Tom Drucker

Boosting Your Company’s Capacity for Innovation: Through Remote Brainstorming

In this blog post, I am offering methods, best practices and creative processes to companies, their leaders and associates to take on the important work of continuing to innovate and move their organizations forward during this pandemic. And the reopening of our robust business economy, essential for us all.

Advantages of Working Remotely

Having staff work remotely can have several advantages. One unique benefit sets up the conditions for companies to conduct creative brainstorming sessions with diverse teams that would be impractical (not to mention extremely expensive) to hold face-to-face.

Refining internal processes and improving external methods for serving customers plus solving problems with supply-chain partners are a few examples of critical challenges that may not have been addressed in a timely fashion or not at all in today’s Covid work environment.

I have noticed that in several of my client’s companies that many new product and service innovations have been postponed or greatly reduced in volume, because these responsibilities were typically committee assignments made to individuals who now have jobs which they are remotely engaged in full time.

Executives (also called sponsors) who have identified business issues where a brainstorming session had been a standard procedure have been frustrated. These executives no longer have a person “down the hall” who could make phone calls to the “perfect people to gather for an afternoon with refreshments” to brainstorm together.

My observation: If remote brainstorming is if conducted following a few guidelines the outcomes of can be even more successful than in person brainstorming.


First Step to Remote Brainstorming

The 1st step might be a surprise. The latest research on brainstorming strongly recommends the most important 1st step is deciding on the right question to brainstorm plus selecting a diverse group of people to contribute ideas.

You are now not limited by a budget because there are no plane fares or hotel rooms to worry about. Depending on the size of your company and the number of departments the issue you are focusing on touches, I suggest writing an email to associates and managers who are subject matter experts in the field(s) you are focusing on.

Start their contribution by suggesting a few questions you think might be appropriate. Ask them to add new questions or edit and approve the questions you sent them.

If you are intending to innovate or improve a process, in addition to subject matter experts, invite and send the list of suggested questions to individuals whose jobs are involved with key stages or steps of the process that need improving.

Each of these people will have information to contribute about how the current process is or is not working today and be able to contribute their suggestions for improvement. They likely will have insights as to the most useful questions to begin the brainstorming.


How to Build Trust & Collaboration

To build trust and a collaborative feeling among the brainstorming team, send around the top 2 or 3 suggested questions for a final consensus. Tell the group that you will use their input to pick the final question and send it out along with the process you suggest the group will use for the remote brainstorming activity.

When people are working remotely, it’s most effective for everyone to share ideas whenever they wish. This freedom is very important to stimulate everyone’s contributing their ideas. This the opposite of in-person brainstorming which can generate “group think”, which reduces diversity of thought if not skillfully facilitated.   If you have any concern that individuals on your team may have ideas that could influence the free expression of others’ ideas, ask everyone to email their ideas directly to you. Tell the group the process will include your compiling a list every 2 to 3 days.

Then assure the group you will combine similar items and send a complete list back to everyone to stimulate additional ideas. Keep this cycle up until you and the sponsor of your project are satisfied you have sufficient ideas to move to the next stage of the brainstorming process.


Keep Your Virtual Brainstorming Simple

By keeping virtual brainstorming simple and the timeframe of the brainstorming sessions limited to between 5 and 7 days, you are likely to get high-quality input. If you or whoever has to implement the results requires additional details, conducting another round of virtual brainstorming, using a targeted question, should be straightforward.

The next step is concluding the brainstorming and selecting a solution to be implemented. My experience suggests 1 of 2 options:

  • Asking each individual on the team to create a prioritized list from the most to least workable.
    • send their list back to you
    • you send a summary of the team’s responses to the leader who sponsored this brainstorming event
    • This executive is now responsible for leading (or delegating) the implementation, tracking, and measuring the results
  • Scheduling and holding Zoom meeting with as many team members as possible.
    • using breakout rooms to discuss and then prioritize the list
    • report back each subgroup’s results to the whole team
    • create 1 list along with notes explaining the background of rankings
    • The sponsor now begins to implement


Learning from Remote Brainstorming Triggers Organizational Growth

Once the executive sponsor begins implementing the results, I recommend a full debrief to capture learnings. This process is often referred to as a “Plus Delta”. This can easily be accomplished by email.

Everyone who participated is asked 2 questions.

  1. What worked to make this instance of remote brainstorming successful?
  2. What could be improved next time we do remote brainstorming to make the outcome even better?

A best practice of a Learning Organization is to share the results of this feedback with everybody who participated plus other leaders and subject matter experts who may join future remote brainstorming sessions.


Our Mission at Consultants in Corporate Innovation

Myself and my colleagues at Consultants in Corporate Innovation  believe in you and your leadership. We hope you will use this method and let us know how it served you and your organization’s goals and mission.

Our mission is to partner with you and other leaders to enhance and accelerate the impact of your leadership on the success of your organization.

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