Small businesses thrive on innovation, and bringing your team together for brainstorming sessions can be a great way to generate new ideas. If not properly executed, however, these collaborative gatherings have the potential to be a waste of time – about the last thing you can afford when everyone at your small business already is juggling many projects. Here are some tips for getting the most out of brainstorming meetings.
Determine the purpose
Just as a student panics when faced with a blank piece of paper, so too can a small business worker whose only instruction is to come up with a fresh idea. Instead, try asking a question such as “How can we improve customer service?” or “What tweak would you most like to make to one of our existing products?” Focusing encourages substantive exploration of a single issue rather than a hodgepodge of random thoughts.
Set some limitations
Tossing around ideas without restraint or editing is a hallmark of brainstorming – to a degree. As the creative juices get flowing, start introducing potential obstacles. Encourage staff members to up their problem-solving ability to work around time, money, and other limitations common to small businesses.
Get everyone involved
Some people enjoy the energy of brainstorming as a group. They love expressing their own ideas and building on what colleagues suggest. Others may be shy or not sure how to jump in among their more vocal peers. Success comes from tapping into the collective brainpower, so look for ways in which everyone can contribute. Consider allowing time for individual reflection on the topic before opening up the floor; reserved team members may relish this chance to collect their thoughts before being expected to speak. Another option is first brainstorming in groups of two, then presenting the most promising ideas to the whole team for further exploration. Having a partner can build confidence by diffusing the spotlight.
Create a supportive environment
Nothing kills someone from contributing more than hurtful comments from a manager or colleague. A brainstorming session needs to be a safe place where people are expected to be civil and supportive. Develop a zero-tolerance policy for making fun of ideas or labeling something as “stupid.” Every idea is a step in the process of building a better small business and should be respected.
Finally, realize that your small business team will not take future brainstorming sessions seriously if nothing ever comes from them. Prevent discouragement by acting as much as possible on promising ideas. Look into points raised. Revisit the topic and report progress at a staff meeting. Your employees will come to see brainstorming as a productive activity rather than as a managerial whim that keeps them away from their “real” work.
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