If facilitating brainstorms wasn’t already hard enough, the Circuit Breaker has turned it up a notch. The awkward silences, your face-less colleagues, the lack of a whiteboard… virtual brainstorms are daunting, we know. Thankfully, after hours of infamously-long meetings and experimenting with a gazillion tools, we might have just found our winning formula.
Do we need a meeting?
First things first, we’re calling out the elephant in the room. Does your problem really need a meeting? After hosting hours of Style Theory’s all-hands meetings, Natalie Eng found that crowdsourcing ideas are way more efficient with own-time-same-target tools like Slido.
Set a question, time-frame, and watch the ideas percolate. Anyone can contribute and the best ideas will be up-voted. Some of the best ideas come at the weirdest timings – in the shower, lunchtime, in sleepy land – and we’re not about to miss out on that bit of genius.
Our online attention span is shorter than in real life. The shorter your meeting is, the better your team can generate original ideas before getting bored. If work expands to fill the time available for completion, then cut the slack with shorter meetings.
Raena Lim, our co-founder, has mandated that we switch on Google Calendar’s ‘Speedy Meetings’ feature to end meetings five or ten minutes early by default. This prevents back-to-back sessions, starts a streak of on-time meetings and allows teammates the toilet and mental breaks they need. Psst, it might be your brainstorm coming up next.
There’s a reason why we have a culture of rejecting calendar invites without a clear agenda. Don’t underestimate the power of a pre-read, says Ben Kim, Style Theory’s Head of Product and UX. Virtual or not, no one likes being put on the spot or getting thrown into a brainstorm cold-turkey.
Share the brief at least 24 hours in advance, arm participants with a clear context, and let the conscious (and unconscious mind) do its thing. The brief is only effective if it’s read, so write concise notes that are hard to ignore.
A shared workspace
Heidi Soedarmo, our Head of Research, has gotten us hooked onto visual collaboration tools like Miro. Think endless (whiteboard) space and virtual Post-It notes that won’t ever get lost. Miro creates a safe space for anyone to participate and feel heard, even the introverts.
Clarity is key, so be intentional in the way you word your instructions. For example, instead of saying “Let’s write down our ideas”, say “Let’s spend the next 3 minutes to write down our ideas. One idea per sticky note, please!” Then turn on some background music to set the mood! Vote for the best ideas by adding stars to favourites. If you find it difficult to prioritise the best ideas, try this rule of thumb: If it’s not a “hell yes”, it’s a “no”.
For 10 AM sleep-worthy rainy days or problems that need outside-the-box thinking, shake things up with an energising competition. Joy Wang, Style Theory’s Growth Product Manager, has been leading 8-minute 8-ideas brainstorming sprints with her team. Use Google Slides or Miro so each member has their own workspace. Turn on a timer and have the sound blast off — it begins!
Put down an idea within 60 seconds, then move on to the next. By the fifth idea, you’ll start to run out of ideas and see a lot of head-scratching action, but that’s when the magic starts. Once the ‘usual’ ideas are out of the way, people start tapping into unexplored, sometimes sense-less realms that produce novel, out-of-this-world ideas. Take turns to share personal favourites and vote for the best ones. Just don’t forget to turn on your webcam and use Zoom’s gallery view so everyone’s got face time.
After the session, be sure to follow up with an action plan and clearly assigned tasks. That way, people understand how their contribution will be actioned upon, and virtual brainstorms can finally be both fun and productive.
Staying at home doesn’t have to be a bore when you’ve got cool tips and tricks to stay productive, connected, and positive. Lockdown or not, we’ve got you covered with our Stay Home Guide — tap to read more!