8 Brainstorming Steps: The Art of Generating Ideas

Sections of this topic

    Generating ideas and gathering facts are probably the most common functions performed by groups in facilitated sessions. In many sessions, the generating of ideas is crucial to arriving at creative solutions to the issue the team is tackling. We commonly use Brainstorming steps as a technique for generating ideas.

    Brainstorming is an excellent vehicle for collecting a large number of ideas in a short period of time. In a brainstorming session, the facilitator states the objective, sets a time limit, and uses a flip chart, or some other vehicle, to record ideas that the session participants rapidly throw out.

    As an example, to help a Hiring Process Improvement Team address potential improvements to their hiring process, we will take them through a brainstorming exercise as shown below.



    Function: Generating Ideas
    1. Describe the activity and purpose; be sure to encourage creativity and out-of-the-ordinary ideas.

    • “Our next step is to brainstorm potential improvements to the hiring process. This is important because we don’t want to be constrained by the way we do things now. Instead, we want to come up with creative solutions that can help us find and hire the best people available, quickly, effectively, and efficiently”

    2. Set a time limit and describe the general directions, with an example if necessary; offer a response format if appropriate.

    • “We are going to take five minutes to do a round of intense brainstorming. I would like for us to go around the room starting with Joe and have each person give me one thing we could do that would move us toward our vision of a great hiring process. If you can, give me a “verb-object” such as “Implement this, Develop that.”
    • “We will probably go around four or more times, so if you can’t think of anything the first time, just say ‘pass.’

    3. Prohibit judgment of any type on an idea. If the idea does not meet the objective, record it anyway. Remind the participants of the objective and keep moving.

    • “Since we want to keep the creative juices flowing, it is important that during this phase we don’t spend any time analyzing the ideas. I will be writing as fast as I can and we will be moving quickly from person to person. If you find yourself at any point thinking, ‘That won’t work,’ ask yourself, ‘What will work? How can I improve on it?’ Some of the best ideas start out as impractical suggestions.”

    4. Ask your starting question to help the group visualize their answers.

    • “Let’s go back to our list of problems, there are the things we have to fix. Think about things you’ve seen other companies do, things that you have thought about us doing, and things we could do to make our hiring process a much better process. Joe, get me started. Let’s build a list of some of the things we could do to improve the hiring process. What are some of those things?”

    5. Record responses by being sure to use, not abuse, the pen and to manage the recording process.

    6. Keep the pace moving. Go for quantity. The more ideas the better. Use a lot of fill-in words if necessary, along with prompt questions and extended prompt questions

    • “Give me more. Who’s next? More ideas, more ideas…What other ways could we improve the hiring process?”

    7. End the brainstorming segment when the time limit is reached or when there is a round in which everyone passes. Ask for any last thoughts before closing.

    • “We have reached our time limit. Any last-minute ideas to add?”

    8. Always follow a brainstorming session with some type of grouping or prioritization activity to highlight the jewels.

    Apply this guide in your next brainstorming session! You and your group will love the creativity generated from this brainstorming exercise.


    Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company, and author of the new The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement, and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.