Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke



Volume: April 2014

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com

“Let’s brainstorm on that!” How often have you heard or said those words? Brainstorming is a topic that is brought up with some regularity, yet so few leaders really know the proper rules to brainstorming. Rules? Yes, there are rules for darn near everything in this crazy, fast-paced world and brainstorming is no exception. They are simple, yet important rules, so without further ado, here they are:   

  1. Define the parameters. In other words, make certain that the purpose or subject matter of the brainstorming session is clear in the minds of the participants.

  3. Treat every idea like a great idea. The concept here is not to discourage anyone from participating. Thus, even though Bob from marketing has suggested yet another hare-brained scheme, seek to remain calm; respect Bob; and use your facilitation skills to move thought to other, more salient members of the group. Importantly, if the group scoffs at anyone’s idea, protect the idea giver, while still encouraging everyone to participate. 

  5. Keep your opinions on the sidelines. Many brainstorming sessions get derailed because the person leading the group shares their own opinions and ideas, thus negatively altering the creative flow of the session. Strongly consider engaging a facilitator who can easily maintain subject matter neutrality. Regardless of whether you opt to lead your own brainstorming session or not, it is important that the leader remain a neutral part of the process. 

  7. Do not go immediately into solution mode. Invariably, someone is going to offer a terrific idea that will energize the group. What tends to happen next is that the leader allows the group to run with that idea. This action ordains the idea a “winner” and crushes subsequent creative thought. The challenge here is not to let the group get ahead of themselves. Praise the idea giver and the group. Also, let them know that there will be plenty of time later in the session to brainstorm on details surrounding the best ideas. Then refocus the group and make certain that all topical ideas are fleshed out prior to moving to the “drill down” phase. 

  9. Encouragement. Keep the hands rising and the ideas flowing by sending positive messages to the participants. Encourage your team via language such as: “These ideas are great, who else has a comment or an idea?” Note: avoid calling on people and putting them on the spot. Let the participation and the ideas flow naturally. 

  11. Voting. Once you are certain that all ideas have been unveiled, seek your team’s opinion on what ideas they most embrace. Their feedback can reveal if they value the same priorities that are important to you. 

  13. Flesh it out. After the top brainstorming idea(s) have been selected, take the team through the brainstorming process centric to their initial key ideas. If additional key ideas are identified, jot them down but do not digress into them. Keep the group focused on the task at hand and tap into their mounting creative juices.   

  15. Summarize. The reason that most brainstorming sessions fall flat is because the leader fails to distribute a summary of what was shared – and what actions the ideas led to. Without feedback, recognition, and guidance, how can we expect people to get excited about sharing their precious ideas with us? As such, at the end of the brainstorming session share a verbal summary with the participants. In addition, commit to a timeframe in which they can expect to receive a written summary of the session’s findings. Then, deliver the summary on time and follow up appropriately on the actions that you have outlined.       


Bottom Line: If led correctly, the process of brainstorming yields an abundance of insights and ideas. At a minimum, it is a terrific teambuilding experience, as well as an opportunity to applaud your team for their creativity.  


Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based leadership and collaboration consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching and consulting services, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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