Four people sit around a square table and talk with each other. The two men on the left both wear glasses and have dark hair; they are in conversation with each other. On the right, a seated woman in a tan jacket speaks to a standing man who faces away from the viewer. The table is scattered with dry-erase markers and papers showing charts in shades of blue and orange.
Don't try to solve every problem or find every solution in one brainstorming session. It's better to divide goals into incremental tasks and take breaks during the session itself. — Getty Images/FangXiaNuo

Brainstorming is a problem-solving technique consisting of free-flowing ideas and thoughts. The technique has been around for as long as humans have been solving problems, and it can be done alone or in a group setting.

Businesses typically rely on group brainstorming sessions to develop new projects, products, or campaigns. While brainstorming sessions should facilitate the flow of ideas, there are a few tips and tricks to getting the most out of a brainstorming session.

Set specific goals and expectations

A free-flowing brainstorming session does not necessarily mean “without structure.” Creating a general outline with goals and expectations can help keep your team focused.

Once you’ve defined your goals, create bite-sized tasks for each phase. For example, if the ultimate goal is to launch a new product campaign, the session’s general structure would be to brainstorm the “testing” and “production” phases. Don’t make the general structure too specific, however. A good brainstorming session should still allow participants to think outside the box.

[Read more: Making Tough Business Decisions: Tips & Strategies to Use]

Additionally, distribute the brainstorming session outline before the actual meeting, and give your participants the opportunity to think about the main goal beforehand.

Include employees of various levels and departments

Every worker brings something different to the table, including unique opinions, perspectives, and backgrounds. Whether it’s the fresh-faced intern or the wizened senior leader, incorporate a wide range of people into your brainstorming session. Consider building a team of participants with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Depending on the end goal of your brainstorming session, consider bringing on people from different departments in the company or those with a unique background or experience level.

Allow everyone to get to know one another before the brainstorming session by utilizing icebreaker questions or having people pair off to talk in smaller groups. Remind participants that everyone’s ideas have merit no matter what their ranking, and all ideas are welcome.

A brainstorming session should result in something tangible.

Be open to others’ suggestions

A successful brainstorming session evaluates all ideas and suggestions without dismissing anyone’s input. Create a space where each team member feels safe to open up and contribute to the brainstorming session. This may mean implementing a talking stick where only the person who is holding a certain object is allowed to speak until all their ideas are out in the open. Write each idea and suggestion on a whiteboard for everyone to view without ranking its importance.

Another option is to ask participants to write down anonymous ideas before the brainstorming session begins and then have the team comment and expand on these ideas. This is suitable for more introverted team members or those who may have low confidence in their idea being received well. If your brainstorming session is happening over a video conference call, consider having everyone turn off their cameras during the idea-sharing portion so people can focus on their ideas and not on other people’s facial expressions.

[Read more: Why Innovation Must Be a Routine Function in Your Business]

Break up the session into smaller ones

Don’t try to figure everything out in one session. Brainstorming sessions can take up a lot of time, and creative energy, so make sure you’re keeping track of the time. For example, break up a large one-hour session into 30-minute sessions with short breaks in between. These shorter sessions allow participants to keep their motivation high and the ideas flowing.

If a shorter session hits a lull, take small breaks for the restroom, coffee, or snacks so your participants can digest the presented ideas and re-energize. In one study, participants who took breaks during a brainstorming session came up with more ideas than those who did not break up their brainstorming sessions.

Turn ideas into actionable steps

A brainstorming session should result in something tangible. At the end of your session, set action items to carry out the most promising ideas and plan a date for the next one if necessary. Additionally, provide a general overview of the brainstorming session to keep everyone’s creativity flowing even after the meeting adjourns. Your brainstorming sessions may even provide the foundation for a focus group or workshop to hold with other employees or another team to gain their insights.

[Read more: 5 Steps to More Effective Brainstorming]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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