Top 7 Brainstorming Techniques For Remote Teams

brainstorming techniques for remote teams

In the ever-evolving landscape of remote work, fostering creativity and collaboration within teams has become increasingly vital for business success.

In this article, we will delve into the top brainstorming techniques specifically designed for remote teams, highlighting their benefits, nuances, and practical applications. From digital whiteboards to virtual breakout rooms, these methods will not only bridge the geographical gap but also create a vibrant and engaging environment for your remote team to thrive.

What Is Online Brainstorming?

Online brainstorming, also known as virtual or digital brainstorming, is the process of generating ideas and solutions by utilizing various digital tools and platforms that facilitate collaboration and communication among remote team members. Unlike traditional face-to-face brainstorming sessions, online brainstorming overcomes geographical barriers, allowing individuals to contribute from anywhere in the world.

But while online brainstorming sessions may be more difficult to set up, research shows that digital brainstorming may actually accomplish better results.

Effective Online Brainstorming Techniques

To ensure effective brainstorming sessions for remote teams, it’s crucial to use techniques that promote collaboration and creativity, while taking advantage of digital tools. Here are some of the most effective brainstorming techniques for remote teams:

1. Virtual Whiteboarding

Virtual whiteboarding is a brainstorming technique that leverages digital whiteboard tools to facilitate idea generation, collaboration, and organization among remote team members. Unlike traditional physical whiteboards, virtual whiteboards are accessible online, allowing team members from different locations to collaborate in real-time or asynchronously.

Virtual whiteboarding typically involves the following steps:

  • Choose a virtual whiteboard platform: Select a digital whiteboard tool, such as Miro, Mural, or Microsoft Whiteboard, that best suits your team’s needs and preferences.
  • Set up the whiteboard: Create a new virtual whiteboard, and invite team members to join. You can also set up templates or background grids to help structure the brainstorming session.
  • Share ideas: Participants can add ideas to the virtual whiteboard using text, sticky notes, images, or drawings. They can also comment on, edit, or rearrange existing ideas, facilitating real-time collaboration and feedback.
  • Organize and categorize: As ideas are added, participants can group, categorize, or connect related ideas, making it easier to identify patterns, relationships, and areas of focus.
  • Vote or prioritize: Team members can vote on ideas, rank them by importance or feasibility, or add labels to help prioritize and narrow down the list of ideas.
  • Review and refine: After the brainstorming session, the team can review the virtual whiteboard, refine ideas, and identify next steps or action items.

Virtual whiteboarding offers several advantages for remote teams, including:

  1. Enhanced collaboration: team members can contribute, regardless of their location or time zone.
  2. Flexibility: virtual whiteboards offer a wide range of features, such as templates, sticky notes, and drawing tools.
  3. Accessibility: digital whiteboards can be accessed from multiple devices.

2. Brainwriting

Brainwriting is an alternative to traditional verbal brainstorming techniques that involves participants writing down their ideas individually, instead of sharing them aloud in a group setting. This approach encourages equal participation, reduces the influence of dominant personalities, and can lead to more diverse and innovative ideas. Brainwriting is particularly well-suited for remote teams, as it can be easily adapted to various digital tools and platforms.

Here’s how brainwriting works as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the problem or topic: Clearly communicate the problem or topic that the team needs to generate ideas for.
  • Choose a collaboration tool: Select a digital platform for team members to record and share their ideas, such as a shared Google Doc, Microsoft Word Online, or a virtual whiteboard like Miro or Mural.
  • Write ideas individually: Set a time limit (e.g., 5-10 minutes) and ask each team member to write down their ideas individually without discussing them with others. Encourage participants to focus on quantity over quality, as this promotes creative thinking and reduces self-censorship.
  • Share and review ideas: After the time limit has elapsed, team members can share their written ideas on the chosen platform, either by copying and pasting them from a personal document or adding them directly to the shared space.
  • Build on or combine ideas: Participants can review their colleagues’ ideas and add comments, suggestions, or improvements. They can also combine similar or complementary ideas to create new, more robust concepts.
  • Evaluate and prioritize: Once all ideas have been shared and refined, the team can evaluate and prioritize them based on their feasibility, relevance, or potential impact. This can be done through discussion, voting, or other decision-making techniques.
  • Develop action plans: After prioritizing the ideas, the team can create action plans or assign responsibilities to move forward with the most promising concepts.

Brainwriting offers several benefits for remote teams, including:

  1. Inclusivity: By allowing participants to contribute ideas in writing, brainwriting helps to ensure that everyone’s input is considered, regardless of communication style, language barriers, or confidence levels.
  2. Reduced groupthink: By preventing immediate feedback and influence from others, brainwriting can lead to more diverse ideas and reduce the likelihood of groupthink.
  3. Asynchronous participation: Brainwriting can be done asynchronously, accommodating team members in different time zones or with varying work schedules.

3. Round-robin Brainstorming

Round-robin brainstorming is a structured brainstorming technique that involves each team member taking turns sharing one idea at a time during a virtual meeting or conference call. This approach ensures equal participation, maintains focus, and prevents interruptions or idea monopolization by a single individual. It works well for remote teams, as it can be easily implemented in virtual meetings using video or audio conferencing platforms.

Here’s how round-robin brainstorming works as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the problem or topic: Clearly communicate the problem or topic for which the team needs to generate ideas.
  • Schedule a virtual meeting: Set up a video or audio conference call using platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, and invite all team members to join.
  • Establish ground rules: Before starting the session, inform participants about the round-robin process and emphasize the importance of active listening, respect, and staying focused.
  • Take turns sharing ideas: Each team member takes turns sharing one idea at a time, moving in a predetermined order (e.g., clockwise or alphabetically). Encourage participants to be concise and clear when presenting their ideas.
  • Record ideas: Assign a designated note-taker to document the ideas shared by each participant, or use a shared digital tool (e.g., Google Docs, virtual whiteboard) to collect and organize ideas in real-time.
  • Encourage building on ideas: After completing the first round, continue with additional rounds where team members can either share new ideas or build upon previously mentioned ideas.
  • Complete the process: Continue the round-robin brainstorming until all team members have contributed their ideas or feel that the topic has been sufficiently explored.
  • Review and prioritize: After the session, review the ideas collectively, and prioritize or categorize them based on their feasibility, relevance, or potential impact. This can be done through discussion, voting, or other decision-making techniques.
  • Develop action plans: With the prioritized ideas in hand, create action plans, assign responsibilities, or set deadlines to move forward with the most promising concepts.

Benefits of round-robin brainstorming for remote teams include:

  1. Equal participation: all team members get a chance to contribute their ideas, fostering a more inclusive and balanced brainstorming environment.
  2. Encouragement of diverse ideas: this format allows for a wider range of ideas to be shared, as participants are less likely to be influenced or overshadowed by dominant personalities.
  3. Time efficiency: round-robin brainstorming can be timeboxed, ensuring that the brainstorming session remains efficient and doesn’t drag on.

4. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a brainstorming technique that involves visually representing ideas, concepts, and connections in a hierarchical, tree-like structure, with a central topic or problem at the core. Mind maps help organize, structure, and analyze ideas, making it easier to identify patterns, relationships, and areas of focus. For remote teams, mind mapping can be effectively implemented using digital mind mapping tools, promoting collaboration and creativity among team members located in different places.

Here’s how mind mapping works as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the central topic or problem: Clearly communicate the central topic or problem that the team needs to generate ideas around.
  • Choose a digital mind mapping tool: Select a digital mind mapping tool, such as XMind, MindMeister, or Coggle, that best suits your team’s needs and preferences.
  • Create the central node: Begin the mind map by creating a central node that represents the main topic or problem. This serves as the starting point for branching out into subtopics and related ideas.
  • Generate ideas and subtopics: Team members collaborate to add ideas and subtopics as branches connected to the central node or other related subtopics. Encourage participants to contribute freely, without worrying about the organization or hierarchy at this stage.
  • Connect and organize ideas: As the mind map grows, participants can rearrange, group, or connect related ideas to create a coherent structure. This helps identify patterns, relationships, and areas requiring further exploration.
  • Collaborate in real-time or asynchronously: Remote team members can contribute to the mind map simultaneously or asynchronously, depending on their schedules and time zones. Digital mind mapping tools typically allow for real-time collaboration, comments, and feedback.
  • Review and refine: Once the brainstorming session is complete, the team can review the mind map, refine ideas, and identify next steps or action items.

Benefits of mind mapping for remote teams include:

  1. Visual organization: mind maps provide a clear visual representation of ideas and their connections.
  2. Enhanced collaboration: mind mapping tools allow team members to contribute regardless of their location or time zone.
  3. Encouragement of creative thinking: mind maps allow for the exploration of various perspectives and connections.

5. Virtual Breakout Rooms

Virtual breakout rooms are a brainstorming technique that involves dividing a larger remote team into smaller groups and assigning them to separate virtual rooms within a video conferencing platform.

These smaller groups discuss and generate ideas around a specific topic, problem, or aspect of the central theme, and later reconvene to share their findings with the whole team.

This approach promotes focused discussions, encourages participation from all team members, and enables the exploration of multiple ideas simultaneously.

Here’s how virtual breakout rooms work as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the problem or topic: Clearly communicate the problem or topic for which the team needs to generate ideas.
  • Schedule a virtual meeting: Set up a video conference call using platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, and invite all team members to join.
  • Divide the team into smaller groups: Based on the team size and the nature of the problem, divide the team into smaller groups of 3-5 members. Assign each group a specific aspect of the problem, a subtopic, or a related question to discuss.
  • Assign virtual breakout rooms: Using the video conferencing platform’s breakout room feature, create separate virtual rooms for each group and assign them accordingly.
  • Set a time limit: Establish a time limit for the breakout room discussions (e.g., 15-20 minutes) to maintain focus and ensure efficiency.
  • Monitor and assist: As the facilitator, you can visit each breakout room to monitor progress, provide guidance, and address any questions or concerns.
  • Reconvene and share findings: After the designated time has elapsed, bring all the groups back together in the main virtual meeting room. Each group presents their ideas, findings, or solutions to the whole team.
  • Discuss and build on ideas: Encourage team members to ask questions, provide feedback, and build upon the ideas shared by the different groups.
  • Evaluate and prioritize: Review the ideas collectively and prioritize them based on their feasibility, relevance, or potential impact. This can be done through discussion, voting, or other decision-making techniques.
  • Develop action plans: With the prioritized ideas in hand, create action plans, assign responsibilities, or set deadlines to move forward with the most promising concepts.

Benefits of using virtual breakout rooms for remote teams include:

  1. Focused discussions: smaller groups enable more targeted and in-depth discussions.
  2. Increased participation: breakout rooms create a more intimate setting that encourages quieter or less confident team members to contribute their ideas.
  3. Enhanced collaboration: breakout rooms promote teamwork and collaboration, as team members must work together to develop and present their findings.

6. Asynchronous Brainstorming

Asynchronous brainstorming is a technique that allows remote team members to contribute ideas and collaborate on a specific topic or problem at different times, rather than simultaneously. This approach accommodates varying time zones, work schedules, and communication preferences while encouraging diverse thinking and reducing the pressure to conform to groupthink. Asynchronous brainstorming can be effectively implemented using digital tools, such as shared documents, virtual whiteboards, or collaboration platforms.

Here’s how asynchronous brainstorming works as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the problem or topic: Clearly communicate the problem or topic for which the team needs to generate ideas.
  • Choose a collaboration tool: Select a digital platform that enables asynchronous collaboration, such as shared Google Docs, Microsoft Word Online, virtual whiteboards (e.g., Miro, Mural), or collaboration platforms like Trello or Asana.
  • Set a timeframe: Establish a timeframe during which team members can contribute their ideas, allowing for flexibility in accommodating different schedules and time zones.
  • Share ideas individually: Team members add their ideas to the chosen platform at their convenience, without discussing them with others during a live meeting. Encourage participants to focus on quantity over quality, promoting creative thinking and reducing self-censorship.
  • Review and build on ideas: Throughout the designated timeframe, team members can review their colleagues’ ideas, add comments, suggestions, or improvements, and build upon existing concepts.
  • Evaluate and prioritize: Once the asynchronous brainstorming period is complete, the team can evaluate and prioritize the ideas based on their feasibility, relevance, or potential impact. This can be done through discussion, voting, or other decision-making techniques, either asynchronously or during a follow-up virtual meeting.
  • Develop action plans: After prioritizing the ideas, the team can create action plans or assign responsibilities to move forward with the most promising concepts.

Benefits of asynchronous brainstorming for remote teams include:

  1. Flexibility: Asynchronous brainstorming accommodates varying schedules, time zones, and work preferences, allowing all team members to participate when it is most convenient for them.
  2. Reduced pressure and groupthink: By preventing immediate feedback and influence from others, asynchronous brainstorming can lead to more diverse ideas and reduce the likelihood of groupthink.
  3. Inclusivity: This approach ensures that everyone’s input is considered, regardless of communication style, language barriers, or confidence levels.

7. SCAMPER

SCAMPER is an acronym that stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. It is a brainstorming technique that helps teams generate innovative ideas by encouraging them to think about a problem or topic from different perspectives.

SCAMPER can be effectively applied to remote teams using digital collaboration tools, enabling team members to contribute and build upon ideas asynchronously or in real-time.

Here’s how SCAMPER works as a brainstorming technique for remote teams:

  • Define the problem or topic: Clearly communicate the problem or topic for which the team needs to generate ideas.
  • Choose a collaboration tool: Select a digital platform that enables collaboration and idea sharing, such as shared Google Docs, Microsoft Word Online, virtual whiteboards (e.g., Miro, Mural), or collaboration platforms like Trello or Asana.
  • Explain SCAMPER: Introduce the SCAMPER technique and its seven components (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse) to the team, providing examples and guidance on how to apply each element.
  • Apply SCAMPER to the problem or topic: Encourage team members to use the SCAMPER components as prompts to generate new ideas or improve existing ones. Participants can contribute ideas asynchronously or during a virtual meeting, depending on the chosen collaboration method.
  • Review and build on ideas: Team members can review and build upon each other’s ideas, using the SCAMPER framework to further refine and expand upon concepts.
  • Evaluate and prioritize: Once the brainstorming session is complete, the team can evaluate and prioritize the ideas based on their feasibility, relevance, or potential impact. This can be done through discussion, voting, or other decision-making techniques, either asynchronously or during a follow-up virtual meeting.
  • Develop action plans: After prioritizing the ideas, the team can create action plans or assign responsibilities to move forward with the most promising concepts.

Benefits of using SCAMPER as a brainstorming technique for remote teams include:

  1. Structured thinking: SCAMPER provides a systematic approach to idea generation, promoting creative thinking and innovation.
  2. Comprehensive exploration: SCAMPER encourages teams to explore various aspects and possibilities of a problem or topic.
  3. Adaptability: SCAMPER can be applied to various industries, problems, and topics, making it a versatile brainstorming technique.

By combining these techniques with appropriate digital tools, remote teams can overcome the challenges of distance and time zones, ensuring effective brainstorming sessions that foster creativity and collaboration.

Tips for Running Effective Brainstorming Sessions

Set a clear objective: Define the problem or topic for the brainstorming session to ensure everyone is focused and aligned.

Choose the right tools: Select appropriate digital collaboration tools, such as virtual whiteboards, shared documents, and time trackers that facilitate idea sharing and teamwork.

Establish ground rules: Set guidelines for participation, such as respecting others’ opinions, active listening, and encouraging open-mindedness.

Invite diverse perspectives: Include team members from different backgrounds, roles, or departments to foster diverse thinking and creativity.

Encourage quantity over quality: Promote the generation of numerous ideas, even if they seem unconventional or incomplete, to encourage creative thinking.

Timebox the session: Set a time limit for the brainstorming session to maintain focus and ensure efficiency.

Follow up with action plans: Create action plans, assign responsibilities, or set deadlines to move forward with the most promising ideas.

Why Is Online Brainstorming Important?

Online brainstorming is crucial in today’s increasingly connected and remote work environments, as it fosters collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving among team members who may be spread across different locations, time zones, or schedules.

Plus, according to the research by Northern Illinois University, there are also a number of “hidden benefits” that come with brainstorming including “lesser employee turnover and increased employee commitment.”

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