How to Facilitate Effective Brainstorming to Foster Innovation

BrandPost By Bryan Stallings
Feb 02, 2021
IT Leadership

Creative ideation happens when teams are provided the means and the tools to brainstorm.

vector illustration of online training workshop presentation webinar vector id1209015964
Credit: iStock

A CIO’s job involves many levels of complexity—from improving system productivity and reliability to implementing new data, AI and security technologies so employees can more effectively drive the business forward. In fact, according to IDC, 65% of CIOs will digitally empower their frontline employees within the next year.

Yet, this is impossible to do alone. CIOs rely on their teams to find creative solutions to problems, reduce complexity, and improve business processes. In the wake of COVID-19 and the remote work environment, this need for innovation has become even more crucial. How can CIOs be leaders that encourage innovation? A key piece to fostering truly inventive thinking is to hold effective brainstorming sessions.

Skilled Facilitation for Brainstorming

Often when we hear the word “creative,” our minds immediately jump to designers and marketers. However, engineers are creative thinkers, too. Effective facilitation can remind your teams of this fact.

In most brainstorming sessions, the energy wanes and participants tend to give up before the truly innovative ideas are hatched. What can facilitators do to keep teams motivated and creative in these meetings?

Consider asking team members to come up with ten ideas. It’s easy to settle on one of their first few ideas. The key is to get teams past the obvious suggestions and persist through the “groan zone” to ideas eight, nine and ten, where truly innovative solutions emerge. 

Getting to ideas nine and ten often means encouraging teams to be fully human at work and creating a safe, judgement-free environment. Embracing our humanness in the brainstorming process helps people feel comfortable overcoming change and being open to sharing seemingly bizarre, unconventional ideas that can lead to more clever answers to technical problems.

Try starting with individual ideation. Before the meeting even begins, have everyone work independently to come up with ideas. If your team is using a digital whiteboard, have everyone add their ideas asynchronously at their own pace.

Then, during the meeting have participants partner up and share their bold ideas. By having teammates first share ideas with just one person, it can become easier to share their most ambitious ideas with the group.

In his book, “Innovation Games,” Luke Hohmann offers some techniques that can help foster human interaction and creativity:

  • “Remember the Future” – First, describe the future of your organization to the room. Then ask your teams to work back from the future to create a strategy or roadmap to reach those goals.
  • “Give Them a Hot Tub” – Have teams consider: “What is the unexpected hot tub feature of your product or service?” “What sets us apart from our competitors?” Let everyone share outrageous ideas and use these outlandish features to uncover hidden breakthroughs.

Leverage a visual channel

Visuals can also help move teams past the “groan zone” in brainstorming sessions. Leveraging visuals in conjunction with effective facilitation can help team members better align and problem solve. Studies have found that visuals can improve learning by up to 400%. Teams may struggle to convey their ideas in words. Encourage drawing and diagramming to share ideas instead.

Let the act of sketching it out, whether on a physical or digital whiteboard, spur imagination and keep the ideas formulating. This helps teams harness their imagination to process information faster and brainstorm creative solutions. Make these visuals a part of the techniques described in the previous section. For example, have teams draw out their “hot tub” features or even map out the path to the future with arrows and lines.

Now, teams can develop a deeper understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve and the solutions needed. For example, IT teams can use diagrams to not only aid in brainstorming effective solutions, but to also help visualize how these solutions may impact different customers and different operations.

Magic happens when a whiteboard and people come together. Creativity is sparked, curiosity blossoms, and understanding accelerates. Even with distributed teams and when remote work is at its highest, we can experience the same spark using virtual whiteboards.

A brainstorm is only as good as the ideas that move into action. By leveraging visuals and embracing facilitation in brainstorming, CIOs can directly amplify and foster team creativity, collaboration and innovation.

Learn how you can improve brainstorming with Lucidspark.