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5 Brainstorming Exercises Managers Can Use to Inspire Creativity

Brainstorming exercises are an important tool in every manager’s toolbox.

They are a perfect opportunity for managers to gather input and ideas from employees and to inspire creativity at work. But it’s not always easy for managers to find the right activity.

The Problem with Brainstorming Exercises

Most brainstorming exercises are useless because of one or more of the following issues:

  • They take too long. When your employees lose focus, you’re doing nothing but wasting time.

  • They use too many materials. If managers have to run to the store and buy $100 worth of supplies, they aren’t going to invest in proper brainstorming processes.

  • They don’t take your group into consideration. There is no one-size-fits-all brainstorming exercise. Some activities work better for small groups; others for large groups. Some work better for extroverts; others for introverts.

Each of the brainstorming exercises below have been created by Brian Cole Miller, management trainer and consultant and author of Quick Brainstorming Activities for Busy Managers.

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Quick Brainstorming Activities for Busy Managers

Filled with clear, concise guidance and quick, easily implemented techniques, Quick Brainstorming Activities for Busy Managers provides supervisors, managers, and team leaders the fun, proven activities they need to get idea-packed brainstorming sessions started, and keep them going.

Author Brian Miller helps you explore the most effective brainstorming method for your team and generate the best results using straightforward, focused activities that each take less than fifteen minutes to complete.

These exercises can be completed in 15 minutes or less and are guaranteed to inspire creativity within any member of your team.

Brainstorming Exercise #1: Brainstorm Bash

Brainstorm Bash is a highly competitive, creative exercise where participants compete in teams with each other to think up the most creative ideas.

Managers can use this exercise to add an element of competition to encourage more creativity and to raise the energy in the group.

How to Perform the Exercise:

  1. Divide the group into three or more teams of roughly the same size.
  2. Randomly select one team to go first. They have 60 seconds to propose the most crazy, outlandish, ridiculous solution that they can think of.
  3. The other teams then have 3 minutes to develop a truly feasible solution based on the first team’s original idea.
  4. All teams present their solutions and the first team chooses the best, most plausible solution. 5. Record all the ideas.
  5. The winning team then has 60 seconds to propose yet another crazy, outlandish, ridiculous solution.
  6. Repeat steps 5 through 6 several times.
  7. Award a prize to the team with the most points.
  8. Sort or prioritize the ideas shared during the brainstorming session.

Brainstorming Exercise #2: Exaggerations

Exaggerations is a creativity exercise where participants explore an exaggerated aspect of the topic.

For example, if the goal is to reduce the time it takes to process an expense reimbursement from 21 days to 17 days, exaggerate it to 1 day.

Managers should use this exercise if there are members of their team who have a tendency to critique or judge input. This creativity exercise encourages and builds upon initial individual input.

How to Perform the Exercise:

  1. Take the topic, goal, or purpose of the brainstorming session and exaggerate it considerably. 2. Review the purpose of the session with the group.
  2. Review and get agreement on the four rules of brainstorming.
  3. Ask the Focus Question and start the clock.
  4. Brainstorm, using any brainstorming technique.
  5. Sort or prioritize the ideas shared during the brainstorming session.

Brainstorming Exercise #3: Forced Conflict  

Forced conflict is a creativity exercise where participants find inspiration for a seemingly dichotomous situation.

For example, if the topic is about improving employee development efforts, one element is the fear of losing employees in whom you’ve invested. Create a Focus Question about how you can “create employees that headhunters can’t resist.”

A manager might choose this activity to get participants into a different mindset that will inspire different perspectives.

How to Perform the Exercise:

  1. From the brainstorming topic, find an essential element where there is some form of conflict.
  2. Frame the Focus Question around that conflict before the session.
  3. Review the purpose of the session with the group.
  4. Review and get agreement on the four rules of brainstorming.
  5. Ask the Focus Question and start the clock.
  6. Brainstorm, using any brainstorming technique.
  7. Sort or prioritize the ideas shared during the brainstorming session.

Brainstorming Exercise #4: Let’s Get Physical

Let’s Get Physical is a creativity exercise where participants change their physical position or location to inspire new and different ideas.

This exercise could work for office workers and remote employees alike.

  • Office workers could switch desks with a teammate or forfeit their “usual” chair at the conference room table or the team could brainstorm while waiting for food at a restaurant during lunch.
  • Managers could encourage remote employees to go to a different room in their house or sit outside during the duration of a brainstorming session.
  • For both parties, you could simply ask them to change their physical position by standing up instead of sitting down while they think and collaborate with each other.

By encouraging employees to change their environment, managers can raise the energy in any room and shift participants’ physical and visual perspective within any room.

How to Perform the Exercise:

  1. Have all the participants stand up or ask them to change locations ahead of time.
  2. Ask the Focus Question and start the clock.
  3. Brainstorm, using any brainstorming technique.
  4. Participants remain standing until the brainstorming session time is up.
  5. Sort or prioritize the ideas shared during the brainstorming session.

Brainstorming Exercise #5: Mind Reader

Mind Reader is a creativity exercise where participants try to anticipate what their colleagues will say.

If a manager has one or more shy or reluctant employees on their team, this exercise will help draw them out.

How to Perform the Exercise:

  1. Review the purpose of the session with the group.
  2. Review and get agreement on the four rules of brainstorming.
  3. Distribute papers with the names of each participant on them (making sure no one gets their own name).
  4. Explain that when you start the clock, participants are to write down their own responses as well as the responses they anticipate or guess would be given by the person whose name is on their paper. They will have 3 minutes.
  5. Ask the Focus Question and start the clock.
  6. Participants record both kinds of responses.
  7. When the clock stops, have the participants share all their responses while you record them. They do not need to tell you whose name was on their paper, nor do they need to say which ideas were their own and which were “channeled.”
  8. Ask the Focus Question again and have the group build on the ideas previously given.
  9. Sort or prioritize the ideas shared during the brainstorming session.

Get More Brainstorming Activities!

Find more quick, easy, and effective brainstorming exercises to inspire creativity on your team and in your office inside Quick Brainstorming Activities for Busy Managers.

Want to read more? Get the book!

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Brian Cole Miller

Brian Cole Miller is the principal of Working Solutions, Inc., a management training and consulting firm whose clients include Nationwide Insurance, Kellogg's, and the Ohio State University. He is the author of Keeping Employees Accountable for Results and other popular books.

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