Solving Problems as a Team

Solving Problems as a Team


One of the most common objectives of a team is to solve a certain problem. It is usually why a team is created. Team members bring a diverse set of skills to the team and this provides a great scenario and the best chance in finding a solution. Because the team is comprised of individuals that bring a unique skill set, it provides the team with a “the whole is greater than its parts” setup which is a valuable tool.

The Six Thinking Hats

In 1999, Dr. Edward de Bono published a book entitled Six Thinking Hats.  He theorizes that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways -- or states -- which can be identified, deliberately accessed, and therefore planned for use in a structured way, allowing team members to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues.

Six Thinking Hats is a powerful technique that helps teams look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It helps them make better decisions by pushing members to move outside their habitual ways of thinking. It helps them understand the full complexity of a decision, and identify issues and opportunities which they might not otherwise notice.

In order to make it easier to clearly identify and work with these states, colored hats are used as metaphors for them.  The act of putting on a colored hat allows individuals to symbolically think in terms of the state, either actually or imaginatively.

White Hat:  Neutrality: Participants make statements of fact, including identifying information that is absent -- and presenting the views of people who are not present -- in a factual manner. 

Red Hat:  Feeling: Participants state their feelings, exercising their gut instincts. In many cases this is a method for harvesting ideas; it is not a question of recording statements, but rather getting everyone to identify their top two or three choices from a list of ideas or items identified under another hat. This is done to help reducing lists of many options into a few to focus on by allowing each participant to vote for the ones they prefer. It is applied more quickly than the other hats to ensure it is a gut reaction feeling that is recorded. This method can use post-it notes to allow a quick system of voting, and creates a clear visual cue that creates rapid if incomplete agreement around an issue.
Alternatively, it may be used to state ones gut reaction or feelings on an issue under discussion - this is more common when using the hats to review personal progress or deal with issues where there is high emotional content that is relevant to the discussion.  Finally, this hat can be used to request an aesthetic response to a particular design or object.

Black Hat:  Negative Judgment: Participants identify barriers, hazards, risks, and other negative connotations. This is critical thinking, looking for problems and mismatches. This hat is usually natural for people to use, the issues with it are that people will tend to use it when it is not requested and when it is not appropriate, thus stopping the flow of others. Preventing inappropriate use of the black hat is a common obstacle and vital step to effective group thinking. Another difficulty faced is that some people will naturally start to look for the solutions to raised problems - they start practicing green on black thinking before it is requested.

Yellow hat – Positive Judgment: Participants identify the benefits associated with an idea or issue. This is the opposite of black hat thinking and looks for the reasons in favor of something. This is still a matter of judgment; it is an analytical process, not just blind optimism. One is looking to create justified statements in favor. It is encapsulated in the idea of "undecided positive" (whereas the black hat would be skeptical - undecided negative).  The outputs may be statements of the benefits that could be created with a given idea, or positive statements about the likelihood of achieving it or identifying the key supports available that will benefit this course of action

Green Hat:  Creative Thinking: This is the hat of thinking new thoughts. It is based around the idea of provocation and thinking for the sake of identifying new possibilities. Things are said for the sake of seeing what they might mean, rather than to form a judgment. This is often carried out on black hat statements in order to identify how to get past the barriers or failings identified there (green on black thinking). Because green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity, it can take many forms.

Blue Hat: The Big Picture: This is the hat under which all participants discuss the thinking process. The facilitator will generally wear it throughout and each member of the team will put it on from time to time to think about directing their work together. This hat should be used at the start and end of each thinking session, to set objectives, to define the route to take to get to them, to evaluate where the group has got to, and where the thinking process is going. Having a facilitator maintain this role throughout helps ensure that the group remains focused on task and improves their chances of achieving their objectives.

Encouraging Brainstorming

Brainstorms are a simple and effective method for generating ideas and suggestions.  They allow group members to use each other as creative resources and are effective when a subject is being introduced. The goal is to rapidly generate a large quantity of ideas. Subsequent sorting and prioritizing of the ideas is usually needed to refine the results.

Building Consensus

Consensus is a point of maximum agreement so action can follow. It is a win-win situation in which everyone feels that he or she has one solution that does not compromise any strong convictions or needs. To reach consensus, group members share ideas, discuss, evaluate, organize, and prioritize ideas, and struggle to reach the best conclusions together.

A good test for consensus is to ask the question "can you support this decision?" If everyone can support it, the group has achieved 100% consensus.
Consensus is not always the best strategy. In some cases, reaching consensus does not result in a better decision or outcome. For example, group members are capable of unanimously agreeing on a completely incorrect solution to a problem. But generally, reaching consensus remains a highly desirable goal.

To make consensus work, the leader must become skilled at separating the content of the team's work (the task) from the process (how the team goes about doing the task). But the process should get the most attention.  A facilitative leader helps a team to solve its own problem.  The problem-solving process is as follows:

  1. Identify the problem or goal.
  2. Generate alternative solutions.
  3. Establish objective criteria.
  4. Decide on a solution that best fits the criteria.
  5. Proceed with the solution.
  6. Evaluate the solution.

Everyone involved in the process should understand exactly which step is being worked on at any given point. When team members sense a problem, they are usually reacting to symptoms of the problem. But they are side effects of the real problem which usually lies below the surface.


More Team Building Articles

Defining a Successful Team
Types of Teams
The Forming Stage of Team Development
The Storming Stage of Team Development
The Norming Stage of Team Development
The Performing Stage of Team Development
Effective Team Building Activities
Making the Most of Team Meetings
Encouraging Teamwork
History of Team Building
Team Building Coordinators and Facilitators 
Benefits of Team Building
Types of Team Building Excercises
Team Building Methods
What is Team Building?