Efficient Brainstorming – The Marathon Schedule

Maybe you need a new theme. Or a new set of activities to better engage your attendees. You could try to develop fresh ideas on your own – just you, your squish ball, and your blank whiteboard. But you risk coming up with a mere variation on a theme, versus an entirely new approach.

An efficient brainstorm lets you bounce ideas off of your colleagues, and kick the tires of each suggestion. They can be a challenge to schedule, but with the right structure, can be easy to manage. By following the sample brainstorm schedule at the end of the post, you and your team will walk out with a sense of accomplishment and clear next steps.

The Process:

Distribute agenda and team assignments in advance
Set expectations early and keep your brainstorm session focused on deliverables – not logistics – by distributing this information ahead of time. And write it on the board as your framework for the day to keep you and your team on track.

Designate a Scribe
The facilitator is not the scribe. Writing while talking is a skill – and if you aren’t that good at it, best to delegate this function to someone else. These notes should be in an outline format and follow the agenda.

Schedule 90-minute chunks
The next time you’re in a meeting, check your watch at the 90-minute mark and note the energy level in the room. It’s probably flagging. The average person’s attention span is 90 minutes – often shorter if they aren’t engaged in the discussion. While it’s tempting to keep pushing ahead, you’ll get more out of your team if you take a break.

Choose 4 Topics to Discuss
Each 90-minute section should focus on 1 area. For a day-long session, you’ll have time for 4 topics to cover. For example:

• Theme
• General Session
• Audience Participation
• Pre- and Post-Communications

You topics may vary, but stick to 4 and let your team known ahead of time what they are. It’ll let their subconscious start thinking about it before they set foot in the meeting.

Work in 30-minute Increments
Break each 90-minute section into 30-minute segments.

In the first 30 minutes, identify the issue and briefly provide any background information. For the remaining time in this first section, you and your team can engage in blue sky thinking. Allow enough discussion for each idea before moving to the next.

In the next 30 minutes, review your ideas and identify any potential challenges. This is the time to prune the ideas that lack traction with the group.

In the final 30 minutes, resolve any outstanding issues and rank your ideas for presentation to the group later, including identification of any problems and your group’s solutions to these. If you need more information before reaching a decision, flag the idea for follow-up.

Schedule 15-minute breaks
Write these times on the board and stick to them. This gives your participants windows to schedule phone calls and check emails.

Take 1 hour for lunch
The brain needs food to function. Rather than scheduling a “working” lunch, which is often more lunching than working, take the full time to break. This not only gives the mind a rest, but also allows it reset for the afternoon sessions.

Plan Next Steps
Once everyone has completed the report outs, summarize plans for next steps. If there are outstanding issues, task a team member to get the information and report back to the group at the next meeting. Schedule this follow-up meeting no later than 2 weeks from your initial brainstorm.

Sample Schedule

8:30 – 8:45 Intro
• Objectives
• Format
• Schedule

8:45 – 10:15 Topic #1
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

10:15 – 10:30 Break
• Snacks

10:30 – 12:00 Topic #2
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 Topic #3
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

2:30 – 2:45 Break
• Snacks

2:45 – 4:00 Topic #4
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

4:00 – 4:15 Break

4:15 – 4:30 Group Report Outs

4:30 – 4:45 Summary and Next Steps


Scheduling a daylong idea cramming sessions are exhausting – no question about it. But they are an extremely efficient way to gather and integrate many perspectives. Avoid the creative, but chaotic free-for-all by creating a schedule and sticking to it.

Your colleagues – and their brains – will thank you for it.

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