Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 15;   April 13, 2016: Virtual Brainstorming: I

Virtual Brainstorming: I

by

When we need to brainstorm, meeting virtually carries a risk that our results might be problematic. Here's Part I of some steps to take to reduce the risk.
A globe puzzle

When we work in virtual teams, and we encounter a need for a brainstorming session, we try it. That can lead to trouble — virtual brainstorming isn't just another virtual meeting. Because much of what makes brainstorming effective is unavailable in virtual environments, following the face-to-face brainstorming pattern tends to expose teams to a significant risk of producing substandard results.

Some virtual teams try virtual brainstorming because they don't realize that brainstorming depends critically for its success on face-to-face interactions. But more teams, I suspect, conduct virtual brainstorms because they lack financial resources sufficient to bring all members of a virtual team to one location. Even if they do request those resources, some decision makers don't realize how significant the risks of virtual brainstorming actually are.

The financial case for face-to-face brainstorming sessions is straightforward, if one includes in the cost estimate of a virtual brainstorm session the possibility of investing several months of work in what turns out to be a bad idea that resulted from that session. Although the financial case might be straightforward, it might not be persuasive. The travel costs associated with a face-to-face meeting for a virtual team's brainstorming session are very clear to decision makers, but the risks of substandard results from a virtual brainstorm are less clear to them. Because decision makers tend to want to believe that the low-cost option, virtual brainstorming, is adequate, they're subject to a cognitive bias known as optimism bias, which makes it difficult for them to accept the merits of the financial case for face-to-face brainstorming. Making a persuasive financial case is therefore a long-term proposition.

The immediate need, then, is to devise methods for conducting virtual brainstorming sessions that limit the risk of inferior results. Here is Part I of a set of suggestions for accomplishing that.

Enforce suspension of judgment
Participants must be free to contribute whatever might occur to them. If they feel that their contributions might be judged, they have a tendency to self-censor, which limits the flow of ideas. In a face-to-face session, we can readily enforce suspension of judgment. Enforcing this fundamental element of the brainstorm design is difficult in the virtual environment, because it's more difficult to tell when someone is disengaged.
Training before the session is Although the financial case against
virtual brainstorming might be
straightforward, it might
not be persuasive.
therefore much more important for virtual brainstorms than for face-to-face brainstorms. If someone does express an opinion about another's contribution, have a concise, humorous, nonverbal signal for announcing a violation of the norm of suspension of judgment. A klaxon, siren, or train whistle would do nicely. To promote engagement, instead of accepting contributions in random order, poll the attendees in a fixed order, round-robin style.
Have a very clear problem statement
In face-to-face sessions, we can readily clarify any ambiguities in problem statements. In virtual brainstorms, confusion is more likely to go undetected, and when detected, it can be trickier to resolve. When multiple languages or cultures are involved, these problems are even more troublesome.
Be ruthlessly clear when writing problem statements. Include examples, and write statements in multiple different forms. If language is an issue, have professionals translate the problem statement into all relevant languages.

We'll continue next time, focusing on issues relating to how the team connects for the session.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Brainstorming: II  Next Issue

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real ResultsAre your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

DeadlockDealing with Deadlock
At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: I
When groups of decision makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
Airliner coach seatingVirtual Teams Need Generous Travel Budgets
Although virtual team members who happen to be co-located do meet from time to time, meetings of people who reside at different sites are often severely restricted by tight or nonexistent travel budgets. Such restrictions, intended to save money, can contribute to expensive delays and errors.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus.
"My Wife and My Mother-in-Law", a famous optical illusionResolving Ambiguity
Ambiguity is anathema to success in collaborations. It causes errors and rework, extending time-to-market. When we interpret information, we often choose the first interpretation we find, never recognizing that others are possible. That leads to failure.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.