Today’s businesses have increasingly complex issues that require creative thinking. More organizations are encouraging brainstorming sessions as a way to inspire innovation. However, many of today’s work teams are either a combination of remote and in-house members or completely remote, which can complicate the brainstorming process.

Additionally, some research has suggested group brainstorming doesn’t produce results. One article cited reasons for brainstorming failure. While some see the time as an opportunity to socialize versus get real work done, others become anxious and worry their ideas are not good enough. Add tangents and personal conflict and brainstorming may seem like a process to avoid.

The changing work environment and lack of results require different approaches to brainstorming like these five methods.

  • Effective Technology

Even if you know the issue, one of the most difficult aspects of brainstorming is knowing where to start. That’s where technology can provide a cloud-based brainstorm template that prompts you with a place to begin your thinking. Instead of getting stuck on how the ideas should look on the page, the template encourages the team to focus on the content.

Other team members can work directly in the brainstorming template, which makes it ideal for remote contributions. With real-time feedback, each team member is inspired and can improve their own brainstorming. Whether they read the template content while it’s been added or later on if they are in a different time zone, this collaboration technology can propel the brainstorming process toward viable ideas.

  • The Right Combination of Minds

Brainstorming is about idea quality over participant quantity. The best approach is to know the right number of participants who can contribute the most to the issue. For example, if certain team members don’t have intimate knowledge of the problem, then they don’t need to participate. They won’t be vested in the creative process or add realistic ideas that innovate.

Also, consider those who have previously participated in brainstorming and only select those that are passionate, creative, and vocal. These team members can achieve results.

  • Separate, But Together

Some research, including a meta-analytic review that examined the results from 800 teams, concluded more original ideas came from individual brainstorming than group attempts. Yet, a group effort can still achieve the next great idea. The approach should involve requesting that each team member do their own brainstorming and come to the group meeting with a list of ideas.

In doing so, it minimizes the risk that individuals will get stuck to the one idea someone else has suggested. When this fixation occurs, creativity in the group can come to a grinding halt.  Instead, each participant has a list with ideas that may expand on the others or that can take the brainstorming in a new direction. Tell individuals to prepare these ideas well in advance rather than wait until that morning or an hour before the group brainstorming session begins.

  • Visuals Over Words

Throughout work and life, we’ve become a more visual society. Therefore, it makes sense to transform the brainstorming process into something that allows members to include drawing and other types of visual content. Ideas for complex issues tend to be abstract. That’s why words may be difficult to find when sharing certain ideas with the rest of the team.

Instead, you may want to consider using visual techniques that include C-Sketching. Each person gets their own physical tools like paper and pen to create pictures of their ideas rather than words. The same process can be done if it’s a video conference or online meeting through screen sharing or other tools.

Drawing or doodling helps describe spatial relationships as well as connect a problem to an image that is less abstract. You could draw the problem as a person, place, or object, which may help others on the team to see the issue from a new perspective. This approach may also overcome language or cultural differences, helping team members better understand each other. Putting everyone’s drawing of the problem and potential solutions together also uncovers patterns that lead to a potential solution.

  • Timing and Moderation

Every brainstorming session needs a moderator to get the most out of the time, stop digressions and conflict, and solidify ideas. A moderator can move brainstorming along if it should stall or encourage more thought around some interesting ideas.

Plus, a moderator may gauge good and bad ideas to guide progress. They may even identify how bad ideas might be a springboard to something better. The moderator can create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing and knows they don’t have to worry about sharing a bad idea.

And, when it comes to timing, it’s better to keep these brainstorming sessions under 30 minutes. That brevity reduces banter and boredom while maintaining workday productivity. Providing context and objectives beforehand means the entire meeting can focus on brainstorming rather than the agenda.  

Final Thoughts About Brainstorming

Not every brainstorming session has to follow the same format. Certain issues may be better addressed by changing the brainstorming location and the team mix. Participant feedback and overall results shape future brainstorming to improve outcomes. Until then, disruptive business ideas can be incubated through technology, teamwork, individual creativity, and an open, accepting environment.

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.


Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at