Category: Outcome Based Team Building

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

In the past few decades, psychologists and business people alike have discovered that successful problem solvers tend to use the same type of process to identify and implement the solutions to their problems. This process works for any kind of problem, large or small.

This guide will give your team an overview of the entire creative problem solving process, as well as key problem solving tools that they can use every day. We will be covering the following topics:

  • The Problem Solving Method
  • Information Gathering
  • Problem Definition
  • Analyzing the Problem
  • Preparing for Brainstorming
  • Generating Solutions
  • Analyzing Solutions
  • Selecting a Solution
  • Planning the Next Steps
  • Recording Lessons Learned
  • Celebrating Success
  • Identifying Improvements
  • Identifying Resources
  • Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting

Related: Problem Solving Team Building Activities

The Problem Solving Method

To begin, let’s look at the creative problem solving process. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will define “problem” and other situations that lend themselves to the creative problem solving process. We will introduce the concept of teams solving problems using a creative process. The approach we use in this guide includes six steps, which are also introduced in this section.

What is a Problem?

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary includes several definitions for the word “problem.” The definitions that we are most concerned with while learning about the creative problem solving process are:

  • “any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty,” and
  • “a question proposed for solution or discussion.”

A problem can be defined as a scenario in which the current situation does not match the desired situation, or anytime actual performance does not match expectations. Other labels for a problem include challenges or opportunities, or any situation or circumstance for which there is room for improvement.

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving has evolved since its inception in the 1950s. However, it is always a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions.

The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers in your team come up with solutions that are innovative, rather than obtaining help to learn the answers or implementing standard procedures.

The creative problem solving process is at work anytime your team identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.

What are the Steps in the Creative Solving Process?

The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:

  1. Information Gathering by your team, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding.
  2. Problem Definition, or making sure your team understands the correct problem before proceeding.
  3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools.
  4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding.
  5. Selecting the Best Solution(s).
  6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s).

Information Gathering

Information Gathering Stage of Problem Solving

The first step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to gather information about the problem. To effectively solve the correct problem, your team will need to know as much about it as possible. In this section of the problem solving guide, we will explore different types of information, key questions, and different methods used to gather information.

Understanding Types of Information

There are many different types of information. The following list includes information your team will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • Opinionated Fact
  • Concept
  • Assumption
  • Procedure
  • Process
  • Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.

Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Identifying Key Questions

When tackling a new problem, your team must talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. They can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. They should remember to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should they ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Which?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:

  • Who initially defined the problem?
  • What is the desired state?
  • What extent is the roof being damaged?
  • Where is the water coming from?
  • When did the employee finish his training?
  • How can we increase our market share?
  • Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is for your team to ask if it has been solved before. They should find out if anyone in the company or network has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information

When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods your team can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways the team can collect information about a problem:

  • Conduct interviews.
  • Identify and study statistics.
  • Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
  • Conduct technical experiments.
  • Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
  • Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

Problem Definition

Problem Definition Stage of Problem Solving

The next step in the creative problem solving process is for your team to identify the problem. This section of the problem solving guide will explore why your team needs to clearly define the problem. It also introduces several tools for your team to use when defining a problem and writing a problem statement.

Defining the Problem

Defining the problem is the first step in the creative problem solving process. When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. Your team must understand the problem before they spend time or money implementing a solution.

Your team must take care in defining the problem. The way that they define the problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways. They must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process to achieve a successful solution. They may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. However, your team must identify the underlying problem to generate the right solutions. Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.

Four tools your team can use in defining the problem are:

  • Determining where the problem originated
  • Defining the present state and the desired state
  • Stating and restating the problem
  • Analyzing the problem

Your team may not use all of these tools to help define a problem. Different tools lend themselves to some kinds of problems better than other kinds.

Determining Where the Problem Originated

Successful problem solvers get to the root of the problem by interviewing or questioning anyone who might know something useful about the problem.  They ask questions about the problem, including questions that:

  • Clarify the situation
  • Challenge assumptions about the problem
  • Determine possible reasons and evidence
  • Explore different perspectives concerning the problem
  • Ask more about the original question

If they did not define the problem, they should find out who did. Think about that person’s motivations. Challenge their assumptions to dig deeper into the problem.

Defining the Present State and the Desired State

When using this tool, your team writes a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then they write a statement of what they would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. They can refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.

Stating and Restating the Problem

The problem statement and restatement technique also helps evolve the understanding of the problem. First, they can write a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then use various triggers to help them identify the true problem. The triggers are:

  • Emphasize different words in the statement and ask questions about each emphasis.
  • Replace one word in the statement with a substitute that explicitly defines the word to reframe the problem.
  • Rephrase the statement with positives instead of negatives or negatives instead of positives to obtain an opposite problem.
  • Add or change words that indicate quantity or time, such as always, never, sometimes, every, none or some.
  • Identify any persuasive or opinionated words in the statement. Replace or eliminate them.
  • Try drawing a picture of the problem or writing the problem as an equation.

Analyzing the Problem

Analyzing the Problem

When the cause of the problem is not known, such as in troubleshooting operations, your team can look at the what, where, who, and extent of the problem to help define it.

What? –. Use “what” questions both to identify what the problem is, as well as what the problem is not. “What” questions can also help identify a possible cause.

Where? – “Where” questions help to locate the problem. Use “where” questions to distinguish the difference between locations where the problem exists and where it does not exist.

When? – “When” questions help discover the timing of the problem. Use “when” questions to distinguish the difference between when the problem occurs and when it does not, or when the problem was first observed and when it was last observed.

Extent? – Questions that explore the magnitude of the problem include:

  • How far vs. how localized?
  • How many units are affected vs. how many units are not affected?
  • How much of something is affected vs. how much is not affected?

Examining the distinctions between what, where, when, and to what extent the problem is and what, where, when and to what extent it is not can lead to helpful insights about the problem. Your team must remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement

Writing an accurate problem statement can help your team accurately represent the problem. This helps clarify unclear problems. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the types and effectiveness of potential solutions are improved.

The problem statement should:

  • Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
  • Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve

The problem statement should not include:

  • Any mention of possible causes
  • Any potential solutions

A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.

Preparing for Brainstorming

Preparing for Brainstorming

Before your team learn’s ways to generate solutions in the problem solving process, they need to prepare the way for creativity. This section of our problem solving guide introduces common mental blocks to productive brainstorming, as well as techniques for dealing with the mental blocks. It also presents some ideas for stimulating creativity.

Identifying Mental Blocks

Brainstorming can help your team solve the problem, even for problems that seem unsolvable or that seem to only have inadequate solutions. However, before beginning a successful brainstorming session to generate ideas, the team members must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

There are many types of mental blocks. Most blocks to problem-solving fit into the following categories.

  • Emotions: Emotional blocks can include anything from a fear of risk-taking to a tendency to judge or approach the problem with a negative attitude.
  • Distractions: Too much information, irrelevant information, or environmental distractions can prevent a productive brainstorming session.
  • Assumptions: If problem-solvers assume there is only one correct solution, they will be unable to generate additional ideas. Assumptions also become mental blocks from stereotypes or perceived boundaries where none exist.
  • Culture: Culture defines the way we live and limits the ideas we may generate or consider. However, not every culture is the same. Sometimes the cultural blocks are unnecessary, and sometimes we do not consider cultural limitations when we should.
  • Communication difficulties: If we cannot communicate our ideas in some way – speaking, writing, or pictures – these communication difficulties can block our progress in generating ideas.

Removing Mental Blocks

So what do you do when you identify a mental block? Carol Goman has identified several structured techniques for blockbusting.

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, your team must list the positive aspects or possible outcomes of the problem. Remember that problems are also opportunities for improvement.

The next technique deals with risk-taking. To remove emotional blocks arising from a fear of failure, the team should define the risk, then indicate why it is important. Define what the worst possible outcome might be and what options there are in that scenario. Think about how to deal with that possible failure.

The next technique encourages your team to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that your team’s problem solvers can come up with innovative solutions.

The fourth technique is to allow imagination, feelings, and a sense of humor to overcome a reliance on logic and a need to conduct problem solving in a step-by-step manner.

The fifth technique involves encouraging your team’s creativity. We’ll look at that in more detail in the next topic.

Stimulating Creativity

The creative problem solving process requires creativity. However, many people feel that they are not creative. This is the sign of a mental block at work. Everyone can tap into creative resources in their brains. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra prodding.

Creativity is not something to be turned on and off when needed. The potential for creativity is always there. Your team just needs to learn how to access it.

Here are some tips for creating a creative mental space to encourage productive brainstorming sessions.

  • Go outside for a few minutes, especially for a nature walk or bike ride. Exercising and getting sunshine even for just a few minutes are sure ways to redirect your brain to a more creative outlook.
  • Change your perspective. Work on the floor or go to the park for the brainstorming session.
  • Breathe deeply. Especially when stressed, we tend to become shallow breathers. Fill your entire lungs with air to get some extra oxygen to your brain. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 15 minutes for not only more creativity but for a great burst of energy.
  • Meditate. Focus intently on a candle flame or find another way to quiet your mind of all of your responsibilities and distractions. For a group, try guided meditation.
  • Write in a journal. Write for 15-20 minutes in a spare notebook or plain paper. It does not have to be about the specific problem you need to solve, but you may discover some mental blocks if you do write about the problem. Dump all of your mental clutter on to one to three pages that no one will ever see (unless you want them to). Then let the pages and their recorded thoughts go, even if just in your mind.

Once your team gets your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas every day:

  • Carry a small notebook or jot ideas in your PDA. Be prepared for ideas whenever they come. Ideas often come as you are drifting off to sleep or as you are waking.
  • Stretch your boundaries by posing new questions to yourself, learning things outside your specialty, or breaking up set patterns of doing things.
  • Be receptive to new, fragile ideas that may still need time to develop.
  • Be observant of details, including self details.
  • Find a creative hobby, including working puzzles and playing games.

Generating Solutions

Generating Solutions to Problems

Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the problem solving process. Your team needs to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. This section of the problem solving guide begins with some ground rules for brainstorming sessions. Then it presents several idea-generating techniques, including free-association style brainstorming, brainwriting, mind mapping, and Duncker Diagrams.

Brainstorming Basics

To come up with a good idea, your team must come up with many ideas. The first rule of brainstorming is to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can.

Some of the ideas will not be good. If your team starts analyzing the ideas while they are generating them, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and they may miss out on some great ideas. Therefore, the second rule for brainstorming sessions is to defer judgment.

They must allow creativity and imagination to take over in this phase of the process. The next rule for brainstorming is for the team to come up with the wildest, most imaginative solutions to the problem that they can. Often they might not consider a solution because of assumptions or associational constraints. However, sometimes those solutions, even if they do not end up implementing them, can lead to a successful solution. So along with deferring judgment, they should allow those ideas that might be considered crazy to flow. One of those crazy ideas might just contain the seeds of the perfect solution.

Finally, they can use early ideas as springboards to other ideas. This is called “piggybacking” and is the next rule for brainstorming.

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping are two additional tools to generate ideas.

Brainwriting

Brainwriting is similar to free-association brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on those ideas.

Before a brainwriting session, create sheets of paper with a grid of nine squares on each sheet. You will need as many sheets as there are participants in the brainwriting session with one or two extra sheets. Plan to sit participants in a circle or around a table. Determine how long the session will last, and remind participants that there is no talking. Remind participants of the other rules for brainstorming, especially deferring judgment.

For the session itself, state the problem or challenge to be solved. Each participant fills out three ideas on a brainwriting grid. Then he or she places that brainwriting sheet in the center of the table and selects a new sheet. Before writing additional ideas, the participant reads the three ideas at the top (generated by a different participant). The hope is that these items will suggest additional ideas to the participants. The participants should not write down the same ideas they have written on other sheets. This activity continues until all of the grids are full or the time runs out. At the end of the activity, there should be many ideas to consider and discuss.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper but can be conducted alone.

The problem solver starts by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.

Duncker Diagrams

Duncker Diagrams are used with the present state and desired state statements. A Duncker diagram generates solutions by creating possible pathways from the present state to the desired state. However, the Duncker diagram also addresses an additional pathway of solving the problem by making it okay not to reach the desired state.

Duncker diagrams can help with refining the problem as well as generating ideas for solutions. The diagram begins with general solutions. Then it suggests functional solutions that give more specifics on what to do. The diagram can also include specific solutions of how to complete each item in the functional solutions.

The Morphological Matrix

Fritz Zwicky developed a method for general morphological analysis in the 1960s. The method has since been applied to many different fields. It is a method of listing examples of different attributes or issues to an item (or problem), and randomly combining the different examples to form a solution. Depending on the number of issues or attributes identified, there can be quite a large number of possible combinations.

The Morphological Matrix is a grid with several different columns. The problem solvers enter a specific attribute or issue about the item or problem at the top of each column. Then for each column, problem solvers generate a list of examples for that attribute. Once there are many different ideas in the columns, the solutions can be combined strategically or randomly. While some combinations naturally are incompatible, problem solvers should not rule out ideas until they reach the analysis phase of the problem-solving process.

For complex problems, computer-assisted morphological assessment can be done. This matrix can help identify different considerations of the problem. It can also help formulate comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

The Six Thinking Hats

Dr. Edward de Bono introduced a concept for thinking more effectively in teams in his book, Six Thinking Hats. The premise of this idea is that the brain thinks about things in several different ways.

The identified different categories of thought are assigned to a color-coded “hat,” as described below. The hats provide a structured way to think about different aspects of a problem.

  1. White hat – Facts and Information: This hat includes Information collected or identified as missing.
  2. Red Hat – Feelings and Emotion: This hat includes feelings, including gut reactions to ideas or items identified in another area.
  3. Black Hat – Critical Judgment: This hat includes details about obstacles to solving the problem or other negative connotations about an item or idea. Since people are naturally critical, it is important to limit black hat thinking to its appropriate role.
  4. Yellow Hat – Positive Judgment: This hat is the opposite of the black hat. It includes details about the benefits of an idea or issue or thoughts about favoring an idea. It is still critical thinking and judgment, as opposed to blind optimism.
  5. Green Hat – Alternatives and Learning: This hat concerns ideas about new possibilities and thinking about implications rather than judgments. Green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity.
  6. Blue Hat – The Big Picture: This hat serves as the facilitator of the group thinking process. This hat can be used to set objectives both for the problem solving process and the thinking session itself.

The six thinking hat methodology allows a deliberate focusing during problem solving sessions, with an agreed-upon sequence and time limit to each hat. It ensures that everyone in the team is focused on a particular approach at the same time, rather than having one team member reacting emotionally (red hat) while others are being objective (white hat) and still another is wearing the black hat to form critical judgments of ideas.

The green hat is the main thinking hat for generating solutions in the problem solving process. The other hats can be used as a reminder of the rules of productive brainstorming sessions, such as limiting critical judgment (positive and negative – yellow and black hats).

The Blink Method

Malcolm Gladwell popularizes scientific research about the power of the adaptive unconscious in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s premise is that in an age of information overload, our decisions based on limited information are often as good as or better than decisions made with ample critical thinking.

In the examples and research Gladwell presents, experts and average subjects alike are better able and happier with choices made through what he calls “thin-slicing,” or coming to a conclusion with limited information. An example presented is the case in which many experts identify a statue as a fake when the museum that spent money on the statue did not identify it as such with weeks of research.

Gladwell also presents the cautions of the adaptive unconscious. Our power to make effective decisions by tapping into this power can be corrupted by personal likes and dislikes and stereotypes. Rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous consequences, as presented in his example of an innocent man shot on his doorstep 41 times by New York policemen.

Gladwell summarizes the dilemma between when to tap into our unconscious, and when to use a more critical approach as thus: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated – when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought process may be superior.”

Analyzing Solutions

Analyzing Solutions to Problems

With many different solutions in hand, the problem solvers in your team need to analyze those solutions to determine the effectiveness of each one. This section of the problem solving guide helps your team consider the criteria or goals for solving the problem, as well as distinguishing between wants and needs. This section also introduces the cost/benefit analysis as a method of analyzing solutions.

Developing Criteria

Your team should return to the information generated when defining the problem. Then consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem.

When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, they must also consider the following:

  • Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
  • Think about what they want the solution to do or not do.
  • Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for their goals or problem-solving criteria.

Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:

  • Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences of delaying action?
  • Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
  • Impact – Is the problem serious?

Your team must think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use their imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.

Analyzing Wants and Needs

The creative problem solving process is a fluid process, with some steps overlapping each other. Sometimes as the process provides additional information, problem solvers need to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, to analyze the potential solutions, the wants and needs for the desired state after the problem is solved must be very clear.

Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, the team can disregard it from further analyzing.

Wants are nice to have items. The team can provide a weight to each item to indicate its importance. For each potential solution, they can provide a rating for how well the solution addresses the selected want. Multiply the rating by the weight of the want to score the potential solution.

With scores for each item, it is an easy matter to rank the potential solutions in order of preference.

Using Cost/Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.

It is important to include ALL of the benefits and costs. This can be tricky, especially with intangible benefits (or costs). Some benefits or costs may be obvious, but others may take a little digging to uncover. For example, imagine you want to replace three employees with a machine that makes stamps. A hidden benefit is that you may be able to use large feedstock instead of individual sheets, saving materials costs. In the same example, you would not only consider the salaries of the employees but the total cost for those employees, including benefits and overhead.

The value assigned to the costs and benefits must be the same unit, which is why monetary value is suggested. The valuations assigned should represent what the involved parties would spend on the benefit or cost. For example, if people are always willing to save five minutes and spend an extra 50 cents on parking closer, they are demonstrating that time is worth more than 10 cents per minute. The considerations should also include the time value of money or the value of money spent or earned now versus money spent or earned at some future point.

Selecting a Solution

Selecting a Solution for the Problem

The next step in the problem solving process is for your team to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, your team would have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a shortlist of possibilities, they can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This section of the problem solving guide discusses that final analysis, as well as a tool for selecting a solution called Paired Comparison Analysis. It also discusses analyzing potential problems that may arise with a selected solution.

Doing a Final Analysis

In the previous stage of the process, the team performed a cost/benefit analysis. However, since they cannot always know all of the potential variables, this analysis should not be the only one they perform.

For each potential solution, they must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with the team’s priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. It may be helpful to create a map for each solution that addresses all of the relevant issues.

Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate results and the long-term possibilities.

In the final analysis, the team will refine the shortlist and keep re-refining it until they determine the most effective solution.

Paired Comparison Analysis

The Paired Comparison Analysis tool is a method of prioritizing a small number of workable solutions. The first step for using this tool is to list all of the possible solutions. Label each potential solution with a letter or number.

Next, compare the solutions in pairs. Decide only between those two which solution is preferable. Assign a number to indicate the strength of the preference for each option. For example, problem solvers could assign a “3” to items they strongly prefer, a “2” to a moderate preference, or a “1” to a mild preference.

This first round continues two at a time until all of the solutions are ranked. Then all the ranks are added together to obtain a priority score for each item. The top score is the preferred solution.

Analyzing Potential Problems

Your team must think forward to the solution implementation. Ask how, when, who, what, and where in relation to implementing the solution. Does the imagined future state with this problem solution match the desired state developed earlier in the process?

They can brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.

Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem solving process. They also need to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.

Planning The Next Steps

Once your team selected one or more solutions to the problem, it is time to implement them. This section of the problem solving guide looks at identifying tasks and resources, and re-evaluating the solution and adapting as necessary.

Identifying Tasks

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time for the team to think about the steps for making the solution become reality. What steps are necessary to put the solution into place?

Once again the team can brainstorm with people involved with the problem to determine the specific steps necessary to make the solution become a reality. While making that list, the team should identify any tasks that are critical to the timing of the solution implementation. Critical tasks are items that will delay the entire implementation schedule if they are not completed on time. Non-critical tasks are items that can be done as time and resources permit.

Recording Lessons Learned

Once your team solved the problem successfully, it is time to apply what they have learned to make solving future problems easier.

Planning the Follow-Up Meeting

Have a follow-up meeting after the solution has been implemented. Here are some things to consider when planning this meeting:

  • Make sure you have a clear agenda for the meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to conduct a final evaluation of the problem, the selected solution, and the implementation project. Use the follow-up meeting to find out if any of the team members still have frustrations about the problem or its solution. It is also time to celebrate successes and identify improvements, discussed in the next two topics.
  • Make sure to invite all of the team members involved with the creative problem solving process and the solution implementation.
  • Make sure to consider the meeting arrangements, such as refreshments and equipment needed.
  • Invite the participants in plenty of time, to make sure that all key members can be present for the meeting. Make such each participant knows the purpose of the meeting so that all have the appropriate incentive to attend.

Celebrating Successes

After the problem has been solved, take the time to celebrate the things that went well in the problem solving process. Try to recognize each person for their contributions and accomplishments.

You can celebrate successes by recognizing the contributions of the team members in the follow-up meeting. Alternatively, you can have a party or other form of celebration. A good activity just needs to help the team celebrate a job well done in coming up with all the solutions, evaluating them, and finally implementing a solution effectively.

Identifying Improvements

There have probably been some bumps along the road in the creative problem solving process. Your team should take the time to identify lessons learned and ways to make improvements so that the next problem solved will be even better.

Meeting with team members and stakeholders to identify improvements is a valuable exercise for several reasons.

  • It ensures everyone is aware of the challenges encountered and what was done to resolve them.
  • If something is learned from a mistake or failed endeavor, then the effort put into the task is not entirely wasted.
  • Participants can apply these lessons to future problems and be more successful.

Identifying Resources

This part of the creative problem solving process is the time to think about the resources for making the solution become reality. What else is necessary to put the solution into place?

The types of resources that may be involved are listed below, along with some questions to think about to assign resources to the project of implementing the solution.

  • Time: How will you schedule the project? When would you like the solution completed? How much time will each task identified take?
  • Personnel: Who will complete each identified task?
  • Equipment: Is there any special equipment required to implement the task? Does the equipment exist or need to be obtained?
  • Money: How much will the solution cost? Where will the money come from?
  • Information: Is any additional information required to implement the solution? Who will obtain it? How?

Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting

Once your team determined the tasks and the resources necessary to implement the solution, take action! Now is the time to use your project management skills to keep the solution implementation on track.

As part of the implementation process, you will also continue to evaluate the solution(s). It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary, based on the evaluation of the solution’s effectiveness at solving the problem. You may need to make adjustments to the plan as new information about the solution comes to light.

 

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Ultimate Guide to Building Better Communication in Your Team

Ultimate Guide to Building Better Communication in Your Team

For the better part of every day, your team members  are communicating to and with others. Whether it’s the speech delivered in the boardroom,  or the level of attention given to other team members when they are talking, it all means something. This guide will help you to understand the different methods of communication and how to make the most of each of them to build better communication in your team. We will cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to Communication
  • Understanding Communication Barriers
  • Paraverbal Communication Skills
  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Speaking Like a STAR
  • Listening Skills
  • Asking Good Questions
  • Mastering the Art of Conversation
  • Advanced Communication Skills

Related: Communication Team Building Activities

Introduction to Communication

When we say the word, “communication,” what do you think of? Many people will think of the spoken word. People who are hearing impaired, however, might think of sign language. People who are visually impaired might think of Braille as well as sounds.

What is Communication?

The dictionary defines communication as, “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

It is also defined as, “means of sending messages, orders, etc., including telephone, telegraph, radio, and television,” and in biology as an, “activity by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behavior of other organisms.”

The effectiveness of communication in your team can have many different positive effects on the team such as:

  • Lowering the level of stress in the team
  • Building stronger relationships among the team members
  • Increasing the level of satisfaction within the team
  • Increasing productivity
  • Improving the team’s ability to meet goals
  • Improving team’s ability to solve problems

How Do Team Members Communicate?

Team members communicate in three major ways:

  • Spoken: There are two components to spoken communication.
    • Verbal: This is what they are saying.
    • Paraverbal: This means how they say it – their tone, speed, pitch, and volume.
  • Non-Verbal: These are the gestures and body language that accompany their words. Some examples: arms folded across the chest, tracing circles in the air, tapping their feet, or having a hunched-over posture.
  • Written: Communication can also take place via fax, e-mail, or written word.

Other Factors in Communication

Other communication factors that we need to consider.

  • Method: The method in which the team member shares his or her message is important as it has an effect on the message itself. Communication methods include person-to-person, telephone, e-mail, fax, radio, public presentation, television broadcast, and many more!
  • Mass: The number of people receiving the message.
  • Audience: The team member receiving the message affects the message, too. Their understanding of the topic and the way in which they receive the message can affect how it is interpreted and understood.

Understanding Communication Barriers

Communication Barriers

On the surface, communication seems pretty simple. I talk, you listen. You send me an e-mail, I read it. Larry King makes a TV show, we watch it.

Like most things in life, however, communication is far more complicated than it seems. Let’s look at some of the most common communication barriers you may encounter in your team and how to reduce their impact on communication.

An Overview of Common Communication Barriers

Many things can impede communication. Common things that people list as barriers include:

  • I can’t explain the message to the other person in words that they understand.
  • I can’t show the other person what I mean.
  • I don’t have enough time to communicate effectively.
  • The person I am trying to communicate with doesn’t have the same background as me, and is missing the bigger picture of my message.

These barriers typically break down into three categories: language, culture, and location.

Language Barriers

Of course, one of the biggest barriers to written and spoken communication in a team is language. This can appear in three main forms:

  • The team members communicating speak different languages.
  • The language being used is not the first language for one or more of the team members involved in the communication.
  • The team members communicating speak the same language, but are from different regions and therefore have different dialects and or unique subtleties.

There are a few ways to reduce the impact of these barriers.

  • As a team, identify that the barrier exists. Identify things that the team can do to minimize it.
  • Pictures speak a thousand words, and can communicate across languages.
  • If you are going to be communicating with this team member on a long-term basis, try to find a common language. You may also consider hiring a translator.

Cultural Barriers

There can also be times when team members speak the same language, but are from a different culture, where different words or gestures can mean different things. Or, perhaps the team member you are communicating with is from a different class from you, or has a very different lifestyle. All of these things can hinder your ability to get your message across effectively.

If you have the opportunity to prepare, find out as much as you can about the other team member’s culture and background, and how it differs from yours. Try to identify possible areas of misunderstanding and how to prevent or resolve those problems.

If you don’t have time to prepare, and find yourself in an awkward situation, use the cultural differences to your advantage. Ask about the differences that you notice, and encourage questions about your culture. Ensure that your questions are curious, not judgmental, resentful, or otherwise negative.

Differences in Time and Place

The last communication barrier that we will look at is location, defined by time and by place. These barriers often occur when members of the same team are in different time zones, or different places.

Take this scenario as an example. Bill works on the east coast, while his colleague, Joe, works on the west coast. Four hours separate their offices. One day, right after lunch, Bill calls Joe to ask for help with a question. Bill has been at work for over four hours already; he is bright, chipper, and in the groove.

Joe, however, has just gotten to the office and is, in fact, running late. He does not feel awake and chipper, and is therefore perhaps not as responsive and helpful in answering Bill’s question as he normally is.

Bill thinks, “Geez, what did I do to make Joe cranky?” In response to the way he perceives Joe’s behavior, he, too, stops communicating. Their effort to solve a problem together has failed.

So how can you get over the challenges of time and place? First, identify that there is a difference in time and place. Next, try these tips to reduce its impact.

  • Make small talk about the weather in your respective regions. This will help you get a picture of the team member’s physical environment.
  • Try to set up phone calls and meetings at a time that is convenient for you both.
  • If appropriate, e-mail can be an “anytime, anywhere” bridge. For example, if Bill had sent Joe an e-mail describing the problem, Joe could have addressed it at a better time for him, such as later on in the day. Clearly, this is not always practical (for example, if the problem is urgent, or if it is a complicated issue that requires extensive explanation), but this option should be considered.

Another thing your team must watch out for is rushed communication. The pressure of time can cause either party to make assumptions and leaps of faith. They must always make sure they communicate as clearly as possible, and ask for playback. The listening and questioning skills that they will learn in this guide will help them make the most of the communication time that they do have.

Paraverbal Communication Skills

Para-Verbal Communication

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? It’s true!

Try saying these three sentences out loud, placing the emphasis on the underlined word.

  • I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying it wasn’t me)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I communicated it in another way)
  • “I didn’t say you were wrong.” (Implying I said something else)

Now, let’s look at the three parts of paraverbal communication; which is the message told through the pitch, tone, and speed of our words when we communicate.

The Power of Pitch

Pitch can be most simply defined as the key of your voice. A high pitch is often interpreted as anxious or upset. A low pitch sounds more serious and authoritative. People will pick up on the pitch of your voice and react to it. As well, a variation in the pitch of your voice is important to keep the other party interested.

If a team member naturally speaks in a very high-pitched or low-pitched voice, they should work on varying their pitch to encompass all ranges of their vocal cords. (One easy way to do this is to relax your throat when speaking.) Make sure they pay attention to their body when doing this – you don’t want them to damage their vocal cords.

The Truth about Tone

Did your mother ever say to you, “I don’t like that tone!” She was referring to the combination of various pitches to create a mood.

Here are some tips on creating a positive, authoritative tone.

  • Try lowering the pitch of your voice a bit.
  • Smile! This will warm up anyone’s voice.
  • Sit up straight and listen.
  • Monitor your inner monologue. Negative thinking will seep into the tone of your voice.

The Strength of Speed

The pace at which a team member speaks also has a tremendous effect on their communication ability. From a practical perspective, someone who speaks quickly is harder to understand than someone who speaks at a moderate pace. Conversely, someone who speaks v-e—r—-y s—l—–o—w—l—y will probably lose their audience’s interest before they get very far!

Speed also has an effect on the tone and emotional quality of their message. A hurried pace can make the listener feel anxious and rushed. A slow pace can make the listener feel as though their message is not important. A moderate pace will seem natural, and will help the listener focus on the  message.

One easy way for your team members to check their pitch, tone, and speed is to record themselves speaking. They can then think of how they would feel listening to their own voice, and work on speaking the way they would like to be spoken to.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Communication

When you are communicating, your body is sending a message that is as powerful as your words.

In our following discussions, remember that our interpretations are just that – common interpretations. (For example, the person sitting with his or her legs crossed may simply be more comfortable that way, and not feeling closed-minded towards the discussion. Body language can also mean different things across different genders and cultures.) However, it is good for your team to understand how various behaviors are often seen, so that they can make sure their body is sending the same message as their mouth.

Think about these scenarios for a moment. What non-verbal messages might you receive in each scenario? How might these non-verbal messages affect the verbal message?

  • Your boss asks you to come into his office to discuss a new project. He looks stern and his arms are crossed.
  • A team member tells you they have bad news, but they are smiling as they say it.
  • You tell a co-worker that you cannot help them with a project. They say that it’s OK, but they slam your office door on their way out.

Team members need to understand how to use body language to become more effective communicators.  They must be able to interpret body language, add it to the message they are receiving, and understand the message being sent appropriately.

With this in mind, let’s look at the components of non-verbal communication.

Understanding the Mehrabian Study

In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian published a famous study called Silent Messages. In it, he made several conclusions about the way the spoken word is received. Although this study has been misquoted often throughout the years, its basic conclusion is that 7% of our message are verbal, 38% are proverbial, and 55% are from body language.

Now, we know this is not true in all situations. If someone speaks to you in a foreign language, you cannot understand 93% of what they are saying. Or, if you are reading a written letter, you are likely getting more than 7% of the sender’s message.

What this study does tell us is that body language is a vital part of our communication with others. With this in mind, let’s look at the messages that our body can send.

All About Body Language

Body language is a very broad term that simply means the way in which our body speaks to others. We have included an overview of three major categories below; we will discuss a fourth category, gestures, in a moment.

The way that we are standing or sitting

Think for a moment about different types of posture and the message that they relay.

  • Sitting hunched over typically indicates stress or discomfort.
  • Leaning back when standing or sitting indicates a casual and relaxed demeanor.
  • Standing ramrod straight typically indicates stiffness and anxiety.

The position of our arms, legs, feet, and hands

  • Crossed arms and legs often indicate a closed mind.
  • Fidgeting is usually a sign of boredom or nervousness.

Facial expressions

  • Smiles and frowns speak a million words.
  • A raised eyebrow can mean inquisitiveness, curiosity, or disbelief.

Chewing one’s lips can indicate thinking, or it can be a sign of boredom, anxiety, or nervousness.

Interpreting Gestures

A gesture is a non-verbal message that is made with a specific part of the body. Gestures differ greatly from region to region, and from culture to culture.

Speaking Like a STAR

Speaking Like a STAR

Now that we have explored all the quasi-verbal elements of communication, let’s look at the actual message the team members are sending. They can ensure any message is clear, complete, correct, and concise, with the STAR acronym.

S = Situation

First, they must state what the situation is, and try to make this no longer than one sentence. If they are having trouble, they should ask themselves, “Where?”, “Who?”, and, “When?”. This will provide a base for message so it can be clear and concise.

Example: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant.”

T = Task

Next, they must briefly state what their task was. Again, this should be no longer than one sentence. Use the question, “What?” to frame their sentence, and add the “Why?” if appropriate.

Example: “I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group.”

A = Action

Now, they can state what they did to resolve the problem in one sentence. They must use the question, “How?” to frame this part of the statement. The Action part will provide a solid description and state the precise actions that will resolve any issues.

Example: “I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show.”

R = Result

Last, they will state what the result was. This will often, use a combination of the six roots. Again, a precise short description of the results that come about from their previous steps will finish on a strong definite note.

Example: “Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

Let’s look at a complete example using STAR. Let’s say you’re out with friends on the weekend. Someone asks you what the highlight of your week at work was. As it happens, you had a great week, and there is a lot to talk about. You use STAR to focus your answer so you don’t bore your friends, and so that you send a clear message.

You respond: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant. I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group. I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show. Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

This format can be compressed for quick conversations, or expanded for longer presentations. Encourage your team to try framing statements with STAR, and see how much more confident they feel when communicating.

Listening Skills

Listening Skills

So far, we have discussed all the components of sending a message: non-verbal, para-verbal, and verbal. Now, let’s turn the tables and look at how your team can effectively receive messages.

Seven Ways for Your Team to Become Better Listeners

Hearing is easy! For most of us, our body does the work of interpreting the sounds that we hear into words. Listening, however, is far more difficult. Listening is the process of looking at the words and the other factors around the words (such as our non-verbal communication), and then interpreting the entire message.

Here are seven things that your team can do to start becoming better listeners right now.

  1. When they’re listening, they must listen. Not talk on the phone, text message, clean off their desk, or do anything else.
  2. They must avoid interruptions. If they think of something that needs to be done, they can make a mental or written note of it and forget about it until the conversation is over.
  3. They must aim to spend at least 90% of their time listening and less than 10% of their time talking.
  4. When they do talk, they must make sure it’s related to what the other person is saying. They can ask questions to clarify, expand, and probe for more information.
  5. They should not offer advice unless the other person asks them for it. If they are not sure what the other person want, they should ask!
  6. They should make sure the physical environment is conducive to listening. They must try to reduce noise and distractions. If possible, they should be seated comfortably. Be close enough to the other person so that they can hear them, but not too close to make them uncomfortable.
  7. If it is a conversation where they are required to take notes, they must try not to let the note-taking disturb the flow of the conversation. If they need a moment to catch up, they can choose an appropriate moment to ask for a break.

Understanding Active Listening

Although hearing is a passive activity, your team must listen actively to listen effectively, and to actually hear what is being said.

There are three basic steps to active listening.

  1. Try to identify where the other person is coming from. This concept is also called the frame of reference. For example, your reaction to a bear will be very different if you’re viewing it in a zoo, or from your tent at a campsite. Your approach to someone talking about a sick relative will differ depending on their relationship with that person.
  2. Listen to what is being said closely and attentively.
  3. Respond appropriately, either non-verbally (such as a nod to indicate you are listening), with a question (to ask for clarification), or by paraphrasing. Note that paraphrasing does not mean repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. It does mean repeating what you think the speaker said in your own words. Some examples: “It sounds like that made you angry,” or, “It sounds like that cashier wasn’t very nice to you.” (Using the “It sounds like…” precursor, or something similar, gives the speaker the opportunity to correct you if your interpretation is wrong.”

Sending Good Signals to Others

When your team is listening to others speak, there are three kinds of cues that they can give the other person. Using the right kind of cue at the right time is crucial for keeping good communication going.

  • Non-Verbal: As shown in the Mehrabian study, body language plays an important part in our communications with others. Head nods and an interested facial expression will show the speaker that you are listening.
  • Quasi-Verbal: Fillers words like, “uh-huh,” and “mm-hmmm,” show the speaker that you are awake and interested in the conversation.
  • Verbal: Asking open questions using the six roots discussed earlier (who, what, where, when, why, how), paraphrasing, and asking summary questions, are all key tools for active listening.

These cues should be used as part of active listening. Inserting an occasional, “uh-huh,” during a conversation may fool the person that they are communicating with in the short term, but they’re fooling themselves if they feel that this is an effective communication approach.

Asking Good Questions

Asking Good Questions

Good questioning skills are another building block of successful communication in teams. We have already encountered several possible scenarios where questions helped the team gather information, clarify the facts, and communicate with others. We will now look closer at these questioning techniques that your team can use throughout the communication process.

Open Questions

Open questions  get their name because the response is open-ended; the answerer has a wide range of options to choose from when answering it.

Open questions use one of six words as a root:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Open questions are like going fishing with a net – you never know what you’re going to get! Open questions are great conversation starters, fact finders, and communication enhancers. Your team should use them whenever possible.

Closed Questions

Closed questions are the opposite of open questions; their very structure limits the answer to yes or no, or a specific piece of information. Some examples include:

  • Do you like chocolate?
  • Were you born in December?
  • Is it five o’clock yet?

Although closed questions tend to shut down communication, they can be useful if a team member is searching for a particular piece of information, or winding a conversation down.

If they use a closed question and it shuts down the conversation, they can simply use an open-ended question to get things started again. Here is an example:

  • Do you like the Flaming Ducks hockey team?
  • Who is your favorite player?

Probing Questions

In addition to the basic open and closed questions, there is also a toolbox of probing questions that your team can use. These questions can be open or closed, but each type serves a specific purpose.

Clarification

By probing for clarification, they invite the other person to share more information so that they can fully understand their message. Clarification questions often look like this:

  • “Please tell me more about…”
  • “What did you mean by…”
  • “What does … look like?” (Any of the five senses can be used here)

Completeness and Correctness

These types of questions can help your team ensure they have the full, true story. Having all the facts, in turn, can protect them from assuming and jumping to conclusions – two fatal barriers to communication.

Some examples of these questions include:

  • “What else happened after that?”
  • “Did that end the …”

Determining Relevance

This category will help your team members determine how or if a particular point is related to the conversation at hand. It can also help to get the speaker back on track from a tangent.

Some good ways to frame relevance questions are:

  • “How is that like…”
  • “How does that relate to…”

Drilling Down

Your team can use these types of questions to nail down vague statements. Useful helpers include:

  • “Describe…”
  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “Could you please give an example?”

Summarizing

These questions are framed more like a statement. They pull together all the relevant points. They can be used to confirm to the listener that you heard what was said, and to give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.

Example: “So you picked out a dress, had to get it fitted three times, and missed the wedding in the end?”

Team members must be careful  to avoid repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. They should remember that paraphrasing means repeating what they think the speaker said in their own words.

Mastering the Art of Conversation

 

Mastering the Art of Conversation

Engaging in interesting, memorable small talk is a daunting task for most people. How do you know what to share and when to share it? How do you know what topics to avoid? How do you become an engaging converser?

Most experts propose a simple three-level framework that can be used by your team to master the art of conversation.

Level One: Discussing General Topics

At the most basic level, team members should stick to general topics: the weather, sports, non-controversial world events, movies, and books. This is typically what people refer to when they say, “small talk.”

At this stage, team members will focus on facts rather than feelings, ideas, and perspectives. Death, religion, and politics are absolute no-no’s.

If someone shares a fact that a team member feels is not true, they must try to refrain from pointing out the discrepancy. If they are asked about the fact, it’s OK to simply say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or make some other neutral comment.

Right now, the team member is simply getting to know the other party. They should keep an eye out for common ground while they are communicating, and using open-ended questions and listening skills to get as much out of the conversation as possible.

Level Two: Sharing Ideas and Perspectives

If the first level of conversation goes well, the parties should feel comfortable with each other and have identified some common ground. Now it’s time to move a bit beyond general facts and share different ideas and perspectives.

It is important to note that not all personal experiences are appropriate to share at this level. For example, it is fine to share that they like cross-country skiing and went to Europe, but they may not want to share the fact that they took out a personal loan to do so.

Although this level of conversation is the one most often used, and is the most conducive to relationship building and opening communication channels, make sure that team members don’t limit themselves to one person in a large social gathering.

Level Three: Sharing Personal Experiences

This is the most personal level of conversation. This is where everything is on the table and personal details are being shared. This level is typically not appropriate for a social, casual meeting. However, all of the skills that we have learned today are crucial at this stage in particular: when people are talking about matters of the heart, they require our complete attention, excellent listening skills, and skilled probing with appropriate questions.

Our Top Networking Tips

If your team is in the middle of a social gathering, they can try these networking tips to maximize their impact and minimize their nerves.

  • Before the gathering, they can imagine the absolute worst that could happen and how likely it is. For example, a team member may fear that people will laugh at them when they try to join their group or introduce themselves. Is this likely? At most business gatherings, it’s very unlikely!
  • They must remember that everyone is as nervous as they are. They can focus on turning that energy into a positive force.
  • To increase their confidence, they can prepare a great introduction. The best format is to say your name, your organization and/or position title (if appropriate), and something interesting about yourself, or something positive about the gathering. Example: “I’m Tim from Accounting. I think I recognize some of you from the IT conference last month.”
  • Just do it! The longer they think about meeting new people, the harder it will be. They should get out there, introduce themselves, and meet new people.
  • They could act as the host or hostess. By asking others if they need food or drink, they are shifting the attention from themselves to others.
  • They could start a competition with a friend: see how many people, each of you can meet before the gathering is over.
  • They could join a group of odd-numbered people.
  • They must try to mingle as much as possible. When they get comfortable with a group of people, they should move on to a new group.
  • When they hear someone’s name, they should repeat the introduction in their head. Then, when someone new joins the group, they can introduce them to everyone.
  • Mnemonics are a great way to remember names. They must just remember to keep them to themselves! Some examples:
    • Singh likes to sing.
    • Sue sues people for a living.
    • How funny – Amy Pipes is a plumber!

Advanced Communication Skills

Advanced Communication Skills

During this guide, we have learned a lot about communication. We would like to wrap things up with a brief discussion on a few advanced communication topics. Adding these skills to their toolbox and using them regularly will make your team more efficient and effective at communicating.

Understanding Precipitating Factors

For many people, life is like a snowball. On a particularly good day, everything may go your way and make you feel like you’re on top of the world. But on a bad day, unfortunate events can likewise snowball, increasing their negative effect exponentially.

For example, imagine how each of these events would make you feel if they happened to you first thing in the morning.

  • You encounter construction on the way to work.
  • Your alarm clock doesn’t go off and you wake up late.
  • You are out of coffee.
  • The cafeteria line is very long.

Each of those things is potentially responsible for creating a crummy morning. Now, imagine this scenario:

You wake up and realize your alarm clock hasn’t gone off and you’re already late. You get up and go to turn the coffee pot on, but you realize that there is no coffee left in your house. Then, you shower and head out the door – only to encounter construction and massive traffic back-ups on the way to work. Now you’re 15 minutes late instead of five. You get to work and head to the cafeteria for some much-needed coffee, but the line stretches out the door.

With the addition of each event, your morning just gets worse and worse. For most people, this is a recipe for disaster – the first person that crosses them is likely to get an earful!

Successful communicators are excellent at identifying precipitating factors and adjusting their approach before the communication starts, or during it. Understanding the power of precipitating factors can also help de-personalize negative comments. This does not mean that someone having a bad day gets to dump on everyone around them; it does mean, however, that the person being dumped on can take it less personally and help the other person work through their problems.

Establishing Common Ground

Finding common ties can be a powerful communication tool for your team. Think of those times when a stranger turns out not to be a stranger – that the person next to you on the train grew up in the same town that you did, or that the co-worker you never really liked enjoys woodworking as much as you do.

Whenever your team members are communicating with someone, whether it is a basic conversation, a problem-solving session, or a team meeting, they should try to find ways in which they are alike. Focusing on positive connections will help them build stronger relationships and better communication.

Using “I” Messages

Framing their message appropriately can greatly increase the power of your team’s communication.

How would you react to these statements?

  • Your outfit is too casual for this meeting.
  • You mumble all the time.
  • You’re really disorganized.

Most people would feel insulted and criticized by these statements – and rightly so! They are framed in a way that puts blame on the receiver. These statements can even give the impression that the speaker feels superior to the receiver.

Instead of starting a sentence with “you,” your team should try using the “I message” instead for feedback. This format places the responsibility with the speaker, makes a clear statement, and offers constructive feedback.

The format has three basic parts:

  • Objective description of the behavior
  • Effect that the behavior is causing on the speaker
  • The speaker’s feelings

Here is an example: “Sometimes, you speak in a very low voice. I often have difficulty hearing you when you speak at that volume. It often makes me feel frustrated.”

Be careful not to start the sentence with some form of, “When you…” This tends to create feelings of blame and injustice.

 

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Help Your Team Solve Problems Using Critical Thinking

Help your team solve problems using critical thinking.

Access Our Ultimate Guide to Building Better Problem Solving Skills in Your Team

A major function of critical thinking is it gives your team the ability to solve problems. Your team is presented daily with a host of decisions and problems to solve. In this blog, we will learn some steps your team can use for problem solving. Some psychologists define a problem as a gap or barrier between where the team is and where they wish to be.  In other words, a problem is the space between point A and B. Problems then essentially consist of the initial state and a goal state. All possible solution paths leading to the goal state are located in the problem space. Some researchers say that problem solving has three primary stages:

  1. Preparation or familiarization
  2. Production
  3. Judgment and evaluation

Your Team Must Identify Inconsistencies

Much of critical thinking is about how to connect the two points in a problem. However, sometimes critical thinkers are presented with inconsistencies or what scientists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can appear through a discrepancy between attitude and beliefs. Inconsistencies can also be called variances or dissimilarities. It is a natural tendency to want to eliminate inconsistencies when solving a problem. The best way your team can identify inconsistencies is by using their logic and objectivity to see variances. Identifying inconsistencies would fall under the first stage of problem solving in which the team is familiarizing themselves with the subject.

Encourage Your Team to Trust Their Instincts

“Trust your instincts” falls under the second stage of problem solving, and the team should now start to see solution paths. Instincts are defined as a natural intuitive power. Intuition or instincts are key pieces in problem solving. When coupled with trial and error, informed guesses, and brainstorming, intuition and instincts can lead to a highly creative process. Many scientific discoveries and inventions were made because the innovator followed their instincts. Think of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, for instance.

Get Your Team to Ask Why

Asking the right question is important in logical thinking. Asking why is equally important in problem solving. It is not sufficient to be simply presented with the information or data. Your team must always be willing to dig deeper and explore various possibilities. Asking why can fall under any of the three stages of problem solving.

Your Team Needs to Evaluate the Solutions

Once a possible solution has been derived, your team may feel they can proceed with the solution. However, they should not overlook the all-important step of evaluating all possible solutions. Sometimes, one problem has more than one solution and taking the time to evaluate the efficacy of each alternative is a critical thinking skill. Evaluation is also called judgment, and this is the third stage of problem solving. Your team should evaluate each alternative and judge which one is the best. The following steps are an effective evaluation technique:

  1. Make a T-chart to weigh the pros and cons of each possible solution
  2. Develop criteria (or requirements) and assign weights to each criteria
  3. Prioritize the criteria
  4. Rate the proposed solutions using the criteria

Conclusion

To solve problems using critical thinking, your team has to resist the tendency to eliminate inconsistencies. They should also trust their instincts which together with trial and error, informed guesses, and brainstorming and intuition, can lead to a highly creative problem solving process.  Another part of problem solving is asking why, which will help your team to dig deeper and explore various possibilities. Once the possible solutions have been derived, all of the solutions must be evaluated to select the most appropriate one.

TBAE has developed a outcome based problem solving team building event which focuses on discovering and developing your team’s problem solving skills. Click here to find out more about the Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activity.

 

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4 Ways Your Team Benefits From Critical Thinking

4 Ways Your Team Benefits From Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is important. It helps your team make better decisions and to rationally apply information. While there are many benefits of critical thinking, the four we are going to look at are:

  • Being more persuasive
  • Better communication
  • Better problem solving
  • Increased emotional intelligence

Related: Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Being More Persuasive

Persuasiveness is the characteristic of being able to influence others. We normally think of salespersons and politicians when we hear the word persuasiveness. However, all managers or professionals use persuasiveness on a daily basis. Anytime, we want to have others accept our ideas, we do so through the power of persuasion. How will critical thinking make your team members more persuasive? It is because critical thinking is a deliberate or thoughtful process, and the more deliberate they are, the better they will be in expressing their assumptions or ideas and persuading others.

Better Communication

Critical thinking improves communication for some of the same reasons that it improves persuasiveness. Many of the same factors used to improve persuasiveness, will also make the team members better communicators in general. For instance, the use of analogies and metaphors are a great persuasion and general communication technique. In addition to helping the team using language more persuasively; critical thinking also helps them use language with more clarity.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Better Problem Solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are closely related and are almost intertwined. Sometimes we say that to solve logic problems we must use our critical thinking skills. In fact, logic, critical thinking, and problem solving, use some of the same cognitive processes. Critical thinkers use their problem solving skills and not just their intuition to make decisions or draw conclusions.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Increased Emotional Intelligence

What is emotional intelligence and how does critical thinking help your team members increase their emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is identified as the ability to assess and control the emotions of oneself, others, and even groups. Emotional intelligence is being “heart smart” as opposed to “book smart.” Critical thinking helps increase emotional intelligence because one of the characteristics of a critical thinker is self-awareness. Also, critical thinkers know how and when to use their emotions, such as empathy, in making decisions. The more a team member uses his or her critical thinking skills the better adept they should become at identifying, understanding, and managing their emotions. Emotional intelligence in general consists of four abilities:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Conclusion

Critical thinking will help your team be more persuasive because it is a deliberate process, and the more deliberate they are in their thinking, the better your team will be at expressing their ideas and persuading others. Many of the factors in critical thinking that will make your team members more persuasive will also make them better communicators as it will help them use language with more clarity. Critical thinking is intertwined with problem solving as it uses the same cognitive processes. Because self-awareness is one of the characteristics of critical thinkers, critical thinking will also lead to an increase in the emotional intelligence of your team members.

 

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Developing Your Team’s Critical Thinking Capabilities

Developing Your Team’s Critical Thinking Capabilities

In this blog post, we will look at characteristics that will help your team improve their critical thinking capabilities. We will be looking at the following four characteristics:

  • Seeing the big picture
  • Objectivity
  • Using emotions
  • Being self-aware

Related: Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Seeing the Big Picture

One of the main functions of thinking is to make connections. The team’s  ideas gain significance when they can relate or connect them to other ideas. They will start to gain insight when we see the similarities between ideas. The way they structure their ideas can be based on how they connect in one of two ways: causal or conceptual relationships. Since many problems arise due to causal changes, we will focus on this aspect. Steps in discovering causal relations include:

  • Laying out the account
  • Determining a hierarchy
  • Interpreting convergences and divergences
    • Convergences are ideas/things that reinforce, supplement, or complement events
    • Divergences are points that do not reinforce events

Objectivity

Objectivity is defined as “intentness on objects external to the mind.” In critical thinking, you want your team to have a keen sense of objectivity. This is a heuristic or a rule / strategy for problem solving. Objectivity helps your team to engage more thoughtfully and deliberately in the critical thinking process. However, the team members should not completely exclude their emotions or subjective feelings in the decision making or problem solving process. The most important thing to remember is that evaluating information objectively helps the team to be more deliberate or thorough.

Using Their Emotions

As mentioned in the previous section, emotions should not be ignored altogether when thinking critically. Emotions play a crucial role in the thinking process. For instance, professionals need empathy when working with others, regardless of their occupation in order to vicariously experience what others feel, believe, or wish. The issue with emotions and decision making is to not allow emotions to cloud the team’s judgment.

Being Self-Aware

Self-awareness is yet another characteristic of the critical thinking. This characteristic relates to the team acutely being aware of their feelings, opinions, and assumptions. Moreover, it is a starting point for thinking critically. Our assumptions are how the first impressions and strongest emotions are filtered when we evaluate information.

Conclusion

There are many benefits in having your team develop their critical thinking skills. If you want your team to develop their critical thinking abilities, they must develop the ability to see the big picture when they need to make decisions. Encourage them to make connections between ideas so that they can gain insight when they see the similarities between ideas. A keen sense of objectivity is also vital in critical thinking. Although emotions can cloud your team’s judgement they should not be ignored altogether. Finally, your team needs to be aware of their feelings, opinions, and assumptions, as being self-aware is the starting point for critical thinking.

 

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Develop Non-Linear Thinking in Your Team

Develop Non-Linear Thinking in Your Team

The usual way to approach problems that your team may face is in a step-by-step fashion. This is called linear or vertical thinking. However, often we tend to not line up the premises in a normal step-by-step fashion. When your team needs to  approach a problem in a different order, they are using non-linear thinking. Sometimes, non-linear thinking is also called lateral thinking.

Related: Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Encourage Your Team to Step Out of Their Comfort Zone

One of the first steps in developing non-linear thinking in your team is to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. Basically, this concept involves your team seeing information or circumstances from a different perspective. A zone is defined as an area set apart in some way. In critical thinking and problem-solving, your team sometimes have to get out of the areas or zones that make them comfortable and stretch their thinking.

Remind Your Team Not to Jump to Conclusions

An important step in problem solving is for your team to take the time to acquire the necessary information. Often, teams tend to jump to conclusions before they have all of the facts. How can your team use their understanding of logic to gather all the necessary facts? Remember, the premises are the facts or statements that help us come to conclusions.

Related: Changing Your Team’s Perspective

Encourage Your Team to Expect and Initiate Change

“Be the change you wish to see,” is a common slogan on bumper stickers. With so many events happening on an international and national level each day, change is simply a standard course in businesses. We can always expect changes in organizations. Nothing stays the same, and we sometimes are in the position where we the ones initiating the change.

Your Team Must Be Ready to Adapt

The question in today’s culture is not will change occur in an organization, but how well are teams at adapting to change. Team members protect themselves from becoming obsolete by changing. Adaptation is a survival skill of nature. The species which survive in an environment are those that are capable of adapting well.

Conclusion

There are times that linear thinking is simply not sufficient to solve the problem that is facing your team. This is where non-linear thinking comes into play. For your team to be effective in non-linear thinking they will need to step out of their comfort zones and guard against jumping to conclusions. Your team needs to expect and initiate change, always being ready to adapt, if they are going to be effective in non-linear thinking.

If you want to develop non-linear thinking in your team, our problem solving outcome based team building activities are designed to develop non-linear thinking and other problem solving skills.

 

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Connecting with Your Team Through the Art of Conversation

Connecting with Your Team Through the Art of Conversation

Engaging in interesting, memorable small talk is a daunting task for most people. How do you know what to share and when to share it? How do you know what topics to avoid? How do you connect with your team through engaging conversation?

Most experts propose a simple three-level framework that you can use to master the art of conversation. Identifying where you are and where you should be is not always easy, but having an objective outline can help you stay out of sticky situations. We will also share some handy networking tips that will help you get conversations started.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Level One: Discussing General Topics

At the most basic level, stick to general topics: the weather, sports, non-controversial world events, movies, and books. This is typically what people refer to when they say, “small talk.”

At this stage, you will focus on facts rather than feelings, ideas, and perspectives. Death, religion, and politics are absolute no-no’s. (The exception is when you know someone has had an illness or death in the family and wish to express condolences. In this situation, keep your condolences sincere, brief, and to the point.)

If someone shares a fact that you feel is not true, try to refrain from pointing out the discrepancy. If you are asked about the fact, it’s OK simply to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or make some other neutral comment.

Right now, you are simply getting to know the team members. Keep an eye out for common ground while you are communicating. Use open-ended questions and listening skills to get as much out of the conversation as possible.

Level Two: Sharing Ideas and Perspectives

If the first level of conversation goes well, the team should feel comfortable with each other and have identified some common ground. Now it’s time to move a bit beyond general facts and share different ideas and perspectives.

It is important to note that not all personal experiences are appropriate to share at this level. For example, it is fine to share that you like cross-country skiing and went to Europe, but you may not want to share the fact that you took out a personal loan to do so.

Although this level of conversation is the one most often used, and is the most conducive to relationship building and opening communication channels, make sure that you don’t limit yourself to one person in the team.

Level Three: Sharing Personal Experiences

This is the most personal level of conversation. This is where everything is on the table and personal details are being shared. This level is typically not appropriate for a social, casual meeting. However, all of the conversational skills are crucial at this stage in particular: when team members are talking about matters of the heart, they require our complete attention, excellent listening skills, and skilled probing with appropriate questions.

Our Top Networking Tips

Understanding how to converse and how to make small talk are great skills, but how do you get to that point? The answer is simple, but far from easy: you walk up, shake their hand, and say hello!

If you’re in the middle of a social gathering, try these networking tips to maximize your impact and minimize your nerves.

  • Before the gathering, imagine the absolute worst that could happen and how likely it is. For example, you may fear that people will laugh at you when you try to join their group or introduce yourself. Is this likely? At most business gatherings, it’s very unlikely!
  • Remember that everyone is as nervous as you are. Focus on turning that energy into a positive force.
  • To increase your confidence, prepare a great introduction. The best format is to say your name, your organization and/or position title (if appropriate), and something interesting about yourself, or something positive about the gathering. Example: “I’m Tim from Accounting. I think I recognize some of you from the IT conference last month.”
  • Just do it! The longer you think about meeting new people, the harder it will be. Get out there, introduce yourself, and meet new people.
  • Act as the host or hostess. By asking others if they need food or drink, you are shifting the attention from you to them.
  • Start a competition with a friend: see how many people, each of you can meet before the gathering is over. Make sure your meetings are worthwhile!
  • Join a group of odd-numbered people.
  • Try to mingle as much as possible. When you get comfortable with a group of people, move on to a new group.
  • When you hear someone’s name, repeat the introduction in your head. Then, when someone new joins the group, introduce them to everyone.
  • Mnemonics are a great way to remember names. Just remember to keep them to yourself! Some examples:
    • Singh likes to sing.
    • Sue sues people for a living.
    • How funny – Amy Pipes is a plumber!

Conclusion

Engaging conversation is an effective way to connect with your team and staying within the three-level framework will help you master the art of conversation. Our team building activities offer the ideal opportunity for conversing and connecting with your team in a new and more relaxing environment.

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Developing Options for Reaching Team Goals

Developing Options to Reach Team Goals

In today’s blog post, we explore options that will enable your team to move towards the goal that was set before them. This is a pivotal step in the coaching process. If done correctly, you will engage your team and create a desire for them to improve. If done incorrectly, your team will disengage and they probably will fail again. It is the coach or team leaders’ job to create this participative environment. Let us look and see how.

Related: Goal Setting Outcome Based Team Building Activities 

Identifying Paths to Reaching Team Goals

Many times, we feel that we have to outline the specific actions that the team has to take in order to reach the stated goal. While this may make you feel better, the likely hood of this action becoming meaningful to your team is close to nil. There is usually very little wiggle room when it comes to a performance goal. It is the plain, unchangeable business reality. Next, we established the current state of affairs with respect to your team’s performance. This historical and factual reality is also unchangeable.

Now, let us take it from the team’s perspective. How in control do they feel? Would they shut down if we, as their coach or team leader, solely determine the action steps they are going to take? They might. It is imperative to keep the team engaged. If not, the rest of the coaching session is just a one-way discussion, leaving your team feeling powerless in their own development.

When you allow your team to participate in the development of their options, you get B.I.G. results. B.I.G. results stand for the following benefits:

  • Buy-in by your team, because the options developed was a collaborative effort
  • Innovation, because more creativity is possible when more people work at it
  • Growth, because the options developed will have more meaning and lasting commitment

Choosing Your Final Approach to Reaching Team Goals

Deciding on which option to implement could be frustrating. The best thing to do is to implement a consistent method of determining the best possible option. The APAC section of the B.I.G. Template is designed to help you come to a quick decision on which option to implement. Here is how it works.

After you have brainstormed your options with your team, assess the pros of each option. Determine the benefits and possible rewards to select that option. Write those benefits in the template. Next, assess the cons for each option. Here are some things to consider:

  • Resources needed
  • Cost
  • Time
  • Return on investment
  • Disruption of the business

All of these factors could rule out an option. Once you identify the cons place those in the corresponding area on the template. Next, determine the top five options that are feasible to implement. Use a rating scale from 1-5 and place that in the rating column. Now, you are ready to rate the relevancy of the options identified as feasible. Rate the relevancy of the options with the goal. Here are some things to consider when rating this category:

  • Does this option build new supporting skills?
  • Does this option meet the time requirement of the goal?
  • Is this option measurable?

Once you determine the relevancy, you are able to multiply the feasibility rating with the relevancy rating. The highest number is possibly your best option. Remember to gain consensus from your team on this option.

Structuring a Plan to Reach Team Goals

Since you have your team’s attention, it is best to begin the planning process. Structuring a plan as soon as possible sends the message to your team that you mean business when it comes to implementing the option. For example: your SMART goal may be to increase the sales attempt rate from five percent to seven in 30 days. Next, you and your team may have agreed to focus on asking open-ended questions during a sales call as their option, giving them more information to help them attempt better. When are they going to start asking those questions? How many are they going to ask? These are action items you want document in a preliminary plan.

The 3T questioning technique helps you document three major milestones. Basically, you ask, “What are you going to do:

  • Tomorrow?
  • Two weeks from today?
  • Thirty days from today?

You may need to guide your team when answering the first question. Remember, the more time you let pass from the time you catch them and the time you implement your first action step, you could be losing precious information discussed in your coaching session.  Once you get to this point, you are ready to begin drafting your final plan.

 

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How to Lead Your Team Through Change

How to Lead Your Team Through Change

Every change in the team begins with a leadership decision. Making the decision to institute changes is not always easy. Being prepared, planning well, and being surrounded by a good team will make that decision a lot easier.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Preparing and Planning for Change in Your Team

Begin by putting yourself in a positive frame of mind. You are likely to experience higher than normal levels of stress and knowing this beforehand will give you the ability to be prepared mentally and you will be the anchor person and the foundation, and with your steady hand will guide your team through the stressful events. Be a reassuring and active force throughout the whole process.

It is impossible to prepare for every contingency, but planning for the known is a must. Add time or extra room in the schedule for the unknowns.When you encounter an unexpected event, your schedule should not off by much if you have built in some leeway. It will provide that buffer that gives you and your team the ability to deal with the unknowns and keep rolling with the change process.

Delegating to Other Team Members

Surround yourself with people in the team that you can delegate to and be confident in their abilities and skills. Be precise and specific with your directions as when the change process begins you will be depending on these individuals and their talents. Communicating and providing feedback are the keys to successful delegation; make sure your team understands this. If communication fails or there is not accurate feedback the chances of a success are lessened.

An issue that sometimes arises when delegating is micro-managing. Keep an eye out to not micro-manage as you can quicklylose track of events and it will take time away from your main duties. Delegating is a skill that takes time as you must first learn the strengths and weakness of your team and know what tasks you can and cannot hand out. It may not be possible to always delegate, but when it can, it will provide a great resource.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open in the Team

Always be available during the change process. Before the change prepare your friends and family that you may not be available for social events. Reassure your team that you are there for them and you are here to provide them with the necessary resources to lead them through the change. Stress to them that you are available and focused on keeping the communications lines open.

Always be aware of rumors, they will happen before, during and after the change. Do not ignore any rumor, put out honest and clear communication as soon as possible. Reassure your team that if they hear a rumor to seek out more information from a reliable source. Remind them that spreading rumors helps no one and will cause more harm than good.

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Coping with Push-back from the Team

Not everyone in the team will agree on the change. Keep in mind that these types of feelings are normal as people generally do not enjoy change and are sometimes made nervous by it. You will likely encounter push-back and resistance by some team members.

Provide facts and data to show why the change is happening and reassure them the need and benefits of the change. These types of individuals are best suited to be educated bout the change with information. If you are encountering an extreme case of push-back in your team, provide them with some choices that still fall within the spectrum of the intended change. They should then feel more involved in the process and it will help alleviate the negative mindset they may be experiencing.

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Ethical Decision Making for Teams

Ethical Decision Making for Teams

A team should always attempt to make ethical decisions. It is possible, however, for two ethical team members to make different decisions in a situation. It is important that your team understand ethical dilemmas and the ethical decision-making process.

The Basics of Ethical Decision Making

Your team members will typically use five different ethical standards to interpret the world around them. For the best results, put the different approaches together and choose the answers that best fit.

Ethical Standards

  • Utilitarian approach: This approach focuses on the consequences of actions. The goal is to do more good than harm in a situation.
  • Rights approach: Focusing on the rights of all involved defines this approach. It makes respecting the rights of others a moral obligation.
  • Fairness approach: Fairness expects people to be treated equally. A fairly based standard is used to determine actions that are unequal such as pay rate.
  • Common Good approach: The conditions that affect all people are considered in the common good approach. Systems and laws are created to ensure the welfare of everyone.
  • Virtue approach: This approach uses virtues such as honesty, compassion, love, patience, and courage to guide behavior.

Related: Decision Making Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Balancing Personal and Organizational Ethics

It is important to be ethical on a personal and organizational level. Personal ethics influence decision both inside and outside of work. These are based on personal beliefs and values. Organizational ethics determine workplace decisions. Team leaders and team members, both face organizational ethics, and the company should have ethical standards in place.

Organizational ethics flow from the top down. Those in leadership need to promote ethical decisions by their example. Occasionally, personal and professional ethics will collide. In the event of an ethical dilemma, it is important to choose based on what is most important and what will do the most good for the parties involved.

Common Ethic Dilemmas in Teams

There are many different ethical dilemmas in teams that are specific to industries. There are, however, common dilemmas that every organization will face.

  • Honest accounting practices
  • Responsibility for mistakes such as accidents, spills, and faulty product
  • Advertising that is honest and not misleading
  • Collusion with competitors
  • Labor issues
  • Bribes and corporate espionage

Law governs many of these dilemmas, but an ethical organization will make the right decision regardless of legal issues. Because these issues are so common, it is important to create ethical standards and train team members to behave accordingly.

Making Ethical Decisions

Before making any final decisions, the team should use the following steps to make sure that they are making ethical decisions.

  • Determine the ethics of a situation: Does the decision affect a group or have legal ramifications?
  • Gather Information: Learn as much as possible about the situation, and get the point of view from all parties involved.
  • Evaluate Actions: Make different decisions based on the different ethical standards.
  • Test Decisions: Would they be proud of this decision if it were advertised?
  • Implement: Implement the decision, and evaluate the results.

Overcoming Obstacles

There will always be temptation to act unethically. These obstacles are particularly difficult to overcome when other people are encouraging a team member to behave unethically. They may be in positions of authority or simply intimidating, but they do not have to give into them.

Overcome Obstacles:

  • Sympathize: Do not attack unethical people. Sympathize with their situation, but refuse to compromise the team’s standards.
  • Make them responsible: Do not quibble. Directly ask people if they want you to do something illegal or unethical. This removes their plausible deniability.
  • Reason: Provide them with logical reasons for your refusal to compromise your integrity.
  • Stay firm: Make a decision and stick to it. Do not let people wear you down.
  • Take precautions: Keep a paper trail of your encounters, and be prepared to defend yourself.

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