Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to effectively and “virtually” brainstorm with remote employees

Brainstorming is a tried and true method in the business world, helping us create new ideas and discover clever solutions. If you’re trying to hold a brainstorming activity and have a mix of in-house and remote employees, you would probably just include those in the office or toss the activity out the window completely.

But, don’t throw the idea out too quickly or leave out your remote employees, because there’s hope outside the physical confines of the office. Technology has transformed the method and has developed effective brainstorming tools in the virtual world.

Michael Sampson at Effective Collaboration recently reviewed some of the possible ways to hold effective, virtual brainstorming activities using Wikis, integrated conference calls and web-based platforms.

But first, even if you’re not all face-to-face, the general rules of brainstorming still apply:
  • Throw all ideas out on the table that you can think of.
  • Leave your opinion at the door, no idea is stupid.
  • Designate one person to take notes.
  • Set a time limit, about 10 to 20 minutes and stick to it.

How to “virtually” brainstorm:

Use a page on a Wiki. Make the rules clear to all involved. Type all of your ideas on one page. Don’t edit yourself and leave ideas out. Your “dumb idea” may trigger another person’s idea later. Read what other people have written on the Wiki, their ideas may help you come up with more as well. Nominate a moderator to track comments and remove negative or opinionated comments.

Use a conference call and shared computer screen session. Designate one person to type up all the ideas that are spoken out by team members. Use the shared screen to show the flow of ideas that come up during the brainstorming session.

Use a Web-based platform. IdeaJam is a new tool designed specifically for idea sharing. Submitted ideas are saved as database entries where collaborators can go in and promote, demote or be indifferent to each idea. The platform creates different views of the ideas based on topic, who posted it, popularity, most recent or completed. It can also alert collaborators when a new idea has been posted.

Whether virtual or in-house, brainstorming is a no-fail way to open up lines of communication and get everyone's ideas flowing. New technology now makes it possible to collaborate with employees working across town or even the other side of the world. Don’t limit yourself and be creative, that’s what brainstorming is all about.

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