Preparing for a Brainstorming Session: Part 3: Mindset

In Part 1 of this topic, Preparing for a Brainstorming Session, I discussed the resources you should have in place to optimize the potential of your brainstorming session. In Part 2, I discussed who to invite. In this post, I discuss how to prep the mindset of your attendees.

It’s essential that everyone be on the same page in terms of what you’re there to do and why you’re all attending another meeting. You can handle this in the personalized meeting invitation you send out, the one where you make clear the valuable role this person will play in representing their part of the business process.

It’s also essential that you get the creative juices flowing before the meeting even starts. No one can offer insight if they’ve just started to think about the problem.

It’s all about preparedness and mindset.


There are three simple guidelines you can follow to help everyone get the most from the brainstorming session:

  1. It’s important that everyone in attendance have a clear sense of what they’re there to think about. One way to think about this is to give everybody a scenario to work from. This provides a “big picture” that can be filled in with smaller details as needed. While it’s likely the case that the people from your company will already be familiar with this scenario, it’s important that you at least get this information to the external development team, if applicable, as early as possible before the brainstorming session so they have time to “get on the same page” before showing up to brainstorm. (If you’re not sure how to work from a scenario, I’ve got some examples below.)
  2. I have found brainstorming sessions to be most useful when they are conducted face-to-face. That also means no conference calls, and none of the participants are allowed to “phone it in.” The face-to-face nature of the meeting helps to minimize some of the more obvious distractions, the kind we all like to indulge in when we’re on the phone and no one is watching us, like playing cards or browsing the web or running errands. (If you’re working in a virtual environment, minimizing distractions can be harder to control, but not impossible. As with an in-person meeting, this is largely down to mindset. It might also involve a little technological literacy, like helping people hide their own camera feeds in gallery view or turn on a virtual background.)
  3. It’s important that everyone understand that they’re there to contribute. They’re not “attending” a brainstorming session, they’re “participating.”

If you’re thinking that this sounds nice but isn’t how the real world works, here’s an additional tip that can help:

  • Brainstorming shouldn’t be something that “competes” with other tasks and deadlines. Be mindful of things like quarter-end reporting cycles and big project deadlines. If you schedule a brainstorming session in the midst of one of these big pushes, then of course everyone will be looking at the clock and grumpy that you’re taking them away from something that they’re being held accountable to outside of the brainstorming room. Scheduling this session at a “down time” will allow everyone to focus and contribute without worrying about what this is taking them away from.

Scenario-focused Brainstorming

It can be difficult to get everyone thinking about the problem at hand in a way that’s action oriented. Here are three sample scenarios that might help you think about how to prepare your own brainstorming attendees.

  • Sample Scenario #1: Let’s say you want to replace a paper form with an electronic form. First, it’s important that everyone get a copy of that paper form. Next, tell a quick story about how that form should get used: what the form helps people accomplish, who can access it, who signs off, how it’s filed, and anything else that might be relevant to the overall form process. Now everyone is ready to think about things like (1) whether the paper form should just be duplicated electronically, or whether there were things the paper form was lacking in some way that an electronic version could solve, (2) how to notify people when that form is ready for their review, (3) what else you might want to do with that data now that it’s electronic and more easy to analyze, and (4) whether to completely throw out the old way of doing things and replace it with a new way of doing things that better fits your current business model. Your employees also have time to (5) gather together any complaints or suggestions about the paper form that they’ve been collecting along the way.
  • Sample Scenario #2: Let’s say you want to start collecting some data that you’ve never collected so you can start running some reports that you’ve never run. First, it’s important that everyone understand the “big picture” and why you think that report is the answer. Now everyone is ready to think about what data needs to be collected and how it should be collected, and whether that report really is the best way to meet your business needs.
  • Sample Scenario #3: Let’s say you’ve just had an external efficiency review that found that you underutilize available technologies. First, distribute the relevant portion(s) of the review. Next, create a quick list of the employee positions involved and the value they add to your business practices; pay attention to tasks these employees need to perform individually or in cooperation with each other. If you want, you can also list how you’re currently utilizing technology to perform these tasks. Now everyone is ready to think about how technology could enhance your business processes. This is an interesting example, because the solution might not be what you expect. Don’t rule out the possibility that you’ve overbought technologies; you don’t need more technology to solve the problem, but better practices for the technology you already have or a reduction in the amount of technology you’re trying to incorporate.

Let’s have a conversation!

Do you have a tip that I didn’t discuss here?

Did I cover something new-to-you that you’re going to try out?

Share it in the comments!

Barbara Olsafsky

Owner and Data Wrangler/Strategist

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