Group brainstorming activities for bigger, better ideas

These group brainstorming activities will help you generate bigger, better ideas. You don’t need to use them all, just select which you feel are most appropriate. Mix it up and enjoy!

Creativity is intelligence having fun. Albert Einstein

In this article I’ll cover:

  • The benefits of brainstorming
  • The rules of brainstorming
  • How to facilitate brainstorming
  • Two introductory group brainstorming activities
  • Brainwriting activity
  • Negative brainstorming
  • De Bono Six Thinking Hats brainstorming
  • Rolestorming
  • Other project techniques

And finally, we’ll look at what to do with all the ideas!

The benefits of brainstorming

Brainstorming is an intense, focused activity that is designed to generate a lot of ideas. And a lot of ideas is what you need. 

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it’s the only one we have. Émile Chartier

To have bigger and better ideas, you need lots of ideas.

And there are many other benefits of brainstorming too. Brainstorming is collaborative, it builds commitment and engagement. While you’re brainstorming everyone is equal, all ideas are welcome, and creativity is unleashed.

This can be a refreshing, fun experience for all involved.

The rules of brainstorming

There’s a myth that creativity requires ‘no rules’. The reality is that ‘no rules’ creates mayhem, not ideas. You’ve probably experienced it yourself.

Someone says, “let’s have a brainstorming session”. It’s starts well, perhaps one or two initial ideas are shared. Then there’s a question about one of the ideas, it degenerates into a debate and an hour later you’ve made little progress.

The rules of brainstorming are simple, and important:

  • Every idea is a good idea
  • Use each idea to generate more ideas
  • No debating of ideas
  • No criticism or negativity
  • The goal is to generate lots of ideas
  • Big, wild, crazy ideas are welcome

The rules of brainstorming are designed to help you generate ideas. Evaluating the ideas comes later (see the final section of this article).

How to facilitate group brainstorming activities

Logistics

You may be facilitating a brainstorming session as part of a workshop, or during a meeting.

Make sure that you set the ground rules first, and that you organize your brainstorming into groups of 6-8 people per group. Much smaller than this and you won’t hit ‘critical mass’ for idea generation, much larger than this and you’ll have too many bystanders in each group (and you’ll be wasting their potential for generating ideas).

If the total number of participants is larger than 6-8, make use of ‘breakout rooms’ to keep to this size for each group.

Facilitation style

The mindset to bring is positive, collaborative, and energetic. Aim to build an atmosphere of ‘controlled chaos’ with plenty of energy, enthusiasm, and participation (and ideas!).

Brainstorming roles

For each brainstorming group in your workshop or meeting there are a couple of roles that need to be assigned (ideally in advance, so they can be properly briefed).

The first is the facilitator. Their role is to gently ensure that the rules are applied, and encourage ideas and participation.

The second is the note-taker. Their role is to ensure that all the ideas are captured. (In some types of brainstorming this happens as part of the activity, but in others there needs to be someone capturing the ideas.)

Tools for virtual or face-to-face brainstorming

In a face-to-face environment you’ll need:

  • Space for groups to work
  • Flip charts, Post-It notes, pens
  • Natural light, light refreshments

In a virtual environment you’ll need:

  • A virtual collaboration platform (for example: Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc)
  • Alternatively, a platform specifically for virtual group brainstorming activities (for example: ideaboardz, or miro.

The good news, virtual brainstorming is one of those rare activities that can be more effective than face-to-face.

Virtual [brainstorming] sessions … generate more high-quality ideas and have a higher average of creative ideas per person, as well as resulting in higher levels of satisfaction with the ideas. Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic

Group brainstorming activities

1. Two introductory group brainstorming activities

First, brainstorm the name of the challenge that you’re facing. Introduce the challenge, then explain that you’d like to come up with different names for this same challenge (it’s important that it’s the same challenge, expressed in a different way).

For example, let’s say you’re brainstorming new product ideas. What are different ways of expressing this same challenge? They might be:

  • What new products can we adapt from other industries?
  • What new products can we develop for new customers?
  • What new products can we develop that our customers would go wild for?
  • What new products can we develop using new technologies?

During the brainstorming, when energy levels are dropping, introduce a new definition of the challenge to reinvigorate the participants.

Second, consider a ‘warm up’ brainstorming topic, to get people in the mood. (It takes time to cultivate the open, creative, boundless thinking required for group brainstorming activities.)

One that I’ve used successfully is ‘If everyone woke up one morning and had six fingers on each hand, what business opportunities can you see?’. It’s silly, and has huge potential for new ideas.

2. Brainwriting activity

Also known as ‘silent brainstorming’ (because it can be done silently, or with some music in the background). There are many different versions of this, you can adapt to your preference and environment.

One option is to use Post-It notes (virtual or real), one idea per note. Ideas are displayed on a wall (again, virtual or real!) to encourage participants to build from the ideas already generated.

Another alternative: participants can work individually for a few minutes, writing as many ideas as possible, then share their ideas for further brainstorming activities.

3. Negative brainstorming

This is a group brainstorming activity focused on wildly bad ideas. Any idea that could make the challenge worse, or help it fail. This taps into our natural tendencies to see problems and threats. (also, it’s fun!).

It’s a tool that is also used in premortem analysis (to anticipate problems before they arise). Use it in brainstorming as a step in the process. Once you have all the bad ideas, use them as inspiration to brainstorm solutions.

4. Six thinking hats group brainstorming

This brainstorming activity uses de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to bring different perspectives, and generate different ideas.

Use the six hats in your group brainstorming activities in the following ways:

  • White: use facts, just the facts to generate ideas
  • Yellow: be bright and optimistic, generate ideas without limitations
  • Black: brainstorm everything that could go wrong, it will inspire new ideas
  • Red: go with your emotions, generate ideas based on your gut
  • Green: explore new concepts, go for growth
  • Blue: brainstorm new processes that will lead to new outcomes

You can also explore SCAMPER as a framework for brainstorming.

5. Rolestorming

Rolestorming is a fun and liberating activity that gives participants a different perspective, which is very useful when generating ideas! Participants take on another identify (role) and generate ideas as if they were that person.

Give the participants a list of people to chose from (the more diverse the better), ask them to choose a name, and then ask them to generate ideas as if they were that person. It sometimes takes people a few minutes to settle into the role, so stick with it and don’t jump between roles too quickly.

6. Other projective activities

Rolestorming is a projective technique (you’re asking the participants to ‘project’ themselves into another role). There are many types of projective techniques that encourage diverse and bold thinking.

For example, ask the participants:

  • What ideas would you have if you had unlimited budget?
  • What ideas would you have if you only had 24hrs to take action?
  • What ideas would you have if you could use any technology you wanted?

Think of your own projective questions, that fit the topic or challenge that you’re brainstorming.

A final note, what do you do with all the ideas?

Group brainstorming activities generate ideas. While you’re brainstorming any idea is a good idea and your goal is to produce lots of ideas.

After the brainstorming session you’ll need to evaluate the ideas. To do this most effectively you should:

  • Run idea evaluation as a separate session (it’s a completely different way of thinking)
  • Create a simple evaluation framework (criteria for making the evaluation)
  • Only involve decision-makers, but have a transparent process (hence the evaluation framework)

That’s all folks!

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