What Can Brainstorming Do for Your Team?

the-a-team.jpgbu Jason Hui
I once took a class that began every day with a 15 minute brainstorming session. We used two different methodologies. The first was object oriented brainstorming: take any random object, like a spoon, and come up with as many different uses in three minutes as possible…a signaling mirror, a disciplinary tool, a shovel for gnomes. The second was word oriented brainstorming: take any word, like “cop,” and come up with as many different words as possible…like copy, cope, Copernicus, copa cabana.
Brainstorming is well known as a technique for generating creative ideas.* However, through the DMBA program at CCA, I’ve realized that brainstorming is not only a creative process but is also a tool that can be used to reinforce effective communication techniques in any team. The rules of brainstorming require participants to suspend judgment and separate the critical process from the creative. The true power of teams does not revolve around varied skill sets, but rather in effective communication and the ability to share ideas openly. Beyond ideation, the brainstorming process builds trust, the foundation of good teamwork.

Humans are wired in such a way that makes behavior contagious. Take yawning or laughing for example, one person starts and other people follow. The same holds true for teamwork. Reinforcing a collaborative atmosphere will improve the attitudes and productivity of a team. Reinforcing judgmental or uncooperative attitudes will ruin it.
Go ahead, try a brainstorming warm up with your team every day for a week. It only takes three minutes. A warm up is important for several reasons: it primes people to be open to communication, releases tension, and centers attention on the task at hand. The initial suggestion of structured brainstorming raises eyebrows, elicits giggles, and abject panic from some participants. The first few attempts are fraught with awkward silence, apologies and palm sweat; but, with practice, the sessions flow easily. Like any exercise, it gets easier and more fun the more you do it. Eventually your team will look forward to the entertainment provided by their coworkers, enhance creative thinking skills, and communicate more easily. Besides, it’s cheaper than a ropes course and less risky than a trust fall.
If you are going to try this experiment, it’s helpful for the team to make an assessment. At the end of the week, as a group, discuss how feelings toward brainstorming might have changed and if they feel like it contributes anything to the overall team dynamics. You might be pleasantly surprised.
*Rather than describe the “how to” of good brainstorming, I’ll suggest a great article that will give you a functional understanding of the proper practice and variety of techniques that can be employed. Just be sure to follow the rules. It keeps things from getting messy.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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