Every business has to overcome countless obstacles on its way to success. Hard work can carry you a long way, but any company (no matter how hard working) can be left behind when it doesn’t problem solve quickly and creatively.

Brainstorming sessions are a natural first step when your business is confronted with unexpected turns in the road, demands for new services or products, or when you need to find that out-of-the-box idea that takes the company to its next level. However, getting a team together and asking them to be brilliant on demand doesn’t always work out as planned — egos get bruised, alliances are formed and broken and the most talkative team-members dominate a meeting and railroad the quieter thinkers.

Without laying the proper framework and providing the essential tools for brainstorming you’re setting yourself up for failure. But there are actionable steps to build a supportive and effective culture of creativity:

Laying out the law of the land

Make sure everyone knows what is expected from them and how long it is expected of them. Have a set of rules that gives the team the framework to be creative.

A few good ground rules include:

– Taking the time to focus specifically on the idea generation stage as a separate and independent  phase from the editing stage.

– Using the phrase “Yes, and…” instead of simply saying “no” or “but”

– Sharing all ideas and applauding the wild ones

– Remaining positive and saving the negativity for the editing phase

Warming up

Start the meeting with a few small and physical challenges – something unexpected and fun to get the blood pumping and energy up. Moreover, watch the energy throughout the meeting. If the energy and focus wane, add another warm-up to shake it up and infuse some energy.

Staying loose

Clearly separate the creation process from the editing process. The creation process is art, and art is messy. Consequently, there is not one right way to create. This is the time to be fearless and celebrate mistakes. The editing process is the time to focus the ideas and fine-tune them into productive use. Don’t let a loose creative session turn into a tight editing session.

Having a good attitude

Cognitive psychologists have proven that moods are contagious and positive moods facilitate creativity. A brainstorming session can be the first step towards a solution that puts a smile on everyone’s face, but not if the session never takes off due to the infectious power of a bad mood.

Leading by example

As the leader, you can be the one to occasionally say the idea that is guaranteed to fail. Encourage wild and crazy ideas by walking the talk, and being fearless with your contributions.

Holding people accountable

We all need support. Analytical thinkers are critical by nature and we often slip into judgment. Hold people to task and ask them to hold you accountable as well.

Mixing it up

Simple things, like sitting in different seats, change the perspective of the participants.  Draw pictures, sketch out ideas, tape them to the wall and use the space to capture your thoughts. Breaks in routine can change the group dynamic, and continue to add a lot of energy to your brainstorming session.

Bringing in a scribe

It is the team’s job to come up with the idea, not to record them. Add one or two people to the mix, whose sole job it is to record ideas and free up everyone on your team to be 100 percent creative.

With these secrets for better brainstorming you’ll quickly be on your way to solving the future challenges your business may encounter. And while having fewer obstacles standing between you and your company’s success would always be great, mastering the art of creative problem-solving is the next best thing, if not even better.