Community Forum – How do you effectively brainstorm virtually?

Resource Type
Survey (Community Forum)
Publish Date
Innovation Research Interchange
Ideation, Knowledge Management, Tools and Techniques, Open Innovation and Contests, Employee Innovation
Associated Event

Our organization is planning a virtual brainstorming session via Microsoft Teams and would like your suggestions. This session is set up to solve a very technical need, so we have to make sure the session is successful. 

What has your organization done to make virtual brainstorming sessions successful?

  • Assure all cameras are on so we connect better to one another. Use protocols (like raising hands) so we respect everyone having time to talk and acknowledging that others have something to say.
  • Using multiple hybrid formats; 1) Open session with all with goals then move to small groups break-out rooms and then summary report outs. 2) Take information and coordinating more of a “brain-writing” technique; we pass around the ideas as a list to all participants afterwards to annotate and further comment or suggest more ideas sparked from the list. 3) Follow-up group discussions after the circulated list has been shared. These are spread-out over several days in smaller time frames to avoid virtual fatigue.
  • Assign a facilitator and scribe (good practices for any meeting). Make sure time works for all people involved (since many time zones may be involved).
  • Give pre-read. spend time on the problem statements. Use multiple problem statements that are specific. Invite a diversity of key subject matter experts to cover key areas. Do not invite too many people. 7-12 is good. Give breaks every 60-90 min. for 10 min. Have 2 facilitators. Let one work in background as needed as in clustering ideas in Teams Whiteboard. Give stimulus. Encourage people to paste in sketches or pictures.
  • Removed the silo mentality and encouraged cross-functional teams for active engagement.
  • We have expanded the use of virtual breakout rooms and whiteboards. We are also starting to see more teams use Private Channels and Planner (in Microsoft Teams).
  • Allow an ongoing chat or text discussion.
  • Level set that the session is a ‘safe space’ for participants. By virtue of being invited to the session, diverse thoughts are needed, desired, valued, welcomed.
  • We have a well-defined approach – really a system that we can draw from – initially designed for in-person ideation but adapted and refined for virtual innovation.
  • Used Slido and Teams; had a facilitator.
  • More pre-work, prep, better communications.
  • We are using collaboration tools that were already implemented.
  • Set up a multi day off site meeting with structured sessions designed to get creative ideas on a focused subject.
  • Additional whiteboarding tools, video conferencing tools, some facilitator guidance and trainings.
  • Discussion channels

What have you experienced in virtual brainstorming sessions that you suggest we avoid?

  • People who have cameras off and stay silent. Need to call on them to make sure they are engaged.
  • Avoid focusing on the solutions at the start (this is a natural tendency as we all are genuinely interested in solving the problems). Understand the real problem first.
  • Try not to do a hybrid meeting (some in person in a meeting room and some virtual). It is hard for the virtual people to hear all the conversations and may have trouble getting their thoughts heard (and may just stop participating). 2 or 3 in a room may be OK if the rest are virtual, but just be aware of the potential problem.
  • Cannot depend on verbal discussion. Need to make sure to incorporate the CHAT functions.
  • Two critical things. Make sure there aren’t people in the session who’s role isn’t clear. Avoid having the facilitator being a stakeholder.
  • Going too long between breaks. Being ambiguous in your questions. Inviting 30 people and hoping some attend.
  • Insist people turn on their cameras. Much easier to disengage from the discussion if the camera is off.
  • Letting one person or one idea dominate the discussion.
  • Bias (preconceived or actual) that would implicitly shut down opposing points of view.
  • Can’t do voice only, must at least have video. Large groups are difficult to get everyone’s voice heard.
  • Not being prepared; need a plan in order for brainstorming to go smoothly.
  • Excess features. The more features there are, the more complex and the less it will be used.
  • Lack of time to explore complex ideas.
  • Too many people, bad internet, too little time, no training/getting to know the tools before you actually start.
  • Making it more lively.

What do you like most about the tool(s) you recommend?

  • Our whole company is on Teams, so we are all learning how to make best use of it. So far the best things are how easy it is to make breakout rooms and record meetings (and then edit the recording as needed).
  • Integrates into the other Microsoft products for sharing information. Has the ability to record the session. New collaboration features were added and others on the way.
  • The ability to interact well. Mural allows multiple interactions by members. Teams allows for different backgrounds and gets interesting conversation starters going.
  • Common tools. We can invite both internal and external participants. Security.
  • Teams seems to be the most flexible, user friendly.
  • Slido has a brainstorming feature; and allows you to vote on ideas easier. It also keeps track/allows you to export all details.
  • Zoom allows break outs. Mural is more user friendly than Whiteboard. Whiteboard desktop app is better than the Zoom app of Whiteboard.
  • Fairly intuitive
  • Tactile, Erasable, Messy (like thoughts)
  • The integration with other Microsoft products is very helpful. One place for all documents.
  • Usability
  • Open free space. Real time collaboration.
  • Active [vs. passive] conversation is key.
  • Format allowed all to connect.
  • Easy to interact

What tool(s) would you not recommend and why?

  • Zoom, Webex, not very flexible
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Any files that only one person can be editing at a time.
  • Anything that ‘packages’ things too precisely and doesn’t allow for the free-flowing of ideas.
  • Some IT departments question the use of Miro and Mural. I am not sure why.

How do you capture ideas during your brainstorming session and retain them in a document format for future use?

  • We use OneNote and Teams
  • Someone is assigned to capture the ideas and then post on SharePoint. The session is also recorded for future use.
  • We use Box for document sharing and collaboration, so idea documents are retained in there (unless it is export controlled and then we have other systems for that). Sometimes we will use the BoxNote feature for capturing ideas while discussing as multiple people can be editing the Note at the same time.
  • Mural and Teams
  • We have been using PowerPoint shared to the group.
  • Microsoft OneNote. Or take pictures of sticky notes. Re-type them in PowerPoint.
  • Slido provides all details written by each “author”; rather than having to transcribe from bits of paper.
  • By taking hand notes, then summarizing and communicating to the team.
  • Usually we take notes and clean them up in an appropriate format (word, PPT) after the session.
  • White board. Transfer the cluster titles to an excel spreadsheet.
  • Excel format
  • Post it notes or whiteboard
  • Exporting, and transfer to other places, like an idea management system, or even just power point
  • Mostly on emails and data points to be acted upon.

Is there an optimum amount of people needed for a successful brainstorming outcome?

  • Not less than 5 or 6. Not more than 10-12.
  • At least 3, but no more than 8 seems to be good.
  • Small groups best size was about 6-8; 3 too small; >10 too big.
  • Depends on the subject. A core team having some expertise would be a good start. I try to limit it to 3-4 participants.
  • 6 or less
  • 5 to 8
  • I like 5-7
  • 7 is a good lower target. over 12 and some people will do e-mail and not be engaged.
  • For virtual, more than 10 is difficult
  • If done in real time, at least 6, no more than 10. Asynchronous can be done with more since not everyone is “online” at the same time.
  • Too many does not work; I would say a good set of 10 associates should be the max.
  • Less than 20
  • 5 is great, and with more you need facilitation or experienced people.
  • The required team who would do the work is required.

Relevant IRI resources:  
Tell us about your motivation for ideation
How is remote work impacting your organization?
Virtual Reality Capabilities Breakout