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How to Run an Inclusive Remote Brainstorm

Our best ideas come to light when we feel safe, supported, and free to express ourselves—when we feel like we belong. In fact, research shows that creating a psychologically safe environment is a key to unlocking your team’s creative potential. So when we build a brainstorm, we should try to create an environment where everyone is supported, included, and heard. And here at Constructive, building an inclusive remote brainstorm has become a part of our day-to-day lives.

Of course, every brainstorm or creative workshop has its hurdles—for example, did you know that in the average 6-person meeting, just two people do more than 60% of the talking? Traditional brainstorms don’t always offer a level playing field for people who are visual learners, people who are more introverted or junior on a team, or people from marginalized communities.

An inclusive, encouraging environment makes our brainstorms a safe space where everyone’s ideas can shine. Our collective thinking is elevated and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve gathered some of our favorite tips, techniques, and tools you can use to build an inclusive remote brainstorm. We hope they help you empower your team and unlock your nonprofit’s creative potential!

10 Tips, Techniques, and Tools for an Inclusive Remote Brainstorm

1. Provide Preparation

Some people are better at improvising than others. If you’re looking to maximize participation and boost your team’s confidence, consider sending an agenda, prompt, or any other relevant materials in advance. Some brainstorms are problem-oriented—you and your team are looking to solve a specific set of problems. Others are more creativity-focused with your team focusing on ideating for marketing, communications, and more. Either way, giving your team the time to ideate before brainstorms will reap better solutions and ideas. More importantly, you’re making sure that everyone has a better chance to contribute, regardless of their thinking speed or communication style.

2. Create a Sense of Belonging

Everyone on your team belongs there, and they should feel free to express their thoughts, opinions, and individuality. Now, how do you make sure that everyone feels that way in a setting where ideas and topics are moving quickly? We’ve found that opening with a reminder of your team’s cultural commitments—like inclusivity and equity, for example—can be a great starting point. And, of course, you should stay true to those commitments throughout the session. An inclusive brainstorm can also create the space for personal storytelling or opting out of conversations. Creating a sense of belonging means that everyone understands that they add valuable perspective.

3. Encourage Equal Airtime

A key part of running an inclusive remote brainstorm is making sure that everyone feels empowered to contribute. No one or two people should dominate the brainstorm. One way to get everyone involved is to rotate facilitation roles throughout the session. And since some brainstorming sessions often call for timed responses, using a timer to hold your team accountable can help. If you want to kick that up a notch, there’s even a video meeting host called Vowel, which shows the percentage of airtime each participant has spent speaking. You can also practice a technique, like round-robin (see below) to maintain equal airtime.

4. Try the Round-Robin Technique 

A round-robin brainstorm involves full team participation and encourages creativity through lateral iterations. You can facilitate a round-robin brainstorm verbally or in a written format, but it starts with each participant independently creating an idea. From there, it goes a little like this: Participant A shares an idea. Then, every other participant builds off of Participant A’s idea, adding their own. Next, Participant B shares an idea. Everyone adds on again—and the cycle continues. After each participant has had the chance to share their ideas and receive add-on ideas, your team can open up and review each of the ideas and sub-ideas worth exploring—and you’ll do so knowing that everyone had a chance to contribute their unique perspective!

5. Practice Brainwriting

Brainwriting is a great brainstorming technique that supports participation from all participants, no matter their seniority or their level of comfort with speaking in groups. Brainwriting is a technique that also supports participants who aren’t strong improvisers since it gives everyone time to ideate before people start sharing ideas. Then, after everyone ideates, the ideas are then shared and discussed during the actual brainstorming session. This method ensures that all ideas are given equal consideration and lets more introverted participants contribute without feeling overwhelmed.

6. Try Mind Mapping 

For visual learners, mind mapping is a great technique that helps participants organize and connect ideas. A mind map starts with a central idea, and as participants share new ideas, they’re added as branches off of the central idea. New ideas can either be added as new branches or sub-branches. Remote brainstorming sessions can utilize digital mind mapping tools (we like Miro or Mural) that let participants contribute and collaborate in real time.

7. Use the Lotus Blossom Technique

The Lotus Blossom technique is a structured brainstorming method that expands on initial ideas by creating clusters and sub-clusters. This technique works well as a one-person brainstorm or in a small group because it forces participants to work within some constraints and to zoom in on the most important issues instead of thinking expansively. Lotus Blossom is another great technique for visual learners.

8. Utilize Digital Whiteboards

A lot of our ideation here at Constructive involves digital white boarding. These tools are essential for remote brainstorms and workshops, and they help support the techniques we’ve discussed. Popular digital whiteboards include MiroMural, and ClickUp—but shop around and find out what works best for your team. Digital whiteboards make brainstorms more inclusive not just because they support remote brainstorms, but because they support some of the techniques designed to support visual learners, junior staff, or introverted colleagues.

9. Share Interactive Polls

To build inclusive remote brainstorms, we have to think about ways to proactively encourage our teammates who might be nervous to air an opinion or feel like an opinion might not be completely valid (though it surely is!). Polls or interactive surveys during a remote brainstorm let you and your team gather feedback, prioritize ideas, gauge preferences—and it can be anonymous. Plus, interactive polls add an element of interactivity to the session, fostering inclusivity. Two of our favorites are Slido and the native polling feature in Zoom.

10. Don’t Forget to Take Breaks! 

It may sound simple, but in an hour or hours-long remote brainstorming session where everyone is giving it their all, it’s easy to burn people out. Regular breaks that you commit and stick to create the necessary space for people to recharge, reflect, and process the ideas shared. They also foster a spirit of inclusivity at brainstorms, because in the nonprofit space, we’re often looking to solve difficult, daunting problems. Carving out time for people to process and understand that they might need to sit something out is critical for creating an environment where your teammates feel safe and supported.

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About the Author

MK Moore

MK Moore

MK is our Lead Content Marketer dedicated to elevating Constructive’s brand as well as the brands of our partners with thoughtful, strategic content. She’s practiced her storytelling in everything from political canvassing to traditional copy-editing. MK crafts content designed to engage and inform an audience in the interest of inspiring positive change. She holds a B.A. in English and Media Studies from Boston University. As a student, MK played varsity basketball, wrote for her student newspaper, and volunteered for various political campaigns. Prior to joining Constructive, MK spent two years as a Content Creator for an environmental nonprofit and worked as the Marketing Manager for a health technology startup. Outside of work, you can find MK baking, reading, or going for runs along the Charles River.

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