How to Brainstorm When You Are Not in the Same Room

Now that many of us are no longer working together in the same space, we’re starting to get accustomed to new ways of doing things. But some processes are harder to translate than others, and brainstorming is one of the most challenging. Where before we were able to sit down in a room and hash things out collaboratively, now we’re trying to bounce ideas off each other over email and in awkward teleconferences. But it’s possible to accomplish great things with remote brainstorming. Here’s an approach that can yield top results:

Be clear in describing the problem. When people are working remotely, it’s easier for different assumptions and expectations to develop. Even though it may seem like an oversimplification, start by clearly stating the problem you’re trying to solve to make sure everyone has the same understanding.

Identify the problem solvers. Brainstorming depends on combining knowledge and skills, and it works best with a diverse group. Identify the individuals you want to participate and let them know about it—but don’t bring them together yet. You’ll need to keep them apart until the next step is complete.

Give everyone time to process alone or in small groups. People in groups tend to think as a group, limiting the range of possible solutions. It’s a common pitfall even with in-person brainstorming, and even more so when you’re working remotely. Before you bring the full group together, allow each person some time to process the problem alone or in small groups. Giving people an opportunity to engage and generate ideas ahead of time brings the widest possible range of options to the table. Have each individual or small group contribute their initial ideas in writing so you can capture them before people start to influence one another’s thinking.

Share the entire list of initial solutions with the group. Once everyone’s had a chance to come up with some ideas, compile them into a single list without saying which idea was whose. Send the compilation to everyone so they can consider all directions before you bring them together to generate a solution.

Invite a voice that’s missing. After looking at the list of initial ideas, you may realize that another perspective or area of expertise needs to be brought in. This slowed-down process gives you a chance to include those voices—something that wouldn’t be possible with traditional brainstorming.

Bring the full group together: After you’ve allowed people to process and finalized the group, bring everyone together to discuss the most promising ideas and begin working toward a consensus.

It may seem strange at first to give up the energy of around-the-table brainstorming, but who knows? This new way of thinking collaboratively, which benefits from a wider range of voices and ideas to be considered, may actually yield such great results that we never go back.

Lead from within: When things change around us, we have to learn to adapt by changing the way we do things.

 


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After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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