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Many leaders find themselves faced with the difficult task of harnessing their team’s creativity to solve challenging problems.  Yet so often, group brainstorming yields little or no significant benefits.  Why?

Sometimes it is a question of facilitation skills.  Sometimes a lack of creative process.  But often it is because of one key fact that is so often forgotten: at the core of great group creativity, is great individual creativity. This is where leaders need to focus.

People need time to think by themselves; without this opportunity, there is a risk of groupthink.  Said another way, people need time to recall relevant knowledge from their deep memory banks, and then they need time to process this experience in the context of the challenge at hand.  Asking people to brainstorm individually first is far more productive for this reason.  Then, when the group gets together, there is that magical synthesis.

Here are 11 ways to build better brainstorming:

  1. Ensure individual pre-prep time is scheduled, and expected.
  2. Ask participants to write down X number of ideas, and bring them in.
  3. Invite a diverse group to attend.
  4. Capture all ideas visually.
  5. Try using mind-map techniques / fish-bone diagrams.
  6. Don’t use a creative meeting to discard ideas – only generate them.
  7. Foster idea growth (instead of saying “no but”, say “yes and”)
  8. Penalize people who shut down ideas by requiring the payment of a token dollar
  9. Circulate ideas afterwards to pick up additional concepts.
  10. Use an external facilitator.
  11. Ask the group beforehand: how do you become more creative?

This week’s action plan: At your next meeting that requires any creative output, start with this list as an input.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


One of the biggest drivers of efficiency (and cost-savings) over the last decade has been the growth of virtual team meetings. Who hasn’t received a request to join one, using a technology from Webex, Gotomeeting, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or one of the dozens of other systems that allow remote connection, screen sharing, and video.

Yet, despite their promise, virtual meetings do have their problems:

  • Disengagement:  Attendees are often distracted, splitting their attention with other activities while pretending to be present at the meeting. (Have you ever heard the click-click-click of others typing during the meeting?)
  • Technology gets in the way: Poor sound, plugins that don’t work, too-slow internet connections, and corporate firewalls can distract from the meeting itself.  (Or maybe everything was working, but the presenter was unfamiliar with the platform.)
  • Remote noise:  Often attendees “participate” remotely themselves… from Starbucks, while driving, walking the dog, etc. Beyond the issues of noise, many of these venues are not conducive to real participation as attention is divided, or they can’t refer to their notes.
  • Used for wrong purpose:  There are times when in-person meetings are better than their virtual cousins; examples include new staff orientation, project kick-offs, interactive workshops, and strategic planning meetings. Generally speaking, when the meeting objectives include building new relationships, require significant interaction, or are just too long, in-person is more effective.

With this as backdrop, here are 20 ways to improve the effectiveness of your virtual meetings:

  1. Put the meeting login information within the calendar and your meeting request.
  2. If a person is unfamiliar with the meeting platform, use the platform to have a one-on-one meeting with them beforehand, to make sure they are ready.
  3. If you aren’t that familiar with the technology yourself, do a dry run.
  4. Record the meeting if it is for training-oriented sessions, but be mindful that recording other types of meetings may stifle open conversation.
  5. Send out an agenda that requires each attendee to “own” a section.
  6. Require participants to do some preparation.
  7. Let participants know the materials they should have with them during the meeting.
  8. Speak to key participants about your expectations re participation.
  9. Share a Google document so that everyone can see the minutes and add back-channel comments live.
  10. Ask one of the participants to take minutes. They can even do it within the shared Google Doc.
  11. Start the meeting early, both to iron out the technology, and to allow for any pre-meeting conversations to take place.
  12. Use video so attendees can see each other.
  13. If you are using video conferencing, zoom in to the speaker so that that remote attendees can see who is actually speaking.
  14. Actively facilitate the meeting by pulling feedback from those who are quieter.
  15. Use a headset so that your hands can be free.
  16. If one participant’s line contains background noise, ask them to mute themselves when they are listening, and un-mute while talking.  If they can’t do this, do it for them.
  17. Use the chat functionality to encourage back-channel conversations.
  18. As the moderator, use chat functionality to prompt specific attendees to address an issue that is being discussed.
  19. Use online polling for straw polls and increased interactivity.
  20. Summarize the action points and next steps, gaining agreement.

Great virtual meetings are just like great in-person meetings – they only are effective if planned and executed well.

This week’s action plan:  While being “virtually effective” doesn’t sound like a compliment, it is.  At your next virtual meeting, choose 2-3 items from the above list; when you do, you will be more successful changing your attendees to participants.

Meetings Insight:  These tips aren’t just for virtual meetings: how many do you incorporate into EVERY one of your meetings?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


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