Innovation Science offers this interesting post looking at the upsides and downsides of brainstorming meetings. Here's a good quote:
The main point that should be taken away from both the WSJ column and Jeffrey’s post is that brainstorming requires both extensive preparation and followup. Over my career, I’ve been to many brainstorming sessions where just beforehand people stop whatever work they were doing, go to a conference room for an hour or two, and then go back to whatever their daily job is afterwards. They show up without any preparation, and the final outcome of the session is a list of ideas created during that 1–2 hour session, and that’s it. Not only is there a good chance that they are not in a creative frame of mind, but they are not likely mentally prepared to discuss ideas. The result of these meetings is often a list of ideas that are no more insightful than what a group of people might come up with over a lunchtime discussion—certainly not the outcome upper management is looking for from such situations.
I agree. We need to prepare people for conversations and then followup is essential. Otherwise the time has not been worthwhile.
Along with preparation and followup, dialogue quality is a greatest determining factor of brainstorming meeting success. If you can't get a good conversation going, don't bother. I think I have shared these before, but here are the elements of great dialogue. Some of these might be more or less important when trying to facilitate creativity.
Relevance: The topic of discussion is one that people care about and that makes a difference to their lives.
Inquiry: Questions are being asked that move the topic forward. Questions are both provocative and evocative.
Freedom: Participants feel free to openly share their ideas and thoughts, even those on the fringe.
Connectedness: There is a sense of shared purpose or interest. The participants feel connected to one another.
Reception: Participants listen well, interpret the information, provide feedback, and reinforce contribution.
Empowerment: People feel as though they can have some impact on the topic being discussed. This would ideally mean they can move the problem or opportunity forward, but could also mean they can move the intellectual debate further.
Play: The conversation is fun and full of energy. The dialogue has an energy to it that flows and can be playful.