Brainstorming is a really effective way of coming up with new creative ideas and encouraging collaboration between employees. However, if they're not managed properly, you can find that you spend more time arguing than actually developing innovative ideas.
This not only wastes the time of cross-functional teams involved in the brainstorm but also prevents valuable ideas from reaching a stage where they can be taken further.
So how can you make sure your next session gets the outcomes you need?
Prepare like any other meeting
You should be treating brainstorms like any other meeting when it comes to the preparation you need to do beforehand. Identifying the main objectives and problems you're trying to solve with the session will help everyone get on the same page. It will also help you and other meeting leaders really get to the bottom of what the problem is. This gives attendees specifics to work with and increases the probability that they will come up with a workable solution. Send this around with an agenda of topics or elements that need to be covered and people will come to the brainstorm on the right track.
It's wise to send this a good few days before the scheduled session and ask attendees to think about the topics you're going to cover. You can even request that they bring a solution to each problem identified for the session, which you can then evaluate. This allows your brainstorm to focus on developing or analyzing these ideas rather than coming up with them from scratch.
If you can't prepare to this degree - because you don't have specific problems to solve - creating a moodboard can be an effective way to spark creative ideas that all share a common feel or mood.
Set the tone
Often brainstorms will descend into chaos because certain members - or most of them - believe their ideas are the best. This is fine in theory, as we all think we have the right solution to some degree, but if this usually results in them shouting down other people then it's not a productive way to host a brainstorm.
From the start of the session, make it clear that there's to be one conversation at any one time and that attendees should not be judgmental. Sticking to these two simple "rules" will create an open environment where everyone feels confident in defending their ideas, without it turning into one big, time-consuming argument.
Stick to a guest list
It's important that your attendee list isn't too long. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a meeting rule that can be applied to brainstorms; don't invite more people than could be fed by two pizzas. Of course, that number depends on how hungry - or greedy - you are, but should roughly be between six and ten.
Not only does this reduce the amount of voices, but makes it a more manageable number for valuable conversations, rather than one or two contributors and the rest staying quiet. Having a smaller attendee list also gives you greater flexibility on where you can go, with a change of environment helping the creative juices flow.