Late last year, I wrote a LinkedIn post about how I hosted brainstorming sessions at Digistorm with different members of our team. A week or so after I posted, I received the following email from a school Marketing Manager (and Digistorm client):

I'd really love to foster some creativity in the team — and beyond — in a safe place where all ideas are celebrated and there's a culture of collaborative creativity. I'd love some insight into how you go about your sessions, what comes out of them, and how you use what comes out.

She also mentioned that brainstorming and developing creativity is often viewed as a "nice to do" rather than an important function of a well-oiled marketing machine.

I had decided to start the brainstorming sessions after reading a book called Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley (you can read my review about that book in my post last week — I'd highly recommend it to all school marketers!). We have a team of creatives working here at Digistorm, including content writers, a videographer, and a large design team, but I wanted to start fostering a culture of creativity in our broader team. I also had a feeling that some of our best ideas would come from outside of the 'creative team'.

If you're looking to host a brainstorming session with your own school team, here are my top tips to get you started!

Planning the brainstorm

If you're looking to organize your own team brainstorm, start by setting some tangible goals for your session. For example, I decided that I wanted our first session to result in:

I determined that we'd need about a two-hour session in order to achieve the above, or I could split it up into two one-hour sessions. I decided to set aside the whole two-hour block and play it by ear. If the team started to get weary or bored of the session, I could stop the session at any time.

After I'd determined our goals, I decided on a warm-up activity to kick off the session. My research showed that a good warm-up was a great way to get everyone to relax and get the creative juices flowing! I also purchased colored paper, markers, post-it notes, notepads, and Play-Doh to use throughout the session.

Inviting your participants

For the first session, I invited twelve colleagues from different teams who I knew were a little more open-minded and willing to give things a try. My hope was that they would tell other people in their teams that the session was fun and encourage them to attend future sessions. 

I sent them a quick email invitation, stressing that there was no pressure to attend if they didn't want to. I figured there would be nothing worse than having participants who felt like they were forced to be there and potentially bring the group's energy down.

When you invite participants, you have the option to send out the agenda ahead of time or surprise them on the day. I decided to surprise them as I wanted to keep the agenda quite flexible, giving me the option to cut activities if the energy drops. Sending out the agenda early, however, gives your participants the opportunity to think of ideas beforehand and bring them to the session. This could potentially result in better ideas, and could also save you a lot of time.

Running the session

To ensure everything went as smoothly as possible, I only set three rules for the session:

  1. No screens (including phones!). Harvard research shows that screens are big disrupters — not only when it comes to meetings, but also when it comes to the brain's natural creativity processes. 
  2. No idea is a dumb idea — I asked participants who disagreed with someone else's thought, instead of shooting it down, to try to build on it.

I laid out all of the supplies on the table and invited participants to start playing when they entered the room. Invariably, everyone cracked out the Play-Doh straight away and started modeling! Along with the warm-up activity, this was a great way to ensure everyone was comfortable and feeling creative before we started.

We ran through the warm-up and then moved through the rest of the agenda. To get the best possible results, I tried different brainstorming activities for each 'problem' I was trying to solve. For example, to get ideas for our 'Merry Christmas' social posts, I asked each member of the team to come up with three ideas and present their best one. The rest of the group had to then build on their idea. One participant suggested that we do a big family Christmas photo, and another built on that by saying we could divide the team up and take individual family photos. 

Hosting your own session

So that's how we hosted our brainstorm — have you hosted one at your school? How did it go? Email us and let us know what you've learned! 

Published September 23 2021