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VOL. 40 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 19, 2016

Don’t let brainstorming sessions be a brain drain

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I always cringe when I get a calendar request with “Brainstorm” in the subject line.

Immediately, I picture an unfocused free-for-all, after which nothing happens.

But it’s a marketer’s mainstay, and there’s a right way to do it.

Brainstorming sessions too often fail for one simple reason – poor planning. But if done well, they can be an effective way to engage your colleagues’ creative abilities and expertise when developing marketing campaigns or new products, or strategizing around growth.

So how do you set the stage for success and use your team’s time most efficiently?

With this simple, three-phased approach to brainstorming, you will be well on your way.

Phase I: Preparation. Know your goals. Clearly define where you are now and where you want to be.

Prepare an executive summary that can be quickly scanned for the key points you need your team to focus on.

Now decide whom to invite. Choose a mix of colleagues with different work and life experiences. You want people coming at a problem from all sides, not just yours. Diversity is fundamental to successful brainstorming.

Provide the executive summary with the meeting request, and ask them to bring three ideas to share during the session.

Reserve ample time for your group to be effective, yet focused. Motivation decreases with each follow-up session you have to add.

Phase II: Facilitation. Like any meeting, a brainstorming session needs structure. Designate a facilitator to encourage participation, act as timekeeper and play devil’s advocate when needed.

Don’t be afraid to test and/or table some ideas right off the bat.

Have a note taker write ideas on a whiteboard or easel pad. This will have one major positive consequence – visual proof of progress.

Before ending the session, make sure there are clear, agreed-upon takeaways and next steps. Everyone needs to leave the session knowing his or her role in the next phase.

Phase III: Follow Through. After the session, share the most viable ideas, separating them by those more easily implemented vs. those tabled for further discussion.

If possible, take action on one or two ideas immediately, so everyone can see the result of their work.

Don’t let the good ideas fall into a black hole. Make sure a single person, strong in follow through, is responsible for advancing the ideas and achieving your original goals. This person might be you, but can be a key staff person.

Communicate progress with the entire team, even those who have no further role after the session. Keeping colleagues informed shows them you value their time and knowledge.

Next time you need to borrow your colleagues’ genius, try the brainstorming route.

Just make sure you’re ready for what it takes to ensure success: preparation, facilitation and follow-up.

Wayne Hill is a seasoned marketer and the manager of client strategy and performance at RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. He can be reached at www.RedRoverCompany.com.

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