Brainstorming and ideation work online too

The change in working patterns in many organisations, triggered by the pandemic, is gradually building a new normal. Even teams who used to be in the same location have turned into partly dispersed teams with at least some of its members temporarily working from home. And that is in addition to the virtual teams that have existed for a while. Based on this situation, more meetings than ever are taking place online. Face-to-face meetings in such a context are becoming rarer occasions.

When I speak with leaders of such new team constellations they mention several challenges for their own leadership but also for team performance. One of the most interesting points raised frequently is the limitation of true collaboration among team members. Initially, I was slightly surprised about this considering the widespread availability of online communication platforms. However, when digging deeper and analyzing the modes of collaboration something interesting emerged.

Brainstorming works online too

Modes of collaboration

Looking into situations where teams need good collaboration these leaders identified three main areas:

  1. sharing and working on documents
  2. problem solving
  3. brainstorming and ideation, co-creative work

Most of the online communication platforms offer not only screen sharing but also a whiteboard function which are, in my view, especially useful in the first two collaboration modes. In addition, you can also use off-line collaboration platforms, like Slack or SharePoint, with all their functionalities to enable better collaboration when off-line. This again works primarily for the first two collaboration modes.

When it comes to brainstorming and ideation though, limitations start to emerge. We all know that a well facilitated brainstorming or ideation session in a room has a special energy and buzz to it. People are writing on Post-It’s, different flipcharts, are walking around the room, looking at different ideas and start adding further thoughts to initial ideas to enhance what they see. And that is not really possible with these online communication/meeting platforms in use in many organisations.

So, how can you re-create such an energetic experience in the virtual world?

Effective brainstorming sessions online

Through working on a new project with a highly creative colleague, I came across a few platforms which I believe, when used appropriately, can be a virtual surrogate for what used to happen in a face-to-face brainstorming/ideation session.
I have not explored the entire web to get a full overview of this kind of collaborative platforms, because I already fell in love with the first one I came across. However, I will add one more, mentioned by other colleagues, and not just talk about the one I like most.

Two examples of available platforms

Here we go.

MIRO:  from what I have seen and experienced, an easy-to-use collaboration platform with pre-set templates or blank boards to be tailored to those back to requirements.

MURAL:  my favourite!
This platform offers a large number of templates for all sorts of online and off-line activities and workshop-themes. When I first worked with it, it really felt like being together in a room. We were enhancing each other’s ideas as well as moving from one part of the project, built in a specific space of the collaboration room, to another one in a different area.  And we continued brainstorming for additional elements using lots of the available tools.

After an online session of brainstorming you can always go back into this virtual room individually and offline and revisit ideas, work on some of them, and keep developing them further.

One additional benefit of both platforms is the fact that they can be integrated into Microsoft Teams, and other applications for that matter, so that you can operate online sessions out of Teams accessing the collaboration space directly from there without having to use yet another format within your teams’ workshops.

Conclusion

Having now worked with these platforms several times, I believe their use can really help you to access the creativity in your dispersed/virtual teams in the new normal of your organisation! Depending on how you facilitate such sessions you can probably get relatively close to the excitement and buzz people know from the ‘old days’, when everyone was sitting in the same room.

I assume the internet offers more than just these two platforms with similar or even better functionalities. And if you know any of them and know how they work, please feel free to share information about them in the comments below. We’d love to hear about them.
And if you want to explore any aspects of online collaboration, brainstorming, and how to facilitate such workshops in the best way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me direct.