In a recent report in collaboration with Microsoft on workplace collaboration trends, more than half of respondents said they spend full days of their week collaborating.
In the age of hybrid and remote work, teams need to have the right frameworks, skills, and knowledge to get the most out of this time. That’s why brain-netting — a form of brainstorming built specifically for shared digital spaces and remote teams — has become an important approach for the modern workforce.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of brain-netting, common pitfalls, and best practices every remote team should follow to collaboratively generate innovative ideas.
What is brain-netting?
Brain-netting is a brainstorming method teams can use that combines video conferencing tools along with a digital collaboration platform to help generate new ideas, discuss pros and cons, and prioritize next steps together.
The flexibility of brain-netting has made it a popular choice as remote work and hybrid meetings have become more popular.
Is brain-netting effective?
Traditional brainstorming presents great opportunities for team alignment and innovation, but it’s also subject to the same issues that plague in-person meetings: the loudest voices dominating the discussion; groupthink and a lack psychological safety; misalignment on goals, etc.
So, how can you avoid these pitfalls with brain-netting?
Because of its virtual nature, brain-netting allows you to build a more inclusive and safe environment for all participants, regardless of their locations. Here’s why:
- With almost half of employees leaving their jobs due to poor collaboration, remote brainstorming gives teams a new way to build engagement, collect better ideas, and improve collaboration.
- Brain-netting offers space for more unconventional brainstorming techniques. Virtual communication software like real-time mind maps and online whiteboards uncover opportunities for enhanced visualization and ideation during remote brainstorming sessions.
- The flexibility of asynchronous brain-netting enables a more inclusive and efficient process where individuals have time to reflect and generate ideas without the pressure of providing an immediate response.
- It’s easy to keep track of ideas and document the outcomes. You can even record live sessions and watch them later if you’re missing context.
- Participants feel more confident. You can allow participants to submit their input anonymously, eliminating the fear of judgment and encouraging innovative ideas.
The drawbacks of brain-netting
As many teams that have gone remote or hybrid in recent years can tell you: Virtual communication comes with its own set of challenges.
It requires preparation
Brain-netting sessions require careful preparation and pre-work. Team leaders and participants need to create a well-defined structure for a brainstorming session.
You need to spend time setting clear objectives, establishing communication guidelines, and developing an agenda for the session.
Masooma Memon, a freelance content marketer, regularly hosts brainstorming sessions with her clients, and suggests involving participants in the preparation process to make the most of it. “Ask attendees to think of at least two ideas related to the brainstorming topic at hand,” she suggests. “This way, everyone can come prepared, and you can hit the ground running.”
It lacks the spontaneity of traditional brainstorming
It’s ironic that you need to prepare for your sessions to prevent them from becoming chaotic, as this is exactly what kills the spontaneity inherent in traditional brainstorming.
The structured nature and necessary preparation of brain-netting sessions can limit the organic flow of ideas and impromptu interactions that often occur in face-to-face brainstorming.
“It's difficult to capture the spontaneity of an in-person session,” says Lauren Funaro, head of content at Scribe. “Just the fact that you had to schedule a call to get everyone in the same room takes away from it. We like to start our calls with loose, free-flowing conversation to get everyone comfortable and in the right headspace.”
Non-verbal communication is limited
Non-verbal cues play a crucial role in conveying emotions and building rapport among brainstorming participants. In a remote setting, these cues aren't as visible, which can impact the effectiveness of communication and overall session outcomes.
It requires appropriate technology
You need to set up an online collaboration system to create a productive environment for brain-netting. Without the right technology in place, remote brainstorming isn't only daunting — it’s nearly impossible.
Only through online collaboration channels, like video conferencing, instant messaging, and whiteboarding, can participants effectively communicate regardless of their physical location.
7 tips to get the most out of brain-netting
While brain-netting may present limitations typical for virtual communication, these strategies will help mitigate the challenges and create an effective remote brainstorming process.
1. Create a space for virtual collaboration
You can compensate for the lack of in-person interactions and non-verbal communication by employing collaborative solutions that support interactive brainstorming.
Online collaboration tools and platforms like Mural offer features such as virtual whiteboards, real-time mind mapping, and integrations with your existing productivity tools to encourage simultaneous contributions.
2. Consider anonymous brain-netting
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon common in a group setting. When it occurs, the urge for group consensus outweighs the desire to present alternative solutions.
Read more: How to prevent groupthink in your teams
McKinsey & Company has suggested the use of anonymous brainstorming as a way to combat groupthink and the tendency to conform: “Anonymous brainstorming, along with silent voting, can serve as a counterweight to individuals’ motivations to conform and help contributors feel like their expertise and ideas are being fairly considered.”
In Mural, you can also enable anonymous voting and private mode features to prevent groupthink and gain impartial input. Moreover, by removing the influence of social dynamics and hierarchy, anonymity provides that ideas are evaluated purely based on their quality and relevance.
3. Encourage constructive criticism
This approach is only viable if you communicate to participants that the purpose of criticism isn't to tear down ideas but instead to provide insights and suggestions for improvement. To make it work, set clear guidelines on how feedback should be delivered and emphasize the need for respectful and specific feedback.
You may want to consider establishing some ground rules for your brainstorming session that help to prevent any hurt feelings. A rule like, “don’t tear down other ideas, instead suggest ways to make it better,” may help team members focus on constructive feedback and foster collaboration.
4. Lay the groundwork
Prepare a plan for your upcoming session, outlining the agenda and relevant resources to leave no space for silence or, conversely, chaos.
Sharing the agenda with participants in advance sets clear expectations and encourages active engagement from the start.
Funaro adds: “I'd recommend sending out a clear agenda with at least one recommended resource prior to the brainstorming session. This may sound counterintuitive since brainstorming is built on free thought, but in my experience, it's so much easier to get creative when you've already had something to sink your teeth into.”
It’s also a good idea to assign specific roles and responsibilities to participants before the session. Designate a facilitator to guide the discussion; a timekeeper to manage the session's duration; or a notetaker to document the ideas and key takeaways.
5. Develop guidelines
To communicate your expectations and encourage an atmosphere of creativity, you need to establish ground rules. Send the list of rules alongside any relevant resources, and also ask the facilitator to voice them when the session starts.
Here are a few ideas to include in your brain-netting guidelines:
- Judgment-free zone: Encourage an open and supportive atmosphere where participants feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without the fear of judgment (the anonymous approach can help here).
- Quantity over quality: Emphasize that the focus is on generating a wide variety of ideas, as even seemingly insignificant or offbeat ideas can later serve as springboards for more innovative solutions.
- Constructive feedback: Stress the importance of offering feedback that's aimed at improving ideas rather than criticizing individuals
These basic rules will help you create an environment of psychological safety critical for a productive meeting.
6. Apply brainstorming methods
Choose a brainstorming method that participants will adhere to throughout the session. There are plenty of brainstorming techniques for every taste.
- Mind mapping: The discussion starts with a central idea or theme, and then participants branch out with related sub-topics, ideas, and associations
- Crazy eights: A fast-paced brainstorming method that requires participants to generate eight ideas related to a specific problem or challenge within eight minutes
- Round robin: Each participant contributes one idea, and then the next participant, and then the next until all participants have shared their thoughts
🚀Pro-tip: Mural offers templates for most brain-netting methods. Find the right one for your team in the Mural template gallery.
7. Document ideas and decisions
The ultimate goal of brain-netting sessions is to capture great ideas and translate them into actions. To achieve it, you should document and organize the ideas during the session.
With whiteboarding software, you won’t have to spend time taking notes — participants can contribute and access the shared documentation in real time. Use a template for brain-netting as a single source of truth for capturing and organizing ideas.
Address the challenges of brain-netting with Mural
Done right, brain-netting can be more effective than in-person brainstorming. That’s because remote collaboration software offers features that pen and paper don’t.
Mural provides you with a virtual space that enables participants to contribute simultaneously, making sure everyone's voice is heard. The platform offers a variety of templates and tools specifically designed for brainstorming, such as virtual whiteboards, mind mapping, and voting features.