A Five-Step Process for Effective Brainstorming

Question

“I like my job, but some of our processes and procedures are really inefficient. I want to be seen as a problem-solver – how do you recommend I approach these issues with my supervisor and team?” – Melanie from Wooster, OH

Answer

Solving any kind of problem starts with a brainstorming session. Through this process, you consider multiple ideas and solutions before eventually narrowing them down to a few well-thought out recommendations.

Brainstorming can take place alone or between a group of employees. Involving your fellow team members in the process can help achieve consensus and buy-in, particularly if the ideas you’re proposing require a big change in employee behavior.

Regardless of who’s involved in the conversation, consider using the following process:

  1. Be clear about the problem.
    Before you sit down to brainstorm, you want to clearly identify the problem you’re looking to solve. Being able to name your specific goal – e.g. “speed up the expense report process” or “make meetings more productive.” – will help you zero in on solutions quicker than trying to tackle something more abstract like “improve team dynamics.”
  2. Collect your tools.
    The goal of brainstorming is to get the ideas out of your brain and onto the page or screen as quickly as possible. If you choose to go the pen-and-paper route, check out these resources on creating a mind map and brain writing (for groups). If you have the ability to work online, there are a variety of free brainstorming tools to help you organize your thoughts.
  3. Focus on ideas.
    Once you have your tools ready, begin jotting down ideas as quickly as you can. Now isn’t the time to delve into which ideas are the strongest, which can be realistically implemented or how you would make each idea happen. Initially you just want to write as many ideas down as you can.
  4. Narrow down your list.
    After you’ve made your list or mind map of ideas, aim to narrow it down to your 2-3 best ideas. Ask yourself the following questions: 

    • Can this idea be implemented with current resources or are additional investments of staff time or finances needed?
    • Has this idea been tried before (and if so, to what end)?
    • Who do I need to convince to buy in to this idea?
    • Does this idea require a large cultural or behavior change in the company?
    • Is now the right time for this idea?
  5. Present your findings.Once you’ve zeroed in on your top 2-3 ideas, it’s time to present them to your supervisor, team or other parties who need to make a decision. Use the questions in the fourth step to help explain your recommendations, as well as to talk about why other solutions wouldn’t be as effective.