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, non-verbal 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.
Are 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 welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
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.
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.
More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Make Space for Serendipity
- Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it.
If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I
- When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation
for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of
approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the
trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have
to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
- Design Errors and Groupthink
- Design errors cause losses, lost opportunities, accidents, and injuries. Not all design errors are one-offs,
because their causes can be fundamental. Here's a first installment of an exploration of some fundamental
causes of design errors.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.