Even if you don't realize it, you're probably using individual brainstorming for solving problems every day.

Brainstorming is an excellent method for coming up with new ideas and creative solutions to problems. But to draw maximum benefit from this mental exercise for your team, you need to know how to use it correctly.

Why is brainstorming worth your attention? Here are some good reasons:

  • It's much more productive than conventional problem-solving.
  • It's less structured and helps people to come up with more creative solutions.
  • It helps to get buy-in from team members for the chosen solution.
  • It offers an open environment that encourages people to contribute
  • It brings out different team members' experiences
  • It helps team members to bond in a rewarding environment.

That's especially important if you're managing a team of people who don't want to lose time on long, unproductive meetings but make the most of every brainstorming session.

Here are 7 tips to help you carry out efficient brainstorming sessions at your organization.

1. Have a purpose

As the leader of the meeting, you should arrive with a specific problem to solve or question to answer. That's how you make sure that the meeting is productive.

Clearly state the problem and provide your team with background information a couple of days before the meeting, if that makes sense.

For example, if your goal is to increase sales by 15% and your team has no idea how your sales process is designed, you won't achieve your goal during the brainstorming session. Team members simply won't be able to provide you with good solutions and you'll probably spend the entire meeting on lecturing about the sales department.

Know what you want out of the meeting and how you're going to get it. You'll receive great input only if people know where all their effort is going.

2. Prepare your group

Make sure that the meeting environment helps your team to focus. The room should be well-lit and include all the resources or tools you need. Don't forget about refreshments to avoid people getting sidetracked by running to the snack machine.

Prepare the information for your team as well. Prep is important, but too much data can easily limit the creative potential of your team during a brainstorming session.

Finally, consider the people who will be attending the meeting. If you invite team members who are like-minded, don't count on many creative ideas to emerge from your session. A diverse group will work to your favor here. It's best to have people from various department or disciplines who have different thinking styles.

Once you've got your group gathered, appoint one persona to record all ideas that come from the session. You can display these notes with a data projector or on a whiteboard.

3. Present the problem

Clearly articulate the problem that you want to solve during the session. Lay out all criteria that you want the solution to meet. And then make it clear to the team that the goal of the meeting is to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Once you present the problem, give people quiet time to write down their ideas. Then just ask them to share their solutions and make sure that everyone is given a chance to contribute.

4. Establish some ground rules

To make sure that the discussion proceeds smoothly, establish ground rules at the beginning and stick to them.

Should people raise their hand before their speak? Is interrupting others while they speak alright? Will everyone be able to suggest things at any time?

Lay out the ground rules for discussion to ensure smooth communication. Remind your team members that the session isn't a competition for ideas but a collaborative effort to solve a problem.

5. Guide the discussion

Once all team members share their ideas, it's time to start a group discussion. That's how you help your team develop the ideas of other people and create brand new solutions. Building on the ideas of your team is the smartest thing you can do during brainstorming.

Encourage everyone to contribute. Discourage team members from criticizing each other. Share your ideas, but spend more time supporting your team. Stick to one idea at a time and refocus your team when the discussion becomes sidetracked.

Make sure not to follow one line of thought for too long - generate a number of different ideas and explore them in detail. If your brainstorming session becomes lengthy, arrange many breaks to help your team concentrate.

6. Offer comfort

There's only one way you can get plenty of creative ideas.

You need to give your team freedom to freely express themselves. Even if an idea sounds silly or outrageous, you should sill bring it to the open and talk about it. It might point your team to a new solution.

You can bet the people in your team are afraid to share their ideas because they don't want to look stupid in front of their colleagues and superiors. But if you create a forum where they feel comfortable, they're going to take that risk. And you might gain a lot from their input.

Show your team that it's alright to have funny or strange ideas. Reward people who are creatively courageous. Growing creative comfort in your team is worth it.

7. Use brainstorming tricks

It's smart to arrive at your brainstorming session with a few aces up your sleeve that will help you to encourage creativity and guide the discussion.

Here are some tricks you can use during your next session:

  • Ask your team what is the opposite of what you want to achieve - for example, what is the worst navigation design on a website? That kind of questions are bound to engage your team because it's an unusual way to think about the problem.
  • Play the rotate game - tell your team that anyone can at any time call 'Rotate' and everyone in the room has to get up and move to the chair on their left. That kind of physical exercise helps people to move around mentally and can become handy when your team feels stuck or the energy is missing.
  • Introduce a new constraint to the problem - the idea is not to make the team's work harder, but to help them think in a creative way. Come up with a new project assumption or an overblown constraint to the problem you're trying to solve. For example, suggest that the product will be used only by left-handed people, or that the budget for the project has to be $50 or less. That kind of challenge shakes people into action - and since the situation is ridiculous, there are no bad answers to your call.

Use these 7 tips to create a brainstorming session that helps your team come up with a truly creative solution to your problem and take your business operations to the next level.

About the author

Alana Downer is an avid business blogger, deeply interested in all aspects of creating an expanding and profitable business. Currently, Alana is writing for Learn to Trade, professional traders and investors, and she might often be found sharing some of her tips and suggestions with other experts online.