Tag: Problem Solving

Recognizing Learning Events as a Team

Recognizing Learning Events as a Team

Every day is an opportunity to learn something new as  a team. Successful teams are able to recognize learning events and take advantage of these opportunities. To be successful, a team must always be learning. As the team gathers knowledge, they will find themselves learning from their mistakes and improving their decision making process. The ability to recognize learning events will benefit the team as well as the organization.

Develop a Sense of Always Learning

Every encounter offers a learning experience for the team. The key to recognizing learning events is for the team to develop a sense of always learning. Identifying the eight different ways that we learn, will ensure that you do not overlook learning opportunities.

  1. Imitation: We learn from observing and imitating others, such as instructors or respected mentors.
  2. Reception/Transmission: Reception is the experience that requires you receive a transmitted message. It may be written or verbal, and it can include values as well as academic understanding.
  3. Exercise: Actions and practice create learning experiences. These can occur in any action that you practice such as writing, meditation, or computer programs.
  4. Exploration: Searching for answers or discovering information requires individual initiative. This comes from websites, interviews, books, etc.
  5. Experiment: Experimenting or assessing the success of a project shows different possible outcomes and influences problem solving.
  6. Creation: The creative process is also a learning process. These can be individual or team projects. The process ranges from painting to developing a new survey.
  7. Reflection: Analysis before, during, or after an action is a learning opportunity. This can be done on a personal level or with the help of friends and colleagues.
  8. Debate: Interactions with others cause us to defend or modify our perspectives. These are potential learning experiences.

Evaluate Past Decisions

Our past decisions often guide our current actions. Both successful and unsuccessful decisions need to be evaluated in order to identify errors in judgment as well as effective thought processes. The team should ask themselves a few questions after each decision, and learn from their mistakes and achievements.

Questions:

  • What was the outcome?
  • Did the outcome meet expectations?
  • Would they repeat the same decision?
  • What information or advice can they take away from this decision?

When the team takes the time to learn from all of their decisions, even the ineffective choices will bring them success.

Related: Decision Making Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Problems Are Learning Opportunities

People prefer to avoid problems or mistakes. However, problems are not always avoidable. When problems arise, you have a chance to learn from them and turn them into opportunities. The first step to learning from problems is to correctly identify the problem. For example, a shortage in cash flow may be caused by loss of sales or unexpected expenses.

Once the problem is identified, consider different solutions or opportunities. For example, a change in the market may provide you with an opportunity to introduce a new product you have been considering. If the problem is familiar, what were your past solutions? For example, did a price reduction help increase sales and improve cash flow? Once you consider the different opportunities associated with your problem, you must make a decision. If you make a mistake, embrace it. If you face the same problem again, you will know what to avoid.

Recognize The Blind Spots

Everyone has  blind spots in their lives, and they can easily transfer to the team’s success. Blind spots are parts of our personalities that are hidden to us. They may be deep-seated fears, annoying habits, or judgmental attitudes. Allowing blind spots to persist will cost the team in innovative ideas. Blind spots will also permit ineffective activities to continue. Recognizing your blind spots is not difficult, but it does require the courage to make necessary changes.

  • Request Feedback: Ask trusted friends and fellow team members for honest assessments.
  • Reflect: Take the time to reflect on your decisions, thought processes, and actions. If you are honest with yourself. You will identify blind spots.
  • Study: Use books, courses, etc. to help you become more in tune with your views and potential blind spots. Figure out what you don’t know and strive to learn.

Build Your Team by Creating a Positive Core

If you want your team to be positive and confident, then you have to create it within yourself first. This can mean first focusing on yourself and your positive core and then creating a positive core among your team members. Building a strong core in yourself ensures that you can have the confidence you need to complete any job. Having a strong, positive core among the team ensures that team members can work together and still maintain their own confidence. A strong core can stick together despite rough problems that may arise.

Strengths

Identifying your team’s strengths can give them an instant confidence boost because it reminds them of things they can do that are really great. But sometimes when they don’t notice their strengths right away, they assume that they don’t have any, or worse, downplay the ones they do have. A common exercise to help them find their strengths includes making a list of everything that they are good at. Let them review this list several times and remind them of a time when they had to use each attribute. Let the team keep this list nearby to always remind themselves of them and remain confident.

Tips for finding strengths:

  • Analyze how the team handle situations
  • Determine what their desires are and how they go after them
  • Examine the ways you solve problems

Best Practices

Sometime the term ‘best practices’ can seem confusing if we don’t attach them to anything. In Appreciative Inquiry, best practices refer to the practices that work best for your team and what work best for the organisation. What practices make the team members more confident and positive? What practices make them feel successful when they finish them? What practices improve team morale and progress? Remember that these practices can be individualized to each team member, so what works for one person may not work for another.

Tips:

  • What practices make the team feel as though they have accomplished something?
  • What practices boost team confidence?
  • What practices make the team feel positive about the end result?

Peak Experiences

Peak experiences are commonly defined as moments in which the team feel the highest levels of happiness and possibility. They can happen in everyday situations or during extreme events. They can happen when the team accomplishes a new goal or finish a long project. The key is to remember how they made us feel and made us feel positive and confident. While they are not necessarily an ‘ah-ha’ moment in our lives, peak experiences can help the team notice key moments and how they felt when they experienced them. Keeping these memories with them at all times will ensure that the team can always receive a lift of positivity when they need it.

Successes

Sometimes personal modesty can keep team members from seeing their own successes, which can keep them from feeling fully confident or self-assured. Our past successes are often viewed as our roots, or the areas that be started from and built upon to progress forward. We often forget to use these successes to remind us what it took to get us to our personal level of achievements. But when we relive these successes, it can remind us that we can overcome almost anything and can feel ultimately better about ourselves. When we feel more confident in ourselves and our success, it can reduce our stress and serves as an anchor for positivity.

Remembering successes:

  • Keep a visual reminder, such as a trophy or chart.
  • Review these successes in your head constantly
  • Talk about successes with friends and learn from each other

Coaching and Managing Teams With Appreciative Inquiry

Coaching and Managing Teams With Appreciative Inquiry

Managing a team can be a difficult task by itself, much less trying to coach them in the right direction. Sometimes our good intentions can come across as critical, negative, or just plain mean. But when we use Appreciative Inquiry along with other coaching or management strategies, we can help our team find solutions to their problems while also making them more positive and confident in themselves.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Build Around What Works

When we examine how our business is run, we notice what functions and works for everyone, and what doesn’t. The key to a well-managed team is building around what works and encouraging growth with it. As managers or team leaders we can try to change things that derail our team from what they usually do. While this is normally done with good intentions, it can often lead to a kink in the company plan and actually have the opposite effect of what we were hoping for. Notice what is working for the team now and how well they function. If changes are needed (or attempted), try to incorporate the current structure while leading the team in the new direction.

Like the old saying goes: “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Focus on Increases

As a team leader, we often look at our task list in a negative way. One of the first things we try to accomplish is to decrease certain areas, such as mistakes, tardiness, and complaints. But focusing on what we want to decrease normally includes negative attributes of the job. If we focus on these things for too long, we can drive ourselves to negativity very quickly.

Instead, focus on what aspects can be increased. By focusing on what can be increased, we are focusing on the positive attributes of the job, such as more sales, more goals, and more customer and employee satisfaction. If we approached a team member with the same problem, which route of improvement would they feel more confident taking – decreasing their typing mistakes or increasing their typing ability?

Encourage increases in different areas:

  • Sales
  • Moral
  • Productivity
  • Confidence

Recognize the Best in People

Another aspect of being positive is being able to see the best in people instead of being critical. Of course, no one is perfect and everyone has some kind of fault, but that does mean we have to define them by it. When we recognize the best in people, not only do we benefit from knowing what great attributes they can contribute, but it makes the team members feel more confident about themselves and their job skills.

When they feel better about themselves, they want to do better at their jobs and will work harder to make progress and get the job done. Don’t be afraid to compliment team members on their job skills and what they have accomplished. When you find yourself focusing on what they have done wrong, refer to your mental list of all of their good qualities and determine which list overpowers the other.

Limit or Remove Negative Comments

Using negative terms and phrases is one of the leading causes of poor performance and low team morale. These harsh words can damage any relationship and can often bring out a sense of defensiveness when approached. When you find yourself wanting to use negative phrases, either with yourself or a team member, stop and think of the words you’re using. Then rethink the sentence by removing negative comments and replacing them with a positive one. You’ll find that you can still get your point across without making the team feel as though they are being attacked.

Remove comments such as:

  • “It’s too hard.”
  • “I’ll/You’ll never finish this.”
  • “It’s too late to change now.”

Use The Power of Positive Imagery to Build Your Team

Use The Power of Positive Imagery to Build Your Team

Imagery can be seen in a variety of ways. It helps a team to create a full picture of an idea or situation based on details and facts that they are presented with. Positive imagery is a key tool in helping a team remain positive and have an upbeat look on any problem. The key is to find what imagery works for your team and using it to help them accomplish their goals and ambitions.

Shaping Team Performance with Positive Imagery

Positive imagery can often serve as not only a reminder of good work, but it can also serve as a reward for the team. You should be seeing an increase in performance and productivity through the use of positive imagery. Some physical forms of positive imagery include a shiny trophy after a race or a chart of how many products were sold last month. But the team can also have positive mental imagery that can help them along the way when they cannot see the physical rewards.

A team’s performance is based upon the kind of outcome they want, and if you can reinforce what they want with positive imagery, then they will not be afraid to go after it. Maybe it’s the image of having happy coworkers when they complete a project or the image of an empty desk at the end of the week. Remind your team of these positive images to keep them focused on the task at hand and doing their best to get it done.

Make Your Team Better Prepared for Adversity

Being positive does not mean that your team is oblivious to the outside world and the things that can go wrong in it. But, being positive does mean that your team can be prepared for the worst but keep a positive outlook for everything else. Being prepared for adversity simply means that the team does not lie to themselves about what can happen and that they see the situation for what it is. They know that things can be different and will change, but they don’t let it damper their outlook. When the team is better prepared, they have the knowledge to know that they may not be able to change the world and the problems that arise in it, but they can change their own life and have the choice to remain positive while dealing with any negative situation.

The Team Becomes More Flexible and Creative

When a problem is presented before the team, chances are, they cannot change what has already happened or the effect of the problem on everyone else. But as a team they are more flexible and creative and have the ability to manipulate how they view a problem and how to solve it. Realize that they have options and that they can control how they react to something. They should not look at the problem as though it only has a black or white solution and remember that there is a gray area too and they will find the best way for them to handle it.

Remember:

  •  You can change even if the problem can’t.
  •  You can control only you.
  •  There is more than one correct way to do things.     

Help Your Team Think of the Perfect Situation

When we see something as perfect, we generally see something that is free of flaws and makes us happy. Sometimes when the team faces a large group of problems, they have trouble deciding what to start on first. When this happens, a helpful exercise is for them to think about the perfect situation. When they do, what is the first problem they notice is missing? Not only does it help them determine which problem they should tackle first, but it lets them have an image of a perfect situation without the problem, so they know it is not impossible! Visualizing the perfect situation can propel the team in the direction needed to remedy almost any situation.

What is a perfect situation?

  • What makes the situation perfect?
  • What problem(s) instantly go away?
  • Can you do it on your own? Will you need help?

Working on Problems in Your Team

Working on Problems in Your Team

The escalation of anger in ‘hot’ situations in the team can be easily prevented, if a system for discussing contentious issues is in place. In this blog post, we will discuss how to work effectively on the problem. Specifically, we will tackle constructive disagreement, negotiation tips, building a consensus and identifying solutions.

Using Constructive Disagreement

There is nothing wrong with disagreement. No two people are completely similar, therefore it’s inevitable that they would disagree on at least one issue. There’s also nothing wrong in having a position and defending it.

To make the most of a disagreement, you have to keep it constructive. The following are some of the elements of a constructive disagreement:

Solution-focus. The disagreement aims to find a workable compromise at the end of the discussion.

Mutual Respect. Even if the two parties do not agree with one another, courtesy is always a priority.

Win-Win Solution. Constructive disagreement is not geared towards getting the “one-up” on the other person. The premium is always on finding a solution that has benefits for both parties.

Reasonable Concessions. More often than not, a win-win solution means you won’t get your way completely. Some degree of sacrifice is necessary to meet the other person halfway. In constructive disagreement, parties are open to making reasonable concessions for the negotiation to move forward.

Learning-Focus. Parties in constructive disagreement see conflicts as opportunities to get feedback on how well a system works, so that necessary changes can be made. They also see it as a challenge to be flexible and creative in coming up with solutions for everyone’s gain.

Negotiation Tips

Negotiations are sometimes a necessary part of arriving at a solution. When two parties are in a disagreement, there has to be a process that would surface areas of bargaining. When a team member is given the opportunity to present his side and argue for his or her interests, anger is less likely to escalate.

The following are some tips on negotiation during a conflict:

Context is an important element in the negotiation process. The location of the meeting, the physical arrangement of room, as well as the time the meeting is held can positively or negatively influence the participants’ ability to listen and discern. For example, negotiations held in a noisy auditorium immediately after a stressful day can make participants irritable and less likely to compromise.

Before entering a negotiating table, do your research. Stack up on facts to back up your position, and anticipate the other party’s position. Having the right information can make the negotiation process run faster and more efficiently.

Make sure that you state your needs and interests in a way that is not open to misinterpretation. Speak in a calm and controlled manner. Present arguments without personalization. Remember, your position can only be appreciated if it’s perceived accurately.

It’s important that you pay attention not just to the words you and the other party are saying, but also the manner the discussion is running. For example, was everyone able to speak their position adequately, or is there an individual who dominates the conversation? Are there implicit or explicit coercions happening? Does the other person’s non-verbal behavior show openness and objectivity? All these things influence result, and you want to make sure that you have the most productive negotiation process that you can.

Lastly, enter a negotiation situation with an open mind. Be willing to listen and carefully consider what the other person has to say. Anticipate the possibility that you may have to change your beliefs and assumptions. Make concessions.

Building Consensus

Consensus means unanimous agreement on an area of contention. Arriving at a consensus is the ideal resolution of bargaining. If both parties can find a solution that is agreeable to both of them, then anger can be prevented or reduced.

The following are some tips on how to arrive at a consensus:

  • Focus on interests rather than positions.

Surface the underlying value that makes people take the position they do. For example, the interest behind a request for a salary increase may be financial security. If you can communicate to the other party that you acknowledge this need, and will only offer a position that takes financial security into consideration, then a consensus is more likely to happen.

  • Explore options together.

Consensus is more likely if both parties are actively involved in the solution-making process. This ensures that there is increased communication about each party’s position. It also ensures that resistances are addressed.

  • Increase sameness/ reduce differentiation.

A consensus is more likely if you can emphasize all the things that you and the other party have in common, and minimize all the things that make you different. An increased empathy can make finding common interests easier. It may also reduce psychological barriers to compromise. An example of increasing sameness/ reducing differences is an employer and employee temporary setting aside their position disparity and looking at the problem as two stakeholders in the same organization.

Identifying Solutions

Working on a problem involves the process of coming up with possible solutions. The following are some ways two team members in disagreement can identify solutions to their problem.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Brainstorm. Brainstorming is the process of coming up with as many ideas as you can in the shortest time possible. It makes use of the diversity of personalities in a team, so that one can come up with the widest range of fresh ideas. Quantity of ideas is more important than quality of ideas in the initial stage of brainstorming; you can filter out the bad ones later on with an in-depth review of their pros and cons.

Hypothesize. Hypothesizing means coming up with ‘what if’ scenarios based on intelligent guesses. A solution can be made from imagining alternative set-ups, and studying these alternative set-ups against facts and known data.

Adopt a Model. You may also look for a solution in the past. If a solution has worked before, perhaps it may work again. Find similar problems and study how it was handled. You don’t have to follow a model to the letter; you are always free to tweak it to fit the nuances of the current problem. 

Invent Options. If there has been no precedence for a problem, it’s time to exercise one’s creativity and think of new options. A way to go about this is to list down each party’s interests and come up with proposed solutions that have benefits for each party.

Survey. If the two parties can’t come up with a solution between the two of them, maybe it’s time to seek other people’s point of view. Survey people with interest or background in the issue in contention. Find an expert is possible. Just remember though, at the end of the day the decision is still yours. Identify a solution based on facts, not on someone’s opinion.

 

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Resolving Conflict in Your Team

Resolving Conflict in Your Team

Team leaders are often called in to help mediate conflicts within their team, or sometimes within other teams. Although many people dislike dealing with conflict, when it is managed properly, it can be a positive thing. With the proper tools, people are able to air their ideas and their issues, share information in a constructive manner, and work towards resolving their differences. All of this should result in a more productive, respectful, open workplace.

Related: Leadership Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Using a Conflict Resolution Process

Having a pre-defined conflict resolution process is a valuable tool. This process will give any team leader an objective, neutral way to identify, explore, and resolve conflicts. We recommend using the OPEN technique.

On The Table – Identify positions, perceptions, interests, needs, concerns, goals, motivations
Put the Problem into Focus – What is the problem? What is not the problem? Make sure you identify the real root cause. Problems are often not what they seem!
Explore Your Options – Brainstorm Solutions. The objective here is quantity, not quality. Once you have some solutions, evaluate and come up with a short list.
Negotiate a Solution – Always aim for win-win.

After a solution has been negotiated, make sure to follow up and make sure that the conflict has indeed been resolved and that the proposed solution is working. If it is not working, it’s time to go back to the drawing board, perhaps with input from others (if appropriate).

Related: 5 Styles of Resolving Conflicts While Building a Team

Maintaining Fairness

During the conflict resolution process, it is very important that you remain objective and neutral to ensure that the process is fair to all. Key behaviors include:

  • Never taking sides, even if asked
  • Asking for, and encouraging, a response from all comments
  • Remaining objective and neutral, and avoiding subjective comments
  • Offering factual observations to both sides to help root out the key issues
  • Encouraging win-win solutions
  • Ensuring a balance of power is maintained, so that one side does not feel bullied or neglected

Seeking Help from Within the Team

At times, it may be appropriate to involve the entire team in conflict resolution. This often occurs when:

  • There is a conflict between all members of the team
  • There is a conflict between a few team members that is affecting the entire team

In these situations, it is important to have a face-to-face meeting of the entire team. Write the OPEN process on the flip chart. The team’s input should be greatest in the first three phases. In the negotiation phase, you (as the team leader) should ensure that the proposed solution will not negatively affect others or cause more conflict.

Seeking Help from Outside the Team

If the people in conflict are unable to resolve the problem with your assistance, and team assistance has not worked or is not appropriate, then it may be time to seek help from outside sources. This approach can also be used when you have a conflict of interest in the issue at hand.

Outside sources can include:

  • Other leaders
  • Mediators
  • Human resources personnel

No one with authority over the team (such as your manager) should be considered, as they may intimidate the people in conflict and take focus away from conflict resolution.

 

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Help Your Team Select a Solution

Help Your Team Select a Solution

“After every storm the sun will smile; for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.” – William R. Alger

After your team generated solutions for the problem, the next step is to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. The team has to do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This blog 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.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Doing a Final Analysis

For each potential solution, the team must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. They need to consider the compatibility with the priorities and values of the team. Consider how much risk the solution involves. Finally, the team must consider the practicality of the solution. The team may find it 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 their short list 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

The team must think forward to the solution implementation. They need to 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?

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 by the team 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.

 

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Analyzing Your Team’s Problem Solving Solutions

Analyzing Your Team’s Problem Solving Solutions

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 blog helps you consider the criteria or goals for solving the problem, as well as distinguishing between wants and needs. This module also introduces the cost/benefit analysis as a method of analyzing solutions to the problems your team has to solve.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Developing Criteria

Return to the information the team generated when they defined the problem. 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, 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 of the problem resolution.
  • Think about what the team wants 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 team’s 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 for 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?

It is important to think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use your 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, the team needs to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information in order to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, in order 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, the team 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 for the team 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 feed stock 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 actually 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.

 

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Preparing the Way for Creative Problem Solving

Preparing the way for the creative problem solving process.

“Creating something is all about problem-solving.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman

This blog introduces common mental blocks to productive team brainstorming sessions, 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 arrive at a solution to 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, you must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

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 team 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 exists.
  • 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

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, the team lists 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, 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 the team to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that 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 the team’s creativity.

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. We just need 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 you 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.
  • 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.

Related: Creative Thinking Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Once you get your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas everyday:

  • 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.

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To Solve The Problem First Define The Problem

To Solve The Problem First Define The Problem

“There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” – Bernard Williams

One of the most important parts of the creative problem solving process is to identify the problem. In this blog we will explore why your team needs to clearly define the problem before they can solve it. We will also introduce several tools to use when defining a problem and writing a problem statement.

Related: Problem Solving Outcome Based Team Building Activities

Defining the Problem

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

It is important to take care in defining the problem. The way that your team defines the problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways. The team must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process in order to achieve a successful solution. The team 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, it is important to identify the underlying problem in order 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

The 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. The team should 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

Defining the Present State and the Desired State

When using this tool, your team will write a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then they will 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 should then 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 help evolve the understanding of the problem. First the team writes a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then they use various triggers to help identify the true problem. The triggers are:

  • Place emphasis on 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

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. Remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement

Writing an accurate problem statement can help 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.

 

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