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June 13, 2013

A Virtual Team Brainstorming Session Doesn’t Have To Be Hard. Read These 4 Tips

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Our experience while building Zula has taught us that managing a remote team can be challenging. Today, more than ever, teams are collaborating, sharing and working virtually. What happens when you need to brainstorm and your team members are distributed globally or simply working from home? Here are 4 things that will help you manage a good virtual brainstorming session and get results.

Most of us are not used to this idea and it may even seem ineffective, but sometimes, some of the greatest creative ideas unexpectedly come when your team is not gathered together. Interestingly, In the book “The Medici Effects – What Elephants And Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation” , Frans Johansson used two teams of 20 people each to brainstorm ideas and found that the virtual team, that required individuals to work alone, was more creative and came up with twice the number of ideas than the other team sitting together. Skeptical? Why not simply try it out.

Here are 4  important things we learned through our own experiences of remote teamwork. Hope this will help you pick your team members’ remote creative brains and get nice and juicy output from their ideas. Good luck!

1. Know Your People

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Be aware of your team’s dynamics and direct the virtual session accordingly. Engineers have different ways of thinking and working than marketing folks. All participants should feel confident in their abilities to generate innovative ideas from afar, so try to ask two types of questions: questions that address a specific employee and reflects his or her expertise on a specific subject, and questions that are more general and could be answered by all team members. If you have people on the team who are not native speakers of your language they might not be the first ones to come forth in a meeting. Don’t let mediocre language skills be the reason you miss out on great ideas and consider taking ideas both in writing as well as verbally.

2. Choose The Right Tools

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Having a single tool for everyone to use creates a feeling of teamwork and builds a more cohesive group. Not only is everyone literally on the same page, but there is a common language for sharing information, solving problems and getting answers, quickly. Find a tool that fits your team’s work style, one that doesn’t require a large learning curve so they could easily make it a part of their work. There is a great variety to choose from: mobile chat apps, video conferencing, discussion boards, whiteboard applications, web meeting services and web-based collaboration tools. Sometimes your team members will need more time to fine-tune and build on their ideas. Suggesting the option to post ideas to a shared file can be very helpful. It’s also a great way to get input from the quiet members, that won’t jump forward to speak with everybody else.

3. Prepare Your Materials

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First and foremost – know what you want to talk about. There is nothing more frustrating than a virtual meeting going nowhere. Great ideas are fun to generate, but you have to think what exactly you are trying to accomplish. Present the subject you want to brainstorm about and make sure everyone understands the boundaries and what should be the desired outcome. This will help everyone stay on the same track and not wander off topic or beyond the intended scope of the session. After you have achieved this, supply your team with materials for the work. Send out relevant documents and other visual aids in advance. This will help  your team engage while performing the session, otherwise you can find yourselves talking about the last episode of “Games of Thrones” for hours.

4. Get Results

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Getting people to contribute ideas can be hard, but more challenging is putting the process in place and turning the results of that brainstorming into the best solution to whatever problem you’re trying to solve. Set the time frame for getting things done. Knowing it will make the discussion more effective and the ideas more relevant. Assigning a team member that will summarize the session and send it out to the rest of the team is important. This documentation may be very useful in later parts of your process. At last, listen not just to what people say, but also to how they say it. Ask them if they are sure that’s what they want to say and if there is something else they want to add. Sometimes you might find the answers you were looking for right at the end of a discussion and by asking that final little additional question.

The real work of brainstorming with a remote team lays in setting the right parameters, encouraging input and truly facilitating the discussion, just like in a meeting face-to-face. Set a time frame but also be fluid. Keep the virtual meetings simple and on point and follow up with relevant materials. Finally, remember that you are trying to achieve something positive for your team so don’t forget to laugh. Your smile can be heard even on from afar.

 

Tell us, How does your team manage an interesting and effective brainstorming session?