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How to engage introverts in group brainstorming sessions
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How to engage introverts in group brainstorming sessions

Discover how to engage introverts on your team during group brainstorming—and increase productivity and teamwork.

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High-energy group brainstorming sessions are the norm for collaborative product teams. Take, for example, product teams at Sony. After a series of creative brainstorming sessions with designers, stakeholders, and engineers they created a portable music player that would allow people to listen to music on the go. And with most diverse teams, everyone–including introverted team members–needed some encouragement to get the best ideas. 

Their idea? The Sony Walkman. 

Now, imagine if the team at Sony didn't have a way to engage introverts on their team. Imagine they missed the initial concept altogether because it just didn't come up? It's no surprise that group brainstorming is only as effective as the contributions you get from your team. That's why brainstorming facilitators need to learn how to engage everyone–including introverted team members–to get better ideas and projects going. 

In this article, you'll learn the steps involved in brainstorming with introverts and how to inspire creative contributions from everyone on your team. You'll also learn how Switchboard lets more people get involved by acting as your one source of truth—regardless where or when you brainstorm. 

Hear everyone's voice during group brainstorming. 
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7 strategies to engage introverts in group brainstorming

There are plenty of benefits to increasing employee engagement across the board, including during your brainstorming sessions. For one, nurturing the different personalities on your team can yield a significant boost in productivity and morale. Employees who are engaged in and motivated by their work are also more likely to do their part to move projects forward. That's why companies with engaged employees outperform their competitors by 200 percent

So, let's dive into how you can inspire the quieter employees on your team to improve the quality and quantity of your ideas—and build better products. 

1. Share the brainstorming topic in advance

Introverts can prefer having time to think and process information internally before expressing their ideas. By receiving the brainstorming topic in advance, they can come up with well-thought-out ideas and feel more prepared to contribute. 

According to Steve Pritchard, Director at It Works Media, "Allowing everyone in the group to prepare beforehand is one of the best ways to ensure everyone has a voice in the meeting." This lets you create an environment everyone feels comfortable participating in since there's no fear of being put on the spot. 

Here's how you can share the topic in advance and elevate your brainstorming sessions

  • Set up a single source of truth. Create a Switchboard room dedicated to brainstorming and populate it with the brainstorming agenda, including the brainstorming topic. In Switchboard, you never need to send out links to key materials before the meeting. You can also pull up a virtual whiteboard, and all the apps and files you need, so you can stay aligned with your team and work in context. 
  • Share the topic async. Send an email with the brainstorming topic or draft a memo in your Switchboard room and get people coming up with ideas before the session starts.
A brainstorming PowerPoint and Vimeo open in a Switchboard room
Switchboard unifies all the tools, apps, and people you need for better team brainstorming.

2. Respect every idea

Successful team brainstorming involves both appreciating and building off each other's ideas—no matter how big or out of left field. Introverted people, and people in general, are more likely to share their thoughts when they feel their contributions will be received without judgment. 

"Be respectful and kind to others’ ideas," says Pritchard. "Make sure any criticism is constructive and helpful, and give clear reasons why someone’s idea won’t work in this context.

Here's how to respect every contribution and foster a psychologically safe environment: 

  • Try the "Yes, and" technique. As the name suggests, this exercise involves saying yes to every idea and seeing where it takes you. This can get rid of the fear of having a "bad idea" no one responds to. For instance, if an engineer suggests a new feature for a product, another might say, "Yes, and we could integrate it with this existing function to enhance user experience." This approach fosters a culture of building upon each other's thoughts, leading to more refined and comprehensive solutions.
  • Thank employees for their contributions. Acknowledge every idea presented, even if it's not fully formed or immediately relevant. You can do this by thanking participants for their contribution or noting down their ideas for everyone to see. This acknowledgment shows that you value their input and encourage further participation.
  • Be an active listener. Practice active listening by paying close attention when someone is sharing their idea. Show engagement through eye contact, nodding, and acknowledging statements. Also, make sure not to interrupt or dismiss people or their ideas. 

3. Use creative prompts

Creative prompts can help foster reflective and abstract thinking and are a great way to break the ice and get people talking. They also help with team building, which can make it easier for everyone to interact with each other—and keep the momentum going. 

Prompts can be in the form of questions, scenarios, or visual aids. These can ignite curiosity and facilitate a more thoughtful and immersive brainstorming experience. Here are some engaging activities for group brainstorming: 

  • What-if scenarios. These encourage team members to think about extreme or unusual situations and can boost creative confidence. For example, an engineering team could ask, "What if our product was used in space?" or "What if our app could only be operated with voice commands?" These scenarios can push you to think outside usual constraints and consider more radical innovations.
  • Exaggeration. This is where you encourage the team to exaggerate the topic or brainstorming challenges at hand. For example, exaggerating features or elements of your product to an extreme level. Questions like, "What if our app could perform 100 functions simultaneously?" or "What if our product was 10 times faster than any competitor?" Can lead to creative discussions about priorities, core features, and efficiency improvements.
  • Combination. This is when you prompt the team to combine their product with an unrelated product or service to create something novel. For example, "What if our educational app was combined with a fitness tracker?" This can lead to innovative ideas that blend different functionalities and appeal to wider audiences.
  • Group sketching. This involves getting everyone to collectively sketch an idea, concept, or process and keep adding to it. For example, product teams might use group sketching to explore and map out user journeys, interface layouts, and interactions. Plus, it can inspire introverted people to more readily add their contributions since it's light on talking. 

4. Try silent brainstorming 

Speaking of activities that are light on speaking, silent brainstorming is a technique where participants write down their ideas independently before sharing them with the group. This method caters to introverts by letting them express their thoughts without the immediate pressure of a group setting. It gives them the space to reflect and generate ideas at their own pace, reducing the anxiety that can come from speaking up in a group. After the silent phase, everyone gets a chance to share their ideas, ensuring that all voices are heard and considered equally. 

Here's how to spark creativity during brainstorming, even if it's silent: 

  • Start with an icebreaker. Before you start the timer on your silent session, ask your team a question. Pick one that doesn't require much thought and that can help get people more comfortable sharing their ideas later, for example: "What's your favorite snack at the movie theater?" 
  • Give everyone a dedicated space to do their brainstorming. When people have a place they can regularly come back to for creative thinking, it can help foster a safe space for ideation. This makes it easier to encourage psychological safety during the brainstorming process—which can increase morale and team rapport. 
  • Keep all ideas visible. If you're using Switchboard for your brainstorming session, make sure all ideas are visible on your interactive canvas. Keep sticky notes or a Google Doc open so everyone can add their ideas and see others'. Seeing the range of independent thoughts can inspire further creativity and lead to a combination of ideas that no single team member might have developed alone. This can also serve as a valuable document that the team can refer to throughout the product development process. 
Viewing sticky notes side-by-side in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you pool everyone's ideas and view post-its side by side for stronger team collaboration and decision making.

5. Pitch ideas asynchronously 

According to Pritchard, "Some people work better independently, with time to think of ideas in their own time. To ensure everyone has a chance to think of ideas they need, allocate some separate thinking time before the session, perhaps on a different day to allow people to sleep on their ideas." Or, you could skip the session altogether and just get people pitching ideas whenever inspiration strikes. 

Having people contribute on their own time lets introverts participate when they feel most comfortable and prepared, rather than worrying about being put on the spot. In an office hours approach to brainstorming, employees could "drop by" in a shared virtual or in-person setting and contribute their ideas async. 

Online brainstorming tools like virtual whiteboards and mindmaps can make this fun and interactive for your team. For instance, a design team using Switchboard can add their Figma mindmaps and design prototypes to their brainstorming room. Then, people can add their comments, sketches, or contributions directly to the shared documents. This creates a sense of excitement and anticipation in the team—getting more people involved in idea generation.

Figma, virtual whiteboard, and Google Docs open in a Switchboard room
Switchboard makes generating ideas and problem-solving in your own time interactive and engaging.

6. Keep it short 

Lengthy brainstorming sessions can be draining for introverts, or anyone who may feel overwhelmed by prolonged group interactions. By keeping sessions short and focused, introverts can be more likely to stay engaged and contribute effectively. 

Short sessions also help maintain high energy levels and can prevent cognitive fatigue, allowing introverts to participate actively without feeling overextended. This approach respects our brain's need for breaks and time to recharge, which can enhance your teams' overall contributions to the brainstorming process. 

We already mentioned the benefits of preparing in advance and brainstorming async, so here's what else you can do to keep sessions short and sweet: 

  • Time box the session. Allocate a fixed amount of time for the brainstorming session—typically, 30 minutes to an hour works well. Use a timer to keep track of time and help the group stay on task.
  • Choose a brainstorming facilitator. Designate a facilitator to guide the session, keep the discussion on track, and enforce time limits. 
  • Limit participants. Keep the group size manageable. A smaller group (5-7 people) is often more effective and easier to manage than a larger one, as it reduces the time needed for everyone to contribute and helps maintain focus.
  • Use the right tools. Leverage digital tools to help you efficiently capture and organize ideas. For example, Switchboard AI can help you come up with new ideas or prompts during your brainstorming session. After the brainstorm is over, AI can summarize all the content in your brainstorming room, and even tell you what you covered on your agenda. This can speed up the process of collecting and sorting ideas, no matter when or where you work.
Switchboard AI features list
Switchboard AI helps you save time before, during, and after brainstorming.

7. Equalize the spotlight 

Making sure each participant has equal opportunity to share their ideas can encourage quieter team members to speak up. When introverts are aware that they will have a designated time to speak, they can prepare mentally and feel more at ease about contributing

You can do this by structurally allocating time for each person to present their thoughts or by using round-robin techniques to ensure everyone's ideas are heard. There's also the option of letting team members submit their ideas anonymously using digital collaboration tools or idea boxes. Anonymity can encourage more reserved individuals to share their thoughts without fear of judgment. 

If you're working across teams or time zones, you also need to make sure you're using tools that let everyone participate without one host or team member taking up the entire session. This means looking beyond traditional video conferencing tools that only let one person share their screen. 

Pro tip: Use multiplayer rooms in Switchboard and give everyone the chance to contribute without one person stealing the show. You can also run polls to get anonymous suggestions and ideas. With access to content in your room before, during, and after the session, it's easier to keep ideas flowing–and work moving forward–no matter when you're online.

Engage introverts in brainstorming by taking the pressure off

The loudest voices in the room might have brilliant things to say—but that doesn't mean they're the only ones with big ideas. Introverted types might need a gentle nudge to get the confidence to put their thoughts out there. Since group brainstorming is only as effective as the contributions you get from your team, engaging everyone on your team–including introverts–might just lead to your company's version of the Sony Walkman.

That's why brainstorming facilitators need to learn how to engage everyone to get better ideas and projects going. For instance, sharing the brainstorming topic in advance, using creative prompts, and trying silent brainstorming, can engage and include the whole group. 

Plus, when you brainstorm in Switchboard, you get all the tools, apps, and files you need to move projects forward in your own time. This means you can take the pressure off your next session and keep team spirit and engagement high. 

Hear everyone's voice during group brainstorming. 
Switchboard rooms let you contribute ideas on your own time or together, so every big idea gets heard.
Sign up free

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Hear everyone's voice during group brainstorming.

Switchboard rooms let you contribute ideas on your own time or together, so every big idea gets heard.