What is Brainstorming

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Brainstorming is a tool used by teams to bring out the ideas of each individual and present them in an orderly fashion to the rest of the team. The key ingredient is to provide an environment free of criticism for creative and unrestricted exploration of options or solutions.

It helps teams break free of old, ineffective ideas. This free-wheeling technique for generating ideas may produce some that seem half-baked, but it can lead to new and original solutions to problems. 


  • Encourages creativity. It expands your thinking to include all aspects of a problem or a solution. You can identify a wide range of options.
  • Rapidly produces a large number of ideas. By encouraging people to offer whatever ideas come to mind, it helps groups develop many ideas quickly.
  • Equalizes involvement by all team members. It provides a non-judgmental environment that encourages everyone to offer ideas. All ideas are recorded.
  • Fosters a sense of ownership. Having all members actively participate in the Brainstorming process fosters a sense of ownership in the topic discussed and in the resulting activities. When the people on a team contribute personally to the direction of a decision, they are more likely to support it.
  • Provides input to other tools. You may want to affinitize the brainstormed ideas. And, if appropriate, you can work with the team to reduce the number ideas by Multivoting.
  • Brainstorming is useful when you want to generate a large number of ideas about issues to tackle, possible causes of problems, approaches to use, or actions to take.

Ground Rules

In order to enjoy a creative and productive experience, the facilitator should review and get team members’ buy-in on the ground rules for the session. 

These are the basic rules:

  • Active participation by all team members. Everyone expresses his or her ideas, even if they seem silly or far out.
  • No discussion—criticisms, compliments, or other comments—during the brainstorm.
  • Build on ideas generated by other team members.
  • All ideas written exactly as presented and displayed where everyone can see them.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Clarify ideas. After the brainstorm, go over the list to make sure that all team members understand the ideas. Remember that you are only clarifying the ideas, not making judgments about them.
  • Combine ideas. See whether two or more ideas that appear to be the same can be combined.

How to Perform Brainstorming

The recommended sequence for conducting the session effectively are provided below:

  • Review the ground rules for the session. Describe how this session will be conducted by going over the points below.
  • Set a time limit for the session, assign a timekeeper and data recorder, and start the clock. Brainstorming should be a rapid generation of ideas, so do it quickly; 5-15 minutes works well. If the time limit has expired and ideas are still being generated, you can extend the time limit at five-minute intervals.
  • State the topic to be brainstormed in the form of a question. Write it down and post it where everyone can refer to it. Ensure that everyone understands it.
  • Collect everyone’s ideas. After allowing a few minutes for the participants to think about the question, ask them to give their ideas. Establish either a structured or unstructured format for calling out ideas:
  • Structured: The facilitator establishes a rotation that enables each person in the group to contribute an idea in turn. Any individual who is not ready with an idea when his or her turn comes can pass until the next round, when he or she may offer an idea or pass again.
  • Unstructured: Team members call out ideas as they come to mind. This method calls for close monitoring by the facilitator to enforce the ground rules and ensure that all team members have a chance to participate.
  • Record ideas on a chart pack as they are called out, or collect ideas written by team members on post-its. Display the ideas where everyone can see them. Having the words visible to everyone at the same time avoids misinterpretation and duplication and helps stimulate creative thinking by other team members.
  • When recording ideas, ensure that they are written down exactly as spoken by the team member. Don’t interpret.
  • Try to generate as long a list as possible. Keep going until all participants have passed or the allotted time has expired.
  • Clarify each idea after all ideas have been presented, to ensure that all members have the same understanding of it. Pointing to each idea on a whiteboard in turn, ask the participants whether they have any questions about its meaning. You may have to ask the contributor to explain the idea in a different way.
  • Eliminate duplications. If two or more ideas appear to mean the same thing, you should try to combine them or eliminate the duplicates. Before you can wrap the like ideas into a single item or eliminate any items on the list, all of those who contributed the similar ideas must agree that they mean the same thing. Otherwise, they remain as separate items.

From Brainstorming to Six Sigma Process

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