Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to stimulate creativity in online teams: A 100% online process to design a blended learning trajectory

Joehoe! I am very proud of the result of three creative online sessions, resulting in a blended design. Sibrenne and I have just completed a design process for a blended trajectory with WWF. The special thing about this project is that the whole design process took place online. The members of our design team live in Namibia, Switzerland, Suriname, Nairobi and the Netherlands. It has produced a design that has been very well received, we have received many compliments about the process. It was for me the first time for me to do kind of creative process completely online - it was a challenge, but I thought it would be possible with clever design and tough facilitation. My own goal with this project was therefore to try and release online creativity. I used the book Creativity in Virtual Teams Key components for Success van Nemiro,  though the book is writing for semi-permanent teams and we were just a temporary team my experiences were quite similar.

What did we do?

The design team knew each other pretty well. We have planned three online sessions, each of two hours. In two hours you can easily dive into a topic. Three hours would be really demanding for concentration and the work schedules. In between there were a number of assignments, eg searching for cases or information. The sessions took place in a period of one month, if we had longer we could have planned more time in between the sessions, but we had a deadline.
Our tools set consisted of Adobe Connect in combination with Google docs and a Facebook Workplace group. The design team was used to Zoom instead of Adobe, but we chose Adobe Connect because of the whiteboard, and the ability to work in groups. Google docs worked well to prepare an assignment or to work on documents together. In addition, we used a Facebook Workplace for communication between the sessions, the choice for Workplace was made because it was already in use within the organization.

In terms of content we have worked with personas, images about the future, formulate learning objectives, inspiring examples of blended trajectories and building blocks. Although the idea was to shape the goals and building blocks together online, this has proven difficult. It needs thinking time. The co-creation process hence consisted of brainstorming together online in the design sessions after which we, as facilitators, worked out the elements for the next session. The result was discussed within the group.  This worked quite well as a process. Although we had a framework for the three sessions, we dealt with it flexibly. We discovered that the design team needed more time to discuss things than we had thought. In the second and third sessions, we therefore made a planning with the least important issue at the end. This gave the flexibility to drop it.

 What worked to stimulate creativity?

 There are a number of things that are crucial in my experience:
  • Plan synchronous sessions where you can work together. We chose three work sessions in Adobe Connect as central co-creation places, but you could even 4-6 if you don't have a tight deadline as we had. By spreading the design sessions over time, there is time to work together intensively, but also to reflect in between or divide work. For me the fact that the synchronous sessions are key is very logical but in the book they warn that with email stimulates little creativity. Seems too obvious to me. 
  • Make extensive use of "creativity techniques". We did several brainstorms on the whiteboard. This worked well because everyone could share their ideas at the same time. We also provided variety in working methods. Working in subgroups was very well appreciated. This was the modality in which we worked on the personas. One person even asked "can I be with her in a group" showing how enjoyable it can be to work in smaller groups. 
  • Invest continuously in teambuilding. It was a bit of a trade off: investing in getting to know each other and a tight schedule. Hence we decided to start introductions in the Workplace group. We also choose not to invest in the team know each other's private lives, but learning to appreciate each other's professional view. For instance by asking for positive online experiences. The personal approach makes it attractive to participate. If you know each other, it is easier to build on each other's ideas. In the book about creativity they call this "creating the right climate". In the evaluation someone formulated it like this: "it was nice to meet each other"
  • Online you need to structure and guide more tightly than face-to-face. "I appreciated the guided approach" we got as feedback. A tight role for one, preferably two facilitators is important. I wouldn't have liked to do this alone. This was a group that could easily exchange for an hour about content issues. We made sure that we move on and changed the talking modus. It may seems unfortunate to stop a conversation which is important and interesting, but it does benefit the energy. The chapter "leadership" from the book is dealing with this part.
  • Show progress. Each session started with sharing the products from the previous session. This gave the team the positive feeling that the sessions were productive and that together we were in the process of designing of something solid and beautiful. "Keep team members and their efforts visible" is stated in Nemiro's book. In our evaluation participants said: "concrete outputs, great products"
So I'm quite proud with what we achieved in such a short period of time. If I'd had another online design process I would like to have a longer period, with more time in between the sessions. I would also like to try out working with image association, and other creativity techniques from Nemiro. And a very practical tip: make sure you can go offline for a short while after the sessions. Online sessions remain intense and demand a lot of energy. I used to jump on the bike to get a breath of fresh air and exercise.


handling emotions said...

thanks for sharing

Lucia Nass said...

Very nice to read this. I am planning to hire you next year to help with the design of our MOOC - blended learning for SA. Fingers crossed, but this will help you succeed in the selection process!