Are brainstorms really ‘groupw**k’?

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I recently read a very amusing if somewhat slightly irreverent article by Andy Nairn where he questioned the effectiveness of brainstorms. “A borefest. A headpunch. An eyestab. A mindpain. A timewaste…..” These were some of the more acceptable (and less rude) terms that he used to describe group work sessions whose purpose is to generate fresh thinking. (

Three important points he makes are firstly that some people tend to coast through these sessions, taking the more comfortable back seat. This is in part due to the fact that others often dominate proceedings, which is his second point. A third point that he makes is that introverts don’t always get their voices heard, even though they may well be the people with the freshest and most creative thoughts.

David Taylor, in his excellent weekly blog, goes one step further and offers three top tips on how he and his colleagues try to overcome these problems ( They encourage active participation by managing open plenary sessions to allow every participant to contribute equally, as well as using smaller groups to ensure that everybody’s voice is heard in some forum, big or small. They also have various tricks up their sleeve for managing the input and ego of the senior person in the room before they start to dominate proceedings!

people with question marks

Another way of trying to ensure that the brainstorm session does not degenerate into a ‘lostday’ or a ‘workpuke’ is to look at this meeting through a slightly different lens. First of all, you need to understand the building blocks of the creative process, which specific kind of behaviour you need and when?

Having clearly defined the problem or issue to be addressed and shared this with the group in advance of the day, teams should typically move through a number of different modes:

  1. In Stimulator mode, everybody is going to generate a multitude of initial thoughts and early ideas. Quantity is as important as quality. Half thought through ideas are fine. A wall laden with a cacophony of colourful post-it notes is often the output.
  2. In Spotter mode, the group then steps back, absorbs all the stimuli available, makes connections between the different thoughts and ideas and identifies the beginnings of bigger, more powerful ideas.
  3. In Sculptor mode, one or more people from the group grab hold of the idea and turn it in to something fully formed and more concrete. They bring the idea to life so others ‘get it’ by using either words or images or both.
  4. In Selector mode, those who are great at separating the good from the not so good consider the practical implications of each option before deciding on which direction to take. Creativity must always lead to action.
  5. The person in Supporter mode provides the oil that makes the wheels turn and the glue that sticks the team together. They understand group dynamics and are fully conversant with the creative process.


If the team as a whole understands which mode they need to be in and when, there is more likely to be a more productive output from the meeting.

Even better, if every person in the team, introvert or extravert, junior person or senior person also knows which of the five modes of creative behaviour they excel at, you are more likely to get the right people contributing at the right time. The end result is that you will maximise the creative resource you have available.

The brainstorm then has a much better chance of becoming a highly effective and efficient groupwork session rather than a highly frustrating groupw**k one!!

For more information on how to get the most out of your brainstorms,contact

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