Why Group Problem Solving Is Usually More Effective

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Why Group Problem Solving

There’s a reason old adages get to be old and “Two heads are better than one” is one of the oldest. The importance of problem solving skills in the workplace can’t be overstated because problems that need to be resolved arise constantly. Using established problem solving techniques in a team setting helps a company run more smoothly and helps employees work well together and feel more appreciated.

Problem Solving and Decision Making examples

There are two common ways to problem solve. The first way is done individually and happens almost without thinking about it. The second way is done together in a group setting, with coworkers split into small groups.

When done individually, the principle of divergence can take place. We are able to think of as many solutions as possible without the influence of others. An example is the classic creativity test, individuals are asked to provide a list of alternative uses for an object, let’s say a brick or a pencil.

How many different uses can you find for that item, this requires considering a much wider range of ideas that would not normally be thought of. Individual problem solving is beneficial because ideas are unfiltered and unaffected by others. But when multiple people are working on the same problem independently ideas can also be repetitive.

If you’re a supervisor and were two go around their office, asking your employees to provide ideas for the best solution to a problem would be, you would likely get a lot of repetitive answers. It could then take longer to narrow down the solutions that are the most viable, keeping in mind the most obvious solutions are not always the best.

When done collectively as a group, convergence takes the very best of the individual results and combines them with effective, group-based, problem solving techniques. These tools will help you, as a group leader, decide how to approach a group problem solving activity with your employees.

When combined together, a good group problem solving activity begins with divergence and then transitions into convergence. Employees should still individually consider what the solution is. But instead of one person deciding what to do, the group collectively considers what would be best and can more easily reach a decision.

How to organize and lead group problem sessions

Problem solving is so important that there are problem-solving training courses to help business owners, leaders, etc., learn how to effectively lead a group.

Basic techniques used in problem solving.

Step One: Define the Problem

It’s important to define the problem. A common issue with problem-solving techniques in business is that employees will think of solutions before thinking the problem through. Sometimes you can get lucky this way, but it’s not a foul-proof solution.

But it’s commonly done anyway because it can be hard to figure out exactly what the problem is. This is because the issues that are often noticed come from a separate but related root problem.

There are several questions you can ask to find the root problem.

1. What is the problem?
2. What situation is taking place when the problem occurs?
3. If part of a process at what point in that process does the problem occur?4. How does this problem arise?
5. Why is this problem important?
6. Are there terms with fluid or divergent definitions being used? If so, define those terms clearly so everyone’s using the same language.

Step Two: Analyze the Problem

Understanding the problem is groundbreaking but not enough on its own. Analyzing the problem helps the group understand what to do with the problem. Try these steps.

1. What is happening that indicates that the problem has taken place? For example, lets say you supervise a group of custodians who are cleaning an office building 5 days a week. You’ve budgeted your labor to allow 30 minutes to clean each office but one office always takes an hour. Problem is at the end of the week your labor cost is 2.5 hours over your budget. 

2. How serious are the effects of this? If you’re busy supervising a large group of employees, you might need to help finish their work yourself. This cuts down on your time to accomplish other supervisor duties.

3. What is causing the problem? Is there something about this office that takes more time to clean. Are the employees focusing too much effort on the wrong tasks and not using their time efficiently? 

4. Are the causes inherent in the problem? In other words, are these problems typically with this type of work? If so, how can they be effectively resolved for? If this is the case, previous experience may lend itself to solve the problem.

5. Have you already tried solving the problem on your own but haven’t yet succeeded? A group approach may provide the solution.

Step Three: Establish Criteria for Solutions

It’s vital that the solution to your problem, whatever the solution might be, is not worse than the problem you’re facing. Try not to make it too complicated. The less time it takes and the simpler it is, the better. There are numerous questions to ask to ensure that the solution is not worse than the problem.

1. Is the solution viable? Is it something that can be done? Is it difficult? Easy? Somewhere in the middle?
2. Is it economical? What if the cost to solve the problem is more than the money that would be saved, If so what then. do you go back and start again or do you set it aside to be revisited later
3. Is there a better way to solve the problem? Or is this the best way?
4. Will more benefits than problems come from this solution?
5. How good are the benefits? Will they significantly improve things?
6. Is the solution just? Moral? Efficient? Clear? Will it harm anyone in any way?

These are all questions that are important to consider. If the solution has more positives than negatives, and if the solution will indeed solve the problem, you’re probably safe to proceed. But if there are more negative effects, and you’re not sure if it will solve the problem, it might be best to continue problem solving.

Step Four: Generating Potential Solutions to the Problem

This might be the hardest part! But generating your potential solutions is a key part in problem solving. And even if the first solution you come up with seems like it will work, continue brainstorming. That way, if the first solution turns out to not work, you have backup solutions. Not knowing what to do when something doesn’t work out can be frustrating and discouraging.

1. Express ideas freely. No one should be shut down, even if what they suggest doesn’t sound like it will work.

2. All ideas are welcome, no matter how outlandish they might seem. Everyone should feel like they have a voice.

3. Quantity is the goal. The total quantity can be narrowed down to the best quality once you have as many ideas as possible. Your solution could be in the first 30 seconds of your meeting or at the very end of it.

Don’t stop presenting solutions until every member of your group runs out of ideas.

Step Five: Select the Best Solution

This where the importance of problem solving skills in the workplace begins to shine. As you decide what the best solution is, consider these questions.

1. How does each solution work?
2. Will it solve the problem?
3. How well will it solve the problem? Will it fix it entirely or partially?
4. How well does it satisfy the criteria that needs to be met?
5. Is there one solution or multiple solutions that should be combined together as the solution?

Once these questions are answered, decide how to vote. You can reach a consensus together as a group; hold majority or minority votes; have an expert decide for you; or decision by authority, where you, as the group leader, makes the decision.

Step Six: Implement the Solution

Have confidence that your group problem solving skills will work effectively. Believe that your solution will work, and remember that you have a backup plan just in case! This means that your worst case scenario isn’t at all bad. At the very least, you aren’t going back to square one. You’re moving forward, not backward. This is a very beneficial part of problem solving techniques in business.

Available problem solving training courses.

As you can see, problem solving in the workplace is no easy process. If this article has overwhelmed you with information, you might want to try taking a problem-solving training course. This will provide you with practice exercises and questions to consider, which will build your confidence and your ability to effectively lead a group problem-solving meeting.

A simple Google search will yield quite a few results for problem solving training courses. There are courses from universities like Cornell, the University of Minnesota, Rice University, and Wesleyan. Each course will be different but should provide you with the foundational tools of problem solving.

Problem Solving Mindset

Workplace problems will always come up. It’s part of the business world and as stressful and tiring dealing with problems can be at times , those problems don’t have to consume your day. Everyone can benefit as you learn how to lead and effectively solve problems with your team.

Most problems may not be fun to deal with, but finding solutions will become part of your process, and can improve the quality of your work day, your team, and your entire business, or that of the company you work for. Plus, the company you work for and the people who you lead won’t be concerned when problems arise because they know that you are a good leader who can effectively lead your team to the best possible solution.

By BG Greene

Group Problem Solving Is Usually More Effective



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