Six Steps to Solving Problems Faster Via Virtual Brainstorming

Tips to effectively generate new ideas with remote teams

In 1953, brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn, a Madison Avenue advertising executive, who chronicled the how-to’s of group problem-solving in his book: Applied Imagination. More than six decades and thousands of studies later, much has been learned about conducting effective brainstorming sessions; however, virtual brainstorming, although operating by many of the same principles, does require a modified approach in order to produce successful results. Below, we’ve gathered six steps you can take in order to ensure your virtual brainstorms are fun-filled, productive, and efficient problem-solving sessions for both you and your remote team.

Step 1: What’s the Problem?

In a typical brainstorming session the group leader lays out a problem and then the brainstorming session begins. In a virtual brainstorming session, it’s best to define the problem before the meeting and send it to everyone who will take part in the session according to Ralph Keeney, a professor of decision sciences at the Duke University School of Business. Keeney recommends leaders not only define the problem, but list the objectives that potential solutions need to achieve. For example, if a client wants you to build a better mousetrap, tell the people in the brainstorming session some goals the new mousetrap needs to achieve, i.e. must be within a set budget; needs to incorporate certain materials, etc. Keeney maintains that detailing the goals of a solution before brainstorming sets up the session for success. In addition, several studies have shown that giving ideas time to incubate enables the brain to engage in deeper thought regarding a problem and come up with better solutions.

Step 2: Get Technical.

The wonderful thing about virtual brainstorming is that it enables you to engage top talent from anywhere in the world to help you develop ideas. That being said, you will want to create an experience for everyone in the session that allows them to communicate as if they were in the same room. A recent study revealed that face-to-face communication is essential for building trust, and trust is essential for successful brainstorms because people need to feel they can share ideas in an environment of mutual respect. To foster an atmosphere of clear communication and trust, you will want to employ a video conferencing solution with exceptional audio. You’ll need a solution that can keep up with the fast pace of conversation in a virtual brainstorming session, like Highfive with Dolby Voice and the Dolby Conference Phone.  It’s important that the solution handles simultaneous speech, and naturally captures everyone in the room without the use of clunky satellite mics. Features like volume leveling and spatial voice separation ensure everyone can be heard clearly and helps participants tell voices apart.

Step 3: Write it Down.

Once your virtual team is gathered via video conference for a brainstorm, you will want to empower them to write down thoughts as they occur. Fortunately, there are several easy-to-use cloud-based whiteboard apps available, such as ExplainEverything and RealtimeBoard. These interactive online whiteboards enable team members to write, draw, animate, and more, as folks collaborate in real time. There are also apps designed specifically for brainstorming, like MindMeister, which transforms users’ inputs into colorful maps that organize the flow of ideas. MindMeister also has built-in voting capabilities that allow users to openly or anonymously select the ideas they like best.

Step 4: Appoint a Moderator.

Whenever groups get together, inevitably the outgoing people will do all the talking, while those who are more introverted may be reluctant to speak up. To keep your brainstorm from becoming a lopsided conversation choose someone neutral, but assertive, to serve as the moderator. A good moderator will set time limits on discussions, remind people not to criticize ideas, and ensure that everyone in the session participates in the conversation and contributes their thoughts.

Step 5: Consider Using a Technique.

Depending on how familiar group members are with each other, your moderator may find it necessary to use one of the many proven brainstorming techniques in order to get the session going. Below is a short list of some of the more popular brainstorming techniques top companies use to empower their people to develop fresh ideas:

  • Rapid-Fire Brainstorming – The moderator sets a timer and invites group members to write down as many ideas as they can think of in three minutes. This technique is great for fostering excitement and encouraging teams to think freely without self-editing.
  • Round-Robin – This technique ensures everyone participates by having each member of the group take a turn and submit an idea. Ideally, moderators should gather all ideas before a discussion of ideas begins.
  • Role-Storming– Invite group members to imagine how someone else might solve the problem at hand, i.e. what would Benjamin Franklin or Beyoncé do? A fun technique, role-storming helps people lose their inhibitions, gain a fresh perspective, and think creatively.

Step 6: Decide Next Steps.

Once your team has generated a list of solutions, organize the ideas you plan to pursue, and then make sure everyone knows what their next steps are. If an idea requires more research, consider splitting up the questions that need to be answered with everyone in the group so that the whole team develops a sense of ownership of the idea and works together to bring it to life.

Bonus Step: Give Your Remote Teams a Highfive.

Highfive’s high-quality, all-in-one, video conferencing devices enable team members to connect with ease, share slides, collaborate, communicate, and conduct virtual brainstorms like pros. Priced at a fraction of the cost of traditional systems, Highfive allows anyone using any device to participate in a dynamic and interactive brainstorming session with ease. To give your team a head start on better virtual brainstorms, give them a Highfive.

By Sara Moseley