Brainstorming is a popular technique that involves a group of people all bouncing ideas off one another. Everyone gathers around a whiteboard, talks through their ideas, and the group (hopefully) agrees on a creative direction on the spot.
It used to be the gold-standard when it came to group planning, but it’s recently come under criticism for its ineffectiveness. For one, it’s chaotic and unstructured. Secondly, it favors fast thinkers and vocal people, while quieter, more analytical thinkers underperform.
To get the most out of your entire team, you need to give everyone a chance to give their best answers. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon brainstorming exercises altogether. But it does mean that you need to design them to help different types of thinkers thrive.
Communication techniques used by remote workers can help your team brainstorm better — whether they’re actually working at another location or sitting just a few desks down. Read on to get your team’s creative juices flowing.
Why remote teams brainstorm differently
We all use two types of communication: real-time and asynchronous. But remote workers depend on asynchronous communication much more, and that uniquely affects their brainstorming sessions.
Asynchronous communication is any kind of communication that isn’t done in real-time – think email, chat apps, and comments in online tools. Communication is less immediate, but there are many benefits.
Firstly, it gives people more time to think before responding, which means they can give their best answer rather than their first. Recent evidence suggests brainstorming is better when done alone for this reason. Individuals perform better when they can work on developing their ideas first, and then present to the group later on.
Another benefit is that it makes the process more democratic; it allows the quieter, more thoughtful members of the group to have their voices heard just as much as their more vocal coworkers.
With the right tools, your team can brainstorm in real-time, asynchronously, or you can mix the two styles.
Three brainstorming games
Brainstorming works best when there’s a structure and prompts. Here are three essential techniques you can use when brainstorming, whether working in real-time or asynchronously.
Most of us played this game as a kid. Someone says one word, and the other says the first thing that pops into their head. The more grown-up version of this is called ‘word banking’ – it’s essentially the same thing, but with a little more structure.
First, ask your team to come up with terms that describe a theme, topic, or product – then group similar words or ideas. The goal is to break your project down into manageable parts and help you form connections between different areas, which should help you create new ideas.
For example, when working on promoting a product or service, your groups might include ‘social channels,’ ‘content,’ and ‘traffic.’ Within those, there could be overlapping goals and deliverables.
Considering other perspectives is an integral part of overcoming biases – something that hinders creative or lateral thinking. So for this exercise, ask your team to think about how someone else would solve a problem.
For example, you could pick a famous person, fictional or real, you think embodies a great problem solver, like Don Draper for an advertising campaign or Steve Jobs for innovation.
Alternatively, you could pick someone who you think is the opposite of your assumed audience to spark ideas that are more out of the box.
When you’re struggling to come up with new ideas, start asking your team to create problems – purposely think about what would be disastrous for your project.
For example, for a new product launch, three bad ideas might be to talk negatively about it online, to fail to announce the launch, and to make the homepage difficult to navigate. Reverse those, and you now have three goals: to create a great website, to promote the launch on social media, and to team up with influencers to sing its praises. Voila!
Understanding what not to do puts you in-tune with the needs of your project and helps you spot – and overcome – weaknesses.
Using an online whiteboard for remote brainstorming
When you’re ready to start brainstorming with your team, choose your structure, and then select the tools you need to support your exercise.
A few technologies to consider are: using video chat to talk through ideas (making sure there’s someone to take notes), using a team chat app to create a dedicated chat topic, or using a virtual whiteboard to visualize your ideas.
Online whiteboards give you the option to work together in real-time or asynchronously. They let your team collaborate in one space. They also allow you to save previous versions, which you can refer back to.
More brainstorming games you can do with a virtual whiteboard
When you use a virtual whiteboard, you also open up a whole new world of brainstorming games, like these:
- Mind mapping: this is where you break your goal or issue down into themes, then group ideas around each topic. The goal is to spark creative ideas and make your project more manageable.
- Group sketching: visual thinking can spark ideas that writing may not. This is a particularly useful technique for design teams, but it can also be a general creativity exercise. One person starts by drawing something using a virtual drawing tool. They then pass their creation onto the next person, who adds a new element, and so on.
- SWOT Analysis: S.W.O.T. stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is easy to do on a virtual whiteboard: simply create four columns (or choose a SWOT template), then invite everyone to add their thoughts – or share them with you separately, for you to add yourself.
- Zero draft method: this is a popular technique employed by writers, but it can be used by anyone who wants to kick-start a project by getting initial ideas out into the open. Start with your central theme, project, or product, then write down everything you currently know about it, what you need to know about it, and what you want to know but don’t. Make a note as to why each one is important and invite others to do the same. The goal is to get past that initial creative block.
Properly structured brainstorming games can spark creativity and bring your team together. Using the tools commonly employed by remote workers means your team can work on their ideas from anywhere, at a time, and then come together to present and discuss.
With Cacoo, you can use pre-made templates, drag & drop images on your whiteboard, and comment on and respond to feedback right on diagrams. You can also track your ideas over time with version history.
When it comes to brainstorming, face-to-face discussions still have their place, but giving people the structure, time, and tools to formulate their best ideas will lead you to a lot more success.