Tips for running a successful online Brainstorming session

By Allo Team Mar 20, 2022
Mar 20, 2022

Brainstorming sessions are an excellent way for teams to generate out-of-the-box ideas and explore different opportunities.

Generating creative ideas is a challenging task for teams even when they are together in the same room. With companies going remote, it has simply added to this challenge.

This can lead to a slump in innovation within the team and may cause long-term problems for the company – but teams don’t have to suffer through this.

In this quick guide, we’ll share exactly how you can run great online brainstorming sessions, ensure that the meeting is productive, and tell you what mistakes you should avoid.

Let’s get started!

What is online brainstorming?

Online brainstorm is a discussion between remote team members with the objective of generating new ideas and finding solutions for problems.

These online brainstorming sessions require technologies like file sharing applications, video conferencing software platforms, online whiteboards, and other tools that promote remote collaboration.

Virtual brainstorming tools like online whiteboards can facilitate remote teams to be more creative and productive during these sessions. An online whiteboard can help distributed teams create virtual sticky notes in real-time, categorize their ideas, and comment or vote on the best ideas.

Why online brainstorming is important for decision-making?

The one thing that all problem-solving and creative methodologies have in common is finding different solutions for a particular issue.

This is precisely what remote teams what to do through online brainstorming sessions.

Here are a few reasons why online brainstorming is crucial for businesses:

  1. Distributed teams, diverse ideas. With participants from all over the world, with different cultures, backgrounds, and thinking processes coming together to solve a problem, it’s no doubt that the ideas generated will be very diverse. This dramatically increases the team’s chances of swiftly finding a solution to their problem.
  2. Growth. While some businesses may have been pushed into remote work because they had no other alternative, it’s essential for companies worldwide to continue to work on better projects and plan for the future. Adapting to remote work and mastering online brainstorming is critical for their long-term growth.
  3. Inclusion. Involving the entire team in the brainstorming process makes the members feel valued and encourages a sense of comradeship.
  4. Design thinking. This approach actively challenges current assumptions and intentionally seeks different perspectives to generate fresh insights from remote team members. While getting all team members together is generally tricky, online brainstorming meetings is an excellent way to promote collaboration and develop practical solutions.
  5. Permanent record. Using online brainstorming tools like whiteboards ensure that all the ideas collected during the session are recorded digitally and can be used anytime in the future.

How to prepare for your online brainstorm session

Pinpoint the problem

The first step towards preparing for an online brainstorming session is determining the problem that the meeting will address.

You need to have a crystal clear understanding of the issue and should be able to deliver a concise answer that isn’t ambiguous.

For example, instead of “How to improve our SEO campaign”, you should try something like “What are the things we may be doing wrong with our current SEO campaign, and what steps can we take to level up?”

List the people you need to solve the problem

When you conduct an online brainstorming session, it’s generally a good idea to limit the meeting to 8-10 people. Any lower than this and the team may not be diverse enough; any higher might lead to chaos.

If you have a huge team, create a list of people needed to solve the issue. Additionally, it’s a good idea to include team members who have different skills and expertise regarding the topic you aim to discuss. A mixture of experts and non-experts will help raise a variety of solutions and give the issue more perspective.

Determine how an idea will be approved

Have a system in place for how an idea will be deemed good enough. One way to do this is to ask attendees to list their top three or five favorite ideas.

Since this team is focused more on diversity, you can take these ideas to a smaller group of experts or senior team members to evaluate the validity of the solution and pick the best ones.

Choose a brainstorming technique

While there are a lot of brainstorming techniques, not all of them are effective during an online brainstorm session.

The more enjoyable and engaging the technique is, the better.

Here is a list of online brainstorming techniques and frameworks that we know are highly effective.

  1. Mind Mapping. This technique helps you create a diagram (a map) that allows members to organise their disparate ideas and thoughts. A mind map is an organisational framework with a central node. You use lines, colours, images, symbols, and words to connect the central node to other data.
  2. Brainwriting. With a mixed batch of introverts and extroverts, it’s easy for the louder participants to overshadow the shy ones. Brainwriting is a quieter form of brainstorming where each person can list down their ideas on the shared online whiteboard, then the entire team can collaborate by discussing each idea.
  3. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. This brainstorming technique works really well with the brainwriting technique. This particular technique helps you see your ideas from different angles. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. means:
  4. Substitute (What if you swap idea A for idea B?)
  5. Combine (What if you combined idea A and idea B?)
  6. Adapt (How can you adapt an idea to a different context?)
  7. Modify (How can you modify something to provide more value?)
  8. Put to Another Use (How else can you use a particular idea?)
  9. Eliminate (Is there anything you can remove?)
  10. Reverse (How can you reorganise things to make them more effective?)
  11. Rapid ideation. This brainstorming technique involves giving your team members a time limit and having them list down any and all ideas that come to mind. When this is done, you can discuss individual ideas, pick ones that are actionable, and use the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. method to gain different perspectives; or you can simply have the team vote for the best ideas.
  12. Random word association. This is a brainstorming technique that generates extremely creative ideas. Here, you draw random words from a collection one by one and then try to associate the specific word or words with the topic you’re addressing. While you can’t use this for serious sessions, it’s a fun technique that generates out-of-the-box ideas.
  13. Reverse brainstorming. This concept is very straightforward. With reverse brainstorming, instead of discussing solutions, you brainstorm actual issues. Human beings are hardwired to pinpoint problems more easily than find answers. This technique helps the team identify potential hurdles and generates a list of challenges that the solution needs to tackle. You can then start brainstorming for solutions.
  14. Storyboarding. You may be familiar with this brainstorming technique. Storyboarding involves creating a sequence of illustrations that help build a story. This technique is usually used to interpret and map customer journeys. You can take advantage of this technique to align your team, pitch a new idea,  understand customer experiences, and a lot more.
  15. SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a standard technique used to consider all angles while building a business strategy.

An online whiteboard is an excellent tool for online brainstorming

When you’re brainstorming in a physical location, it’s typically using a huge whiteboard, sticky notes, and markers. But this isn’t possible when you’re brainstorming virtually, so you need to find a space to collect ideas.

Allo’s canvas is a virtual whiteboard that allows you to collaborate remotely by efficiently organizing thoughts and ideas.

Like a physical whiteboard, all members can work simultaneously with sticky notes, text, images, and doodles. You can access it via your desktop, iPad, and even mobile devices.

As long as your team has an internet connection, you don’t have to let physical barriers affect the efficiency of your collaboration.

In short, here are three reasons why teams should take advantage of Allo’s online whiteboard for their next online brainstorming session:

  1. All team members can add their ideas and opinions to Allo’s online whiteboard in real-time anywhere and using any device.
  2. Allo’s online whiteboard fosters a creative work environment during remote team meetings.
  3. All the ideas discussed during the remote meeting are automatically recorded on the online whiteboard, so teams would never lose them, unlike a physical piece of paper.

Set up a board ahead of time

Creating a new canvas and then building your board while everyone is on the call is a waste of everyone’s time.

Even if you have your brainstorming technique sorted, you need to set up your virtual canvas before the brainstorming session so you can dive right into it.

If you don’t want to create a board from scratch, you can take advantage of Allo’s pre-designed templates for free.

Include meeting agenda with your invitation

The introductory email has to give your attendees an insight into the meeting by letting them know what they can expect so they can prepare in advance.

Having a detailed meeting agenda ensures that the meeting is conducted in an orderly fashion with productivity as the primary goal.

Share contextual knowledge before the meeting

Sharing information about the topic you’re doing to address or the brainstorming technique you plan to implement will give participants the opportunity to research and increase the chances of them actively engaging during the session.

In the introductory email, you can include details like the aim of the brainstorming session (i.e. what exactly is the problem you’re looking to solve), give members context about the issue at hand, any relevant history or other supporting information, the meeting agenda, how this fits into the team’s or company’s overall goals, and maybe even links to relevant resources or tools that they can check out before the session.

While all of this information isn’t essential to conduct a successful brainstorming session, it can be pretty helpful.

How to guide the brainstorm session productively

Focus on quantity

There are separate parts of the brain that operate when performing creative and logical tasks. Therefore, it’s highly challenging to fulfil both these functions simultaneously.

When brainstorming ideas, ensure that you don’t focus on how logically sound an idea is. Brainstorming isn’t about generating the most actionable ideas; that part comes later.

It’s simply about coming up with as many ideas as you can.

Don’t allow your team members to overthink the quality of their ideas. If you notice them doing so, gently nudge them to think big.

If you can sense the energy of the team waning, you can take advantage of the rapid ideation brainstorming technique and ask your attendees to come up with as many ideas as they can within the next three minutes and then discuss them.

Withhold criticism

The ideas the team comes up with during a brainstorming session won’t always be realistic or actionable. In fact, they may be downright laughable. But since you’re focusing on quantity instead of quality (as you should), you can’t expect perfection.

Don’t start analysing ideas when someone pitches them; it’ll simply push people back into their shells since they’ll focus on judgment instead of innovation.

It’s the moderator’s responsibility to redirect the conversation if you find someone evaluating the quality or practicality of an idea. Remind them that while they may not think the idea is good, it might spark someone else’s creativity, and maybe they’ll be able to build upon it.

Welcome unusual ideas

A good brainstorming session includes a lot of strange ideas. However, instead of shunning unusual ideas, welcome them.

Let your members go with the flow instead of interrupting them with opinions about it. Thinking of a new idea from scratch is a whole lot difficult than toning down a wild idea.

Combine and improve ideas

After you have a bunch of ideas, the next step is to discuss and analyse the feasibility of these ideas. You can get attendees to vote for their favourite ideas, or maybe sort them into different groups so you can evaluate them with a smaller team in the future.

You can implement the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. technique to find ways to improvise on these ideas and see if you can come up with better alternatives to the ones you have on board.

Respect time

It’s very easy to lose track of time during a brainstorming session. However, it’s critical to respect your team’s time and ensure that the meeting doesn’t run over.

It’s the host’s responsibility to ensure that the discussion progresses in a timely fashion and nudge the session forward if it seems like the attendees are stuck at a point or idea.

If you have a global remote workforce, chances are that the members are operating from different time zones. So while it may be morning for you, and an extra half hour may not affect you much, it may take up someone else’s lunch hour.

Mistakes to avoid when brainstorming online

The host isn’t the right choice

It’s the moderator’s job to keep the session going and encourage all participants to engage in the discussion. They should have an in-depth understanding of the session’s objectives and know the desired outcome.

Though the host doesn’t necessarily have to be a subject-matter expert, they should have enough knowledge about the topic to guide the session efficiently.

Not giving attendees pre-work

Don’t disregard the idea of assigning pre-work just because you think it’s a hassle for the participants. A small amount of research before the session will help skyrocket the productivity of the meeting.

It’s generally a good idea to ask participants to take some time out of their schedule and create a few pointers before the brainstorming session.

Failing to set the stage

With the online whiteboard ready, it’s easy to simply dive into the session headfirst. However, it’ll be much more efficient if you set a few ground rules, reiterate the meeting agenda, and explain the brainstorming technique before you get to the brainstorming part.

Trying to gain approval

If your session includes senior team members, there’ll be a point when the attendees will look to them for approval. When you can sense this happening, gently steer them away from it. If you let judgement wiggle its way into the brainstorming session, you can wave innovation and creativity goodbye.

Dominating attendees

Every team has an over-excited attendee who has something to share every other second. Don’t let them dominate the conversation by giving them free rein during the meeting.

Allowing loud participants to steer the direction of the meeting will alienate other members and make them feel reluctant to share their opinions and ideas.

Instead, try to rope everyone into the conversation and give them the stage to share their thoughts.

Not following through after the session

Oftentimes team leads get busy with their tasks and forget or delay taking action on the ideas discussed during the brainstorming session. This demotivated team members from proactively engaging during future sessions.

Summary

2020 has helped businesses realise the benefits of remote work; therefore, it’s safe to say that remote work will be a significant part of the corporate industry even after the pandemic passes.

Efficient online collaboration is a skill that everyone has to master to thrive in this new world.

In this blog, we’ve shared several best practices for online brainstorming and a handful of brainstorming techniques that you can implement to conduct successful sessions.

We hope these tips and tricks help your team cook up a storm!

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

- Benjamin Franklin -

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