July 2020
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Brainstorming Remotely

Monday, July 20, 2020

One aspect of office life that has been significantly diminished is the ability for teams to brainstorm together. Despite telecommunication tools and video conferencing apps, it’s hard to replace sitting in a room together to have a freewheeling, creative discussion about a problem. That doesn’t mean this type of collaboration is impossible, though. Even in remote environments, principles to brainstorm effectively can be applied. First, be deliberate about who you choose for a session. Prior to the pandemic, this was anyone within close physical proximity. Now, with the ability to meet in-person diminished, consider who the best candidates for a meeting may be. Second, leverage the decentralized nature of a remote brainstorming session to limit the groupthink phenomenon. Studies show that during idea generation, people tend to think differently about a problem if they work alone, but if the group is together in the idea generation phase, they’ll tend to think alike. Start by having each person generate a list of potential solutions on their own then distribute the solutions that have been generated to the team to build on.

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Another approach is to pose the question or situation and have each person forward one idea to another person in the group. They add their idea and send it on to the next person in the group, and so forth until you run out of steam. This allows people to build off other's ideas while still having their own thoughts. I have used this technique prior to the pandemic with teams that were geographically separated.
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This is a good technique for 'training' team members to have confidence in their own ideas and thoughts when brainstorming as a group - after all, diversity in thinking leads to a broader range of ideas. I wouldn't use the 'generate ideas on your own, then compare' activity more than 2-3 times.
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