Brainstorming Gone Wrong? Here’s How to Fix It


We suspect you have seen poor brainstorming technique by people NOT trained as facilitators. Typically here is how brainstorming goes:

  • The meeting person says: “We have problem x. What can we do to solve it?”
  • The leader writes down as many ideas as they can get from whomever has an answer on a flipchart or whiteboard.
  • Their writing is not legible or visible to everyone in the room.
  • They (may) thank everyone for their ideas.
  • The end product is a number of flipchart sheets hanging around the room.

Danger!!! We hope you have never experienced this bad a session but we are reluctant to say we have seen it many times. Please do not be “guilty” of this frantic, incomplete, unbalanced type of brainstorming technique.

A Few things Meetings Leaders May Fail to Do

  • do not have the right balance of experience and knowledge in the room to really answer the question
  • do not have the right question – clearly and simply worded
  • do not acknowledge the power dynamics between themselves and the participants (afraid to look stupid for example in font of the boss)
  • do not recognize different styles of participating and taking in information
  • do not provide a clear focus; everyone may not understand and agree to the problem
  • do not tell people why they are spending time on this topic
  • do not give enough silent thinking time for each individual prior to sharing ideas out loud
  • do not use techniques to ensure everybody gets to share their ideas

Here Are Our Top Tips to Improve Brainstorming Technique:

Tip 1: Give clear focus and instructions.

Decide what is the question you want addressed and test this question out on several participants. Write out your instructions for brainstorming so everyone can see them.

Tip 2: Set the stage for creative brainstorming

People need warm up time to come up with their best ideas. It is always good to have some kind of creative activity to get the juices flowing.

Tip 3: Follow this sequence: Individual – Small group – Whole group

Always give people individual, uninterrupted time to come up with their own draft list of answers. Then they can share it in dyads (pairs) or triads. Finally, they can share the small group’s best ideas with the whole group.

Here is a Cool Brainstorming Technique

Goal: To generate a lot of ideas in a short amount of time

Easy Steps:
1. Explain to the group that you are looking for 30-50 ideas
2. Provide a focus question and write it at the top of a flipchart or place on a sticky wall
3. Have each person write down their ideas on a sticky note
4. Each person brings the idea to the board and reads it aloud
5. After about 15 ideas, reread the focus question and encourage the group, “This is great! Keep going! We need xx more ideas…”
6. After all ideas are presented, cluster the similar ideas together and name that group of ideas with a 3-5 word phrases that answers the question

Comments? Please leave them below. We’d love to hear…


Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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