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7 challenges in brainstorming and innovative solutions
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7 challenges in brainstorming and innovative solutions

Discover the top challenges in brainstorming and some innovative solutions—and improve teamwork and productivity.

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Brainstorming as a team isn't always easy. Take, for example, the social media platform, Instagram. At first, the tool was called Burbn, a check-in app that included gaming elements and a photo-sharing feature. The original app was overly complicated, and through brainstorming, the founders decided to strip down Burbn to its most popular feature—photo sharing. 

This pivot was crucial in transforming Instagram into a simple, user-focused app that gained rapid popularity. Luckily for the product team, they were able to come to a consensus, overcome obstacles, and build a great product.

Brainstorming sessions come with the flexibility to throw ideas around and keep the rapport going with your team. But that doesn't mean brainstorming sessions aren't prone to challenges—which, if left to their own devices, could derail your ideas and progress. That's why leaders need to know the top challenges to brainstorming, so they can keep people engaged and ready to contribute. 

In this article, you'll learn about seven of the most common brainstorming sessions challenges, as well as solutions. You'll also discover how Switchboard lets you come together when it suits you, so you can move work forward on your own time and make brainstorming more productive

Want more productive brainstorming sessions? 
Switchboard lets you host interactive brainstorming sessions that spark creative thinking—in real time and on your own time. 
Sign up free

7 brainstorming obstacles and ways to overcome them

The key to holding effective brainstorming sessions is your ability to foster synergy on your team: Or how you energize, inspire, and trigger ideas in other people. But there are many blockers to achieving synergy, which can stop your team from entering a flow state and generating ideas. 

Let's explore the top obstacles to group brainstorming, and how you can spark creativity during brainstorming and build better products. 

1. Focusing on quality over quantity 

Working under pressure to come up with tons of ideas makes it easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the quality of your ideas too early. This can stifle creativity and the quantity of contributions you get, especially if psychological safety isn't one of your ground rules. 

Solution: Emphasize the importance of generating a high volume of ideas without judgment during the initial phases and leave critique for later stages of the brainstorming process. For example, you could add a 'rapid fire' section in your brainstorming agenda, so everyone knows this is the time to let their ideas rip. It's crucial to think of brainstorming as a liberating process where your ideas can run wild, without holding back. 

For example, a product team could join a timed session where the goal is to generate as many creative solutions as possible for a new app feature, without critiquing any until the brainstorming phase is complete. They can use their dedicated Switchboard room to collect fresh ideas in real time and showcase them on sticky notes side-by-side. The best part is, they can keep coming back to the room whenever inspiration strikes, so no ideas get left behind. 

Sticky notes and a flow chart in a dedicated Switchboard room
Switchboard is your single source of truth for effective team brainstorming—no matter where or when you work. 

2. Groupthink

Groupthink happens when the desire for harmony in a group leads to a consensus decision without enough critical evaluation of other ideas. Successful team brainstorming doesn't mean agreeing to everyone's ideas just to keep the peace—it means pushing the envelope with bold, no holds barred thinking.  

Solution: Encourage a culture of constructive criticism and appoint a devil's advocate to challenge ideas and assumptions. This can help foster an environment where diverse thoughts are explored. For instance, during a session to brainstorm features for a new software product, each team member could be tasked with presenting an opposing view on the proposed ideas to ensure you're considering different perspectives. 

But you need to be respectful and kind to others’ ideas. According to Steve Pritchard, Director at It Works Media, "Make sure any criticism is constructive and helpful, and give clear reasons why someone’s idea won’t work in this context." 

3. Disengaged attendees

Disengagement can derail brainstorming sessions if participants aren't actively contributing. This might be due to lack of interest, understanding, trust, or confidence

Solution: Keep sessions dynamic and inclusive by using engaging activities for group brainstorming like using creative prompts or breaking into smaller groups. For example, in a session brainstorming user interface improvements, each subgroup could focus on different aspects–like navigation or aesthetics–ensuring more focused and engaged participation. Or, you can use tools like Switchboard where everyone can contribute their ideas on a shared canvas—in real time and on their own time. 

"People often have different needs for an environment to spark creative thinking, but most people need a space with limited distractions," says Pritchard. "If possible, find a quiet and separate room for those in the brainstorm session so everyone can focus on being creative." 

If you're using Switchboard, you can enter your brainstorming room outside the group session, so it's easier to focus on ideas without getting distracted. With all the apps, files, and tools you need in one place, you can also cut down on context-switching between different tabs and notifications.

Multiple browsers open in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you include your team in every step of the brainstorming process for more active engagement. 

4. Personality differences

Sometimes, personality differences in group brainstorms can lead to conflicts, as some members might dominate discussions while introverts feel overshadowed. Then there's the type of thinker you are: Analytical thinkers might dismiss creative ideas too quickly, and creative thinkers might struggle to see the big picture. 

Solution: Encourage structured brainstorming sessions with clear rules that ensure equal participation. For example, round-robin or brainwriting techniques make sure everyone in the group gets a chance to contribute their ideas equally. Or, you can use anonymous idea submission methods, such as an idea box or various online brainstorming tools

For example, in brainstorming the marketing strategy for a new product, ideas could be submitted anonymously online before the meeting so all ideas are considered equally. This also gives people more time to come up with well thought out and meaningful ideas, regardless of their personality type. 

5. Ensuring group buy-in

Achieving consensus on which ideas to pursue can be challenging, leading to a lack of commitment to brainstorming outcomes. Despite what the header says, you might not be able to get everyone in the group to buy into an idea. But you do need to make sure people can express their opinions. This can help get your team on board with a winning concept, without giving them the impression their ideas are undervalued. 

Solution: Use democratic processes such as voting or ranking to decide on the best ideas, making sure all team members feel their opinions are considered and valued. Acknowledging and addressing any concerns directly can also help in securing buy-in, ensuring that every member is on board and actively participating.

For example, a product team brainstorming a new app feature might face resistance from a member who doesn't see the need for innovation. To overcome this, the team leader can ask the group to place their votes using Switchboard's polling tool, while emphasizing the shared goal of creating value for users.

Team brainstorming room in Switchboard with browsers, polls, and sticky notes open
Switchboard lets you consider everyone's ideas and opinions in a democratic and anonymous way. 

6. Staying focused

Maintaining focus during brainstorming can be challenging, especially when discussions veer off-topic or become dominated by unrelated issues. This lack of focus can dilute the brainstorming session's effectiveness, leading to missed deadlines or incomplete idea exploration

Solution: Assign a facilitator to guide the session, keep the group on topic, and ensure that the objectives of the brainstorming session are met within the allotted time. Or, try contributing ideas asynchronously, so it's easier to stay on-topic during the session. Regardless of how or when you brainstorm, providing mind mapping or whiteboarding tools can make the session more engaging and inspire idea generation.

For instance, an engineering team might start discussing potential features for a new software but get sidetracked by minor details about one feature's implementation. To counteract this, the facilitator can use a timed agenda, where each topic or idea is given a specific time slot. They also use visual aids like mind maps and sticky notes to help track the discussion flow and keep the team aligned with the session's goals.

7. Getting stuck on one idea

Teams often get stuck on one idea, especially if it comes from a senior team member or is the first to be suggested. This kind of tunnel vision can often lead to a narrow exploration of possibilities—hindering the creative process and the number of possible solutions. For example, if a product team fixates on a single solution for a user interface problem, they might overlook simpler, more effective options. 

Solution: Encourage the team to set aside the first idea temporarily and come up with a set number of ideas before revisiting and comparing all suggestions. This helps make sure you're exploring different points of view and giving 'wild' ideas a chance. You can also elevate brainstorming sessions by using brainstorming exercises like reverse brainstorming. This is where, instead of directly looking for solutions to a problem, the team focuses on identifying all the ways they could make the problem worse or ensure the failure of a product.

Once a list of 'bad' solutions is compiled, the team goes through each item to reverse it again, this time looking for ways to counteract these negative strategies. For instance, if a 'bad idea' was to increase load times to decrease engagement, the reverse (and actual desirable action) would be to optimize and reduce load times to enhance user engagement. This makes sure you're thinking about more than one idea at a time, while letting the creative juices flow. 

Overcome brainstorming challenges by contributing ideas in your own time

The team behind Instagram would probably tell you that brainstorming is both a collaborative effort and one where you need time to think things through independently. That's because, while brainstorming sessions come with the flexibility to throw ideas around and keep the rapport going with your team, they're still prone to challenges. 

If left to their own devices, these challenges could derail your ideas and progress. That's why leaders need to know the top brainstorming issues like focusing on quality over quantity, groupthink, and disengaged attendees, to name a few. Staying on top of these obstacles can help keep people engaged and ready to contribute—so you can build better products. 

Plus, when you use Switchboard to plan and host your brainstorms, you can take a breather from the session and contribute on your own time. This makes it easier to think clearly and add meaningful ideas that actually move projects forward.

Want more productive brainstorming sessions? 
Switchboard lets you host interactive brainstorming sessions that spark creative thinking—in real time and on your own time. 
Sign up free

FAQs about brainstorming sessions challenges 

What are some brainstorming techniques for ideation and problem-solving? 

Group brainstorming techniques for ideation and problem-solving include: 

  • Round-robin brainstorming
  • Brainwriting 
  • Six thinking hats
  • Reverse brainstorming
  • Brain netting

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Want more productive brainstorming sessions?

Switchboard lets you host interactive brainstorming sessions that spark creative thinking—in real time and on your own time.