25 Brainstorming Techniques for Team Inspiration
Brainstorming consists of various techniques that incorporate visuals, group ideation and individual approaches to creating solutions and planning operations in the workplace. When teams share and build upon ideas, they can solve problems, create solutions and plan new ventures. In this article, we explore 25 effective brainstorming techniques and how they work.
Silent brainstorming techniques
Silent brainstorming methods involve groups and individuals who come up with ideas in writing or through another quiet medium. Consider the following silent brainstorming techniques for group and individual ideation:
1. Blind writing
Blind writing gets teams and individuals to record their thoughts, questions and ideas related to anything they wish. The blind writing technique is common among writers and other creatives, but business professionals can benefit from it, too. Blind writing is effective for overcoming writer’s—and thinker’s—block. Even the most random snippets and ideas can evolve into solid foundations for strategic planning and business development.
2. Starbursting method
The starbursting method uses a six-pointed star to organize information. To use this tool, groups or individuals write down a topic, issue or opportunity in the center of the star. Then, they label each of the six points with the words "who," "what," "where," "when," "why" and "how." This investigative process is effective for generating questions based on the labels on each point. For example, for the "what" point, product development teams might ask, "What do customers want?"
3. Trigger statements
This method involves asking open-ended questions to encourage creative thinking. With this approach, a team leader asks something or makes a statement that prompts teammates to create new ideas. For instance, the team leader may present a leading statement, such as “Problems occur when…,” to get groups thinking about solutions. Teams and individuals can write down their ideas quietly, then come together to discuss the topic and the concepts it generated.
4. Crawford slip writing
The Crawford slip-writing technique uses slips of paper or note cards as the medium for teams to collaborate. A team lead presents a problem, question or concept, and each teammate writes their ideas on their piece of paper. After everyone finishes recording their thoughts, the team leader collects the note cards to review individually. The slip-writing technique is a silent approach to individual brainstorming and provides opportunities for professionals to offer their honest feedback.
5. Collaborative brainwriting
Brainwriting in groups involves giving each member of a team their own piece of paper or note card. They write down their ideas and pass their paper to the teammate next to them, who then adds to the ideas of their neighbor. This process continues until everyone in the group has contributed to each other's ideas.
Analytical brainstorming techniques
Analytical brainstorming techniques consist of using evaluation, data and analysis for brainstorming in teams or individually. Consider the following analytical brainstorming techniques for visualization, evaluation and analysis:
6. Drivers analysis
This method of brainstorming allows groups to identify the drivers, or causes, behind a problem or challenge. A drivers analysis works similarly to a simple cause-and-effect analysis, where business teams address an issue and ask probing questions to determine the causes of the problem. For example, a marketing team might use a drivers analysis to identify the factors that motivate competition, dampen customer loyalty or cause a reduction in strategy effectiveness.
7. Fill in the gaps
The fill-in-the-gaps approach to brainstorming consists of identifying both the starting point and the end result of a desired process or application. For instance, a business identifies its starting point as the product development stage. The desired objective is to generate profit. The business “fills in the gaps” by outlining the necessary steps it must take to go from the starting point (product development) to the end result (earning profits).
8. Identifying parallels
This process involves forming parallel relationships between ideas. For instance, a systems analyst can find similarities and connections between the different processes within a network to identify potential problems with its functionality. In this case, they might form parallel relationships through statements such as, “If this function does this, then that function does that.” Such a construction can provoke new ideas that they then can implement to achieve project objectives and mitigate risks.
9. Associative brainstorming
Associative brainstorming techniques work by forming relationships between ideas using word connections. For instance, a business team brainstorming ways to market its products would write down the essential issue or topic (in this case, marketing strategies) and then add single words to build off of the central topic. This method provides a way to form affiliations between descriptors and objects, such as “strategy” and “digital.” The more associations there are, the more likely the team is to develop a variety of ideas.
10. Mind mapping
The mind-mapping technique uses visual tools to form a picture of the relationship between a central topic and its supporting ideas. Mind maps can take the form of bubble charts, diagrams or graphic organizers to help teams build strategic outlines. For instance, a marketing team can use a mind map to brainstorm the digital channels they want to use to promote their website content.
Similar to mind mapping, creating flowcharts helps to organize ideas into a set order, or flow, for teams to follow when integrating new processes. For instance, a software company could use a flowchart to ideate product design when the development team initiates a new project.
12. SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organization. Companies use SWOT analyses to determine whether a project is worth initiating. When used during brainstorming sessions, SWOT analysis can be an effective tool for collaborating across entire business departments.
Read more: SWOT Analysis Guide (With Examples)
Hypothetical brainstorming techniques
Hypothetical brainstorming asks "what if" questions, poses role-play scenarios and focuses on creative problem-solving, sometimes in nontraditional ways. The following hypothetical techniques can support creative thinking and problem-solving:
13. "What if" situation
With this method of brainstorming, a facilitator presents a central topic and poses a hypothetical scenario. For instance, a project manager might inspire their team's imagination by posing a speculative scenario such as, ”What if we experience scope creep?” During the brainstorm session, the team may come up with many different ideas to solve the issue, which can be helpful with future projects.
Individuals and teams can use the role-play technique to discover how someone else might approach a challenge or solve a problem. In a group brainstorming session, this technique can allow colleagues to assume different roles and responsibilities to support the process of creating solutions. Individuals can act as a celebrity, well-known entrepreneur or inspirational family member to look at challenges from a different perspective. The benefit of this technique is that it often presents new, surprising viewpoints that can help when solving problems.
15. Change the attribute
Similar to the role-playing technique, the change-the-attribute technique allows teams or individuals to approach brainstorming by imagining one or more traits of themselves differently. For instance, imagining a different cultural background, education level or even geographic location can help teams identify patterns and relationships between concepts and ideas.
16. Reverse the process
Reverse brainstorming involves looking at the end result or objective and finding ways to make the outcome happen. For instance, a manufacturing company's project management team can use reverse brainstorming to come up with ideas that can cause problems with operations. They define problems and then the team identifies all the ways the problems can occur, then they can find strategies to solve them.
17. Time travel
This method encourages teams and individuals to imagine they are living in a different time period, either in the past or the future. Then, employees create solutions based on the ideas of what they would do during that imagined time period. For instance, business teams might use this technique to time travel to the early 1900s and brainstorm how they would solve their challenge with tools, resources and knowledge available during that time. This can be an especially creative approach, as it motivates teams to work with various limitations associated with the eras they imagine.
18. The five whys method
The method of asking why is the central focus of this technique. Teams apply the “five whys” by first identifying a problem and then asking why it's occurring. After gathering several answers to that first why question, they continue the process of asking why four more times—or more—until they identify the main cause of the issue.
Collaborative brainstorming techniques
Collaborative brainstorming involves teams who either discuss ideas or brainstorm silently in groups for later conversations about the topic. Use these collaborative methods to encourage teams to share ideas and give each other feedback:
19. Medici Effect
The Medici Effect involves combining diverse strategies, concepts, disciplines and industries to make connections between ideas that initially appear unrelated. When business teams apply the Medici Effect, they combine elements from different sources to develop new and innovative ideas for solving problems, making decisions and planning projects.
Brain-netting is brainstorming online and requires a collaborative platform that allows individuals to share ideas privately in addition to public cooperation among teams. Many software companies provide these types of applications, and businesses can set up company-wide environments along with smaller team channels for breaking down department-specific processes.
21. Rapid ideation
Rapid ideation works effectively for business groups with limited time for brainstorming sessions. With this technique, a team leader provides context for team members, providing information such as questions on the topic, deadlines, budgets, resources and other factors affecting project initiation. Then, the team leader sets a time limit for everyone to write down as many ideas as possible.
22. Group ideation
In group ideation sessions, teammates can share ideas and build off of innovative concepts they come up with during brainstorming meetings. Group ideation is beneficial because it encourages open communication and feedback that can help throughout the development stages, production phases and distribution of new products and services.
Related: 6 Tips for Effective Teamwork
23. Round robin
This sharing technique is extremely effective for business groups to add to one another's ideas and responses. In a round robin, the team sits in a circle, with one person starting with the topic. Then, the team goes around the circle one by one so each member can offer their input while the team leader records everyone's ideas for later discussion.
The stepladder technique encourages individual reflection before team contribution. This method of brainstorming works by gathering a team together to hear about a topic from the team leader. Once the team leader shares the topic, everyone leaves the room except for two team members, who discuss their ideas on the topic with each other before one other member joins them. The new member shares their ideas with the original two, and this process repeats until everyone is back in the room.
The Charette technique is most effective for large groups because it allows them to brainstorm and combine ideas from a number of concepts. The first step of this process is for a large team to choose multiple topics to consider, then separate into smaller groups, each with a single topic to brainstorm. As each group completes their ideation process, the teams come back together to share their ideas and connect them all together.