When a group of employees is engaged with each other, the potential of the group skyrockets. Your employees will be able to accomplish more, come up with better ideas, and even walk away with higher morale. However, getting the group to work together in a productive way isn’t always easy.
For example, if you need your team to come up with a creative idea or a creative way to solve an existing problem, an unproductive session could unfold in a number of potential ways:
• Employees may not participate, resulting in more awkward silences than discussion.
• Employees may over-participate, resulting in a shouting match with no direction.
• Employees may discuss the problem, but without a vision toward actionable steps.
• The meeting may take too long, wasting everyone’s time and costing more money than it should.
• Employees may never land on a final solution.
So how can you foster an environment that inspires productive collaboration??
Why the Group Approach Is Best
After reading these potential problems, you may consider whether the group approach to creative problem solving is even worth it. But as Tim Sykes puts it, “no millionaire is an island.” Nobody can come up with or execute a perfect plan by themselves; they rely on advisors, mentors, editors, and other helpers to shape those plans into something better. Everyone brings something unique to the table, and if you ignore the potential there, you could wind up with a far inferior final plan.
Strategies for Better Group Problem Solving
Try using these strategies to facilitate better creative problem solving as a group:
1. Make someone in charge. First, identify a “leader” for the meeting, which could be you or another employee. This person may be in charge of a number of responsibilities, such as picking the meeting attendees, setting the agenda, or leading the discussion, but the most important role is to be the final decision-maker. This will be the person responsible for selecting the final idea and bringing the meeting to a close—which will help stop the endless back-and-forth cycles that some meetings produce.
2. Select the right team. You’ll also want to take steps to ensure that you pick the right team for the creative brainstorming session. Don’t add people for the sake of adding them—choosing a meeting attendee unfamiliar with the problem will waste your time and theirs. Instead, opt for the most productive candidates for the task, and keep your roster small to encourage more focused discussion.
3. Mandate participation. Let your attendees know in advance that you expect them to participate. The purpose of a meeting is to share ideas with one another, and if some people aren’t sharing, that purpose is lost.
4. Assign homework. You want every attending employee to be prepared and with something to offer, so be proactive by assigning homework before the meeting. For example, you could ask them to come up with one potential solution to the problem at hand or ask them to bring some kind of research to the table.
5. Give people individual time to brainstorm. You can’t force people to come up with good ideas on the spot. Expecting a group of people to spontaneously come up with a good idea is a recipe for disappointment. Instead, give your meeting attendees time to brainstorm the problem on their own, so they come to the meeting with a handful of solutions already in mind. Some problems will be urgent, but if you can give your attendees a few days to consider the issue, do so.
6. Keep the meeting short. Longer meetings may seem like they offer more flexibility to get things done, but in reality, shorter meetings tend to be more effective. Setting a pressing time limit—like 30 minutes or even 15 minutes, forces people to acknowledge the end goal and work toward it as efficiently as possible. If you need to schedule another meeting to explore the idea further, you can, but over the long term, you’ll see faster results and waste less time this way.
7. Set an agenda. Before the meeting begins, have your team leader create an agenda for the meeting. This could be simple, such as outlining the order in which your attendees are going to speak, or more detailed, such as offering a breakdown of the problem at hand. Send this out in advance so your employees are more prepared for the meeting, and adhere to it so you make the most of your meeting time and stay on course.
8. Listen to all ideas. If you want your employees to voice more of their ideas, show that you care about all their ideas; listen carefully, patiently, and respectfully to every employee idea, and encourage your other employees to do the same. This creates a more comfortable environment, and one that rewards open discussion, so maintain this standard indefinitely. It may take time to kick in, but eventually, your employees will feel more comfortable sharing their true thoughts.
With these strategies, your employees will be able to work together more effectively, with fewer conflicts and with a better chance of landing on an ideal creative solution to the problem at hand. Most of these strategies also become more effective with repetition; your employees will get used to your systems and criteria, and your meetings will flow even smoother in the future, so stay consistent with your approach.