Teams and organizations are working virtually more than ever. But this means that finding ways to work collaboratively has become challenging. One way to overcome this is by hosting virtual brainstorming sessions. These can be a fun and energizing way of bringing your team together to solve problems and generate creative ideas.
Your "gut feeling" may be that virtual brainstorming sessions are in no way as effective as in-person ones. But, actually, virtual sessions can prove to be better on several counts!
In a 2015 Harvard Business Review article, Why Brainstorming Works Better Online, psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic states that "...virtual [brainstorming] sessions generate more high-quality ideas and have a higher average of creative ideas per person, as well as resulting in higher levels of satisfaction with the ideas." Chamorro-Premuzic's research also revealed that almost 70 percent of participants perform worse in traditional sessions compared to virtual ones.
This is often because, in virtual brainstorming sessions, people must initially work solo before submitting their ideas. This can offer a number of advantages. For one thing, it means people can submit their ideas anonymously, thereby reducing fear of judgment.
It can also produce more diverse results because participants are less likely to be influenced by others. Giving in to groupthink can sometimes lead to conformity. But, virtual meetings level the playing field. They prevent dominant participants from talking too much and eclipsing other, more introverted team members.
The practicalities of hosting a virtual brainstorming session may feel overwhelming. But one great method you can use is brainwriting.
A popular and lively form of brainwriting is known as "6-3-5." During a 6-3-5 session, brainwriting exercises are split into several rounds. In each round, six people write down three ideas each within five minutes.
To learn more about this technique, check out our article on Brainwriting.
Another technique I've used is Figure Storming, which can be easily adapted for virtual brainstorming events. It's a useful and fun way to tackle an issue or problem by putting yourself in someone else's shoes.
To use Figure Storming use the following steps:
For example, a marketing manager of a small business who I was working with wanted to modernize his marketing strategy. But he found that traditional brainstorming wasn't yielding satisfactory results. So, we decided to switch tactics and use Figure Storming.
Being a marketing specialist, he'd read some books by marketing guru Seth Godin. So I asked him to envision how Seth Godin would approach the issue. Suddenly his eyes lit up. We brainstormed the issue, and he came up with a surprising number of ideas.
Addressing an issue by looking at it from the perspective of another person can yield more interesting and diverse results. Figure Storming can be particularly helpful when you feel like you've hit a "brick wall" and don't know where to go next. It's good at shaking things up and can free you from rigid or unconstructive thinking patterns.
There are loads of virtual brainstorming apps you and your team can make use of. One great tool is ideaboardz, which you and your team can use to write down and share your ideas virtually.
Here's how to use it:
There are several other virtual brainstorming tools out there that offer similar services. These include:
When moderating a virtual brainstorming session, it's your responsibility to create an environment where everyone feels able to speak up. Here's a few quick rules that can help you to run a successful and effective virtual brainstorming session:
The mute button's there for a reason – so use it! Give everyone a chance to speak by calling on specific people and encouraging others to set themselves to mute. This will prevent discussions being dominated by just one or two "loud" voices. And will mean that people can really "listen" and "hear" each other properly.
Set out some ground rules upfront, and go over these quickly at the start of each session. When people know what they need to do and are clear on the detail and purpose of the meeting, they will be more open to participating and sharing their ideas.
Include your "mute button rules." For example, you could say, "In the interest of time and to give everyone a chance to contribute, a person is allowed to have the floor no more than twice in a row, and then it's someone else's turn. Make sure that you switch on your mute button when someone else is speaking."
Other things to include in your "Ground Rules" could be your contingencies for poor internet connection. What should people do if their connection fails? Or if their microphone doesn't work? Could they include comments in the Chat function instead?
You may also want to explain how the session will work and give a mini-introduction on the type of virtual brainstorming tech that you'll be using. You could even allow two or three minutes for people to play around with the tech before you start the main session.
I find that the power of brainstorming is greatly enhanced when participants put in a little prep work first.
This could include checking and testing your virtual meeting software ahead of time, checking microphones, and spending some time playing around with the virtual brainstorming app you've chosen to use. Doing this will help to boost people's confidence and increase engagement when you come to host your virtual brainstorming session.
If you have any tips or tricks that you've found useful when hosting virtual brainstorming sessions, please share them in the Comments section, below.
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