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, 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.

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? rbrenwJcGdMjsFeIiKAjrner@ChachPPaNVJQJuRkwybGoCanyon.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.

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:

The Scream, by Edvard MunchComfortable 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.
Part of one of the tunnel boring machines used to build the tunnel under the English ChannelForward Backtracking
The nastiest part about solving complex problems isn't their complexity. It's the feeling of being overwhelmed when we realize we haven't a clue about how to get from where we are to where we need to be. Here's one way to get a clue.
U.S. Army troops wade ashore during the Normandy landingsReactance and Decision-Making
Some decisions are easy. Some are difficult. Some decisions that we think will be easy turn out to be very, very difficult. What makes decisions difficult?
A keyboardOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
A collaboration session in a modern workplaceRationalizing Creativity at Work: I
Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenesyUNMmnchkUOPaUner@ChacYvIHCxScjvVhhSKBoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
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.