Collaboration is a key element of many modern organizations. Google offers a host of tools that can be used to improve communication in a project and make it easier to work together.
The next time you want a group to generate new ideas, try this:
1. Think and create Keep notes
First, ask people to open Google Keep and create a new note to collect ideas. Each person can type paragraphs, make lists, or scribble sketches on their note. Ask people not to put their name or any personally identifying information in their notes. Let people work in silence, capturing their ideas, for a fixed amount of time—typically between five and 15 minutes. No talking, no discussing. Just collecting ideas on a note.
2. Share with a facilitator
Next, have each participant share their note with a facilitator. That means each person taps the share icon on their note and fills in the email address of the facilitator. All the shared notes will appear in the facilitator's Google Keep account.
3. Gather notes in a Google Doc
Have the facilitator open a new Google Doc in a browser, go to "Tools" > "Keep notepad" to show their Google Keep notes to the right of the document. The facilitator then collects all the notes in the Doc: Dragging-and-dropping the notes from Google Keep into the body of the document.
SEE: How to integrate Google Keep with Google Docs (TechRepublic)
4. Share the Doc
Give the members of the group access to the Google Doc. There are lots of different ways to do this. Give each participant view access by adding their email address with the "Share" button. Move the Doc to a Google Team Drive or Hangouts Chat room that the members all can access. If participants are all in one room, you could even print out the ideas and hand pages around.
But still, no talking about the topic.
5. Read and repeat
Give everyone time to read all the ideas gathered into the Google Doc. When each person finishes reading the Doc, their next task is to create a new Google Keep note. On this new note, capture any new ideas that resulted from the review of the initial set. These additional ideas don't have to be entirely new or different; this is your chance to remix or combine the ideas from the initial round. Finally, share the Keep notes and have the facilitator gather the second set of notes into a Google Doc. (Use the same Doc as before or create a new one, depending on the number of ideas, the size of the group, and the nature of the task at hand.) Then give the participants access to the Doc.
Now, you're ready to start an effective discussion.
Why this works
Conventional brainstorming sessions, where people gather and share ideas, fail for several reasons. Only one person can talk at a time. Most people don't think about a problem before a meeting starts. And too often, people defer to the HiPPO—the "highest paid person's opinion"—or to the person with the highest rank, the most power, the biggest budget, or the loudest mouth.
The above process prompts everyone to think individually first, followed by a chance to silently think together. It creates a space that ensures everyone's ideas can be captured and shared. The process also conveys that everyone is expected to participate.
The process above isn't entirely new. It's a variant of what's been called "brainwriting," where people capture ideas, then route them to others silently. I'd described a rough version of it a few years ago. (See: Modernize group brainstorming with Google Apps.)
The "Keep notepad" feature in Google Docs on the web, combined with the ability to share a Keep note with a collaborator make this all possible. Since Google Keep and Docs work on nearly any device (web, Android, or iOS), they're relatively easy for participants to install and use quickly. Unlike paper, the apps allow sharing from—and to—participants located almost anywhere.
So the next time you need new ideas from your team, remember the phrase: Think together again. Think and capture your ideas in Keep notes, then put everyone's notes together in a Doc, and repeat the process again. Collaborative notes and documents may be the key to getting the new ideas you need.
Let us know how Google Keep and Google Docs work to help your team gather new ideas in the comments or on Twitter. And if you've used another approach that worked—we want to hear it!
- From big idea to action in 5 days: A step-by-step guide (TechRepublic)
- Why Group Brainstorming Is a Waste of Time (Harvard Business Review)
- Engage your audience beyond "Raise your hand if..." (TechRepublic)
- Why brainstorming doesn't work—and what does (ZDNet)
- 4 ways to leverage phones, tablets, and laptops (TechRepublic)
- 9 steps to laptop-free, highly productive meetings with data scientists (TechRepublic)
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.