Collaborative Problem Solving in the Workplace

Many unexpected issues can arise in the workplace. When a problem isn’t addressed properly, it leads to a loss of productivity, hostile working conditions, and delayed completion of projects.

There are many different approaches to solving problems, but the best method to use with a group of people is collaborative problem-solving. When you use collaborative problem-solving in the workplace, everyone becomes part of the solution. It’s a great way to improve teamwork and ensure everyone understands and agrees on the solution.

Incorporating collaborative problem-solving training is not a difficult process. There are six steps that you can use on repeat to address any problems that occur. According to Riti Grover, repetition of this process will help build collaborative problem-solving skills. Let’s look at some collaborative problem-solving examples.

Step 1 – Isolate the Problem

“The first thing your team must do for collaborative problem solving is to isolate the problem that needs to be addressed. You’ll need to consider the signs, background, and context.” Explains Riti Grover.

After you’ve narrowed down the issue, consider the effects of the problem. Consider who’s been affected, what’s happening due to the issue, and the urgency of having the problem resolved.

Methods the team can use to isolate the issue include:

  • Questionnaires
  • Brainstorming
  • Interviews

Step 2 – Determine the Cause

After the team agrees to the definition of the problem and has identified all of the results that the problem causes, it’s time to figure out the cause. Identifying what made the problem happen is crucial for solving the issue. 

Team members can use multiple methods to identify the root cause: 

  • Affinity diagrams
  • Pareto analysis
  • Fishbone diagrams

It’s not uncommon to return to step one after identifying the root cause. There may need to be changes made to the problem’s definition.

Step 3 – Produce Alternative Options

When team members use collaborative problem solving, the goal is to develop a reasonable solution to an ongoing problem. During step three, team members should work to come up with alternative options. Aim to achieve the following:

  • Identify multiple alternative solutions. Don’t rule out ideas that seem far-fetched. Think outside the box.
  • Consider how each solution connects to the root cause and its symptoms.
  • Figure out if multiple solutions can merge as a single solution.

Step three is not about narrowing down the options to one final solution. However, you should be narrowing down the options, removing solutions that are less effective at solving the root cause and the symptoms. 

Step 4 – Pick an Alternative

In step four, the team should review the narrowed-down list of alternative options. The goal for this step is to decide on a final single solution. 

Team members should answer two important questions about each option. The one with the best responses should be your final choice. Ask these questions about each solution:

  • Which solution is the most feasible?
  • Which option is preferred by the staff who will be using it?

To determine an option’s feasibility, ask the following:

  • What is the timeframe for implementation? Can it be done in a reasonable timeframe?
  • Is the solution realistic, cost-effective, and reliable? 
  • Are the risks manageable?
  • Will the solution improve the effectiveness of resource usage?
  • Is the option adaptable to changing and evolving conditions?
  • Would the solution benefit the organization?
  • Which method is most desired?

The final solution should be acceptable to the team members and any users who will have to implement the option. 

Step 5 – Put It Into Effect

After a new solution has been chosen, the team needs to create a collaborative implementation plan. This plan will outline how to make the necessary changes. Things that this plan should establish are:

  • Who will be the project manager?
  • What staff members will be helping with implementing the new changes
  • Project start date
  • Key milestones
  • Actions required before the plan can go into effect
  • Actions required during the implementation of the new plan
  • An explanation for why these actions are necessary

Group tools used to create an implementation plan including log frames, Gantt charts, or timelines. Before you can move on to step six, the team must fully figure out the technical and operational guidelines for implementing your new solution.

Step 6 – Review Results

“After all of the steps have been completed to implement the new solution, it’s vital to track the affected workers’ progress and performance.” Riti Grover concluded.

Things that you need to monitor are:

  • If milestones are being met on time
  • Are costs being contained?
  • Is the necessary work being finished?

Some groups skip step six because they think their plan is foolproof. But if you want the best results, it’s better to keep monitoring your plan to see how it’s performing and that no new problems are occurring. Use regular data collection and regular updates from the project manager for insights.