How to Brainstorm Your Way to a Better Strategy

Joe Krause, SVP of Strategy Consulting at AchieveIt, and Jonathan Morgan, VP of Revenue Operations and Head of Marketing at AchieveIt, provide wide-ranging insights on how to integrate brainstorming into the strategy process. 

From dos and don’ts to challenges and benefits, Joe and Jonathan cover how all types of organizations — especially those looking to pivot or shake things up at the year’s halfway mark — can not only generate great ideas and solicit vital contributions from their entire team, but also proceed to put those ideas into game-changing action.

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What’s the forecast for a brainstorm?

At the midpoint of the year, many companies are gearing up for the next year of planning. Ideas are flowing, and teams are likely trying to figure out how to incorporate and execute them in new or existing strategic plans. 

With a world of ideas and opportunities at your fingertips, it can be hard to narrow down focus areas and decide how to execute a successful plan. 

So, when and how should organizations best leverage brainstorming in their strategic process?

Initial brainstorming should occur earlier in the planning process than most people think. For example, the ideal time for your team to start brainstorming about the end of the calendar year is as early as October. 

“Brainstorming sometimes lends itself to the notion that every idea is a good one and will make it into the final plan. It can’t happen that way, but you have to start somewhere,” says Joe. 

Starting the process early will help ensure your team has ample time to pare down the long list of ideas generated in that initial meeting. 

No team can execute 16 broad sweeping strategies in a year, so things will have to get cut down to a more ideal 4 to 6 key focus areas.

“It’s important that people come into the room with the mindset that their idea may not be chosen, and that doesn’t mean the idea was bad,” Joe says. “Accepting that an idea just doesn’t fit the plan—that’s a productive brainstorming session.”

It’s not enough to throw a list of broad ideas onto a whiteboard and call it brainstorming. Your brainstorming session should have set guardrails to let everyone know what to expect moving forward. 

Brainstorming can and should rain on your parade

“Brainstorming isn’t something that only happens in the planning phase or on a quarterly or annual basis,” Jonathan says. “There needs to be abbreviated versions and opportunities for brainstorming to happen in unexpected situations.”

In the execution phase, something will inevitably go awry and part of the initial plan will need to change. Since it’s not feasible to go back and recreate the entire plan, there needs to be a way to facilitate an additional brainstorming process to generate new ideas. 

Success won’t come from just throwing resources at a problem without thinking about how to fix the issue. By incorporating additional brainstorming sessions, teams can work together to find solutions while maintaining a semblance of the original plan.

3 tips for effectively facilitating the brainstorming process

Before you start brainstorming, expect team members to be nervous or hesitant to share ideas and understand that no one wants to look like an idiot or be made to feel like they came up with the worst idea of the day. 

To get ahead of these issues, try to foster a culture of open communication and collaboration and set expectations for the process. The following three tips will help facilitate a generative brainstorming session.

Tip #1: Assign pre-work

One great way to help team members combat the initial nervousness of sharing ideas in a group setting is to ask them to brainstorm on their own prior to meeting as a group. This way when you get to the group conversation, it isn’t the first time anyone has talked or thought about it. 

“A little bit of homework before the meeting enables the team to build upon each other’s ideas and flush out details together methodically and without embarrassment,” says Jonathan. 

Tip #2: Poke holes in proposed ideas

Encourage team members to poke holes in each other’s ideas — even if the idea came from someone higher up the ladder — by considering “what ifs” and potential problems that could arise. Then, give them time to research and consider ways to make their idea make sense.

“If after a week of research it makes sense, move forward. If it doesn’t, no hard feelings. There’s no social score lost, and that person can back out gracefully based on their research,” Joe says. 

Tip #3: Recognize the value of small ideas

Often, it’s the smaller ideas that bring the most improvements. While big ideas are important — and you’ll likely have at least one in your plan, remember the small things add up and become big, too. 

“Frame your brainstorming session so that others understand not every idea has to be a home run. A collection of singles and doubles will get things moving just as successfully,” says Joe. 

Bonus tip for leadership: Know yourself

It is imperative that organizational leaders facilitating brainstorming meetings know themselves. If your tendency when confronted with bad ideas is to get upset or pass judgment, practice your poker face in the mirror and figure out how to not let that happen. 

Make an effort to be conscious about how you respond because people will pick up on your cues, and you could influence or stifle their unique opinions. 

“I’ve been to sessions before where somebody says an idea, and they all lock eyes on the person across the room who’s in charge to see what they think,” Joe says. “If all the ideas are funneling through that person across the room, what’s the point?”

If you can scan the room and see teammates being their authentic selves, you’ll know you’ve done a good job.

Weathering the storm: moving from brainstorming to execution

Once you’ve gone through brainstorming and determined your 4 to 6 focus areas, you can’t move directly into execution. You still have to develop the plan. 

“To go with each of your focus areas, you have to have a statement of what your overall goal looks like. Below that, you have to establish ways to measure progress and success and outline some initiatives to fix problems,” says Joe. 

For example, if one of your focus areas is customer service, your statement might be ‘Our goal is to win an award for excellent customer service.’ 

If your organization has historically struggled with lengthy time to connect for phone calls, one of your measurements might be reducing pick-up time from a few minutes to 30 seconds. In addition, you’ll need a list of initiatives describing how you’re going to achieve that goal. 

Don’t go overboard; just keep it simple. Focus on the key aspects of your plan:

  1. What are your focus areas?
  2. How do you know you’ve succeeded in that area?
  3. How will you measure success in that area?
  4. What are you doing to impact those measures?

“Having a simple four to five-level plan is a good start. Make the levels in your plan very succinct, have good definitions, and use them throughout the day. Before you know it, you’ll be swimming through execution,” Joe says. 

Interested in learning more about the benefits of integrating brainstorming into your strategic planning process? Want more tips for efficiently navigating the journey from brainstorming to planning to execution? Listen to the full conversation between Jonathan and Joe, where they share their wide-ranging insights on brainstorming, strategy, and how to put ideas into action on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. 


Meet the Author  Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan is the VP of Revenue Operations and Head of Marketing at AchieveIt. Jonathan has spent time in roles across strategy consulting, sales, customer engagement, marketing, and operations, enabling a full picture view of strategy & strategy execution. His generalist background encourages a full picture view of strategic planning & strategy execution. Jonathan graduated from Georgia Tech and received his MBA from the University of Florida.

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