery works wonders. If your meeting is going to last more than one hour, consider providing nibbles and drink (or copious quantities of chocolate). Keeping your team fed and watered goes a long way toward keeping them happy, engaged, and productive. 
  • Brief thoroughly. Brainstorming works better if you can give your team a heads-up on the purpose of the meeting before commencing (including any back-story, examples, and data). Depending on the topic (especially if it is a problem-solving meeting) you may choose not to give too much away until you start, so you’ll need to use your judgement. Once the meeting commences, ensure you brief the team well and reinforce the one goal and the deliverable(s). Convey all the salient points that they need to know, and leave out everything that is irrelevant to your purpose.
  • Avoid rabbit trails. It’s easy for brainstorming sessions to go off on ‘rabbit trails’ of thought and excitement, jokes and random thoughts. Whilst you don’t want to inhibit anyone’s creativity, it’s very important to keep this meeting on-target and heading in the right direction.
  • Ta da! By the end of the meeting, you should have reached your goal, and have a deliverable that you can use for the next step. Thank your team profusely for their time, input and greatness.




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