Working remotely has been an adjustment for everyone. And while collaboration tools like chat and video conferencing have made meeting with teammates, partners, and customers almost like being in the office, one area that hasn’t been discussed very much is virtual brainstorming and how it is imperative for companies right now.
Solving complex problems before the pandemic meant getting all of the stakeholders in a room together and working through the challenges with different ideas and real time feedback. This is more difficult to do remotely, in part because of the nuance of working together and the ability to read body language and verbal cues when providing or receiving feedback. Much like email or social media, this ability is lost when people are not in the same room together and feedback can be received out of context.
So how can we brainstorm effectively when we are working remotely? A recent HBR article touches on this topic and their first recommendation is to cast a wide net. The whole point of brainstorming is to get a diverse group together to discuss solutions to a problem. Prior to remote working calendars filled up quickly and it could be hard to get everyone together at the same time. Fortunately, the pandemic has helped cull the number of meetings everyone has scheduled.
Bringing everyone together remotely is easier than moving a meeting and potentially impacting a timeline because one or two people are unavailable. Since you’re not meeting in a specific location in-person, if someone is out of town, they can still make the brainstorm session. The limitations of not being physically present are no longer pertinent. No longer will remote attendees to an in-person meeting feel left out.
As you plan for a brainstorming meeting in today’s environment, “identify the roles and expertise you want, and then find people who fit that description. Ask your colleagues for recommendations of people you might not know who have relevant expertise. This will help you ensure that the group you bring together is more diverse, bringing a range of different backgrounds and perspectives to the problem-solving task.”
Another recommendation is to take advantage of the remote world we’re in by having people or teams prepare for the brainstorming session in advance. It has never been easier to eliminate group-think than it is right now. As focus groups have shown, too often group-think takes over a meeting and the result is a less than optimal common solution. Prior to the scheduled meeting, request that each person (or small team) generate ideas on their own and be prepared with a document listing out their suggestions.
Or have them send the ideas to you in advance and you can compile everyone’s ideas into a single document. Then share the ideas with the meeting attendees in a shared document so everyone can edit and comment on them. “One great thing about having this process extend out over time is that it gives you opportunities to engage new people who can bring valuable perspectives to the problem. Then, later in the process, you can bring the entire group together to discuss the most promising ideas and to reach a consensus about a small number of options to be considered further.”
The third recommendation is to be specific. While it is great to start at the 10,000 foot level with abstract thinking, this can help you apply lateral thinking concepts. But you need to guide the brainstorming towards the specific solution quickly, or risk everyone continuing to think “pie-in-the-sky” without making any progress. The process of iterative design thinking means that nothing is set in stone early on. The idea is to evolve the scenario together so everyone is included in the process.
Brainstorming is going to be an important tool for everyone in the coming months. We are facing challenges we’ve never seen or anticipated. Bringing together people from across the company to address these problems is going to drive innovation and culture as we move forward. If you have questions on how to evolve your culture and adopt an innovation mindset, let us know. Our retained search consultants can help you emerge from 2020 stronger.