09/03/2013 05:27 EDT | Updated 11/03/2013 05:12 EST

6 Ways to Hold Brainstorming Sessions that Produce Results


You know you need to innovate in order to stay viable, but you have limited time and money to do so. So when you have a brainstorming session for your team you want it to be focused and be able to produce results.

After teaching improvisation and team-building sessions to businesses for years, I thought I'd share six ways to rock your next brainstorming session (while keeping your sense of humour intact).

1) WARMUP: You need to warm up! You can't go from directly from working to playing (not without booze) so you will need right-brained exercises to stretch people's creative muscles. There are hundreds of right-brained exercises you can download online, just check Google. They only take a few minutes to play but they help move you (and your people) from a work space to a creative space. Right-brained exercises not only set the tone for better ideas to come forward, in a group setting they help bond people, in a "we're all in this together" way.

2) YES, AND: In a brainstorming session, people have to say yes. Ideas need a yes environment in order to grow. Just as in improvisation, brainstorming sessions need a "Yes, and..." rather than "Yes, but..." set up. Yes, But is a fancy term for idea deflection.

What is Yes, And? Yes is the acceptance of the idea. And is the building upon that idea. All brainstorming need a spirit of yes to work. No, you won't keep all the ideas you or your employees come up with, but you will be surprised where Yes And can take you.

3) USE MIND MAPPING: Some people hate anything where they have to shout out ideas in front of co workers. They feel foolish. So mind mapping is a great alternative. Again, Mind Mapping forms can be downloaded free online, but what you do is write out the topic in the middle of a piece of paper and for five minutes jot down all possible solutions to that problem. This is a safe way to help folks get their ideas from their head to the page. They write quickly off the top of their head (which is yes, and-ing) If you have a really shy group put them in groups of two so they can write ideas together. Then they can share with the group.

4) BE FOCUSED: Brainstorming sessions are most effective if they are contained by time and a simple topic. Too many ideas to cover is chaos. Half an hour is a good time limit to get the creative juices flowing. And one topic per brainstorming session will keep people all headed in the same direction.

5) BE A FEARLESS LEADER: If you are leading the group in this session you must take risks yourself. Dare to make a mistake. As a leader you can do a lot to build your team member's confidence if you risk looking foolish first. Tell a joke or put a couple of half baked ideas out there yourself so your folks will see that all ideas do not need to be golden to be explored.

6) BE PATIENT: If you have been riding your team hard about profit margins and productivity you can't switch gears and expect them to be brilliant first time you introduce brainstorming sessions. You will need a bit of patience. And frankly you need to detach from outcomes so new realities can emerge. Which in plain English means: Stop being a control junkie. Let them play a bit before you rein them in.

7) STAY INSPIRED: Yes, I know I said I would give you six tips, but I lied. Here's another one. Reach up to higher ideas with leaders who are already leading the way you want to. Read about them. Watch them on You Tube. Listen to their CDs in the car. It takes a lot of energy to lead people into new ways of thinking so you will need to stay inspired yourself.

Do you have any cool brainstorming techniques? If so, I'd love to hear them. Please share below.