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10 Essential rules for successful team brainstorming
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10 Essential rules for successful team brainstorming

Discover 10 crucial rules for effective team brainstorming—and improve teamwork and productivity.

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Coming together as a team to brainstorm your next big idea isn't always met with the same enthusiasm across the board. No one wants to spend time throwing ideas around if they don't actually go anywhere. This is especially true if they suspect they could get ideas out the door faster in their own time. 

Effective team brainstorming means giving everyone enough time for meaningful focus work so they can reflect and show up ready to give their best ideas. That's why you need to know the rules for successful brainstorming, like doing more async, so everyone can contribute regardless of where and when they work. 

In this article, you'll learn 10 brainstorming rules you can follow to keep sessions engaging and focused. You'll also learn how a collaboration platform like Switchboard lets you do more creative thinking in and between sessions, so the ones you do have are more productive. 

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10 ground rules for effective team brainstorming 

Consider this scene: A product team at a mid-sized tech company is gearing up to brainstorm ideas for their next software release. The team is diverse, consisting of product managers, designers, developers, and marketing specialists. But excitement quickly turns into disarray: Ideas start flying in haphazardly, touching on various aspects like user experience, marketing strategies, and technical feasibility without any structure. This scattershot approach makes it difficult for the team to dive into any single idea or identify themes.

Without ground rules, the session is prone to spiraling in multiple directions and being dominated by the loudest person in the group. Below, we explore some brainstorming rules so you can make sure you're hosting impactful group brainstorming sessions that move work and ideas forward. 

1. Plan ahead

To run effective meetings, you need to set clear objectives, choose the right group of people, and prepare any necessary materials like prompts or activities beforehand. It helps to have a well-structured brainstorming agenda you can reference before and during the session. 

Here are some ways to successfully plan ahead: 

  • Curate the right brainstorming group. Choose a diverse group of participants to ensure a variety of perspectives. Include people from different departments or areas of expertise relevant to the session's objective. Keep the group size manageable, typically between five to 12 people, to make sure everyone can contribute.
  • Choose a facilitator. Select a neutral person who can facilitate a brainstorming session by encouraging participation and keeping the group focused on the objective. 
  • Communicate expectations. Before the session, communicate its purpose, the agenda, and the expected outcomes to all participants. Encourage them to come prepared with initial thoughts or ideas.
  • Let participants work in context. Provide everyone with any necessary background information or materials before the session. This could include data, research findings, or relevant articles that can inform and inspire brainstorming. If you're using Switchboard, you can add all the files, tools, and apps, your team needs to an expansive canvas that saves your work. This makes it easy for everyone to prepare for the session and get the ball rolling on creative ideation before the meeting.
Hosting a brainstorming session in Switchboard
Switchboard lets you share ideas, make decisions, and get feedback in interactive rooms.
  • Plan for how to capture ideas. Decide how you will capture and document the ideas generated during the session. This could be through note-taking, audio recording, or visual documentation. In Switchboard, this all stays right where you left it, so you can refer back anytime. 

According to Steve Pritchard, Director at It Works Media, it's important to "go into the brainstorm with an agenda, taking turns to consider each point you want to discuss with the team." But, you should still, "be flexible and know the meeting might turn out differently—the project might lead to planning another meeting to discuss a specific idea more in-depth, or you might realize your team needs to research more independently." 

2. Do what you can async

Some team members might not excel under the pressure of coming up with big ideas on the spot. So, it can help to get people thinking about potential ideas before you meet in real time—and engage introverts in brainstorming. 

"To prepare for the brainstorming session, suggest your team analyze competitors’ campaigns and popular ideas from other successful businesses. Gain inspiration from this research and think about how you can apply your brand to more unconventional approaches," says Pritchard. 

For example, a design team brainstorming a new user interface design for their sleep app might do a deep dive into how competitors enhance user experience, improve engagement, and promote better sleep habits. They can then add all their research to a dedicated Switchboard brainstorming room and hop in to add ideas async when they feel inspired. This can lead to more productive sessions when you do meet, and inspire more creative thinking down the line.

Sticky notes, PDFs, Google Docs, and open apps sidebar in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you come together in real time and async for more thoughtful brainstorming.

3. No idea is too wild

One of the best ways to make sure everyone feels included and create an atmosphere of openness is to let ideas run freely. There are plenty of creative prompts and activities you can use to encourage innovative thinking and big ideas, for example: 

  • "What if" scenarios. Engage the team in "What if" scenarios to push the boundaries of conventional thinking. For example, "What if our app was used by astronauts in space? How would we design the UI?" This can lead to innovative features that enhance the app's usability in various contexts. 
  • Reverse thinking. Challenge your team to come up with the worst ideas first. This helps neutralize any fear or failure from the beginning, knowing that ideas can only get better. 
  • Sketching relay. Have team members quickly sketch their initial ideas, then pass the sketch to the next person to build upon it. 
  • Role-playing. Engage in role-playing activities where team members act out different user scenarios or personas. This can highlight unexpected user needs and inspire features that enhance the overall experience.

4. Withhold criticism 

At the beginning of the session, clearly articulate that criticism isn't allowed during the idea generation phase. It's important to emphasize that all ideas are welcome and that everyone will have a chance to vote on the ideas at a later stage. 

Judging or rejecting ideas too early can stifle creativity and make people self-conscious about contributing. Plus, it doesn't help with team building or establishing rapport. 

Remember: Criticism doesn't only manifest verbally. Be mindful of non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language, which can convey approval or disapproval and affect the willingness of others to share.

5. One conversation at a time

This rule helps prevent side discussions that can fragment attention and make people feel like their time isn't respected. It makes sure everyone has a chance to speak and that ideas are clearly communicated and understood by all. 

Here's how to keep people focused on the conversation at hand: 

  • Introduce a talking object. For example, a ball, a marker, or any small item that a person has to hold while speaking. This visual cue helps reinforce the rule that only the person holding the object should talk. In online scenarios, you can create a collaborative document where everyone writes down their ideas without interrupting each other. Or you could use the document as a standing list that determines the order of speakers. 
  • Create a structured environment. Structure the brainstorming session in rounds or stages, where each person has a designated time to speak. This structure can help manage the flow of conversation and ensure everyone has a chance to contribute.
  • Acknowledge and redirect. If multiple conversations start, acknowledge the enthusiasm but remind the group of the rule. For example, the facilitator can say, "I see we have lots of great ideas brewing, let's refocus and hear them one at a time."
  • Encourage note-taking. Let participants write down their ideas or thoughts on sticky notes or a shared document in your Switchboard room if they're worried about forgetting them. This can reduce the urge to interrupt or start side conversations.

6. Make it fun

Brainstorming can, and should be, a fun way to explore possibilities with your team. Making it enjoyable for everyone can lead to more productive and energetic discussions—and spark your next innovative idea. 

Whether through icebreaker games, creative challenges, or maintaining a lighthearted atmosphere, there are plenty of ways to elevate brainstorming. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Idea awards. Offer small, fun awards for various categories like the most innovative idea, the funniest suggestion, or the most likely to get a reaction, encouraging a wide range of contributions.
  • Brainwriting. Participants write their ideas on paper or a shared document in your Switchboard room. Then, they pass it to the next person to build upon, encouraging collaboration and reducing the pressure to share ideas out loud.
  • Speed networking. Similar to speed dating, participants have a short time to share ideas or facts about themselves, enhancing team familiarity and comfort.

7. Quantity over quality 

The goal of your brainstorming session is to come up with a wide range of ideas without worrying about their feasibility or practicality. You can always narrow down your list in later stages so you don't miss out on a stellar idea while it's fresh.

One way to keep ideas flowing is to create a sense of urgency. Setting a timer is a simple but effective way to keep people from overthinking and writing down whatever's on their minds. Another thing you can do is a round of rapid fire thinking. This is where each person says an idea in quick succession, without any pauses for discussion or feedback. 

You can also keep the momentum going by encouraging team members to continue submitting ideas after the session has ended. If you're using Switchboard, everyone can enter the brainstorming room and jot down ideas on sticky notes or using a virtual whiteboard—even after the session's over. Plus, Switchboard AI summarizes everything in your room for you and helps you come up with ideas. This way, you never need to worry about skipping over a winning idea.

Switchboard AI features
Switchboard AI makes brainstorming more efficient by summarizing activity and materials in your room. 

8. Use visual tools

Online brainstorming tools like virtual whiteboards and sticky notes, or visual collaboration tools like Switchboard, can help you inspire and actually retain more ideas. That's because they can help you express complex ideas in a format more people understand—and save them for later.

For example, a product team might use Switchboard to organize their thoughts dynamically, pulling up their virtual whiteboard, coding software, and project management tool in one place. Seeing a colleague's approach to solving a problem or their unique perspective on a user interface can spark new ideas. A developer might be inspired by a specific design element, an innovative interaction flow, or a novel way of integrating features—and keep the brainstorm going regardless of when they're all online. 

9. Edit ideas after the session is over

This step involves reviewing all the ideas collected, eliminating duplicates, and clarifying any that are vague or underdeveloped. The editing phase is where quality takes precedence over the quantity that was emphasized during the brainstorming

Teams should categorize ideas based on themes or potential impact, and further develop the most promising or innovative ones. This process might involve additional research, feasibility studies, or more detailed discussions to transform raw ideas into actionable plans. 

It's also a good opportunity to engage different team members who may not have been part of the initial brainstorming but can provide fresh perspectives or specialized expertise to refine the ideas further.

10. Follow up after ideas are implemented

Following up makes sure that everyone's ideas don't just remain theoretical but have a tangible impact on the project or organization. 

After implementation, it's important to review the outcomes against the expected goals and assess whether the ideas achieved the desired effect. You can do this by gathering feedback from end-users, analyzing performance data, or conducting a post-implementation review with the team. 

Such follow-up provides valuable insights into what worked well and what could be improved, offering lessons that can be applied in future projects. Additionally, it closes the feedback loop for those who contributed ideas. This helps validate their efforts which can increase productivity and engagement in the long run.

Team brainstorming rules: Lay the groundwork for more productive sessions

Team brainstorming doesn't only have to happen in a traditional real-time meeting format. In fact, you can keep the brainstorming going for as long as you need to—and do more creative thinking outside the meeting

Effective team brainstorming means giving everyone enough time for meaningful focus work so they can reflect and come bearing stronger ideas. That's why you should try out some of our tips for more productive brainstorming, like doing more async so everyone can contribute regardless of where and when they work. 

There are also other key rules to follow, like withholding criticism and planning ahead that can make brainstorming a success. And, when you use Switchboard for brainstorming, dedicated rooms that save your work mean you never have to waste time hunting for what you need and instead can get straight down to unleashing the creative juices.  

Innovate faster as a team.
Switchboard rooms save your work, so you can keep track of ideas and brainstorm in real time or async.
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about brainstorming rules

What are the 4 basic rules for brainstorming? 

There are plenty of rules you can follow to host a successful brainstorming session and get more creative ideas—but there aren't only four rules of brainstorming. For example, here are 10: 

  • Plan ahead
  • Do what you can async
  • No idea is too wild
  • Withhold criticism
  • One conversation at a time
  • Make it fun
  • Quantity over quality 
  • Use visual tools
  • Edit ideas after the session's over
  • Follow up after ideas are implemented

What are examples of brainstorming techniques? 

Some examples of brainstorming techniques to host effective brainstorming sessions include: 

  • Mind mapping
  • Brain netting
  • Figure storming
  • Wild ideas first

What are brainstorming rules for participants? 

There are different brainstorming ground rules people follow when conducting their sessions, for example, having a “no bad ideas," rule, generating lots of ideas in small groups, or prioritizing psychological safety.

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Innovate faster as a team.

Switchboard rooms save your work, so you can keep track of ideas and brainstorm in real time or async.