How to use crowdsourcing techniques in your virtual team

A challenge of managing a virtual team is getting timely and thorough input and participation from team members. Whether it’s voicing an opinion on an internal company policy or putting in their two cents during a creative brainstorming session for a client project, not being in the same room can leave some folks out of the mix, despite your best efforts to be inclusive. One way to ensure everyone has their say — or is at least given the opportunity to provide input — is to apply some principles of crowdsourcing to internal team communications.

One of the most common definitions of crowdsourcing is “an open call to an undefined group of people.” This definition would seem to exclude a call for input to a more defined and limited group: your employees. Crowdsourcing techniques, however, leverage online technologies to “harness” the input of many and to apply that input toward getting results of some kind, so why can’t they also be applied to the people within an organization instead of without?

Some popular uses of crowdsourcing include:

  • Crowd wisdom where many can contribute possible answers to questions.
  • Crowd innovation where many can participate in problem-solving.
  • Crowd creation where many can be part of producing something and often each participant takes a smaller piece of the whole based on their skills and abilities.
  • Crowd voting where the best ideas “bubble” to the top by community review and voting.

Why not take these models and apply them to problem-solving, creative brainstorming, and creation tasks within your organization? You can even use readily available crowdsourcing technology and platforms to facilitate those processes.

Where can you go for crowdsourcing technology? Companies like Chaordix and Spigit specialize in “innovation management,” and they’ve built online tools to manage input from groups and allow for voting and other features to facilitate “crowd” participation. Even a DIY crowdsourcing system such as the one offered by Crowdtap could prove an interesting tool when the “crowd” you use for input and feedback isn’t a large random pool of unknown people but actually the folks working within your own organization.

In organizations, there is a tendency for each team member to operate strictly within their department or division. In virtual teams, these divisions may be less obvious, but the silos still exist, and may even be worsened due to the lack of proximity. By using crowdsourcing tools and applying more democratic methods of soliciting crowd input, allowing for group voting of ideas, and reaching across departments for participation, you may be able to:

  • Innovate more quickly because you are tapping into your team in different ways
  • Identify issues and reach solutions more effectively by utilizing your team more widely
  • Gain insights into your team’s talents and abilities by providing more open opportunities for participation

In some situations, crowdsourcing can take on a competitive edge in the form of a contest or competition where participants are rewarded in some way for the “best” solution — and the best solution is often not something determined by a top-down approach, but rather by the votes of the crowdsourcing community as a whole. We’ve previously written about the gamification of work; in some circumstances, applying a competitive layer to participation in problem-solving or innovation initiatives can increase motivation and stimulate better responses.

Using your team for crowdosurcing can not only help to “get things done,” it can potentially produce fresh, interesting and beneficial results.

Editor’s note: Aliza’s new book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, has just been published by Alpha.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng user lusi