You or your students may be placed on a team tasked with resolving a particular issue or addressing a particular challenge. Or, your existing teams may, on occasion, need to come up with a solution to a problem that arises on the course towards completing a project. For this reason, knowing how to solve problems as a team plays an important role in reaching a successful solution.
In her book Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, Tenth Edition, Cheryl Hamilton describes eight key behaviors that enable teams to successfully collaborate on solutions to problems. We’ve summarized them below.
1. Organization and preparation. Hamilton notes that, while successful teams’ particular methods of preparing for and managing meetings may differ, most do use some form of organization and structure when they run their meetings. A regular (and somewhat predictable) structure provides a framework for progress towards the resolution of issues and completion of projects and tasks. However, this form shouldn’t be rigid, as an absolutely inflexible approach limits the team’s ability to return to topics that warrant a second (or third) conversation. Preparation also benefits productivity; when each team member comes to the table prepared, the whole team is better prepared to work on the project together in a productive manner.
2. Training. Most people aren’t born “problem solvers.” Adequate training on such topics as group communication, team building, conflict resolution, and use of communication technologies helps ensure that the team knows how to work together efficiently, effectively, and with a collaborative spirit.
3. Open dialogue. Closed-minded attitudes and frigid environments are the death knell for collaboration and creativity. Effective problem-solving teams allow each other to share their opinions in an open and constructive manner.
4. Rigorous examination of ideas. Members of effective problem-solving teams demonstrate a willingness to carefully weigh options, explore alternatives, challenge the accepted “norms,” and consider multiple perspectives on an issue. They also support their ideas and suggestions with research, evidence, and concrete examples.
5. Careful evaluation of potential solutions. Weigh the benefits and consequences of potential actions against agreed-upon criteria. Take time to thoroughly consider both the positive and negative effects of each given choice.
6. Emphasis on critical thinking over conflict avoidance. A hasty path to consensus generally does not lead to the most effective decisions. You may speed by an important factor, viable option, or deleterious consequence simply because you’re afraid to make waves. Be willing to risk some disagreement and conflict in favor of reaching the most optimal solution. And, instead of holding back valuable information, learn how to manage conflict so that you can address any interpersonal differences in a timely manner.
7. Appreciation for cultural diversity. In today’s global society, it’s imperative to recognize that individuals from different cultures will come to the table with varying approaches to problem solving and decision making. Strong teams recognize that one approach is not exclusively “right” while the other is exclusively “wrong.” They’ll treat one another with respect, seek understanding, and listen carefully to one another as they collaborate on a solution.
8. Willingness to meet and collaborate virtually. It’s now almost inevitable that most people will work on a virtual team at some point in their careers. For this reason, it behooves team members to learn how to successfully collaborate online using the communication tools and skills that support their objectives and suit their needs. (Hamilton, 265-271)
Reference: Hamilton, Cheryl. 2014. Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, 10th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
What are your top tips for effective collaboration? Do you provide students with guidelines for solving problems in their workgroups and project teams? Share them in the comments below.