Solving Problems as a Team
ACCESS OUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TEAM BUILDING AND TEAMWORK
One of the most common objectives of a team is to solve a certain problem. It is usually why a team is created. Team members bring a diverse set of skills to the team and this provides a great scenario and the best chance in finding a solution. Because the team is comprised of individuals that bring a unique skill set, it provides the team with a “the whole is greater than its parts” setup which is a valuable tool.
The Six Thinking Hats
In 1999, Dr. Edward de Bono published a book entitled Six Thinking Hats. He theorizes that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways -- or states -- which can be identified, deliberately accessed, and therefore planned for use in a structured way, allowing team members to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues.
Six Thinking Hats is a powerful technique that helps teams look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It helps them make better decisions by pushing members to move outside their habitual ways of thinking. It helps them understand the full complexity of a decision, and identify issues and opportunities which they might not otherwise notice.
In order to make it easier to clearly identify and work with these states, colored hats are used as metaphors for them. The act of putting on a colored hat allows individuals to symbolically think in terms of the state, either actually or imaginatively.
White Hat: Neutrality: Participants make statements of fact, including identifying information that is absent -- and presenting the views of people who are not present -- in a factual manner.
Red Hat: Feeling: Participants state their feelings, exercising their gut instincts. In many cases this is a method for harvesting ideas; it is not a question of recording statements, but rather getting everyone to identify their top two or three choices from a list of ideas or items identified under another hat. This is done to help reducing lists of many options into a few to focus on by allowing each participant to vote for the ones they prefer. It is applied more quickly than the other hats to ensure it is a gut reaction feeling that is recorded. This method can use post-it notes to allow a quick system of voting, and creates a clear visual cue that creates rapid if incomplete agreement around an issue.
Alternatively, it may be used to state ones gut reaction or feelings on an issue under discussion - this is more common when using the hats to review personal progress or deal with issues where there is high emotional content that is relevant to the discussion. Finally, this hat can be used to request an aesthetic response to a particular design or object.
Black Hat: Negative Judgment: Participants identify barriers, hazards, risks, and other negative connotations. This is critical thinking, looking for problems and mismatches. This hat is usually natural for people to use, the issues with it are that people will tend to use it when it is not requested and when it is not appropriate, thus stopping the flow of others. Preventing inappropriate use of the black hat is a common obstacle and vital step to effective group thinking. Another difficulty faced is that some people will naturally start to look for the solutions to raised problems - they start practicing green on black thinking before it is requested.
Yellow hat – Positive Judgment: Participants identify the benefits associated with an idea or issue. This is the opposite of black hat thinking and looks for the reasons in favor of something. This is still a matter of judgment; it is an analytical process, not just blind optimism. One is looking to create justified statements in favor. It is encapsulated in the idea of "undecided positive" (whereas the black hat would be skeptical - undecided negative). The outputs may be statements of the benefits that could be created with a given idea, or positive statements about the likelihood of achieving it or identifying the key supports available that will benefit this course of action
Green Hat: Creative Thinking: This is the hat of thinking new thoughts. It is based around the idea of provocation and thinking for the sake of identifying new possibilities. Things are said for the sake of seeing what they might mean, rather than to form a judgment. This is often carried out on black hat statements in order to identify how to get past the barriers or failings identified there (green on black thinking). Because green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity, it can take many forms.
Blue Hat: The Big Picture: This is the hat under which all participants discuss the thinking process. The facilitator will generally wear it throughout and each member of the team will put it on from time to time to think about directing their work together. This hat should be used at the start and end of each thinking session, to set objectives, to define the route to take to get to them, to evaluate where the group has got to, and where the thinking process is going. Having a facilitator maintain this role throughout helps ensure that the group remains focused on task and improves their chances of achieving their objectives.
Brainstorms are a simple and effective method for generating ideas and suggestions. They allow group members to use each other as creative resources and are effective when a subject is being introduced. The goal is to rapidly generate a large quantity of ideas. Subsequent sorting and prioritizing of the ideas is usually needed to refine the results.
Consensus is a point of maximum agreement so action can follow. It is a win-win situation in which everyone feels that he or she has one solution that does not compromise any strong convictions or needs. To reach consensus, group members share ideas, discuss, evaluate, organize, and prioritize ideas, and struggle to reach the best conclusions together.
A good test for consensus is to ask the question "can you support this decision?" If everyone can support it, the group has achieved 100% consensus.
Consensus is not always the best strategy. In some cases, reaching consensus does not result in a better decision or outcome. For example, group members are capable of unanimously agreeing on a completely incorrect solution to a problem. But generally, reaching consensus remains a highly desirable goal.
To make consensus work, the leader must become skilled at separating the content of the team's work (the task) from the process (how the team goes about doing the task). But the process should get the most attention. A facilitative leader helps a team to solve its own problem. The problem-solving process is as follows:
- Identify the problem or goal.
- Generate alternative solutions.
- Establish objective criteria.
- Decide on a solution that best fits the criteria.
- Proceed with the solution.
- Evaluate the solution.
Everyone involved in the process should understand exactly which step is being worked on at any given point. When team members sense a problem, they are usually reacting to symptoms of the problem. But they are side effects of the real problem which usually lies below the surface.
Creative Problem Solving for Teams
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 is a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions. The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers 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 a team identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.
Read more about creative problem solving for teams here
The Importance of Problem Solving for Team Leaders
Every problem you encounter as a team leader will show you how you think and what you are made of. Your ability to solve problems effectively comes from experience facing and overcoming obstacles. Each time you solve a problem you get a little better at the process. A team leader will never get good at problem-solving unless they keep on trying even when they fail. Team leaders will always face problems no matter in which field they are. The effective team leader is the leader that rises to the occasion to solve the problem.
Qualities of Team Leaders with Problem Solving Abilities
They Anticipate Problems
Effective team leaders anticipate problems, knowing that problems are inevitable. If you expect the road ahead to always be smooth, you will not be able to solve the problems that come your way. Although it is important always to keep a positive attitude, planning for the worst will place you in a position to solve the problems that you encounter.
They Accept the Truth
There are different ways that people respond to problems. Some refuse to accept the problem, others accept the problem and just put up with it. Effective leaders are those that accept the problem and try to make things better. Team leaders cannot lead their team through troubled waters if they have their heads in the sand. To be an effective leader you have to face up to the reality of a situation.
They See the Big Picture
It is essential that team leaders must always keep the big picture in mind. As a team leader, you cannot afford to be overwhelmed by emotion nor get so bogged down by details that you lose sight of what is important.
They Handle One Thing at a Time
Tackle your problems, one problem at a time. Do not get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of your problems and then try and dabble at problem-solving. If you are facing a lot of problems, fully solve the one you are working on before moving to the next.
They Do Not Give Up a Major Goal When They are Down
Effective leaders make major decisions during a positive swing in their leadership and not during dark times. Never give up while you are going through the valley.
Read more about the importance of problem solving for team leaders here
Preparing the Way for Creative Problem Solving
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.
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.
Read more about preparing the way for creative problem solving here
To Solve The Problem First Define The Problem
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.
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.
Information Gathering Stage of The Creative Problem Solving Process for Teams
The first step in the creative problem solving process for teams is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the correct problem, the team needs to know as much about it as possible.
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:
- Opinionated Fact
Read more about the information gathering stage of the creative problem solving process for teams
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.
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.
Read more about analyzing your team's problem solving solutions
Generating Solutions for Team Problems
It is important to generate as many solutions as possible to the problem before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them. There are many different methods for generating solutions. This blog 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. We will also be looking at additional tools and information to consider when generating solutions as part of the creative problem solving process.
Read more about generating solutions for team problems
More Team Building Articles
Defining a Successful Team
Types of Teams
The Forming Stage of Team Development
The Storming Stage of Team Development
The Norming Stage of Team Development
The Performing Stage of Team Development
Effective Team Building Activities
Making the Most of Team Meetings
History of Team Building
Team Building Coordinators and Facilitators
Benefits of Team Building
Types of Team Building Excercises
Team Building Methods
What is Team Building?