How to Make Virtual Brainstorms Work for Your Team

There’s nothing worse than a poorly led brainstorm over Zoom. How can you replicate the magic of a brainstorming session when some or all of your team members are on a screen?

here’s nothing worse than a poorly led brainstorm.
There’s nothing worse than a poorly led brainstorm over Zoom.

Due to ongoing precautions related to COVID-19, many — including FrazierHeiby — continue to operate remotely or semi-remotely. We’ve had to adjust the ways we collaborate with our teams and clients to ensure we can still meet the demands of the job. When it comes to creative brainstorming, reading body language, building on one another’s ideas, and feeding off the team’s collective energy is what makes the experience electric.

So, how can you replicate the magic when some or all of your team members are on a screen?

Over the past few months, we’ve made some intentional choices around how we construct and lead creative ideation sessions. Here are a few practical takeaways we hope you can apply with your teams.

Invite the Right Players

In a virtual setting, it’s critical you have the right people participating. In terms of size, we’ve found four to six people is the sweet spot; enough to bring together diverse opinions and backgrounds, without having too many people feel like they can’t get a word in. In terms of roles, we recommend a split of team members intimately close to the specific project and a few outliers who can bring fresh, objective perspective.

Keep It Focused

Brainstorms should not be a free for all. You need to have a clear leader who sets the tone with the group when the invitation is set, clearly outlining the specific objectives for the brainstorm. That leader should level set at the start of the brainstorm, offering only the information that’s relevant to the task at hand. They should also keep the conversation on track and bring the group back if the conversation deviates from the original objective.

Leverage a Virtual White Board

When brainstorming in person, my team knows I always grab the seat closest to the white board. I love visualizing how smart, creative ideas can be woven together to unlock a key insight or creative solution. In the virtual setting, we’ve tested a number of models for replicating the white board and our favorite tool is Miro. The platform offers countless virtual whiteboard templates and easy to use applications like sticky notes, a timer, a poll feature and more.
Note: AWW, Ziteboard and Stormboard are also good alternatives.

Balance Structure + Novelty

Zoom fatigue is real. It’s important your virtual brainstorms don’t feel like any other meeting. First, start with a clear, intentional structure. Kick off with a short ice breaker to help the group shake off whatever other work priorities were top of mind and allow everyone to ease into a creative thinking mentality. Then, explain a specific agenda so the ground has a roadmap for where the conversation is headed and how they can best contribute at each stage.

While the structured agenda keeps the conversation on track, be sure to infuse unexpected and unconventional brainstorm techniques that don’t typically make it onto the average meeting agenda. Some of our favorite exercises include:

  • Scavenger Hunt: Discuss your target audience persona(s) and align on three to five key traits. Then, give the group five minutes to search their home, office, third place, etc. to find an object representative of the audience segment and have them explain the significance.
  • Yes, and: Just like the improv comedy imperative, start with the germ of an idea. After one person kicks off, they call out another member on the line and they have to — “yes, and” — build on the idea. It goes from person to person until everyone has weighed in.
  • Challenge / Opportunity: At the start of the brainstorm, ask everyone to submit in the chat what they see as the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity. They can share their perspective in writing at any time during the course of the meeting and as the conversation evolves, they are welcome to update their point of view. It’s a great way to get everyone involved and document key insights.

While we all hope we’ll eventually return to some sort of normalcy at work, it’s likely that dispersed teams will remain commonplace. It’s important that we are intentional about making the most of people’s time and offer the tools and resources to pull the best ideas from our teams and deliver smart, creative marketing and communication initiatives.