Balloon transforms Microsoft's remote employee experience

Microsoft (Fortune 50) is a multinational technology company with over 100,000 employees that develops, manufactures, licenses, supports and sells software, services, devices, and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential. They are known for their innovations in personal computing and for leading the way in office software.

"Output of the Balloon process is incredibly valuable for everyone on the team—to have a vetted and prioritized list of ideas to pursue, makes you feel confident and secure that these ideas will make an impact no matter the scenario."

— Senior technical evangelist, Microsoft

Microsoft had a problem.

A senior technical evangelist at Microsoft knew he wasn’t capturing all of the valuable information, feedback, and ideas from some of the brighter, quieter members of the technical team during conference calls and meetings. This is not an unusual occurrence. According to a study out of Northwestern University, in a typical eight-person group, three people do 70% of the talking, and early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. Even with regularly scheduled calls and well-planned meetings, having a distributed team that was spread out across the country made collaboration and discussions even more challenging.

Generating and capturing information, ideas, and feedback from a team distributed across the country in different time zones was always frustrating and unproductive. This was especially true for the technical members of the team when trying to work out the best options for moving projects and products forward.

Also, trying to garner input and capture ideas from the entire team was impossible due to diverse personalities and cultural dynamics in play on every call and in every meeting. There are members on the team who are very quiet, while other personalities dominate and take up a lot of the talking time. As a result, the ideas captured were always from the same dominant group.

At Microsoft, there was no tool in place for team brainstorming, discussion, and information gathering beyond a regular conference call and analogue processes. The same few people spoke from their perspective, and took up most of the call time. This limited diverse and innovative information and ideas from coming through, and there was no way to gauge team-wide support or enthusiasm for a given idea.

Balloon had a solution.

He was ready for a new approach and sought a solution that increased productivity, provided everyone with an opportunity to contribute information and feedback, and helped better engage his team. Balloon was up and running within one afternoon, and he was able to start getting valuable input almost immediately. The information, feedback, and ideas captured using Balloon were greater in quality and quantity than before the rollout. The most significant value-add for Microsoft was the presentation of resulting data within Balloon, which highlights the top 5%, 10%, and 25% of ideas from the group. This allowed the entire team to reach consensus and move forward in agreement.

“In literally an afternoon, we agreed that we were going to use Balloon, and we were up and live within 2 hours, thanks, in part, to the great support of the Balloon team," the senior team member said. "My favorite thing about Balloon? I get vetted information and ideas in which I have a high degree of confidence because of a level-playing field, strong participation and engagement, and a bias-free process built on science and research."

"My favorite thing about Balloon? I get vetted information and ideas in which I have a high degree of confidence because of a level-playing field, strong participation and engagement, and a bias-free process built on science and research."

— Senior technical evangelist, Microsoft

With Balloon, there were no schedules to manage, and no struggling to set-up a call within multiple time zones. The team defined when they needed the information, and team members were able to participate according to their own schedules.

The ability to advance thoughts anonymously (removing evaluation apprehension) was critical in expanding the quantity and quality of entries while also removing cultural norms that held back engagement on calls and in meetings. Balloon also allows participants to first submit responses alone, removing production blocking. Studies have shown that this approach maximizes the contributions of the group and is significantly more effective at getting the highest quality ideas and most accurate information to come forward during group brainstorming.

Balloon's platform was an innovative approach to problem-solving, with which the team took less than an afternoon to get started. The results generated a clear, ranked, and filtered set of ideas in which the team and leadership felt confident pursuing.