The differences between face-to-face brainstorming and virtual brainstorming depend on the virtual medium you use. Immediacy provides direct interaction between participants, which makes face-to-face brainstorming effective. The more immediate the virtual medium, the lower is the risk of inadequate results. A videoconference is more immediate than a telephone conference, for example.
Virtual brainstorms that rely on less-immediate media, such as email, wikis, or proprietary "joint authoring" platforms, have multiple problems.
- Joint authoring platforms are usually asynchronous
- With asynchronous media, people might not interact simultaneously, which creates difficulties for monitoring everyone's level of effort. For all their faults, synchronous connections, such as video or telephone conferences, at least let you know that the participants were connected for a definite period of time.
- Joint authoring platforms dampen excitement
- Although The more immediate the
virtual medium, the
lower the risk of
inadequate resultsthey do support participant interactions, they don't transmit momentum or excitement very well, because they tend to mask the pace and frequency of contributions. Excitement and rapid pace are helpful in brainstorms, because they tend to limit self-censoring, making the ideas flow.
- Joint authoring platforms are usually text-based
- Text-based systems disadvantage participants who favor spoken interaction, and favor the more skilled writers or faster typists, which can bias results.
- Less-immediate connections can produce toxic conflict
- Less-immediate connections are more susceptible to the online disinhibition effect, which increases the likelihood of deviations from behavioral norms, such as suspension of judgment.
So what can we do about this? Some suggestions:
- Use telephone or video
- Even if you use a text-based medium, provide synchronous audio or video connections. Teleconferencing simultaneous with text-based authoring might be difficult, but alternating between the two can be workable: 15 minutes of teleconferencing, followed by 15 minutes of text work, for example.
- Schedule multiple sessions
- Because things take longer in virtual environments, multiple sessions might be required.
- Focus on maintaining attention
- Face-to-face sessions are less vulnerable to distractions than are virtual sessions, because the action draws attention. Keep virtual sessions short. To focus attention, display accumulating contributions on virtual flipcharts.
- Provide equal access
- We can try to apportion talking time fairly in face-to-face sessions. We might encounter difficulties occasionally, when some individuals dominate, but skillful facilitators can address that. In virtual sessions, the problem is more difficult to manage. The "group-of-groups" geometry, in which several different face-to-face groups are connected electronically, is known to be problematic. A central site with most people face-to-face and a few people participating by phone or video isn't much better, because the "remote" individuals tend to have difficulty hearing or participating.
- Anticipate these issues. Structure sessions to give everyone equal access to the virtual floor. Favor bridge lines with all participants connected equally. Poll everyone for contributions, in fixed order, round robin style.
With luck, virtual brainstorming can work well enough. But if the issue at hand is truly important, find a way to bring people together. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Virtual and Global Teams:
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Problem-Solving Ambassadors
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interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters
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- Social Entry Strategies: I
- Much more than work happens in the workplace. We also engage in social behaviors, including one sometimes
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- Social Entry Strategies: II
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a little catalog of social entry strategies.
- Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: II
- Here's Part II of a set of simple techniques to help virtual meeting facilitators enhance attendee engagement.
See also Virtual and Global Teams and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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