Five Tips to Help Teams Solve Problems Collaboratively

When teams are charged with solving hard problems, collaboration is key. No one person has enough knowledge or skill sets to do it all. So, how can teams solve problems collaboratively and improve project performance?

Even people who prefer to work solo periodically find themselves on teams trying to solve complex problems.

Here are five suggestions to help your teams solve problems collaboratively. And check out this blog if you are interested in how to improve collaboration in your project meetings.

1. Talk with your teammates

As popular and useful as electronic communications can be, there are times when there is no substitute for talking. So, stop texting or emailing, and walk down the hall to your colleague’s office and talk. Or pick up the phone and call your colleague who is half-way across the world (at a reasonable time, of course). Talk.

But remember to think about the objective. Are you just brainstorming ideas? Who is keeping track of those ideas? Are you trying to find a better approach to a problem? Keep that objective front and center.

I’m not suggesting rambling chit-chat that goes nowhere helps teams. But I do think building relationships with people on your team is important. And that means spending a bit of time getting to know people, by talking.

Teams that know and like one another are better able to solve problems collaboratively.

Teams that know and like one another are better able to solve problems collaboratively. #teams #teamwork #leadership #smartprojex

2. Brainstorm with a defined goal

Begin your conversation with acknowledging and agreeing that you have a problem to solve. And then, solve it. Or make a dent in it. Use mind-mapping tools, white boards, or whatever tools you need to use to get your ideas down on paper for later reference.

If the problem you are trying to solve is large, try breaking it down into manageable chunks. It may mean that you need to create theories and test them. It may mean that you just need to bite off a little piece of the problem and solve that challenge first. Keep your goal in mind.

Do you start each of your tasks with a defined goal? How do you define those goals? Learn how to problem solve collaboratively by defining goals in advance. #goals #teams #teamwork #smartprojex

3. Understand which activities are done better solo and which need a team

When you are trying to solve problems, you will likely find that some activities are better done solo, without anyone hovering around you. And some activities need a team. The challenge is to understand which is which.

Ask your teammates. People aren’t alike. Some colleagues apparently actually write code in tandem with a partner — both working together at the same time. I can’t imagine that.

Allow some room for people who like working together to work in small groups without feeling like the entire team needs to be part of that effort.

Learn how your team best works together. Is there a time of day? Short or long meetings? Together or touch base and then work independently? #teams #teamwork #leadership #smartprojex

4. Don’t even try to collaborate for long hours with introverts

Consider what everyone else needs to maintain their energy levels. Extroverts get their energy from others, while introverts need quiet time to recharge their batteries. If you have introverts on your team, they will run out of steam if you try to collaborate for long periods of time.

I have found that even extroverts have a hard time focusing on the problem for more than a few hours. So don’t try to work in groups for long stretches without unscripted breaks. For the introvert, going to lunch with the team (or anyone on it) after working all morning long on a problem is not a recipe for success.

Schedule your collaboration time so that everyone is functioning well when you are trying to solve problems collaboratively.

5. Pick the right time of day to get your problem solving done

In his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Dan Pink discusses the research on circadian rhythms and why certain activities are better done at certain times of day. The challenge is that not everyone has the same body clock. But for most of us we can discover when our minds are more analytical and when we have our most creative ideas.

Discuss this as a team, or with the person who you are most relying on to help solve a big problem. Find a window when you are both at your creative best and get together then to come up with your next great idea.

Or if you need to be thinking analytically about the problem, find that time of day when most of you have your analytical brains operating in high gear.

Do your teams frequently need to solve problems collaboratively? Share your ideas that have worked in the comments. And if you want more project management tips, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter!

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Suzanne S. Davenport

Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future. Smartprojex.com