Virtual Ideation Workshops: 5 Tips For Success
by Kelly Sons
Ideation workshops are a great way to generate innovative ideas for new products, services, or experiences—or enhancements to any of these.Most companies have grown very comfortable with in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted via webcam, an option that provides flexibility and has been relied on heavily since the pandemic began. But what about ideation workshops? When does it make sense to take these virtual? And how can you do so successfully?
You’ll typically want to include a wide range of participants in ideation workshops to ensure a broad range of perspectives and ideas. Participants might include:
- Key players within your company, in a range of roles
- Partners outside of your company
- External category experts
- Individuals that have been specially trained in idea generation
When your desired participants are far-flung geographically, or are unable to attend in person for whatever reason, a virtual ideation workshop is an excellent option. It can even be more cost-effective than an in-person workshop and offers the convenience of remote viewing for all interested parties, plus video viewing later.
Here are a few tips to ensure your virtual ideation workshop is a success.
- Structure similarly to in-person sessions. Just like in-person sessions, you’ll want the flexibility for participants to gather as one large group and to break out into smaller teams when it’s time to ideate. Videoconferencing platforms that offer breakout rooms work great for this.
Each breakout team should consist of a mix of the participant types you’re utilizing (key company employees, external experts, consumers, etc.). Limit each team to no more than five members so that everyone has the chance to participate. And feel free to mix teams up as the workshop progresses to allow participants to play off of different people’s ideas.
After each ideation exercise, allow time to bring the whole group together for an exchange of ideas among breakout groups. To streamline sharing, designate one team member from each breakout group to share their team’s ideas.
- Arrange for sufficient staff. With an in-person ideation workshop, you’ll likely have just one or two facilitators. With virtual sessions, it’s best to have a primary facilitator, plus one facilitator per breakout room to help keep things on track.
And breakout group facilitators will need to be prepared to do more than just watch the time and reiterate instructions. These facilitators will need enough qualitative expertise to get teams talking, guide the discussion as needed, and probe for details.
- Plan both independent and collaborative work. Within virtual breakout groups, it works well to have participants ideate independently for a set amount of time, then collaborate as a team to build on, refine, and strengthen ideas—as well as generate additional ideas.
Make sure you have the technology in place to support this structure. In addition to the videoconferencing platform you use, incorporate a web-based workspace platform that allows participants to seamlessly switch between independent work and collaborative work within the same workspace. The group’s facilitator should have ultimate control over the workspace to direct participants’ attention, as needed.
- Schedule shorter days, plan breaks and energizer activities, and set time limits. Let’s face it—attention spans tend to suffer during virtual meetings. So, for instance, what might have been an all-day session in person is probably best broken out into two half-day sessions when conducted virtually. And scheduled breaks and energizer activities are important for keeping participants focused and engaged.
You’ll also want to set strict time limits for ideation exercises so that all breakout teams are ready to reconvene in the main room at the same time. Clearly post these time limits for participants. The workspace platform you utilize may even have a countdown function.
- Leverage a backroom and recordings. Make sure a virtual backroom is set up for viewing the main room and all breakout sessions that take place in it. Take advantage of the opportunity to provide live feedback to the primary facilitator, and to tag or make note of ideas and comments in real time that you find particularly relevant.
Also, make sure that the main room and all breakout rooms are recorded for later viewing. This also provides the option to include video clips in the report or to create a video reel highlighting key ideas and comments to share with stakeholders later.
We at Decision Analyst would be happy to discuss your organization’s insights needs and to help you determine whether an ideation workshop—either in-person or virtual, both of which we can help you execute—might be of value to your company.
About the Author
Kelly Sons is a Research Manager at Decision Analyst, and she welcomes feedback and comments. She may be reached by email, or by phone at 1-817-640-6166.
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