4 Steps to a Successful Virtual Brainstorming Session

We’re now more than a year into the pandemic and many people continue to work from home. Unsurprisingly, companies are experiencing communication challenges and, in some instances, full-on breakdowns within their teams. Protocol-driven online meetings that were intended to improve the exchange of information and collaboration may actually be undermining those things.

Now is the time to switch out unnecessary Zoom check-ins for powerful, synergistic sessions with your team members. Virtual brainstorming is critical for uncovering gold mines of inspirational solutions to your company’s problems, fostering community and, above all else, keeping employees motivated.

Here are four simple steps to connect and engage with your group creatively online.

Step One: Engage Attendees from the Get-Go
Start your meeting with an attention-grabbing introduction that clearly lays out the workshop’s objectives. For instance, use your screen to share a funny (if appropriate) video clip related to the core issue at hand. You can also use Zoom’s whiteboard feature to draw simple diagrams. The point is to warm up everyone’s minds and get the creative juices flowing right away for the best virtual brainstorming.

Step Two: Pick a Unique, Interactive Brainstorming Technique
Use tried and true idea generation methods that will encourage even the shyest of team members to pipe up. There are loads to choose from, including brainwriting, reverse thinking and word association.

Brainwriting usually starts with one person writing down a few ideas on a piece of paper in a short time period (typically five minutes). The paper is then passed to the next person who adds their ideas and so on. For a virtual brainstorming session, you can replicate this exercise using Google Docs or an online brainwriting tool.

The reverse thinking method plays off of human tendency to engage in negative thought patterns more easily than positive ones. Instead of having everyone come up with optimistic solutions, ask questions that encourage participants to think of a situation’s worst possible scenarios. For example:

Q: How can we frustrate our newest customers as much as possible?

A: We can ensure super long wait times when handling their inquiries about our products.

The opposite of that answer (and others) might be the beginning of a winning idea.

Word association starts with one central word that’s displayed on your virtual whiteboard. Team members are then encouraged to voice the first related idea that comes to mind in a popcorn format. Write each new thought down and link associated points to create a visual map of potential strategies.

When picking a brainstorming method, keep in mind the diverse and sometimes opposing personalities on your team. Do your best to select a technique that caters to introverts, extroverts and everyone in-between.

Step Three: Vote on the Best Ideas
Now that you have some ideas to work with, it’s time to settle on the most effective ones. If your team is small enough and the voting process is relatively straightforward, feel free to have folks simply raise their hands. For larger teams and more complex issues, you may need a more sophisticated method. Try Zoom’s polling feature or online decision-making tools like PollUnit for a more interactive experience.

Step Four: Navigate Zoom Fatigue
After more than a year of virtual meetings, video calls have become a significant energy sapper for many workers, which can make it difficult for employees to reach peak productivity during and after meetings.

A great way to help everyone get through an online brainstorming session is to create shareable information in advance like handouts or slides that attendees can easily download. Doing so will save them the trouble of taking lots of notes during the meeting, which may be exhausting on top of everything else.

It’s also important to allow team members to turn off their cameras for portions of the brainstorming exercise that don’t require discussion. If it’s not necessary to be on-screen, don’t force them.

Be sure to schedule breaks at regular intervals to provide mini recharge sessions. Encourage attendees to stretch, grab refreshments or perform any other rejuvenating activities.

Try to limit video chats to only those that are necessary. For example, creative brainstorming, virtual experiences and social happy hours are all great for video. Things like catch-ups, one-on-one syncs and team briefs can be done over the phone.

Be Positive and Prepared
Before diving into a virtual brainstorming session, remember to properly prepare for your meeting in advance. None of these tips will do much good without an effective meeting setup, including an agenda and the right collaborating tools. Once everything is good to go, follow these steps for a stress-free, creative session. At the end, make sure to demonstrate your gratitude for your employees’ participation as a little appreciation goes a long way.

Belu Maffei is senior marketing manager at Thriver, an enabler of workplace culture and wellness programs that engage employees. The Thriver technology platform promotes thriving workplaces by making it easy for businesses to provide corporate food and culture initiatives that connect, engage and motivate individuals and teams, wherever they are. Belu can be reached at [email protected].


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