How To Run an Effective Brainstorming Meeting

Brainstorming is at the heart of coming up with creative solutions. But running a brainstorming meeting effectively can be surprisingly tricky.

When done poorly, brainstorming sessions can seem contrived — and even stifle innovation. You need to create an environment open enough to coax out good ideas, while still trying to stay productive and vetting the right ones.

How can you make sure everyone’s engaged, and uncover that gem of an idea that might change the face of your business? Try these ideas.

Prime the idea pump beforehand

Running a good brainstorming meeting starts with effective preparation. We all lead busy lives, which means that the people you’ve invited to your meeting may not have taken the time to think over the topic at hand before the meeting. If that’s the case, they may be leaving the best ideas outside the door.

Do this: Give everyone adequate preparation materials ahead of time. Come up with a list of questions and and distribute it a few days beforehand to help prime the pump with creative ideas. (Of course, there’s still the possibility that people won’t even look at your materials until just before the meeting.To avoid this, try to make time to talk with people one­ on ­one before the meeting to get them excited about the idea.)

Dive deep in the creative well

It’s a fact of brainstorming that the first few ideas often are lackluster. These ideas will often be the easiest solution, and reflect the status quo. That’s OK — these ideas actually serve to clear our minds, making way for the gems to come through. The problem arises when this “throat clearing” takes up most of the brainstorming session, meaning that your team never gets to the really groundbreaking ideas.

Do this: Ask every member of your team to come prepared with 10 ideas already. This will help them flush out the most generic ideas before they walk through the door.

Run free from the pack

If team members are inadequately prepared or have been too busy to think about the topic, they may not contribute any original ideas. Or, they may feel too intimidated to voice their opinion. In both cases, the result is often a pack mentality, where people simply throw their weight behind the first good idea they agree with, or the entire group keeps riffing on a single idea.

Do this: Spend the first 10 minutes of the brainstorming session having everyone jot down as many ideas as possible. Afterwards, everyone can share their most innovative ideas. This lets people come up with their own ideas without being influenced by others, and can give shy team members the confidence to share their opinion.

Deal with ideas one at a time

During the initial phase of the brainstorming session, you’ll want to have everyone throw out as many ideas possible. But when discussing the merits of each idea, trying to hold so many ideas in your head at once can be confusing.

Do this: As a group, agree on a way to measure which ideas are the most successful, based on clearly defined metrics around what you’re trying to accomplish. This will not only help the best ideas rise to the top, but it also creates a more impartial measurement that lets people evaluate ideas without attaching values of self­ worth or emotion. Then, go through the ideas one by one and see how they measure up.

What are your best tips for running a brainstorming session? I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments.