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How to Perform a Virtual Brainstorming Successfully?

Avatar of Autonomous Autonomous | Mar 25, 2021
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Organizations need to effectively use virtual brainstorming sessions, distance working, and remote channels to conduct business in the internet age that the world transitioned to many years ago. Having more colleagues working towards a solution for the same issue from various locations across a state, country, or even the world has numerous merits. Managers may be wondering how they can conduct effective and sometimes fun virtual sessions or virtual team bonding to keep team members engaged. After all, each virtual brainstorming idea is one step closer to the eventual solution.

Whether you are starting a new project, overcoming hurdles and roadblocks, or just challenging the team, brainstorming is an influential instrument. Challenges are not always physical things, such as ergonomic office furniture. Sometimes, it’s getting to that shared goal or purpose.

Like any other instrument, it is not always used to its capacity. Many of you have brainstormed at some point at work, but did you do it successfully? Was it effective? Are you making the most out of your sessions and how are you able to tell for sure? Using the right online brainstorming tools and techniques, your virtual team has the perfect opportunity to create and connect on levels not obtained in person.

What Is Virtual Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an approach used for generating new concepts and ideas. While virtual brainstorming has the same elements, it uses tools, such as video conferencing and online whiteboards. Whether inside a group or by themselves, individuals are encouraged to think outside the norm, arriving at solutions to a problem, and developing innovative ideas. In virtual sessions nothing is off-limits, it is free from judgment, criticism, and assumptions. The free-thinking environment is a space where everyone is empowered to contribute using their creativity and intellect against a problem.

What Is Virtual Brainstorming?

Why Virtual Brainstorming?

While it is normal to expect and receive judgment from sending an email, presenting a slide, or having a meeting, anticipating the criticism makes you nervous and does not allow your creative juices to flow. So instead of only focusing on the matter at hand and developing creative solutions, you gauge your responses based on what your team members say. In the brainstorming environment, risk-taking is promoted. Brainstorming is quite powerful as typical expectations, norms, and processes are not always present, which creates its own interesting and necessary challenge. Therefore, you get a platform to freely focus on solving the problem and care less about how others accept or receive the solution you bring forward.

The virtual brainstorming sessions allow team members to share and swap ideas and concepts over a video conference platform. Maintaining advantages of the face-to-face element of a meeting while offering a collective virtual outlet makes brainstorming effective as a real-time strategy. Once you have the collaboration tools and virtual meeting platforms such as Slack, Miro’s online whiteboard, and Google Docs, you should be fine and ready to brainstorm. This is especially true if a team is working from home. Therefore, online brainstorming makes communication essential for remote work

Why Virtual Brainstorming?

Group Brainstorming

Group brainstorming sessions can be fruitful, facilitating excitement and fun, as group members can quickly begin throwing out and bouncing virtual brainstorming ideas and concepts off each other, boosting the creativity of the others. Managed incorrectly, the session can be the complete opposite where participants are uninterested and discouraged. They project this onto others, stalling the session. Persons may also exhibit low energy levels. Since your presence during the virtual meeting is crucial and must be positive, it can throw the entire group off. 

Organizing an appropriate time that is accommodating to everyone is important. A struggle some managers encounter is connecting with team members, as teams are often in various locations across various time zones. 

Group Brainstorming

Pros of Virtual Brainstorming

Many managers are not too keen on the approach. They assume using this method to plan means losing control over the situation or event. The thought of control being in the hands of employees is not always the most positive. This thought process is faulty, as brainstorming unlocks creativity, potential, and shows how valuable people can be to the organization. Here are some points regarding the importance of brainstorming to companies:

Many People and Plenty of Ideas

The more people you have the, more fruitful the session can be as there are more ideas to gather from everyone. This can play a powerful part in the development process of the project. There is potential for more creativity, encouraging employee innovation, useful concepts, and a wider pool of knowledge for the managers and company to benefit from. Having people across departments is key, as more diverse and tactical ideas on how to execute the company’s future events are gathered.

Pros of Virtual Brainstorming

A Permanent Listing of Ideas and Suggestions  

Hosting consistent virtual brainstorming sessions allows you to foster a constant pool of suggestions, ideas, insights, and concepts from team members dealing with a particular issue. You mustn’t view it as just a problem linked to a single project or the operation of an enterprise. You can revisit the discoveries later when making important decisions relating to the company’s future.

A Permanent Listing of Ideas and Suggestions

 Avoid Biases

Generating ideas in a group allows balance where feelings, opinions, beliefs, and preferences are concerned. With that, you can come up with solutions you probably were not privy to yourself. Having the presence of others keeps partiality in line and leaves each person open to new and different possibilities.

Team Buy-In

Having regular online brainstorming makes and invites team members to feel valued, heard, appreciated, and respected. This fosters employee engagement and employee retention, which are very beneficial to the organization. This is exactly what managers and supervisors want from their employees. 

Cons of and Tips for Virtual Brainstorming

These disadvantages of online brainstorming are common if you have attempted to coordinate or organize various personalities to solve any issue. Concluding and deciding on a solution or fix can be complicated and there are sure to be disagreements. These can be avoided through proper planning and execution.

Disorganized Conversations and Free-for-alls 

The session can result in free-for-all and disorganized conversations that fail to address the real issue if managers are not careful. Creating an agenda and having a briefing before the actual session may help avoid this unfavorable outcome like virtual meeting etiquette. In the briefing, the team members must understand the purpose, context, and problem, while the agenda must have action items and the time frame required for each. 

Disorganized Conversations and Free-for-alls

Too much Groupthink, not Enough Original ideas

During the session, feeding into and bouncing off each other's ideas is good until it is not. Team members may spend too much time focused on a single point and lose individual creativity. Create a space for persons to feel and share ideas and opinions and try to avoid miscommunication among workers. This freedom limits fixation. 

Dominance

Persons with strong, dominant personalities may take over and steer the conversation based on their nature. They hinder creativity by intimidating the other team members or make them reluctant to share. Managers can try asking questions and calling names for answers, distracting the dominator, redirecting, and limiting the dominator for the group. 

Dominance

Low Participation

Inside a group, it can be tempting and easy not to participate and hide behind others, especially if they are more dominant and contribute fewer efforts and ideas to the discussions. Managers can offer positive reinforcement and call names to encourage those individuals to share and weigh in on the discussion. This diminishes any social loafing. 

Step-by-step Guide to Brainstorming

The following steps provide a guide on how to brainstorm remotely. Before calling the meeting to order, team members need to have a problem to solve. The team must identify the problem, issues, or questions that require answers. It should be clear and concise. 

Step 1: Seek Out Your Attendees

While it is good to keep your attendee between eight and 10, to have a successful session, the team must be diverse. Depending on the purpose, your attendees may vary but make sure you have persons with different skills and areas of expertise regarding the topic or issue to be discussed. Managers can opt for a combination of non-creative and creative persons or extroverts and introverts so they yield more ideas, suggestions, and answers.  

Contact each person to verify their availability. As persons may be in various locations, countries, and different time zones, managers must go the extra mile to set a suitable time for the sessions. 

Step 2: Introductory Email

The sole purpose of this is to let attendees know what to expect and allow for preparation before the day and time of the session. This introductory email should contain the details, explaining the objective of the virtual brainstorming session, agenda, links pertinent to resources and productivity tools, email invitation and calendar event, or any other source materials. 

After sending the email, check-in with attendees to ensure they have received it. This can be done with a second email or a call. You can also encourage them to do a little research before the meeting with a quick reminder. 

Introductory Email

Step 3: Select Effective Online Brainstorming Tools

Regardless of if your online brainstorming tool is an online whiteboard, video conference call, or messaging platform, ensure it can cater to all needs and requirements of the team working remotely. 

Slack

Slack is not just a platform for chatting. It also serves as a dashboard for brainstorming. Select or create a specific channel for the session, then notify the others of the time and purpose. During the session, each team member can contribute their ideas and suggestions as new messages. At the end of the session, there is an entire list of ideas that can be analyzed and prioritized later. 

Slack

Creately

Creately is an online whiteboard or canvas where collaboration between teams is done in real-time ideas, using diagrams such as mind maps. In advance, you can create and name a document and share access to it by linking attendee email addresses. You can utilize the Creately plugin for Google Drive to manage and create files right from Google Drive too! Once the session begins, team members can share their ideas on the canvas or whiteboard. 

Google Hangout Meet

Google Hangout Meet is a great tool for video conferencing, especially with a large group. As is the case during a face-to-face brainstorming session, you can discuss matters during a video call. You can even use the chat feature to send a text message. However, to be more effective, managers can assign a facilitator who is responsible for documenting the ideas of the other team members.  

Other virtual brainstorming tools include Mural, Microsoft Teams, and RemoteHQ. 

Step 4: Set a Time Limit and Stick to IT

Do not overlook your time slot in your remote session. You must respect the time and work from home schedule of all the participants. Ensure you are not running into their personal time. 

While the session may be exciting and creative juices are flowing, you may need to set another meeting time if things don’t wrap up when you expected. 

Step 5: Depend on Suitable Methods of Brainstorming

Though there are many virtual brainstorming techniques out there, not all work effectively during an online online brainstorming session. Additionally, some techniques cannot assist or work with your current topic. For example, the cause and effect analysis is better at determining the source of the problem or solving the issue while another technique, such as mind mapping is better at generating ideas.

To avoid chaos and confusion and virtual meeting fatigue as well, it is better to identify the method you are planning on using, the guidelines and rules correlated with the technique, and stating them at the beginning or in the introductory email. Other methods include the lotus diagram, six thinking hats, SIPOC, idea boards, SCAMPER, five whys analysis, and mood boards.

Depend on Suitable Methods of Brainstorming

Step 6: Conclude your Meeting

Once you have gathered all the information and virtual brainstorming ideas you came for, spend some time to summarize and sort through. To help you categorize, prioritize the data, and further present the results to the stakeholders and the team, you can use an affinity diagram. Following that, managers must plan another meeting for creating action items for virtual meeting challenge if doing so were not a part of the initial agenda. Then, you may know how to brainstorm remotely and it is not a big obstacle any more.

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