Alice has taught basic computer usage and coomputer hardware at National College and has a Masters degree in Technology management.
Background on Problem Solving
Most people deal with problems every day, and every person has their own method for resolving the issues they encounter. When people work together as a team, there will be several methods introduced to solve problems - each person with their own method. This can lead to confusion and even increase the number of problems. There should be a way to get everyone on the team to approach the problems encountered using the same common process.
Successful teams understand the need for a strategy for attacking the problems they face. They know the process and accept the steps taken to reach a resolution. Let's take a closer look at these steps.
Step 1: Define the Problem
As team members recognize a problem, it must be established as a mutual problem for everyone involved. If all team members have different understandings of the problem, a common strategy will not be effective. This is why the team must thoroughly define and understand the problem before any solution can be decided upon. If members of the team see the problem differently, there may not be an agreement on the option chosen.
Let's say an accounting management team wants to determine why it is taking seven days to close the month-end books when it should only be taking three days. Some in the management team may say the issue is due to a communication problem. If they look closer and ask five questions of 'why,' they might find more to it. The five questions could be something like: 1) Why is it taking seven days? 2) Why is there a problem? 3) Why is there a breakdown in communication? 4) Why are people in the accounting department not talking to each other? And, 5) How does this impact the closing of the books?
Instead of just saying it is a problem with communication, the team can determine the root cause, or the original cause, of the problem. They discover that employees in each branch of the accounting department are only emailing each other when their portions of the book closing are complete, instead of notifying management and making the movement from branch to branch within the department a priority.
Ste 2: Identify Solutions
In our example of the accounting department, once those involved have evaluated the problem and discovered the root cause of it, they will need to have a team brainstorming session, or a meeting in which all possible ideas are pitched, to come up with all the possible solutions. Using the information gathered effectively and breaking it down into smaller sections will allow the team to clearly see the cause of the problem and work together to discover every solution possible. During the brainstorming session, all ideas are noted - even if they seem far-fetched.
Each idea is then analyzed to identify the steps necessary to implement the solution. Within the team, there may be some disagreement in both the actual problem and the solutions. The team needs to hear and understand each concern. Between the breakdown of the problem and of the solutions, the team should be able to come to a consensus. The solution breakdown in our earlier accounting example could be: 1) Establish a point-of-contact person (or POC) that all communication must go through. Or, 2) Another mode of communication between the accounting department personnel could be set up. And so on.
Most often, the disagreements between the team regarding the solutions are due to additional responsibility being put on an individual. As a team, that additional responsibility should be evaluated to determine if it's being correctly placed.
Step 3: Resolve the Problem
Once a team consensus has been reached on the solution, the team must examine the steps necessary to implement the solution. During the brainstorming session about possible solutions, steps were noted on the breakdown. The solution is broken down by how to implement, determining resources to implement, and analyzing the results of the implementation. In our earlier example about the accounting department not working together to shorten the month-end closing dates, once the solution is determined, what does it take to implement?
Say the solution chosen was to elect a POC that will communicate with accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, cash management, and so on. Does the POC have a relationship with all of these branches within the accounting department? If not, how should such a relationship be built? Who's available to fill that role along with their current duties, or should there be one person whose sole responsibility is to be the POC? All questions for the team have to be presented and resolved.
Once decided upon and put into place, the process will have to be reviewed to see if there are any gaps that were not thought of or planned for. The process should be tested during a short phase to ensure its success. During this phase, measurement and analysis of the solution should be performed to determine if it actually increases communication within the department and decreases the time it takes to close the books at the end of the month.
Step 4: Examine the Results
The solution is in place. The measurements have been done, and the solution has been determined to be a success. However, the team should continue to monitor the impact of the solution for a set period of time to ensure its continued success. Multiple members of the team should be given the results of the periodic monitoring, and those results should then be reported back to the whole team so everyone stays informed. After the set period of monitoring time is up, the team should then decide whether the solution is a permanent or temporary fix. In other words, is the solution working satisfactorily as it stands, or does it need to be tweaked?
The common sense approach to problem solving within a team begins with making sure everyone understands and acknowledges the problem at hand in a similar manner. Next, the team should determine the root cause, which is a name for the original cause, of the problem and have a brainstorming session, which is a meeting to come up with several possible solutions, which should all be taken into consideration. Once a consensus has been reached on a solution, the team should determine the steps necessary to implement the solution. After the solution is in place, it should be monitored for a period of time to make sure it is doing the job or if changes need to be made.
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