A brainstorming session is like a melting pot of ideas, but the best suggestion doesn't always bubble to the top. Although a group discussion occasionally produces good results and might encourage teamwork, management often fails to see the several disadvantages of brainstorming.
Characteristics of Brainstorming
Before calling out the weaknesses of brainstorming, break down its parts to begin to realize where things could go wrong: Brainstorming starts with workers being grouped together to generate ideas or solutions to a problem, discussing the validity of those ideas, and then building on the ideas or rejecting them. Seems productively innocent enough, right? Not necessarily.
One-Sided: The Pressure is Real
Peer pressure doesn't end when you throw your graduation cap into the air. It can continue, lifelong, especially in the workplace. When you bring together a group of coworkers, the ones with the strongest personalities might overrule the others. Without hearing the thoughts of, say, new or introverted employees, the group might miss out on great solutions from folks who spend a lot of time listening to, learning about and contemplating what's going on around them, throughout the workweek.
Time Consuming Process
If you don't put a time limit on your brainstorming session, it could go on for hours or days, interfering with the team's regular duties and increasing the workload of others. The best ideas often surface when time is of the essence – 5 to ten minutes are usually enough for a productive brainstorming session.
Not putting a limit on the number of ideas to be generated – maybe three or four maximum – or the number of people in the group can hinder the results, too.
Groupthink Trumps Independent Thinking
Herd mentality or the tendency to adopt your peers' way of thinking – in order to keep the peace, avoid having your ideas rejected or to be liked, for example – can affect the outcome of a discussion group. The larger the brainstorming group, the more likely that individuals will band together, settling on the most popular idea, not necessarily the best one.
Goes in Circles
The beauty of a brainstorming session is its democratic nature; ironically, the downfall of a brainstorming session is also its democratic nature. Having the freedom to speak and to object can send the group into an endless tailspin that gets them nowhere. Unless everyone's willing to compromise or to develop a mashup of ideas that solves the problem at hand, a brainstorming activity can end in stalemate.
Not All Team Members Contribute
For some people, being part of a brainstorming group is a chance to sit back and do, well, nothing, as their counterparts hash out the issue. When one or more folks in the group contribute nothing of value, the hardworking folks, carrying the weight of the team, often regress or don't bother to try as hard as they would if they were coming up with ideas on their own.
Too Many Voices Blocking Production
Ever entered a room or attended a party where everyone seemed to be speaking at once? Even if you settle into a conversation with someone, you might lose track of what they're saying or forget what you were going to say because of the distraction of so many thoughts being voiced. That's a form of production blocking and it's one of the common disadvantages of brainstorming.
When you can mind-map or focus on an issue without a group of excited people bouncing their ideas off each other at the same time, you can often be much more productive.
It's Not a Marketing Strategy
Are you really saving money by grouping your workers together for a brainstorming session rather than hiring a marketing expert to nail down a problem with company growth or brand strategy? Maybe not. Your workers might have trouble seeing beyond the company's usual way of doing things.
A marketing agent, on the other hand, follows trends, knows which social media platforms your target market prefers and watches for any shifts in their spending habits, just for starters.
Conclusion of Brainstorming
It might seem like the weaknesses of brainstorming outweigh the strengths, but that typically depends on how everyone involved handles the activity. If the group's too big, someone's not willing to compromise or some people aren't contributing as much as others, the session can produce ineffective solutions or come to a stalemate.
It is possible to brainstorm or mind-map alone, and sometimes, that's the best way to proceed.
Lorna Hordos is a home-improvement business owner and freelance writer. She has written hundreds of conversational business articles for WordPress.com, Bizfluent, AZ Central and Global Post.