At Workshop, we love a good team brainstorm. No, not just because they sometimes involve a beer. When conducted responsibly, they’re one of the most efficient ways to solve problems and come up with new ideas. By nature, they should never be overly rigid, however, without the proper guidelines and parameters in place, they can become an extraordinary waste of time.
Our process for keeping things productive is really quite simple: Send out an optional brainstorm meeting invite to the team and include 3 pieces of information in the invite, which you then run through at the beginning of the meeting.
If you’ve hit a mental block or need help with a particular problem, follow these guidelines to brainstorm a solution with your team.
1. Clearly define the topic & objective
Take the time to clearly define what your topic and objective are and relay them to your team ahead of time. Here’s an example: A topic / objective like, “Improve Client X’s KPIs” gives me no idea where the meeting is headed.
Instead of providing such an open ended objective, try to add a little detail like, “Generate ideas of how we can improve Client X’s conversion rates without adding additional services.” Now I can start thinking about ways that similar clients have improved conversion rates or ways to optimize their current landing page, etc. Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accepted an invite to a brainstorm with a specific topic defined and then come across something directly relevant to that topic prior to the meeting.
Bonus: If the brainstorm is about a specific client/customer/product make sure to define that ahead of time as well.
2. Give some background
Once you’ve given a clear objective, some background goes a long way towards framing the discussion and avoiding inefficiencies. Without background, you’ll wind up wasting time fielding suggestions for things you’ve already tried, or ideas that are counter-productive, off topic, and de-rail the conversation entirely.
Here's an example of what some background might look like for a brainstorm prior to a client meeting in which we are asked to bring ideas for account expansion: “We have a meeting with Rocket League next week. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss our results over the past 6 months and discuss possible changes/recommendations for further improving results over the long-term. The account is healthy albeit limited by geography and search volume."
3. Establish Parameters & Restrictions
Without a doubt, the biggest mistake people make when conducting team brainstorms is failing to establish parameters & restrictions for the discussion.
Imagine a soccer game on a field without any out of bounds: Everyone’s chasing the ball and before you know it, you’re 3 counties over and no one's trying to score. Just like it’s the referee’s job to stop play and have the ball thrown back into play, it’s your job as the brainstorm leader to reign things in and keep people on track. Below are a couple of parameters that we sometimes deploy:
“No additional budget can be added” - If the client has made it clear that the budget is limited, there’s no point exploring any options that require more budget. Enough said.
“No data-diving!” - Yes, this is telling an analyst not to analyze. As data nerds, this is really challenging for us, but sometimes it’s 100% necessary. This usually comes into play when the data could inhibit our ability to think outside the box.
That’s pretty much it! Not too complicated, eh? Just make sure you define the topic & objective, provide the team with some background and establish the brainstorm rules and you too can become a brainstorm champion.