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Brainstorming for Groups: How to Inspire Contributions

Memories of group brainstorming activities might include the same old people shouting out the same tired idea, week after week. Are the shouters the only ones with thoughts, or are the impassive withholding ideas for various reasons?

Here are insights into why people keep their lips sealed during group ideation, and how to get them to share. You will be surprised what former non-participants contribute with just a little confidence and priming.

Get Orgnized

People resent being invited to disorganized functions, even if they’re required to attend for work. Make sure your brainstorming presentation is professional.

  • Create a PowerPoint Listing Topics Needed

    • Clearly detail what is needed, and what won’t work for the clients. If you change the rules after brainstorming begins, people will shut down and feel self-conscious about unintentionally breaking a rule you haven’t stated.
  • Make an Excel Document Listing Past Ideas that Worked

    • This list will keep people from repeating past ideas.

Prepare the Team

Send the team a friendly email that explains what will happen at the brainstorming session. Here are important things to include in your first contact with the team:

  • Date, Time and Duration

    • If people know you won’t keep them late, they are less likely to get antsy.
    • PowerPoint List of Topics Needed
    • Excel List of Past Ideas
    • Inform Them that ALL Ideas Are Appreciated—and Mean It!

Some team members will panic and dread the meeting if they know they have to speak, so you could invite them to submit ideas via email at this point. Clearly state that whoever submits ideas in advance will not be called on at the meeting.

Set the Mood

Find an office environment that feels cozy for the event. If you make the brainstorming sessions fun and comfortable, people will look forward to them and relax, which will open their minds. Here are specific ideas that could help:

  • Address Their Senses

    • Bring treats or scented candles that will make the area smell inviting.
    • Make sure everyone comes with a notepad and pen, but also leave extra paper and pens near the door.
    • Adjust the temperature if necessary.
    • Prepare adequate seating so that you can begin quickly.
    • Never Ignore Anyone, and Always Say “Thanks!”
      • While this is common sense, a lot of people neglect to say thank you. Also, if you ignore people who are considered boring or repetitive, you send a message to the group that they could be ignored or embarrassed, too.

Arrange the Field

Invite your over-contributors to sit in the back if you have a good rapport with them, or group them together so that the remaining groups are forced to act.

For cliques that don’t participate or focus, try choosing their alpha friend to be the new session leader; not only would that break up the clique, but it would also make the remaining non-participators very interested in what happens. If your PowerPoint outline is well-organized, anyone should be able to take over the session at any point.

Don’t Overwhelm Them

Never exceed the time allotted for ideation. The team will respect you more if you cut it off on schedule, and they will be more relaxed about future meetings.

Also, try to choose an easy number of topics to brainstorm each meeting. Three clients or topics is a good starting point for most people (it will also reduce the amount of past idea review required of the team).

If All Else Fails, Create a Suggestion Box

Whether your suggestion box is virtual or physical, make sure the team knows about it. Quieter team members will be more comfortable submitting ideas this way. However, if you find that people are abusing the suggestion box by submitting jokes or unrelated material, move it to a digital platform so that it’s tracked.


All of these ideas are useful in creating a great environment for ideas to flow, but it only works if you keep your word. Remember to stay within the allotted time frame, only call on those who don’t submit via email, and NEVER roll your eyes.

While this is all good and helpful, you might be wondering what’s next. For ideas on how to create a fun and energetic presentation for your next ideation session, check out next week’s blog Make Ideation a Game Everyone Wins in 3 Steps.

Thanks for reading!

About the author

Michael Purdy