Brainstorming sessions have proved to be an invaluable tool at Reliant. Time and time again, I’m surprised at our team’s ability to collectively develop an idea or concept that is far better than what any of us could come up with individually.
But, every now and then, a brainstorming meeting can stall. The energy level is low and everyone is frozen by the pressure of developing creative ideas. There are many tactics leaders can use to avoid this potential stagnation, but one effective method we’ve found is surprisingly simple: start every brainstorming meeting with a game.
Why play games?
Creative games stimulate the same areas of the brain that your team will be using to do some creative problem solving or brainstorming. The activity gets the mind warmed up and ready to sprout amazing ideas.
We’ve also found that playing games is an effective icebreaker. It loosens everyone up and takes the pressure off the situation at hand. We remember that this type of work is actually fun and enjoyable for people like us. And while competitive spirits may flare up during the game, we’d much rather have a little fire going into a freewheeling whiteboard session than apathy.
Best Practices to Follow
So, let’s say you’re convinced; you want to start your next meeting with a game. Here are some best practices we’ve developed at Reliant to keep game time purposeful and productive.
- Plan for 10-15 minutes of game time at the beginning of your meeting. At first, you may be hesitant to give up this time when you could be doing “real work.” Trust me, the increased productivity in the meeting to follow will more than make up for the time you spent playing the game.
- Be sure to clearly explain the rules of the game you’re playing. Keep it simple. You’ll become more efficient at this step (or can even eliminate it) as you start repeating games, obviously.
- As the leader, you’ll have to be the disciplined one that has to end the game after the allotted time. Leave your team wanting more; they’ll actually start looking forward to your meetings!
- Move into the meeting immediately after ending the game. Make your meeting feel like an extension of the game. This will keep your team “in the zone” with the creative sections of their brain.
What games should we play?
The key in choosing effective right-brain-stimulating games is to think of those that require creative problem solving skills. It’s helpful to have a bucket of games that you rotate through to keep things interesting. Here’s a short list of some that we’ve found effective.
The classic party game actually stretches creative thinking just as much as it inspires rolling-on-the-floor laughter. There are dozens of ways to play, but the key for our context is to keep it simple. We typically break into two teams and use this random word generator to supply the clues in order to keep the game time efficient and fair. To keep score, we usually just add up the time it takes a team to guess each clue. After everyone has had a chance to be the “actor” at least once, the team with the lowest “time total” wins.
This is really just one of the many “official” packaged versions of charades. If you’d rather not make up your own rules or come up with all the clues, use Guesstures.
Another oldie-but-a-goodie, we typically structure this just like charades, only people must draw the clue instead of act it out. While your own whiteboard usually works just fine for this, you can always buy the official packaged version if you’ve got the money to spend.
If you’re looking for the simplest and quickest game to play on this list, this classic do-anything-you-can-to-get-your-team-to-guess-the-clue-before-time- runs-out is your best option. Here’s a link to the high-tech electronic version.
Similar to Catch Phrase, Taboo throws in an additional twist: it gives you a short list of words that you can’t say while describing your clue. You’d be surprised how creative you’re forced to become when trying to describe a zebra without saying stripes, black, white, animal, or Africa.
If you’ve never played Scattergories, I won’t go into a detailed rule explanation, but this game specifically encourages people to think of solutions that no one else in the room will think of. The benefits of this mind-stretching are obvious as you transition into a brainstorming session. Be sure to allow a bit of extra time the first time you play it in order to clearly explain the rules. We typically play 2-3 rounds.
We’ve found game-playing to be an indispensable component of our creative process. I think you’ll agree once you give it a shot!