8 best practices for successful asynchronous brainstorming
July 26, 2023
Have you ever tried to make plans with your team, but you can’t seem to find a time that works for everyone?
When you have a team of six to 10 people, where everyone works in a different time zone, scheduling a brainstorming meeting becomes nearly impossible.
Whether it’s due to time constraints, geographical distances, or busy schedules, traditional brainstorming sessions (or even remote brainstorming sessions) aren't always possible.
The answer is asynchronous brainstorming, which lets you to tap into collective creativity no matter when your teammates are on the clock.
What is asynchronous brainstorming?
Asynchronous brainstorming is the process of generating ideas collaboratively, but where each participant completes this separately and at a time that works best for them. This type of brainstorming method is typically used by remote teams working different schedules or in different time zones, but is also beneficial for hybrid work environments.
Unlike in-person brainstorming, asynchronous (async) sessions allow participants to work on their own time, at their own pace, without having to be the loudest person in the room (one point for the introverts!).
Why async brainstorming?
Reduce time constraints: Traditional synchronous brainstorming sessions often have time limits, which can curtail creativity and force rushed decisions. Asynchronous brainstorming removes these constraints, enabling team members to brainstorm at their own pace and dedicate the necessary time to develop high-quality ideas.
Prevent groupthink: Groupthink occurs when a team's desire for consensus and harmony leads to a superficial agreement, stifling dissenting opinions and critical thinking. By leveraging asynchronous brainstorming, teams can mitigate the risks of groupthink.
Improve focus: Since participants engage in brainstorming individually, there are fewer distractions and interruptions. This increased focus allows team members to delve deeper into their thoughts, resulting in more thorough contributions.
Distributed teams tend to use digital tools, like online whiteboards, project management software, or shared documents. Each team member can see others’ contributions and add comments, ask questions, vote on favorite ideas, and build on each other’s suggestions.
Whether you do remote work that relies on asynchronous processes, or you just want to give your team more flexibility to work on ideation, asynchronous brainstorming can help.
8 tips for asynchronous brainstorming
Choosing to conduct an async brainstorm is one thing, but running an effective brainstorming session that produces innovative solutions is another. For example, sharing a collaborative doc with your team and just letting them run wild without a time frame or direction isn't necessarily the best approach.
Here are some best practices you can do to steer your team in the right direction.
1. Establish the purpose or goal of this exercise
Before you start, establish what you want from the exercise. What do you want to leave the exercise with? What are the desired outcomes of this exercise?
Whatever the reason, share it and any relevant context with your team. That outcome is your North Star. Then set and write down a specific goal with parameters. This will help everyone know what the boundaries are so they hold themselves and each other to a realistic and achievable standard.
For example, let’s say that sales are down for your company’s line of coffee travel mugs. To kick off the brainstorm, ask your product design team to come up with ideas for new features that'll attract customers while keeping quality high and costs low. This is a specific goal with some parameters that the team can work with and holds them accountable for results.
2. Determine where your team will contribute their ideas
Pick an online collaboration platform that everyone in the asynchronous brainstorm can access. Consider the length of the ideas they might contribute, and what system would be best to convey those suggestions.
For example, a word processor might be good if you expect bullet points or paragraphs that succinctly convey ideas, but a dedicated collaboration platform is typically better for visual thinking and adding design elements.
3. Set deadlines
Even though participants can work at their own pace and schedule, set up a time frame and establish deadlines to make sure everyone contributes in time to move forward with the proposal.
The benefit of asynchronous work is that you can scale it, with more team members contributing ideas. But if you want to reach a conclusion efficiently, you still need to hold your team to strict deadlines.
4. Allow and encourage the use of visuals
Your team should be allowed to use visuals to make ideas more digestible, fun, and engaging. When you’re async, you don’t have the luxury of seeing each other to explain ideas and answer questions in real time. And we all know that sometimes it’s difficult to express ourselves with written words alone.
So whether you’re designing something new or just trying to convey a concept, the use of visuals can really help your team members express themselves. Plus, during asynchronous idea generation, each person has more time to look for or create a visual representation that speaks best to their idea.
Most tools can include visuals, either through linking to them or directly uploading images and videos. (However, to keep everything in one place, it’s easier to use a platform that allows you to embed visuals… like Mural)
5. Establish rules and guidelines
Create rules that foster an inclusive environment and constructive criticism. Making these guidelines explicit will help prevent people from keeping their suggestions to themselves. Innovative strategies are born when leaders encourage diverse and unconventional thinking in a judgment-free zone.
For example, when one of your designers has a silly suggestion (like, say, a mug that has a little barista apron with pockets attached to it), they might be more likely to share it when they aren’t afraid of the idea being immediately shot down. Then another could build on this quirky idea and suggest adding a small compartment built into the mug that fits breath mints or sugar packets. And then another could build on that, and another, and so on and so forth.
Templates save time and make the whole process more organized from the get-go. With a template, you can outline the steps and provide a clear direction for your team to follow. During a live brainstorming session, participants can ask clarifying questions in real time. But a pre-filled template is especially helpful for async work as team members see each step they’re supposed to take ahead of time.
Team leader removes duplicates and groups the ideas into similar themes.
Each group member votes on the idea they want to move forward with.
7. Provide thought-provoking prompts and exercises
Even when they have their own schedule to work on, not everyone can easily come up with ideas. So starting people off with unconventional exercises can really help open them up to creative thinking. Here are some examples of prompts you can use:
Reverse reality: Imagine a world in which everything was the opposite of what it is now. What would you do differently in your design or offering?
Memory lane: What’s a childhood memory you have about your favorite toy, experience, or game to play? How can you incorporate that into this brainstorm?
Character play: Pretend you are another person (it could be someone from history, a famous person, or even another team member). What would they think, say, or do?
8. Set up a review and discussion with relevant stakeholders
Once your asynchronous brainstorming is complete, you should:
Share the results with key stakeholders who are a part of the decision-making.
Schedule a follow-up meeting to present and discuss the ideas your team voted on and request feedback.
It’s important that your stakeholders know you value open dialogue and constructive criticism.
During the asynchronous meeting, you’ll refine the idea based on suggested improvements that align with your budget and time constraints. Or you might be asked to go back to the drawing board and produce new ideas.
Make sure your team is ready for the possibility and remind them why it’s a good thing. It’s better to go back to the drawing board during this phase than to go through with your plan, only to later discover it was a flop.
The future of work and virtual brainstorming
As a team leader, you want your team to have all of the tools and resources they need to succeed. Whether you have a distributed team that works asynchronously or follow a hybrid model that mixes in-person and remote work, taking advantage of virtual brainstorming tools is the key to a successful future in the workplace.
Digital spaces help keep everything in one place, organized, and ready to iterate on. With Mural, you can select from numerous online brainstorming templates to suit whichever style of brainstorming you happen to need that day. Or you can build on our existing templates to create your own template that's customized to your needs.
What is Mural?
Mural is the visual work platform for all kinds of teams to do better work together — from anywhere. Team members get aligned faster with templates, prompts, and proven methods that guide them to quickly solve any problem. They can gather their ideas and feedback in one spot to see the big picture of any project and act decisively.
That’s what happens when you change not just where, but how you work.