Better Meetings

How to run awesome brainstorming meetings [with template]

How to run awesome brainstorming meetings blog post featured image

All right, team, we need to get those creative juices flowing and come up with some great ideas. See you at the brainstorming session at 4PM! 

If this message made you wince, you’re not alone. 

Brainstorming has gotten a bad rap in recent years because of poorly run sessions that leave team members bored and drained rather than creative and energized. 

Turns out there’s a bad way and a good way to run a group brainstorming session. Read on to learn how to run better idea-generating meetings with your team!

Table of contents

  • What is a brainstorming meeting?

  • Why are brainstorming meetings important?

  • How many people should attend a brainstorming session?

  • How to run an effective brainstorming meeting in 5 steps

  • Free brainstorming meeting template

  • Tips for better brainstorming meetings

  • 7 key brainstorming techniques to try in your sessions

What is a brainstorming meeting?

A brainstorming meeting is a gathering of people intent on generating new ideas or solutions related to an issue or project. Every idea presented in the brainstorming session is noted, analyzed, and then evaluated by the group without criticism or judgment. 

The concept of brainstorming comes from the ad executive Alex Osborn, who began hosting group collaboration sessions. He noticed that when his team came together, they were more likely to produce original and creative ideas. 

Since then, brainstorming has become an important part of project management in companies of all sizes and industries.

Why are brainstorming meetings important?

Brainstorming is a great way to generate a lot of ideas quickly, as it can shake up the status quo of predictability and promote creative thinking. Teams can generate and evaluate a large number of potential ideas and solutions. 

Brainstorming sessions also offer team-building benefits. They promote open communication and collaboration in a safe and judgment-free environment. Participating in a creative process with others helps build relationships and closeness. 

Because of all this, brainstorming sessions are likely to end with really interesting and out-of-the-box takes on issues. An individual might feel intimidated about voicing such ideas, but in a group setting that’s welcoming and won’t immediately shoot them down, it becomes easier.

How many people should attend a brainstorming session?

It’s ideal to have between 4-7 people at a brainstorming session and those people should have some connection to the issues being discussed. Inviting personnel who aren’t stakeholders won’t help you with idea generation, because they’ll be too far removed from the brainstorming subject to contribute meaningfully. 

How to run an effective brainstorming meeting in 5 steps

Brainstorming can be a wonderful collaborative teamwork process that ends with the next big idea. Or you could have one person monopolize the conversation with their own ideas and tank your chances to problem solve productively. 😳

How to run an effective brainstorming meeting in 5 steps graphic

The difference between these two outcomes is knowing how to run effective brainstorming meetings. Whether you’re gathering in person or holding a virtual meeting, follow these tips.

Step #1: Identify the brainstorm’s goal

To make sure your brainstorming session is focused, summarize its goal in one or two sentences. “How can we lower user acquisition costs?” or “How can we increase engagement on our social media posts?” 

Set some ground rules, too. Brainstorming should be a free flow of ideas, but these ideas should still be realistic and eventually actionable. 

Share factors such as:

  • Time constraints

  • Budgets

  • Organizational limits

...to keep your team’s suggestions realistic. 

It's best to share this information before the meeting, alongside any other contextual information (reports, case studies, etc.) that can help your team understand the problem better.

Step #2: Assign a facilitator

Teamwork and collaboration are crucial for a brainstorming session — but you still need someone in charge. A good facilitator can guide the conversation and keep things on track. 

Our advice is to choose a person with the following qualities to facilitate your brainstorming session:

  • Listening skills, so they can fully understand and absorb the conversation

  • Time-management skills, to make sure time is used effectively

  • Leadership skills, to ensure each person has a chance to contribute and no one monopolizes the conversation

  • Organizational skills, so they can create meeting agendas, record ideas, and follow up after the meeting

Having a facilitator will ensure everyone stays on task in trying to meet the session's goal.

Step #3: Assemble the right invite list

When putting together your invite list for a brainstorming team meeting, you need to strike a balance. Diverse voices can bring different perspectives but too many participants can lead to the meeting being an unproductive waste of time. 

Have a mix of experts and non-experts from different backgrounds, age groups, and cultures. You should know what specific thing each participant brings to the table. If you can’t pinpoint what that is, they don’t need to be there.  It should be crystal clear to you (and the invitee) why you invited them to the meeting. 

Step #4: Set your meeting agenda

A meeting agenda is a document that outlines the meeting’s purpose and structure. It makes every meeting better by letting everyone know ahead of time what to expect and how to prepare. 

Structure and preparation are exactly what brainstorming sessions need to be effective, so always include a meeting agenda with your invitation. 

Otherwise, the meeting can go sideways quickly, especially when there are many participants, each pulling in their own direction. 

Share meeting agendas in Vowel

Using Vowel? Simply use a pre-set meeting agenda template or create your own. It’s all built into the Vowel app, so the meeting agenda is visible to everyone and you don’t have to worry about sharing separate documents.

Step #5: Keep the session flowing

Everyone at the brainstorming is there for a reason, so everyone should get a chance to talk and share their ideas. 

Of course, as anyone who’s ever attended a brainstorming meeting knows, that’s not always the case. Some people are just shyer than others.

That’s why having a facilitator and setting ground rules are so important. The first and most important ground rule is that you ban criticism of other people’s ideas. Brainstorming is about generating ideas quickly and that doesn’t happen when people are frightened to speak up.

Banning criticism also helps create a sense of psychological safety that makes it more likely people will share unconventional and out-of-the-box ideas. To promote team cohesion, ask your team members to build on the ideas that are put forward. 

Lastly, all work and no play isn’t conducive to creativity so loosen up the session with some creative icebreakers.

Free brainstorming meeting template

Brainstorming sessions need a good agenda to ensure productivity and good results. Here’s a great brainstorm meeting agenda template you can use and easily customize to suit your needs. 

Vowel creative brainstorming meeting template

Grab the template for free!

This template is based on the “Be The Muse: How to Spark Ideas” chapter from Herding Tigers, a book by leadership expert Todd Henry on how to manage creatives. 

Tips for better brainstorming meetings

Ideally, a brainstorming meeting should produce a list of ideas to evaluate. Hopefully, one of the ideas will be the next big thing that’ll solve your problem!

To maximize the chances of that outcome, here are some best practices to follow. 

✅ Keep it brief

The longer a meeting drags on, the less focused people become. Limit your brainstorming sessions to an hour, with short bursts of actual brainstorming activity (15-20 mins) with breaks in between. 

With a limited amount of time to get their ideas out there, your team members will spend less time digressing and more time being productive.  

Also, take into account when to schedule the meeting. Don’t schedule a brainstorm for the end of the workday when employees are tired and just want to go home.

✅ Prepare meeting “pre-work”

Before you can delve into thinking about new ideas with the team, it’s important to be prepared. Ahead of the meeting, share any relevant information and context with the participants, such as case studies about your issue and various company reports. 

If you’re brainstorming ideas to increase social media reach, you’ll be sharing studies about companies who attempted to do that and your social media metrics from past quarters. Either before or at the beginning of the brainstorming session, go over key definitions and terms and summarize what you already know about the problem or topic. 

If you're holding a series of brainstorms as recurring meetings, Vowel can help you turn all previous sessions into a knowledge base. The meeting transcript and notes for each session is searchable so you can revisit important moments to prepare for the next session. 

Vowel organize meetings folders GIF

✅ Encourage idea-sharing

Once the brainstorming session starts, you can rely on a few brave extroverted souls to kick things off OR you can choose the round-robin method where team members take turns to share their ideas. 

In addition to working as a group, you should encourage team members to come up with ideas on their own. Individual brainstorming comes without the risk of groupthink or anxiety about criticism.

You can do this by scheduling breaks or by asking each participant to come up with one idea in between multiple brainstorming meetings.

✅ Make sure you’re all on the same page

For the brainstorming session to produce actionable results, the entire team needs to be on the same page about definitions and metrics. 

If you’re figuring out ways to increase productivity, you first need to define what productivity means to you. Does it mean having a high productivity ratio as measured by a time-keeping app or will you focus on the number of weekly deliverables completed? 

You’ll also need to determine what kind of productivity increase you’re looking for and in what period of time – will you be looking at quarterly or annual numbers, for instance? 

✅ Keep track of ideas and record your session

Any idea that comes up during a brainstorming session needs to be written down. Facilitators should take notes and can also choose to visually map out the ideas on a whiteboard (digital or physical).

If you use Vowel, you can bookmark key moments or use emojis to vote on ideas. 

With Vowel, you can also record your entire session and take advantage of real-time automatic transcription and collaborative notes. The transcript is time-stamped so it’s easy to relate it to the recording and get the full context. 

A screenshot of a recorded meeting summary in Vowel

✅ Embrace diversity

Sometimes, it’s the non-experts who have the most interesting ideas. People who are too invested in a subject are too close to it and could be stuck in conventional ways of thinking.

Having a mix of expertise levels and backgrounds at your brainstorming increases the chances of stumbling onto a truly innovative idea. 

Of course, having a diverse team means nothing without inclusion so make sure that, as a facilitator, you encourage everyone to share. Especially members of the team who are introverted or lacking in experience compared to others. 

Vowel has a great feature for this – a talk timer that helps divide speaking time equitably so that no one person dominates the conversation.

A screenshot highlighting the Vowel talk time tracking feature

7 key brainstorming techniques to try in your sessions

At its core, brainstorming is rather simple. You get some people in the room and they try to come up with different ideas about a given topic. In the real world, however, there are various blockers. 

Some people are shy. Some people are afraid of criticism so they hold back. Before you know it, you have a lot of groupthink and not a lot of innovative ideas.

Over time, brainstorming methods have popped up to address these issues and make the process more effective. Here are some popular ones:

💡Brainwriting

This non-verbal brainstorming technique has everyone write down their ideas on a piece of paper. Then, everyone passes the paper to the person next to them and that person builds on the idea by adding their suggestions. 

When the circle is complete, the entire group discusses all the ideas and decides which to pursue. 

Using this method, you’ll counter two of the most common brainstorming pitfalls.

  • Unbalanced conversations where not everyone gets to contribute

  • The anchoring effect; people’s tendency to become attached to the first idea they hear

💡 Rapid ideation

For this method, you’ll need to ask the participants to write down as many ideas as possible in a short period. Setting a time limit and sticking to it is crucial or the technique fails because people lose their sense of urgency. 

We’re often our own worst critics and this technique gets around that by not giving people time to talk themselves out of their idea before they share it. 

After the time limit passes, discuss all the ideas as you normally would. 

💡 Round-robin

To make sure everyone contributes, each participant gets to share one of their ideas. It’s important to set ground rules – no interruptions, no criticism, no saying “that was my idea.” 

All discussion happens after the round or rounds are completed.

It’s a good idea to tell your meeting attendees to prepare before the meeting so that the round-robin brainstorming can proceed faster. 

💡 Figure storming

For figure storming, you’ll pick a well-known person, real or functional, and then ask the team how that person would solve the problem. 

The figure you choose could be a boss at your company, a famous expert, or even a celebrity. 

This might sound silly but it helps people get over the fear of having a bad idea attached to their name. You’ll get a lot more unconventional ideas if it’s not your team members pitching them but a figure like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

💡 Brain netting

Brainstorming for remote teams can be challenging since it’s hard to get everyone in the same room. Enter brain netting, also called online brainstorming. 

You can do this in real time through a meeting platform like Vowel. If your team is distributed in different time zones, you might not be able to schedule a virtual meeting that’s convenient for everyone. In that case, you can have a shared  Google Doc where people can jot down ideas as inspiration strikes. 

After everyone has written down their ideas, it’s best to have a separate follow-up meeting to discuss them in depth.

💡Eidetic image method

This brainstorming method helps you get ideas by visualizing them. It starts with an intention setting, where you’ll ask your team to close their eyes and visualize what needs to be done – like a new website design. 

After this, it’s time to bring up the first image – what the website looks like currently. Now that everyone has that image in their minds, ask them to build on it. How would the website look in their favorite colors or with their favorite fonts? 

Then, ask a random team member to share their vision and record it. Now, other team members can begin layering new ideas on top of it. 

Since this is a visual method, it works best for things that can be visualized such as design and product features. It won’t work as well for issues like lowering product costs or increasing social media reach.

💡Mind mapping

Often, the first idea that gets shared is not the best one but it can spark better ideas. Mind mapping takes advantage of this. Participants start with one idea and then draw lines to connect it to sub-ideas. 

This is a visual way to approach brainstorming and works well if you have a lot of visual thinkers on your team.

Have better brainstorming and jam sessions with the right tool

Brainstorming and jam sessions are a great place for team members to work together to solve problems. 

A video conferencing tool like Vowel can help take the strain out of brainstorming and streamline the process. Vowel has shared folders where you can keep relevant meetings in one spot for everyone, and see the recording, transcript, notes, and shared links. Vowel also lets you assign action items to team members in the shared the meeting notes. 

A screenshot that shows how Vowel groups all meeting action items

Make sure no great idea gets lost in the mix. Power your next brainstorming or jam session with Vowel by signing up now for free!