When a problem shared is a problem solved

ManagementThere was a time when most good managers would instinctively hand-pick a few of their best-and-brightest people to solve problems and/or create innovation.

It makes complete sense. They are the best-and-brightest after all.

But over time, many came to realize that the results of all that collaboration and innovation became something of a big secret.

The only folks who knew what was going on were the Chosen Ones originally selected by the manager in the first place.

It’s worth noting that this style of problem-solving, while popular and useful, can greatly limit both the quantity and quality of ideas.

You're Fired!
So, what’s the next big thing when it comes to developing new ideas to solve problems?

While we have all been programmed to spot and take advantage of those special people around us, it turns out you don’t really need to assign just the best-and-brightest to tackle innovation.

Try group-think

In fact, one study says that might not always be right.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that collaborative groups who conversed easily with equal participation were more efficient at completing sets of given tasks — and produced better results — than groups dominated by individuals.

In other words, the more a group of people could freely talk things through, and the more ideas injected into the process, the better the solution.

So much for “special teams.”

But group work often leaves many feeling frustrated.

For instance, who hasn’t walked away form a meeting thinking, “It would have been quicker if I had just done it myself.”

So when should you use a group to address a particular problem, and what are the major advantages and disadvantages of using groups to solve a problem?

Airing different ideas

Gary Hadler, an expert in International education at the ITS School in Hong Kong, contends a large amount of problem solving takes place in group settings.

“Meetings and informal discussions are often used to air different ideas and points of view to help solve problems for which the participants have either shared responsibility or a contribution to make,” he said.

Hadler suggests asking these  questions before deciding how to proceed:

  • Can the problem be defined in many different ways?
  • Is information from many different sources required?
  • Is it a very specialized problem, where the expert might be biased or not see the wider implications?
  • Does the problem have implications for many people?
  • Are there likely to be many possible solutions?
  •  Is it a complex problem with many different aspects?
  • Will a solution need to be agreed by others before it can be implemented?

The more questions you answer ‘yes’, the more appropriate it is to use group problem solving.

However, the deciding question is always: ‘Are suitable and relevant people available to work together in solving this problem.’

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