Brainpower Bonanza: The Magic of Groups in Creative Problem Solving

One of the tough jobs of Learning & Development (L&D), is the search for fresh, impactful ideas. Sometimes trying to find new ideas can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But what if the secret to new ideas isn’t you alone in your office with a cold cup of coffee? But instead, found in the collective brilliance of those around you? 

As part of our continuing conversation about Creative Problem Solving (CPS) we will discuss techniques that demonstrate the power of collaborative problem-solving, give you recommended actions for facilitating creative problem-solving sessions, and action items for follow-up. (Check out the Part 1 post here.)

Together let’s harness the collective intelligence of your teams, break down silos and discover strategies that will redefine the future of learning in your organization. #Letsdothis

CPS The Cornerstone of the Modern L&D Toolbox

Let’s face it: the pace of change in business is relentless, and traditional ideation and development methods often fall short. Today’s work teams face a variety of challenges that just one person’s thinking can’t solve. This is where techniques and the recommended approaches of creative and collaborative problem-solving come into play, becoming an indispensable part of your L&D toolbox.

Why are having these creative problem-solving techniques in your toolbox crucial? 

For starters, these collaborative methods tap into your team’s diverse experiences, perspectives, and expertise, ensuring that learning initiatives are innovative, holistic, and well-rounded. By fostering an environment where every voice is valued, we pave the way for solutions that are effective and resonate with a broader audience.

We all know that in L&D today, the stakes are high. We’re not just imparting knowledge; in many cases, we’re helping to shape the future of organizations and influencing organizational cultures. Collaborative and creative problem-solving ensures that our strategies are agile, adaptable, and aligned with the real-world challenges people within the workplace face. It pushes us to think beyond the conventional, to challenge the status quo, and to craft truly transformative learning experiences.

Embedding creative techniques into our L&D practices is not just about thinking differently. It’s about leading the charge and behavior modeling effective and modern learning processes. As we journey through this “Brainpower Bonanza,” we’ll uncover recommended practices for CPS sessions, different CPS techniques and practices, and techniques for successful follow-up— all to ensure that our L&D initiatives hit the mark of meeting business goals and people’s success.

Let’s start at the beginning – an effective CPS session requires guardrails. Not to be controlling or overly structured but to ensure all voices and perspectives are heard. CPS works its best magic when the ideas are diverse and reflective of the people in the group.

Recommended Practices for Creative Problem-Solving Sessions

  1. Set One Clear Outcome: Too many cooks spoil the broth – too many outcomes will mean the focus is diluted. Before starting, ensure that everyone understands the main outcome of the session. This helps in keeping the discussion focused and productive.
  2. Create a Safe Environment: Encourage an atmosphere where participants feel comfortable sharing even the most out-of-the-box ideas without fear of judgment. This can be accomplished by setting ground rules and using the “Yes, and…” technique.
  3. Silent Brainstorming: Instead of vocalizing ideas, participants write them down silently. This method can be particularly effective for introverted team members, ensuring that more vocal participants don’t overshadow their ideas.
  4. Limit Group Size: Ideally, 5-8 people are most effective for brainstorming. If you have a larger group, divide people into smaller teams to ensure everyone’s participation.
  5. Use a Facilitator or Moderator: The odds of achieving your desired outcome rests almost solely on the quality and strength of the moderator. Having someone to guide the session, keep on topic, track time, and ensure everyone gets a chance to speak makes the process smoother.
  6. Encourage Diverse Thinking: Invite participants from different departments, job roles, or backgrounds to bring various perspectives.
  7. Set a Time Limit: For each exercise, stay firm on a time limit. This creates a sense of urgency and can spur more rapid idea generation.
  8. Capture Everything: Use whiteboards, sticky notes, your phone camera, or digital tools to record every idea. This ensures that nothing is lost and provides a reference for later discussions.
  9. Avoid Criticism: During the ideation phase, the focus should be on quantity, not quality. Avoid critiquing ideas as they come up by using techniques like a “parking lot” or the “I like…” technique. There will be time for evaluation later.
  10. Warm-Up Activities: Start with a quick, unrelated creative exercise to get participants in the right mindset and demonstrate the expectations. 

Techniques for Group Ideation

Both ideation techniques and consensus-reaching strategies are crucial for effective creative problem-solving. They ensure that a diverse range of ideas are considered and that the group can move forward with solutions that have broad support. Here are six CPS techniques to try today.

🤩Crazy Eights (a Learning Rebels favorite)

Definition: A rapid sketching exercise where participants fold a sheet of paper into eight frames and then have eight minutes to fill each frame with a different idea.

Benefits: Encourages rapid idea generation and can help participants overcome analysis paralysis.

How to Implement: Provide each participant with a sheet of paper and a pen. Set an eight-minute timer and instruct participants to sketch or write a different idea in each frame.

🤩TRIZ (from Liberating Structures, another favorite!)

Definition: A problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature. In the context of Liberating Structures, it’s used to identify and eliminate counterproductive practices.

Benefits: Helps teams focus on practices that need to be stopped, making room for innovation.

How to Implement: Begin by asking participants to imagine the worst possible ways to achieve the opposite of their goal. Discuss these negative practices and identify which ones are currently in play. The next step is to strategize on how to eliminate or reverse these practices.

🤩1-2-4-All (from Liberating Structures)

Definition: A scalable method that engages all participants regardless of the number of people. Individuals think alone, then in pairs, then in foursomes, and finally, the whole group comes together to build on ideas.

Benefits: Ensures all voices are heard and allows for the gradual building of ideas.

How to Implement: Start with silent individual reflection, then have participants share their ideas with a partner, followed by a group of four, and finally, the entire group discusses and synthesizes the ideas.


Definition: Instead of speaking ideas aloud, participants write down their ideas on paper or digital platforms.

Benefits: Reduces the pressure of on-the-spot thinking and allows for more thoughtful idea generation.

How to Implement: Distribute paper or use digital tools. Set a timer, and once time is up, participants can pass their ideas to the next person for further elaboration or share them with the group.

Nominal Group Technique

Definition: A structured method where individuals brainstorm silently, then the group discusses and ranks each idea.

Benefits: Combines individual creativity with group consensus.

How to Implement: After silent brainstorming, each participant shares one idea, which is then discussed. Once all ideas are on the table, they are ranked or voted upon.

Delphi Method

Definition: An iterative process where experts respond to questionnaires in multiple rounds. After each round, a facilitator provides a summary of the experts’ forecasts and reasons.

Benefits: Reduces the influence of dominant personalities and focuses on expert consensus.

How to Implement: Identify experts, send out initial questionnaires, summarize responses, and send out subsequent rounds until consensus is reached.

With these techniques, your teams have diverse tools to foster creativity, ensure all voices are heard, and address both productive and counterproductive practices.

Beyond the Session: 5 Effective Follow-Up Techniques

The coffee is gone, and the donuts are cleared out. The brainstorming session might have ended, but the journey of an idea has just begun. To ensure that the creative sparks from your session don’t fizzle out, it’s crucial to have a structured follow-up process. This keeps the momentum going and translates those raw ideas into actionable strategies. 

Here are five follow-up actions to consider:

  • Idea Digest: Compile a comprehensive document or presentation that captures all the ideas generated during the session. Distribute this “Idea Digest” to all participants, ensuring everyone has a record of the collective brainstorm.
  • Feedback Loops: Create a platform or method for participants to provide further insights or feedback on the ideas post-session. This could be in the form of digital surveys, feedback forms, or scheduled review meetings.
  • Task Forces: Form small teams or task forces assigned to specific ideas. These groups can delve deeper into each idea’s feasibility, potential challenges, and implementation strategies.
  • Progress Check-ins: Schedule regular check-in meetings to monitor the development of the ideas. These meetings can be used to address any roadblocks, allocate resources, or pivot the approach if necessary.
  • Celebration of Milestones: Recognize and celebrate when an idea from the brainstorming session reaches a significant milestone or gets implemented. This not only boosts morale but also reinforces the value of brainstorming sessions.

One of the worst things about ideation sessions is the lack of follow-up. You don’t want people to feel that their time has been wasted. By ensuring a structured follow-up, you’re preserving the essence of the ideas and paving the way for tangible results and innovations.

A Call to Action!

Within the expansive realm of problem-solving, the techniques we’ve delved into act as guiding lights, leading us to inventive solutions. From the unconventional approaches of “Crazy Eights” and “TRIZ” to the foundational best practices like establishing ground rules and fostering a safe space, these tools transform brainstorming from a mere activity to a powerful strategy. 

And don’t forget the follow-up! Follow-up actions, from crafting an “Idea Digest” to celebrating milestones, ensure that the seeds of creativity planted during brainstorming bear fruit.

But knowledge without action is like a toolbox never opened. Here’s a challenge for you: In the next month, pick one technique or best practice we’ve discussed and implement it in your next meeting session. Document the changes in behaviors and attitudes, any new ideas generated, and the overall impact on the session’s dynamics. 

Let this be your first step in truly embracing the transformative power of creative problem-solving. Because when minds come together with intent, passion, and the right tools, the possibilities are boundless.

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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