Collaborative Problem Solving: What It Is and How to Do It

Problems arise. That's a well-known fact of life and business. When they do, it may seem more straightforward to take individual ownership of the problem and immediately run with trying to solve it. However, the most effective problem-solving solutions often come through collaborative problem solving.

What is collaborative problem solving?

As defined by Webster's Dictionary, the word collaborate is to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor. Therefore, collaborative problem solving (CPS) is essentially solving problems by working together as a team. While problems can and are solved individually, CPS often brings about the best resolution to a problem while also developing a team atmosphere and encouraging creative thinking.

How to solve problems as a team

Because collaborative problem solving involves multiple people and ideas, there are some techniques that can help you stay on track, engage efficiently, and communicate effectively during collaboration.

  • Set Expectations. From the very beginning, expectations for openness and respect must be established for CPS to be effective. Everyone participating should feel that their ideas will be heard and valued.
  • Provide Variety. Another way of providing variety can be by eliciting individuals outside the organization but affected by the problem. This may mean involving various levels of leadership from the ground floor to the top of the organization. It may be that you involve someone from bookkeeping in a marketing problem-solving session. A perspective from someone not involved in the day-to-day of the problem can often provide valuable insight.
  • Communicate Clearly. If the problem is not well-defined, the solution can't be. By clearly defining the problem, the framework for collaborative problem solving is narrowed and more effective.
  • Expand the Possibilities. Think beyond what is offered. Take a discarded idea and expand upon it. Turn it upside down and inside out. What is good about it? What needs improvement? Sometimes the best ideas are those that have been discarded rather than reworked.
  • Encourage Creativity. Out-of-the-box thinking is one of the great benefits of collaborative problem-solving. This may mean that solutions are proposed that have no way of working, but a small nugget makes its way from that creative thought to evolution into the perfect solution.
  • Provide Positive Feedback. There are many reasons participants may hold back in a collaborative problem-solving meeting. Fear of performance evaluation, lack of confidence, lack of clarity, and hierarchy concerns are just a few of the reasons people may not initially participate in a meeting. Positive public feedback early on in the meeting will eliminate some of these concerns and create more participation and more possible solutions.
  • Consider Solutions. Once several possible ideas have been identified, discuss the advantages and drawbacks of each one until a consensus is made.
  • Assign Tasks. A problem identified and a solution selected is not a problem solved. Once a solution is determined, assign tasks to work towards a resolution. A team that has been invested in the creation of the solution will be invested in its resolution. The best time to act is now.
  • Evaluate the Solution. Reconnect as a team once the solution is implemented and the problem is solved. What went well? What didn't? Why? Collaboration doesn't necessarily end when the problem is solved. The solution to the problem is often the next step towards a new collaboration.

Celebrating success as a team

The burden that is lifted when a problem is solved is enough victory for some. However, a team that plays together should celebrate together. It's not only collaboration that brings unity to a team. It's also the combined celebration of a unified victory—the moment you look around and realize the collectiveness of your success.

We can help

Check out MindManager to learn more about how you can ignite teamwork and innovation by providing a clearer perspective on the big picture with a suite of sharing options and collaborative tools.

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