How to become pro at brainstorming with your distributed team.

Group brainstorming is difficult in its nature and typically teams gather physically together in one location. Somehow it feels that the physical presence makes the process easier for everyone. Here are seven tips how to brainstorm with your team from remote like a true pro.

Group brainstorming is difficult in its nature and typically teams gather physically together in one location. Somehow it feels that the physical presence makes the process easier for everyone.

Brainstorming often involves sketching, sticky notes, writing, sharing the content and many iterations to explore different opportunities. Here are seven tips that have helped my teams to become not only great at brainstorming but doing it also from any location around the world.

1. Timeboxing everything is key

When there are no strict time restrictions, our minds often wander away in random directions. Ever had the moment when you start brainstorming about user login in your app and somehow magically end up discussing payment flow for example?

Also, keep in mind that our brains don’t have the superpowers to be creative and never get tired over eight hour period.

For us, one to two hours has worked well. Depending on the complexity of the topics.

2. Have a plan.

Without an agenda and plan, human beings can again randomly wander off in different topics. If you have an agenda and someone who will be responsible keeping everyone focused, you will have much better results.

Take few minutes to go over what you want to do, why and share any important information team should know. Also, make sure you have a little bit of wrap-up time at the end for the who will do what and so on.

3. Use video.

In a brainstorming session, seeing body language and facial expressions can help a lot. It helps to see when people get tired, when things get too emotional or simply when people are being bored and not engaged.

There are different tools at your disposal for this:

4. Use real-time tools.

Sketches on paper and whiteboards and sticky notes on walls are great when you are all in the same room. But they are terrible for distributed teams. Trust me on this one. While working at Skype, we used to try all kinds of mysterious things for this.

We pointed our video camera at whiteboard only to realize that person on the other end really cannot see a thing. I’m pretty sure we sent several thousands of photos over chats and emails etc. As a result, we just got totally lost in all the different files all over the place.

This was a reason for us to start Deekit – to give distributed teams ability to actually stop the madness with paper, whiteboards and all kinds of other apps and just collaborate.

If you are doing brainstorming on fully ready designs, go for InVision for example. Experiment with Canva to create some simple mockups. Or sketch your initial ideas together with Deekit. Be aware of what you need to achieve and choose the right tool.

5. Less is often more when it comes to tools.

I’ve seen teams use an insane amount of tools for one simple brainstorming session. Imagine just for a second switching between:

  1. a video call on Skype
  2. screen share to show a presentation
  3. Slack to chat and share files
  4. Pages to capture meeting notes, feedback and questions
  5. pdf viewer for your presentation
  6. InVision with design details
  7. Some drawing app to draw and sketch

Sounds crazy? Yes. I think so too. Less is more. Choose your tools that help you get the job done as easily as possible.

6. Get to know different brainstorming techniques.

Not everyone is a natural talent in brainstorming and figuring out new creative ways to solve problems. Sometimes we need an extra boost to get the creativity out of our heads.

Sometimes choosing a location might be the thing needed. But in some cases, using different techniques and approaches are the right way to go. Ever heard of Heuristic ideation technique or Cubing? Or perhaps you have heard about the Six Thinking Hats approach? If not, today might be just the right day.

7. Follow up.

When using real-time tools for the entire session, then you already have an advantage – all information is by default shared with everyone. If the choice of tools was different then make sure you share all the information – your meeting notes, sketches, and all other materials.

But following up is not just about sharing all the information. It’s more important to make sure everyone is aware of the action items – what do I need to do after the session and when I need to deliver.

What are tips you would share with teams for better brainstorming sessions?

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