How to Brainstorm with Colleagues Across the Globe

Published: June 18th, 2020

By Julie Porter, Promethean Education Consultant

Popularized in the 1950s by an advertising executive, the term brainstorming refers to the process of gathering input from a group of people by encouraging freeform production of ideas, aiming toward quantity over quality, and welcoming unusual and creative responses to a problem or question. A 50% higher creative output was promised, but many studies have found that traditional in-person brainstorming often returns disappointing numbers. The tendency of a few strong individuals to dominate the conversation while the less confident remain silent results in less than ideal results from traditional brainstorming sessions. However, as we become more connected than ever with people in increasingly far-flung locations, the notion of putting many heads together to solve a problem remains attractive.

Brainstorming Techniques

Many techniques for more effective brainstorming have been found to produce better results than the traditional room full of people shouting out ideas. The new Promethean ActivPanel Titanium Pro, the latest interactive display for business, can help facilitate these techniques with an ‘infinite’ whiteboard with built in templates!

The Round-Robin Technique

The round-robin technique involves participants sitting in a circle, each taking a turn to offer their suggestions while others listen attentively. It has the advantage of requiring each person to contribute.

The Brainwriting Technique

Brainwriting is a variation in which each person writes a response to a prompt in private, and then the ideas are brought together for discussion. This technique can result in a higher number of unique ideas. A popular form of brainwriting is the 6-3-5 technique, in which 6 people each write out 3 ideas per 5-minute round before passing the idea sheet on to the next person.

Rapid Ideation, Starbursting, and Stepladder

In rapid ideation, participants quickly jot down ideas (often on sticky notes), which are then displayed, categorized, and evaluated by the group. Starbursting is a variation in which the group is encouraged to generate as many questions as possible about the topic. The stepladder technique involves beginning with two members of the group and adding other members one at a time, encouraging each member to share as the fresh voice when they are added to the discussion.

Online Brainstorming

Our increasingly virtual lives have resulted in a new form of brainstorming: online brainstorming or brain netting, something which can be achieved with Promethean’s latest interactive display for business, the ActivPanel Titanium Pro. In the era of social distancing, conducting business remotely is often necessary because of health concerns and legal restrictions, but connecting online also offers benefits: more participation from less confident individuals, more objective judging of ideas, and scalability to larger groups of participants than was previously possible. Connecting with people who have different experiences and cultures holds promise for an unprecedented richness in idea sharing and vetting, as well as honing crucial skills in collaboration. Groups can be large rather than limited to the number of people who can fit in a room. Saving the considerable costs of travel, both financially and from a planet health perspective, is a benefit not to be taken lightly.

Accommodating Time-zones and Software Choices

Brain netting offers its challenges, however, including the varying availability of people who live in different time zones, the potential need to purchase expensive software, compatibility issues with varying devices, and the learning curves of those who may not be as tech-savvy. Conversations can be drawn out, as some participants may not be able to respond to a critique of their idea as quickly as they could in person.

Various tools and techniques have proved helpful in brain netting, starting with the humble conference call. Productive conference calls require some preparation, including sending out an agenda ahead of time, and appointing a facilitator to ensure that everyone contributes and is heard. The use of an appointed notetaker can be helpful, as is sending out a summary of the call with action items to all participants afterward.

Videoconferencing takes the conference call a step forward by allowing participants to see one another during the discussion. Because human communication relies on body language and facial expressions even more than the actual words spoken, videoconferencing can be a much more efficient manner of sharing information as well as fostering relationships between the participants. It does require planning and coordination, as well as training to ensure that all participants are able to use the technology effectively.

Team chat apps such as Slack or Google docs offer the advantage of not requiring synchronous attendance when the members of your group are far from each other. Team chat software has been touted for improved communication, streamlined workflow, and more accountability for individual participation. It can also be used with an interactive display for business, requiring speakers and an internet connection.

Collaborative mind maps can be created through various software platforms, and they offer the advantage of organizing information the way the human brain does, tapping into our preference for visual information over other formats. Contributing to a virtual mind map allows for judgment-free participation, as well as encouraging building off of others’ ideas.

Social media can be a fertile ground for connecting with experts in any field and collaborating. The education sector has made Twitter into a valuable tool for collaboration and knowledge sharing, even while avoiding the political minefields that can be rampant on the platform.

Effective virtual brainstorming requires effective facilitation, including (1) beginning idea generation before the actual brainstorming session begins; (2) clearly stating the problem or question; (3) having a moderator to keep everyone on track and to ensure that all voices are heard; (4) setting time limits and deadlines; (5) following up with summaries and action items.

ActivPanel Titanium Pro – the Latest Interactive Display for Business

Promethean offers hardware and software that can help facilitate brain-netting, regardless of the chosen format. From interactive flat displays for the workplace, such as the ActivPanel Titanium Pro, that can display any needed content, to a screencasting app that allows sharing of other screens regardless of location, to interactive software for the corporate environment that includes polling of participants and data collection, we can partner with you to help create virtual brainstorming sessions that generate brilliant and creative ideas.

Learn More About:


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