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The Secret to Productive Group Meetings over Video

In 2017, I wrote the post Managers Must be Insane to Brainstorm in Groups. If you’ve been a group meeting for brainstorming, you’ll identify with the three problems reasearchers identified with in-person brainstorms:

  1. Only one person can speak at a time.
  2. Many people don’t participate and free ride hiding in the back of the room, unengaged.
  3. Some attendees are glossophobes: they fear speaking in public. And you’ll resonate with the frustration of this meeting format.

Remote work changes this for brainstorming meetings and collaboration broadly defined. The secret is Google Docs.

Imagine we’re working together, and it’s time to brainstorm ideas for the new product we’re going to launch. You schedule a meeting for the relevant people from sales, product, marketing, engineering, and customer support. There might be ten people in the room. In person, this session would be a disaster, guaranteed.

But, you change the format since the team attends virtually. You create a Google document with ten pages, a page with each person’s name on top. You ask everyone in the meeting to find the page with their name on it and answer the question: “what are the top three features our new product needs?” in the first ten minutes.

Time’s up; hands-off keyboards. You coalesce the lists in front of everyone. By the time you’ve completed your work, the team has read the others’ contributions and is ready to discuss. The group steps through the bullet items in the remaining time.

We’ve solved all three problems of in-person brainstorming. First, everyone writes in parallel. Second, no one freeloads because everyone must write. Third, there’s no public speaking involved (introverts rejoice!). And I’ll add one. Fourth, everyone has context because they’ve all read each others’ ideas.

Try it. You’ll be amazed. I was.

I’ve participated in sessions like this for brainstorming, 360° reviews, project planning, pipeline evaluation, team standups, all kinds. Each session is remarkably more productive than in person. It’s just better. Everyone has been heard. Alignment across stakeholders is ensured. And you’ve documented the work in case the team should share beyond those in attendance.