6 Easy Ways GroupMap can Level Up your Online Brainstorming Meeting


Online brainstorming sessions are an effective way to gather ideas and spark discussion. However, facilitators can sometimes find it challenging to support participant engagement and productivity due to the virtual environment. 

Being well-prepared can help you navigate the challenges of the virtual environment and allow you to focus more on generating creative ideas.

Just what is online brainstorming?

Online brainstorming is virtual idea-generating and problem-solving. It’s often a collaborative process where individuals think of new and innovative ideas or create solutions.

Online brainstorming sessions provide a way for participants to get involved and contribute their thoughts and perspectives, even if they aren’t able to participate in an in-person brainstorming session due to distance, where they are located or time zone. 

As with in person brainstorming, facilitators guide the process while creating an environment that fosters safety, creativity and innovation. Similarly, facilitators ensure the session is productive so that it leads to effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Online brainstorming has the advantages of allowing anonymous and independent brainstorming which means each person is free to contribute without fear. It can also remove bias when people simply anchor to a specific idea. There are also time-saving benefits by reducing production blocks, and not having to re-write those sticky notes again at the end of the session.

Challenges of online brainstorming

Although online brainstorming can deliver a number of benefits, it can come with a unique set of challenges. These include: 

Adapting to new technology

As more people host their brainstorming sessions online, more online tools become available that offer greater convenience and better visualization of ideas. 

Interestingly, one of the common issues faced when using these tools is adaptability. While they may often offer great features, they may not include an intuitive or easily used interface. The need to learn new software may end up affecting the brainstorming session. 

Distractions leading to lack of participation

With participants working remotely or from a non-traditional workspace, there may be distractions in the background that could be disruptive. Similarly, participants may misuse the virtual environment and multi-task. Participants may not be as attentive or engaged in the session. This could lead to reduced quality and quantity of ideas being produced. 

Managing the discussion and the focus

The virtual environment may mean there is a lag in communication. This makes it difficult to maintain the momentum of a conversation. 

As well as this, discussions could also go off-topic and move away from the goal of the discussion. One participant may also dominate the whole session or there is a need to manage a large volume of ideas and conversations. Generating ideas (divergent thinking) needs to be balanced with consensus building (convergent thinking). This can be trickier over a camera lens. 

Communication barriers

As the brainstorming session is online and not physical, it may be difficult to understand one another over the devices as well as unable to interpret non-verbal communication. 

It’s possible these factors could adversely affect an online brainstorming session. However, if a facilitator is prepared, they can easily address these matters to ensure a successful and productive online brainstorming session. 

Here are some handy tricks and tips to side-step the challenges. 

How can you level up your online brainstorming sessions?

1. Choosing the right tools 

There is a huge array of tools available online that you can utilize to encourage participation and engagement. 

Here are three must-try tools to ensure an efficient and productive session: 

Video conferencing – Nowadays, there is a wide range of video conferencing software available. Possibly the most popular being MS Teams and Zoom. Each has their own features to set them apart allowing you to choose the one that best suits your needs. Other video conferencing applications include Slack, Google Meet, and WebEx Meetings. 

Brainstorming – GroupMap is a great tool as it has over 80+ templates that you can choose from which lets you visualize your team’s ideas and collaborate effectively. GroupMap’s templates can be incredibly useful, especially if you are struggling to organize your team’s thoughts and ideas or are new to hosting these online brainstorming sessions. These templates can work as a guide to spark discussions, ensure everyone has had a chance to contribute and keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand. 

Task Management – You can then also use planning and scheduling tools such as Trello or Linear where you can begin to implement the ideas into actuality and create relevant tasks. 

If you like to learn more about other online tools, read our blog post.

2. Set clear objectives 

As a facilitator, your role is to guide the online brainstorming session and foster collaboration and engagement, which should effectively result in maximum efficiency and productivity. To achieve this, you should clearly define the objective of the brainstorming session and share it with all the participants beforehand. This ensures everyone is on the same page, can prepare ahead of time, and contribute effectively.

Having your objective at the forefront during the brainstorming session acts as a handy reminder for everyone.


3. Use structure

Providing structure to the brainstorming can prove extremely beneficial as it will not only keep everyone on track with the session’s goal but also assist in organizing their thoughts and ideas.

This is where templates can be really helpful. A Corrective Action Plan, 4P Marketing Mix or  Startup Canvas, for example, can step through discussions and help in reaching solutions.

All of GroupMap templates are customizable so you are able to change the template according to your specifications and tailor it to meet the session’s goals.

You can define the flow of your meeting with a structure that works for you. You can select, customize and order the steps as you need to cater for your specific audience and purpose.

If your online brainstorming sessions usually occur over a period of time, you can build out separate templates for each session and make them specific to that session’s goals. As you progress further, you can keep modifying accordingly.


4. Encourage participation

It is important to ensure participants feel secure to express their ideas, thoughts and concerns. As a facilitator, you can do this by making use of techniques such as round-robin, where everyone gets an equal chance to make a common and provide an idea. Similarly, try to intervene when you think the conversation is going off-topic and bring it back to the initial discussion point.

Another way you can increase engagement is to ask people’s thoughts on the ideas that have been contributed – kind of like an intermission or check-in where everyone can reflect on what has been produced till now. GroupMap has a feature where when conducting an online brainstorming session, participants can be asked to rate, review or vote on the ideas that have been added to a template. (These polls and results are easily savable and can be exported for later use). This is particularly great as the polls and the results can be visually seen on the map being used by the team!

5. Keep a record of all ideas and share them after the session for people to reflect and build upon them.

All ideas that are generated during the online brainstorming session should be recorded and shared with all participants after the discussion has ended. This is even easier to do now that the sessions are done online as you can make use of various tools that save all comments and changes made to a document.

This is a feature GroupMap offers where any ideas added to a template are saved and referred back to if needed. You can then export the ideas, along with any polling results, which can then be shared with the participants for their reflection and to build upon each other’s ideas.

This is particularly important because if there are any technical difficulties faced and the online session may need to be cut short, having a record of the ideas will help to go back to it in the next session and not lose any content generated. 

6. Follow up

Last but not the least, after the online brainstorming session, follow up with all participants to ensure action items are assigned and progress is being made. As mentioned previously, making use of work scheduling tools such as Trello, Monday.com or Asana, ensures the ideas are then implemented and acted upon. 

If you’re wanting to level up your next online brainstorming meeting, why not try the above tips and tricks? Let us know how you go!

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IAF Facilitator shares workshop and online facilitation techniques for effective brainstorming

One of the major goals of any workshop is effective brainstorming and the equal and free sharing of ideas. With Government Forums and workshops, transparency and being time efficient is also key. In this case study, we look at the facilitation techniques used by IAF Facilitator and Author Paul Nunesdea at a well reputed Government Health Forum.

Event Background 

Since 2008, the  Annual National Forum on Alcohol and Health (locally abbreviated as FNAS) sees members of both the government and non-government sectors workshop issues on alcohol and its impact on public health.

This forum is organized by the General Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors and Dependencies. (Serviço de Intervenção nos Comportamentos Aditivos e nas Dependências or SICAD). 

(Photo source: https://www.architectingcollaboration.com/the-world-has-changed


In May 2019, SICAD invited Paulo Nunes de Abreu (aka Paul Nunesdea) to facilitate the forum’s opening session. We learned how he uses his facilitation leadership style, along with various GroupMap templates to achieve his workshop outcomes.


Facilitator Background

Paul is a certified IAF practitioner at Col-Lab, Author of the book series “Architecting Collaboration”, PhD and proud father, manager and organizational psychologist. He obtained his PhD in Group Decision Making from the University of Lancaster. Paul started Col-Lab, the Iberian Summits of Healthcare Leaders in Spain and the Hospital of the Future Forum in Portugal. 

He espouses the power and value of collaboration and teamwork. He devotes his research time into the principles, methods, and techniques that foster them. From the concepts of the facilitative leader to capitalizing on the efficacy of digital facilitation, Paul aims to develop the ideal fit between people and process to create change-making outcomes. 

As Paul explains, “As an IAF (TM) Certified Professional Facilitator, I am aware that every meeting we design is a touchpoint for anyone to experience an engaging moment in their lives with a tangible purpose that you can measure.”

He specializes in digital tools for visual collaboration and group decision-making. Paul has designed interventions to optimize change and innovation in healthcare and education within regional and national governments. Since pioneering GroupVision in the 90’s, he has recently founded Col-Lab (Collaboration Laboratory), where he continues to work with managers, teachers, trainers and facilitators to achieve extraordinary results.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Workshop objectives and goals

Paul was approached to do a keynote speech to motivate participants to engage in the overall theme. 

A secondary objective was to help the various FNAS members engage with other participants in their own intervention programs.

“The Deputy Director of SICAD asked us to select a topic,” Paul explains. “ After an intensive brainstorming session using GroupMap, the theme that was chosen by the facilitation team was: ‘How can we make the commercial communication of alcoholic drinks evolve in the sphere of sport?’”

The challenge, as Paul elaborates “  was to have the members of the FNAS, (who) normally work independently, to start work collaboratively among each other. That is to say, to increase the level of collaboration among members; to jointly accomplish their commitments and where their sense of identity of being a member of the FNAS is reinforced.”


The Facilitation Process Used

Simplicity was key, as Paul states “We started with the concept that less is more”

“Using blank templates,  we created five maps, one for each session in the Agenda. The first map was used in the opening session, meaning that the delegates had access to all subsequent maps throughout the day”   

Paul continues, “In the opening session, we have followed the 1-2-4-all group dynamic to collect participant’s inputs about the question. These were grouped in 5 categories and then subject to vote for selecting the most important ones.” 

“The ideas were categorized according to the different focal points of the forum: awareness and education, legislation, inspection, decoupling of alcohol from sport, and the evolution of ideas.

Gathering all the ideas and sub-topics would have been cumbersome and time-consuming. But according to Paul, the participants were able to discuss and collect all the ideas in just under 60 minutes. “

“(GroupMap) was a critical element. Not just during the session, but also afterward to produce the detailed session reports at the push of a button.” Paul describes, “We managed to collect ideas from a large group of more than 50 participants that would otherwise be cumbersome and totally impractical in a 60-minute session.”


(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/facilitargrupos/posts/


Workshop outputs and participant feedback

Paul shares the overwhelmingly positive reaction that he got from the participants after the session. “(They had a) huge smile on their faces saying, ‘I really enjoy this session’, or ‘I have never been in a meeting like this before’, ‘thank you’,” exclaims Paul. “It is a blessing to receive such comments as it makes us feel that our work as group facilitators is really impactful and makes a contribution to change people’s attitudes and outlook.“


(Photo source: http://www.sicad.pt/pt/Paginas/detalhe.aspx?itemId=283&lista=SICAD_NOVIDADES&bkUrl=BK/

Paul uses digital facilitation tool to augment his practice and techniques to bring out the best of both the analog and digital world of workshop facilitation. As Paul states, “I never cease to be surprised by the ease of use of this platform. I believe it helps me to bring tangible value to the customers who hire me.”


Further workshop tips and advice

We were curious to understand what tips and learnings Paul had from running the event. One of these was around reflection and closure when it came to digesting the information produced.

“In the debriefing session afterward, the facilitation team realized that we could have used GroupMap to collectively display results to the group and provide a better sense of closure.  A simple way would be to invite the group to read out contributions made. They can then discuss how they felt their voice and comments are reflected in the results to ensure buy-in.”

Paul recommends facilitators familiarize themselves with GroupMap. He believes it is a valuable tool that can help in the flow and success of facilitation activities. As he states” Take the Swiss Army knife approach in choosing the right template to use. It’s like your Swiss Army knife when you go out into the woods. Same with GroupMap templates. Try out different templates to find out what works best for your facilitation activities.”

Thanks to Col-Lab, you can contact them to discover or find out more about the different templates they used for the workshops. You can inquire here

Going beyond the face to face workshop

Another aspect that Paul finds useful with GroupMap is its remote accessibility. He recalls us about another experience where he had to conduct a workshop from a remote location. He was in Lisbon while the group was in Celfocus HQ in Oporto. 

“I remember back in the 90s. I worked with LAN-based group decision support systems. It was so cumbersome to install the system and then have to train participants to use it.  With GroupMap, it’s simple and there’s nothing to install. The facilitator can be remote,” he exclaims.

Paul was an expert speaker at the Remote Future Summit, the biggest virtual conference centered around the future of the remote workforce.

He ran an online workshop titled “What’s Facilitative Leadership and How Remote Work Immensely Benefits for it.” The session was centered around the concepts of the facilitative leader and how it requires a change to promote teamwork and group decision making.

Source: https://www.architectingcollaboration.com/on-being-a-facilitator-vs-being-a-facilitative-leader

The online participants completed a Survival On The Moon activity.” Paul explains,” A moon landing chart with 15 items is given to participants to rank in order of what they think is most important. They do this individually first. GroupMap instantly shows the overall group perspective. They  can then debate and discuss to decide on an overall group ranking.” 

“The challenge is not only to stay alive but to listen to every member of the team! Each person talks about their own view and the overall team view. This fosters communication and decision-making skills.” concludes Paul. “We could then debrief the results in real-time to illustrate the outcomes.”

Looking for an event or digital workshop facilitator?

Looking for a better way to facilitate workshops and meetings? Paul can be contacted via Col-Lab website or by e-mail to answer any questions or to elaborate on how he facilitates workshop outcomes.