August 13, 2018

How to Lead a Successful Team Brainstorming Session

12 easy steps to take yours to the next level

Why Brainstorm as a Team

Brainstorming. Is it a nebulous, “feel-good” sort of idea, or is there really value to be found in this method of idea generation? First, what is brainstorming? Well, it’s simply the process of generating as many useful ideas as possible in the shortest period of time possible. Many contend that the process is much more fruitful in a group setting – and I totally agree with that!

Recently, we held a More Color, Please! team retreat brainstorming session. And I was reminded of the efficacy of these sessions – and just how fun they can be! We made a full day of the experience, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day! Our purpose was to establish our creative direction for the rest of 2018. We discussed questions like this: Who are we? What do we do best? Where do we want to be by the end of the year? And lastly, how are we going to get there? 

Over the almost twenty years of my corporate career, I led various sessions like this. Facilitating a team brainstorming session is really quite simple! But it can go off the rails incredibly easily – and end up seeming like a waste of everyone’s time.

So, in order to lead the most effective, efficient, productive team brainstorming session, follow these twelve steps.

Plus, keep reading for more details and pics from our day offsite. Keep in mind – we didn’t plan to turn this into a business article topic. But the day was so successful and everyone benefited so much from it that we wanted to share the idea! So, what you’ll see here are simply our iPhone pics snapped during our retreat.

Before the Brainstorming Session

1. Invite a diverse group of people

If you have a small business, consider including everyone! This is ideal when it’s possible logistically. If your business is larger, be sure to include a cross section of stake holders. You’ll want team members who have been there forever as well as those who are new; team members who are high up the company’s organizational structure, as well as those on the ground level. In fact, you’ll want diversity in all ways.

Brainstorming sessions work best when you involve a diverse set of people who all come at the situation from a unique perspective. We all come from different backgrounds. Sometimes this vast array of perspectives can be just what you need to break through your rut. Seeing issues from a new perspective is always refreshing!

2. Pick an offsite venue

This whole day is about encouraging and fostering fresh ideas. A change of venue can help with that. There’s nothing like bursting out of the mundane of the everyday to ignite those ideas. So start with the physical setting. Go offsite. Get out of the office. Try some place new.

For our recent team retreat, we set up shop for the day at Local Office – a great new co-working space. The space was close and convenient for all of us, but still different from our usual work space.

3. Prepare to listen, listen, listen.

I can’t stress this one enough! As the leader, you are probably accustomed to doing a lot of talking. You talk, people listen! But this isn’t an opportunity to showcase your brilliant idea.

This is an opportunity to actively solicit new ideas! So be willing to listen. And be open to ideas contrary to the status quo and even contrary to your own ideas.

4. Set an agenda and a schedule

Have a clear objective for your meeting. This isn’t just a general vent session or an opportunity to pontificate ad nauseam. You need to define a specific purpose for the day. As I alluded to above, our purpose was to set the tone for how we were going to close out the year creatively.

Here’s a tip for you: I encourage making the first half of the session more conceptual in nature and the second half of the session can be more tactical in nature. In other words, dream up all your ideas and then figure out how you’re going to implement them.

A time table is needed to keep things moving along. But be realistic with your schedule. Allow for the fact that creativity takes time – sometimes longer than you expect.

When setting your schedule, be sure to include breaks. In general, people can’t go much more than an hour without becoming antsy, burnt out, and in need of a break. So, divide the day into manageable chunks of time with a clear agenda.

5. Pose questions in advance

Tell people the overarching theme of the offsite team retreat, and ask people to come prepared with ideas. Provide the agenda and throw out general questions for them to ponder prior to the meeting. This will help get everyone in the right mindset prior to walking into the meeting.

The Day of the Brainstorming Session

Now that you’ve properly prepared, let’s get to the nitty gritty of how to navigate the team brainstorming session itself…

6. Start the day with a physical activity

This step may seem superfluous, but don’t overlook it or discount its importance. A physical activity can serve to get people out of their comfort zones both literally and metaphorically. Getting physical can also serve to rev up everyone’s engines, so to speak. It can provide the energy boost to get the day started on the right foot.

For a while, ropes courses were en vogue for team retreats like these. Ropes courses are thought to provide an experiential learning component – and so many people in fact prefer to learn that way today. Many walk away from a ropes course experience saying they gained insight on their strengths, weaknesses, trust-issues, working as a team, pushing through adversity and so many other great lessons.

Similarly, I challenged our team to try out a new exercise class with me. As I mentioned in this article, I’ve recently taken a liking to the workout at Lagree HTX. Well, Anna the owner was so kind to host our team to a sweat session to start the day off right! Trying something new and pushing yourself physically is the perfect way to start a day of brainstorming!

7. Designate a moderator and a scribe.

Though the flow of this day is by nature fairly free form, there must be some structure. As I mentioned above in the planning section, form an agenda prior to the meeting. On the day of the meeting, the designated moderator is responsible for sticking to the schedule. In addition, she is responsible for keeping the session on track. She must keep the day’s overarching theme in focus and put any tangential issues in the “parking lot”. Side issues can be handled later. You all need to stay focused on the task at hand.

Secondly, you need to designate a scribe. The purpose of the scribe is simply to keep track of all the ideas. The scribe shouldn’t filter the ideas or prioritize the ideas. The scribe is merely supposed to document everything, so that an action plan can be developed afterwards. The scribe should be unbiased and neutral in her recording of ideas.

8. Offer lots of food

What? You think I’m joking? Heck no! This really is important. It’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference, right? Make the day a treat for your staff. Make it a reward of sorts. One easy way to do that is with food! Who doesn’t like to be well fed?

For our team retreat, we had boxed lunches brought in to our meeting space. Big thanks to Relish Restaurant for providing our delicious lunches. Relish is a favorite lunch spot of the team’s, so it only made sense to treat the team to it for lunch.

Plus, remember how I mentioned frequent breaks earlier? Well, breaks are a good opportunity for snacks and caffeine! Fortunately for us, the new location of Cavo Coffee is located directly downstairs from Local Office. During our afternoon break, they spoiled us with coffee and all sorts of tasty treats!

Frequent food and drink will stave off one of the biggest potential distractions for meeting participants – hunger and thirst. Speaking of distractions, that leads me into the next point…

9. Eliminate distractions

In today’s world, the biggest distraction is being online. Whether that’s on a cell phone or on a computer, nothing will kill the meeting more than someone being online. Absolutely nothing!

You’re here for a purpose, and you need everyone focused on that purpose. What could possibly be more important business-wise than what’s happening in this room? Be sure to model that for your team members. Place your phone on silent and place it aside. Put all laptops away. And eliminate (or reduce as much as possible) any other distractions. The key word for the day is focus. 

10. Visualize ideas

While some people absorb information just by hearing it, many of us are visual learners. Seeing ideas put to paper makes them sink in more. So, find a way to represent the idea generation visually. Whether it’s a whiteboard or a chalkboard or giant Post-It notes with which you wallpaper the room, make it visual!

In our case, we actually took the visualization one step further. We did more than write down ideas. We took on the challenge of creating visual mood boards. These were collages of sorts illustrating our ideas. It was fun to see the ideas each of the girls had for the brand! Plus now we have these mood boards hanging in our office. So, our vision is continually represented in front of us.

11. Celebrate

Never, ever forget to celebrate! By the end of the team brainstorming session, everyone will likely be “brain dead”. But don’t go your separate ways just yet. Make time to commemorate and reward the hard work with a celebration!

For our recent team brainstorm session, we headed to Relish Restaurant for a happy hour. It turns out the girls were so energized by the meeting that the discussion continued informally.

Again, it’s vitally important to pause to celebrate and bond even more as a team.

12. Recap

After the meeting, keep the momentum going by recapping the ideas of the day. Share via email the unfiltered list of ideas recorded by the scribe. You never know which idea might spark something great in a team member!

Then use the creative energy of the strategy session to catapult your team on to action and greatness! Use that harnessed momentum to take things to the next level.


We’d love to hear about your brainstorming sessions if you’ve hosted or gone to any. Please share in the comments below! And make sure you check out our other business articles: The Best Advice I Give Every Entrepreneur / 9 Style Tips for Women in Business / 7 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome / The 6 Biggest Mistakes Women Make in Business. Have a great week!


  1. This post inspired me to book an upcoming planning session for my HR team off-site in a more inspiring setting than our usual conference room. Thanks Carrie 🙂

    1. Sheri – your comment made my day! Yay.

      It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do in boosting creativity and energy.

      Let me know how it goes!

  2. You bet, Carrie! I even booked the venue. It’s not until October, but I’ll let you know how it goes. Super excited to try something new.

    1. Wonderful! Thanks as always for chiming in.

  3. SoHoSoleil says:

    This looks like fun! Brainstorming in a creative environment can be very rewarding!

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