Facilitating Brainstorming Sessions: Setting the Stage


Prior to beginning the facilitation of a brainstorming session with any group, I find that it’s critical to set the stage by articulating the expectations of the group during the divergent thinking activities. While this may sound like old hat, it pays to remind groups of the productive behaviors that are most desirable for idea generation. I’m not talking about the obvious ones, such as turn off cell phones, talk one at a time and return from breaks on time. I’m talking about setting clear expectations for how the session will flow and creating a safe environment for participation. Here are some examples of the norms I like best:

Ideation Rules of Engagement

¨      Let ideas flow freely – quantity not quality

¨      No evaluating ideas until later

¨      Build on the ideas of others

¨      Be humorous and creative

¨      There are no bad ideas

¨      No debating

¨      Everyone participates

¨      Think in new ways; break out of old pattern

¨      Keep discussion moving; avoid back stories

¨      Hitch-hiking & building (combination and improvement) on ideas are encouraged

¨      Look at what everyone else looks at but see what no one else sees


Setting these expectations in advance can help a group in many ways, including:

1.      Creating a safe environment so everyone feels comfortable participating.

2.      Calling out behaviors that don’t fall in line with the rules as out-of-bounds — such as launching into a debate about some one’s idea.

3.      Giving people permission to laugh, to say what they think and to get out of their functional boxes.

4.      Creating a team atmosphere where an idea isn’t owned by a specific contributor, but rather is built and, therefore, owned by the team using hitchhiking and building add-ons.


In addition to these “Ideation Rules of Engagement,” I like to post the following Principles of Creativity:


Principles of Creativity

1. Creativity requires a commitment of living outside the box.

2. Creative ideas require a fresh perspective.

3. Creative ideas are new combinations of two or more existing ideas.

4. Creativity requires a belief in the ability of oneself to make the impossible possible.

5. Fun and energy are fundamental to creative thinking.

6. Successful creative teams have shared objectives and strategies.

7. Successful creative teams leverage the strengths and weaknesses of each and every member.

8. Good ideas hide where you least expect them to.

9. It takes lots of swings to hit a home run.


These principles assure team members that not every idea needs to be a “home run,” but that most ideas will be a trigger or spark for other team member’s to come up with new ideas and will contribute to the productivity of the idea generation overall.

Try setting these suggested Idea Generation Rules and posting the Principles of Creativity at your next meeting and let me know how it works for you! If you have other rules that you have found to be particularly good ones, please post a comment as well.


Cindy Diamond, Principal Diamond Marketing Solutions & Ignite







2 thoughts on “Facilitating Brainstorming Sessions: Setting the Stage

  1. When it comes to the “no debating” rule, I think it’s important to point out that advocating can be as much of a time-waster as arguing. If each idea gets about the same amount of oxygen, the best ones will naturally germinate and grow.

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