Asynchronous Discussions

Just imagine that you are on a team of professionals scattered across the globe.  You need to explore a new idea collaboratively, but time zones are a challenge.  One approach gaining increasing attention today is collaboration by online asynchronous discussions.  Every team member can contribute ideas during working time periods where they live.  The problem, however, is that very few people are trained to be effective in asynchronous discussions.

Why Asynchronous?

Asynchronous discussions have several features that would make them useful:

  • They are compatible with discussion groups separated by time zones
  • They are more comforting to participants who are shy or who struggle to respond quickly in a synchronous discussion
  • They allow participants an opportunity to think through a response, often making it more insightful
  • They are more supportive of a neuro-diverse participant

Some practices that you can use to become successful in asynchronous discussions include:

  1. Become adept at using the discussion platform. Things you need to learn how to do include:
    1. Setting notifications so you can see when new responses are posted
    2. Learning how to find the responses to each post
    3. Learning how to post your thoughts, including the character limit for responses
    4. Learning how to respond to others
  2. Develop a routine for viewing responses and replying to them. This includes
    1. When you share your first thoughts (Do you want to be a first responder and lead the way or do you want to see what others say). What you don’t want to do is to be silent as others respond
    2. When you respond to others. Do you want to set aside time for these responses, or respond as you get a chance?
    3. How to decide which posts you want to respond to
  3. In your initial response post, try to add insight to the discussion that others have not contributed. This will require that you view other posts before responding.  Some sources of insight include:
    1. Your experience
    2. Principles/values that guide you
    3. Lessons from other situations
    4. Your unique skill set
  4. When you respond to other posts, there are some ways to make them helpful
    1. Use the Yes/And approach from improvisational comedy. That this means is to reinforce areas of agreement (Yes), then add your own thinking (And)
    2. Help build on the post by asking a question. When you do ask a question, invite everyone to share their ideas (e.g. What does everyone think of…?)
    3. Disagree, but be civil. When you don’t agree, give your reasoning. Then suggest a way that you and the person might agree
    4. Don’t be a “ditto head”. Responses which are simply affirmations of what has already been said aren’t that helpful.
  5. Should you have a major issue that you think deserves discussion, post your concern on the discussion platform, but at the same time, send everyone an email/text describing the issue and invite responses.
  6. When the discussion has concluded, evaluate how you did. Some factors to consider include:
    1. How did others react to your post?
    2. What insights did you contribute?
    3. What did you learn from others?
    4. How disciplined were you in your responses?
    5. What did you learn about your abilities to participate in an asynchronous discussion environment?
    6. What changes do you want to make in your next asynchronous discussion?

Typical Asynchronous Discussion Practices

The practices listed below have been successfully used for asynchronous discussions:

  • A typical discussion group consists of 10-20 participants.
    • Fewer than 10 don’t provide much diversity of input.
    • More than 20 makes it hard for participants to view all responses
  • A typical discussion window is one week
  • Participants normally provide one original response to the starting context for the discussion and add at least two responses to other participants
  • Typical discussion involvement is 30-60 minutes over the span of a week
  • The discussion moderator’s duties are to:
    • Set up the discussion group and provide guidance for accessing the discussion platform and participant expectations
    • Respond to the initial post of each participant
    • Provide reminders of discussion deadlines
    • Prepare the original discussion context and discussion prompts
  • The discussion context provides a brief less than 2-minute read of the discussion topic with 2-4 discussion prompts. 
  • The discussion prompts are questions you would like the participants to respond to. These should be open-ended questions.  As the discussion continues, you may wish to add more prompts.
  • The discussion platform used should be one that:
    • Is accessible to all
    • Available on various electronic devices
    • Provides notifications when others have posted
    • Makes it easy to follow the thread of the discussion