Brainstorming techniques, ideas & rules for group brainstorming

Brainstorming sessions are critical for coming up with new ideas, but what ground rules are best when using tools like a whiteboard collaboration app? Find out what rules to put in place for successful brainstorming and techniques for using online whiteboards. 

Online Brainstorming Rules 

Provide Supporting Materials in Advance 

Brainstorms are supposed to generate out of the box thinking and new ideas. Yet some team leaders think this means putting everyone around an online brainstorming board and allowing them to generate ideas with no prior exposure to the topic at hand, in an effort to get fresh thoughts. 

It’s actually better for the brainstorm if attendees receive documentation and supporting materials in advance, so they can review the matter and think independently about the problem and potential solutions. Providing materials in advance allows for people’s subconscious to think about the problem, which ultimately leads to better solutions. 

So that team members can review supporting materials whenever necessary, look for virtual whiteboards that offer a documents library, where you can post any supporting materials necessary to the success of the brainstorm. 

Assign a Facilitator 

Facilitators help brainstorms run better by soliciting feedback from quieter participants, who may be shy about voicing their point of view. Facilitators practice active listening and reflect what they’ve heard back to the group to maintain focus and build consensus. Effective facilitators keep people on track, so the group stays focused, and also enforce civility if it becomes necessary. 

Features such as polling allow facilitators to take the temperature of the group around ideas or suggestions, which can help build consensus and clarify points of difference. Chat features are also helpful, as they provide a group and one-to-one messaging option where facilitators can communicate with team members. 

Use a Timer 

Timers are an essential part of brainstorming for many reasons. One, they provide a time tracker, so the brainstorm does not last longer than intended. Two, they give facilitators a simple way to keep discussion equitable by, for instance, giving every issue the same amount of time to be discussed. Three, timers keep subtle pressure on, which helps the group stay focused on the topic at hand (since time will run out to convey ideas). 

Accept Everything 

People are less likely to voice their ideas if they are worried about criticism, so facilitators often set a ground rule of accepting every idea, regardless of its merits. This is sometimes presented as “there are no bad ideas” or “there are no stupid ideas.” Regardless of how the rule is phrased, this ground rule gives attendees the freedom they need to think though the challenge and suggest creative ideas without worry of how their ideas will be perceived. 

Brainstorming Techniques 

With a few ground rules in place, what are some ways to brainstorm? Effective facilitators should have a few techniques in their back pocket to break the group out of a rut if people are stalled for ideas. Here are a few techniques to know for your next online brainstorming board.

Round Robin 

The Round Robin technique works well when brainstorms are dominated by a few points of view. In this technique, every group member shares an idea in a round robin format, one after another. This technique is a good icebreaker, as it gets everyone thinking creatively right away. It also works well to steer groups away from stagnant thinking or dominance by a few team members. 

Mind Mapping 

Mind mapping is a classic brainstorming tool where members connect related information around a diagram. Mind mapping tools are useful when the group needs to dive deeper, for instance when there’s a need to better define a problem or explore the impact of potential solutions. Look for virtual whiteboards that offer a mind mapping functionality to deploy this strategy during an online brainstorm. 

Free Association 

Free association uses creative thinking to suggest what words or phrases a key concept reminds people of. The results can be surprising, and may indicate important yet overlooked aspects of a solution. 

HuddleBoard is a better online whiteboard, where teams can collaborate, communicate, and share information online with whiteboarding and videoconferencing capabilities. Developed for use in education and business, HuddleBoard is as easy to use as it is intuitive. To see how it drives creative team thinking, sign up for free now.