3 Tips for Online Team Brainstorms

Last Updated May 7, 2010 7:15 AM EDT

One of the advantages of a virtual or remote team is that you have access to the best and smartest people, no matter where they are. One disadvantage is that "where they are" could be along way from you. How do you get the best ideas and input from these people when you're not in the same room? Running a good online brainstorming session is a critical tool for managers and project leaders.

You've all heard some variation on the rules of brainstorming before:

  • quantity of ideas over quality
  • there are no "dumb ideas"
  • set a time limit
  • no judging or evaluating
  • everyone gets equal input
The online world makes this a little trickier. Here are some tips for overcoming distance and actually using the circumstances to get the best out of everyone.

  1. Capture all ideas so everyone can see them We are visual creatures, so seeing ideas written down actually helps us build on and process information others have provided. In a live meeting you'd use a flipchart or white board. There are all kinds of virtual tools available to you, from the "whiteboard" feature on most webmeeting platforms, to sharing applications like Word and PowerPoint, to very cool hightech tools like Mindjet, Mindomo, MindMeister, and just about anything else starting with "Mind".
  2. Neutrally facilitate the meeting Often as the person running the brainstorm you have a bias to one course of action or another, and your voice as the team leader carries more weight than it should under the circumstances. Pay very close attention to your tone of voice, don't comment on suggestions and make sure you're getting input from every member of the team. If you don't think you can do this, bring in someone who can be objective, an outsider or someone from another department like HR who is trained in facilitation techniques.
  3. Use alternative methods to just calling for ideas out loud While we say "no judging", only the mildly deluded would presume it doesn't happen. There are plenty of reasons people don't feel they can or should contribute, ranging from good old stage fright, to concerns about their ability to work in a language other than their own, to just not knowing the rest of the team. Try some alternative methods such as the Delphi Technique and others (Mindjet has some great tips on their blog).
Having the best and brightest shows limited results if you don't find ways to harness that brainpower effectively, even over time and distance.

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