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5 Tips for brainstorming in a virtual world

Posted on August 19, 2020

I’ve written before about the value of brainstorming, the electricity that fills the air as colleagues share their ideas and those ideas begin to gel. The brainstorming I talked about happened in a collaboration room or a conference room or an office, where the people involved could look at one another, scribble or sketch something on a piece of paper or on a white board for the others to see. I never described or thought about brainstorming through a computer. So, is it possible? Of course it is, but it takes a bit more planning.

What do I mean by planning – seems counterintuitive to brainstorming?

In our virtual environments, you need to lay the groundwork for a brainstorming session. This includes:

Set Expectations

When scheduling the meeting, be very up front about the expectations, i.e. “I am looking for some solutions to our communication break-down…” or “We have an issue with our supply chain, and I’d like some creative thoughts on how to address it.”

Provide Necessary Information Upfront

When you schedule the meeting or at least a few days before the meeting, send any and all relevant materials and ask those participating if there is other information they may want to see, and encourage everyone to read through the materials before the meeting, start the juices flowing early.

Ask for One Idea

Ask all participants to come to the meeting with one idea in their pocket, this will launch the conversation.

Encourage a Little Chaos

In our virtual meetings, for the most part, we all try and take turns speaking, but you want to encourage people to speak and gently interrupt either by speaking or putting something in the chat to avoid stifling an idea.

Monitor the Chat

It is advisable to have someone who is not fully engaged in the brainstorming session to monitor the chat, take notes, and interrupt the conversation to bring a chat comment or question to the floor. This needs to be someone who is not afraid of speaking up and interrupting.

Brainstorming does require some patience. The best and most brilliant ideas are not always born in an initial meeting, sometimes it takes a couple of meetings. Sometimes ideas need time to gel in the back of someone’s mind while they are focused on ten other things. The same is true for virtual brainstorming. So, before the end of the meeting, set up a follow-up meeting, but don’t let too much time pass, I suggest scheduling the meeting within a few days. You do not want too much daylight between this session and the next because a brilliant idea will fade with time if it is not nourished.

Brainstorming in a virtual environment does take some pre-planning, but the end result can be the same, a great idea worthy of adoption.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in innovation-workplace