Brainstorming is one of those activities that people either love or hate. Add a pandemic and teams accustomed to generating ideas face-to-face are presented with an additional brainstorming constraint — collaborating remotely in front of a computer screen rather than together in front of a clean white board.
I was curious about how some of my colleagues’ teams throughout the industry had adjusted to this new dynamic, so I reached out to get their tips, preferred tools and advice for facilitating remote brainstorms.
Procedurally, these are tips that make remote brainstorming a bit easier and more effective — and ones that several people are using. They can also be applied while brainstorming face-to-face.
Keep It Simple
Use your computer’s camera and a physical white board. Set the camera up so that participants can see you and, more importantly, the white board, as you write on it. Have the participants write their ideas on a sticky note and hold it up to their camera so everyone can see. The facilitator should rewrite the note on the white board. Pro tip: the facilitator should rewrite the idea on the same color sticky note as the original.
Start With Pain Points, Not Solutions
Too often we jump straight to solutions without giving consideration to the pain points the solutions address. Start a brainstorm focused on the various big and small pain points or problems to solve. Be quick and don’t try to explain the pain point or its importance; simply note the pain point to get going. After you’ve given this process some time, prioritize which pain points are the most important ones to address.
Go It Alone First
Before starting a group brainstorm, define the challenge and then have participants brainstorm alone. It allows participants the chance to ponder the challenge and come up with their own ideas without being influenced by others’ ideas and it gives participants an equal chance to offer their ideas. When the remote group brainstorm begins, you’ll have a group of potential ideas that give the team a fast start.
Work in Small Groups
Working in small groups – using Zoom breakout rooms, for example – allows remote teams to move quicker. It’s a bit easier to have multiple ideas and conversations bouncing around a group in person, but that’s a bit trickier online. Breaking up the groups into smaller groups and periodically bringing them back together keeps things moving and allows for more voices to be heard.
Quick Prototypes and Sketches
Drawing and doodling ideas is always beneficial when trying to help others visualize ideas. This is especially true with remote teams where screen-to-screen communication doesn’t allow for all the visual cues in face-to-face brainstorming. Draw as much and as quickly as you can to illustrate ideas. Take it a step further and start prototyping a bit earlier and a bit more crudely than you normally would, but be prepared to iterate.
There are a vast number of tools for facilitating brainstorms remotely, and I’ve included the tools that I’ve heard others use the most.
- Sharing and annotating on a whiteboard
- Breakout rooms to split large groups into smaller ones and then reconvene to share
- Shareable canvas with easy to use facilitator tools to keep teams on track
- Templates allow for customization of canvas based on task (brainstorm, empathy mapping, designing, etc.)
- Helps organize brainstorms in one place and allows your team to filter, sort, edit and rank ideas
- Tools for brainstorming, project planning and capturing notes
- Participants can see, add and edit ideas and thoughts
- Can create and add drawings with the Draw tool
- Uses cards to capture and organize ideas and comments
- Can move into project workflow as appropriate
White Board and Camera
- Point your camera at your white board and write for everyone