Brainstorming is often a meandering exercise that ends up wasting time and accomplishing very little.
That’s not to say group strategy sessions aren’t crucial. They give junior employees the chance to shine, senior employees the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and teams the chance to create cohesive, inspired plans for clients. However, fruitful, productive gatherings require structure, preparation and planning.
Here are six ways to keep your team on track and conduct better, more effective brainstorming sessions:
1. Set expectations ahead of time.
Some people shine during brainstorming; others need more pushing. Either way, it’s not the brainstorm moderator’s responsibility to make sure everyone feels involved—it’s up to employees to jump into the conversation.
The best way to push employees to get involved is to set guidelines and expectations ahead of time, expressing how vital it is they come prepared to speak up.
2. Provide pre-meeting materials.
To ensure that everyone’s prepared, share briefs, outlines or bullet points ahead of the gathering. This gives employees a head start, and it gives them the opportunity to do their own “brainstorm before the brainstorm.” Introverts, especially, will appreciate the opportunity to thoroughly review the agenda to prepare thoughts ahead of time.
3. Keep the groups small.
Large groups rarely accomplish (or agree on) much.
The more people you stuff into a room, the easier it is for employees to “hide,” disappear or tune out. Assembling a big crowd also makes it tough for some employees to get a word in edgewise, and you run the risk of creating a disruptive environment filled with chatter, side conversations and irrelevant tangents.
Brainstorm planners should be judicious with the invite list. Eight to 10 people is about right.
4. Provide snacks.
Who doesn’t like free snacks? To avoid a mutiny, keep your gathering well fed and well hydrated. Also, take time for regular breaks to let everyone stand up and recharge.
If you’ve scheduled an all-day brainstorm session, offer breakfast, catered lunches in the afternoon and, if it’s a long day, an evening happy hour to ensure everyone feels rewarded.
5. Keep it brief.
If you spend hours brainstorming for just one client, you’ll quickly run out of creative steam. Instead, prioritize what’s most important, then work your way down from the top objective.
Limit your specific campaign brainstorming sessions to one or two hours. You can give people the option to send additional ideas via email after the meeting, but sitting and requesting ideas for one specific campaign for multiple hours is typically a waste of time.
6. Share results with your team.
Whenever your team puts time, effort and resources into brainstorming, make sure they hear the results.
Whether it’s sharing how a client loved a specific teammate’s idea or expressing how excited the marketing team was with a tagline, the more feedback you provide, the more confident your employees become. The more confident and empowered your employees feel, the better brainstorms you’ll have moving forward.
A version of this post first appeared on PR Couture .