Creative Problem Solving – Step 4

Analyzing Solutions
With many different solutions in hand, the problem solvers need to analyze those solutions to determine the effectiveness of each one. This module helps participants consider is the criteria or goals for solving the problem, as well as distinguishing between wants and needs. This module also introduces the cost/benefit analysis as a method of analyzing solutions.

Developing Criteria
Return to the information generated when defining the problem. Consider who, what, when, where, and how that the potential solution should meet to be an effective solution to the problem.

When developing criteria that possible solutions to the problem should meet, also consider the following:
• Ask questions such as “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “Wouldn’t it be terrible if…” to isolate the necessary outcome for the problem resolution.
• Think about what you want the solution to do or not do.
• Think about what values should be considered.

Use the answers to these questions as the starting point for your goals or problem-solving criteria.
Additionally, the criteria for an effective solution to the problem should consider the following:
Timing – Is the problem urgent? What are the consequences for delaying action?
Trend – What direction is the problem heading? Is the problem getting worse? Or does the problem have a low degree of concern when considering the future of the circumstances?
Impact – Is the problem serious?
It is important to think about what the circumstances will look like after a successful solution has been implemented. Use your imagination to explore the possibilities for identifying goals or criteria related to the problem.

Analyzing Wants and Needs
The creative problem solving process is a fluid process, with some steps overlapping each other. Sometimes as the process provides additional information, problem solvers need to go back and refine the problem statement or gather additional information in order to effectively solve the problem.

Wants and needs seem like a fundamental aspect of defining the problem. However, in order to analyze the potential solutions, the wants and needs for the desired state after the problem is solved must be very clear.

Needs are items the potential solution absolutely must meet. If the potential solution does not meet a need requirement, you can disregard it from further analyzing.

Wants are nice to have items. You can provide a weight to each item to indicate its importance. For each potential solution, you can provide a rating for how well the solution addresses the selected want. Multiply the rating by the weight of the want to score the potential solution.

With scores for each item, it is an easy matter to rank the potential solutions in order of preference.

Using Cost/Benefit Analysis
Cost – benefit analysis is a method of assigning a monetary value to the potential benefits of a solution and weighing those against the costs of implementing that solution.
It is important to include ALL of the benefits and costs. This can be tricky, especially with intangible benefits (or costs). Some benefits or costs may be obvious, but others may take a little digging to uncover. For example, imagine you want to replace three employees with a machine that makes stamps. A hidden benefit is that you may be able to use large feed stock instead of individual sheets, saving materials costs. In the same example, you would not only consider the salaries of the employees, but the total cost for those employees, including benefits and overhead.
The value assigned to the costs and benefits must be the same unit, which is why monetary value is suggested. The valuations assigned should represent what the involved parties would actually spend on the benefit or cost. For example, if people are always willing to save five minutes and spend an extra 50 cents on parking closer, they are demonstrating that time is worth more than 10 cents per minute. The considerations should also include the time value of money, or the value of money spent or earned now

Creative Problem Solving – Step 3

Generating Solutions
Generating possibilities for solutions to the defined problem comes next in the process. It is important to generate as many solutions as possible before analyzing the solutions or trying to implement them.

There are many different methods for generating solutions. This module begins with some ground rules for brainstorming sessions. Then it presents several idea-generating techniques, including free-association style brainstorming, brain-writing, mind mapping, and Duncker Diagrams.

 

Brainstorming Basics
In order to come up with a good idea, you must come up with many ideas. The first rule of brainstorming is to come up with as many ideas as you possibly can.

Some of the ideas will not be good. If you start analyzing the ideas while you are generating them, the creative process will quickly come to a halt, and you may miss out on some great ideas. Therefore, the second rule for brainstorming sessions is to defer judgment.
Allow creativity and imagination to take over in this phase of the process. The next rule for brainstorming is to come up with the wildest, most imaginative solutions to your problem that you can.

Often we might not consider a solution because of assumptions or associational constraints. However, sometimes those solutions, even if you do not end up implementing them, can lead you to a successful solution. So along with deferring judgment, allow those ideas that might be considered crazy to flow. One of those crazy ideas might just contain the seeds of the perfect solution.

Finally, use early ideas as springboards to other ideas. This is called “piggybacking” and is the next rule for brainstorming.

Basic Brainstorming
Basic brainstorming is a free-association session of coming up with ideas. Use the other group member’s ideas to trigger additional ideas. One member of the group should make a list of all of the ideas.

Brainwriting and Mind Mapping
Brainwriting and Mind Mapping are two additional tools to generate ideas.

 

Brainwriting
Brainwriting is similar to free-association brainstorming, except that it is conducted in silence. This method encourages participants to pay closer attention to the ideas of others and piggyback on those ideas.

Before a brainwriting session, create sheets of paper with a grid of nine squares on each sheet. You will need as many sheets as there are participants in the brainwriting session with one or two extra sheets. Plan to sit participants in a circle or around a table. Determine how long the session will last, and remind participants that there is no talking. Remind participants of the other rules for brainstorming, especially deferring judgment.

For the session itself, state the problem or challenge to be solved. Each participant fills out three ideas on a brainwriting grid. Then he or she places that brainwriting sheet in the center of the table and selects a new sheet. Before writing additional ideas, the participant reads the three ideas at the top (generated by a different participant). The hope is that these items will suggest additional ideas to the participants. The participants should not write down the same ideas they have written on other sheets. This activity continues until all of the grids are full or the time runs out. At the end of the activity, there should be many ideas to consider and discuss.

Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is another method of generating ideas on paper, but can be conducted alone.
The problem solver starts by writing one main idea in the center of the paper. Write additional ideas around the sheet of paper, circling the idea and connecting the ideas with lines. This technique allows for representing non-linear relationships between ideas.

Duncker Diagrams
Duncker Diagrams are used with the present state and desired state statements discussed in module four. A Duncker diagram generates solutions by creating possible pathways from the present state to the desired state. However, the Duncker diagram also addresses an additional pathway of solving the problem by making it okay not to reach the desired state.

Duncker diagrams can help with refining the problem as well as generating ideas for solutions. The diagram begins with general solutions. Then it suggests functional solutions that give more specifics on what to do. The diagram can also include specific solutions of how to complete each item in the functional solutions.
For example, Michael wanted to address the problem of his job being too stressful. He is responsible for managing up to 1500 work hours per month. He cannot find a way to complete all of his tasks within a desired work week of no more than 45-50 hours per week. He has over 10 years’ experience in public account and is interested in moving into industry. However, he is so busy, that he does not even have time to look for a new job.
The present state and desired state statements are:
• Present State: Job requires more demands on my time than I am willing to dedicate to a job I do not really care about.
• Desired State: Work a job I care about with adequate free time to spend with family and pursuing personal interests.

Here is what his Duncker diagram might look like.

step 3

 

The Morphological Matrix
Fritz Zwicky developed a method for general morphological analysis in the 1960s. The method has since been applied to many different fields. It is a method of listing examples of different attributes or issues to an item (or problem), and randomly combining the different examples to form a solution. Depending on the number of issues or attributes identified, there can be quite a large number of possible combinations.

The Morphological Matrix is a grid with several different columns. The problem solvers enter a specific attribute or issue about the item or problem at the top of each column. Then for each column, problem solvers generate a list of examples for that attribute. Once there are many different ideas in the columns, the solutions can be combined strategically or randomly. While some combinations naturally are incompatible, problem solvers should not rule out ideas until they reach the analysis phase of the problem-solving process.

For complex problems, computer-assisted morphological assessment can be done. However, for the scope of this course, we will look a simple example that can be done by hand.

As an example, let’s look at the traffic problems experienced at a new elementary school. The administrative staff of the school has identified the problem statement as: “Get approximately 500 students to class safely, on time, and with no more than a five minute wait for parents and drivers in the neighborhood.” A few sample attributes to this problem are safety, timeliness, pedestrians, and drivers.

A sample chart might look like this:

step3a

Safety Timeliness Pedestrians Drivers
Extra cross guards Stagger arrival time by grade Cross only at crosswalks with crossing guard Students being dropped off from cars or buses enter at north entrance
Policeman giving tickets for rule breakers Provide incentives for dropping off early Pedestrians enter at south entrance Lane for drop off; lane for passing

This matrix can help identify different considerations of the problem. It can also help formulate comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

The Six Thinking Hats
Dr. Edward de Bono introduced a concept for thinking more effectively in groups in his book, Six Thinking Hats. The premise of this idea is that the brain thinks about things in a number of different ways.
The identified different categories of thought are assigned to a color-coded “hat,” as described below. The hats provide a structured way to think about different aspects of a problem.
1. White hat – Facts and Information: This hat includes Information collected or identified as missing.
2. Red Hat – Feelings and Emotion: This hat includes feelings, including gut reactions to ideas or items identified in another area.
3. Black Hat – Critical Judgment: This hat includes details about obstacles to solving the problem or other negative connotations about an item or idea. Since people are naturally critical, it is important to limit black hat thinking to its appropriate role.
4. Yellow Hat – Positive Judgment: This hat is the opposite of the black hat. It includes details about the benefits of an idea or issue, or thoughts about favoring an idea. It is still critical thinking and judgment, as opposed to blind optimism.
5. Green Hat – Alternatives and Learning: This hat concerns ideas about new possibilities and thinking about implications rather than judgments. Green hat thinking covers the full spectrum of creativity.
6. Blue Hat – The Big Picture: This hat serves as the facilitator of the group thinking process. This hat can be used to set objectives both for the problem solving process and the thinking session itself.

The six thinking hat methodology allows a deliberate focusing during problem solving sessions, with an agreed-upon sequence and time limit to each hat. It ensures that everyone in the group is focused on a particular approach at the same time, rather than having one person reacting emotionally (red hat) while others are being objective (white hat) and still another is wearing the black hat to form critical judgments of ideas.

The green hat is the main thinking hat for generating solutions in the problem solving process. The other hats can be used as a reminder of the rules of productive brainstorming sessions, such as limiting critical judgment (positive and negative – yellow and black hats).

The Blink Method
Malcolm Gladwell popularizes scientific research about the power of the adaptive unconscious in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell’s premise is that in an age of information overload, our decisions based on limited information are often as good as or better than decisions made with ample critical thinking.

In the examples and research Gladwell presents, experts and average subjects alike are better able and happier with choices made through what he calls “thin-slicing,” or coming to a conclusion with limited information. An example presented is the case in which many experts identify a statue as a fake, when the museum that spent money on the statue did not identify it as such with weeks of research.

Gladwell also presents the cautions of the adaptive unconscious. Our power to make effective decisions by tapping into this power can be corrupted by personal likes and dislikes and stereotypes. Rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous consequences, as presented in his example of an innocent man shot on his own doorstep 41 times by New York policemen.

Gladwell summarizes the dilemma between when to tap into our unconscious, and when to use a more critical approach as thus: “On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated – when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought process may be superior.”

 

 

Creative Problem Solving – Step 2

Problem Definition
The next step in the creative problem solving process is to identify the problem. This module will explore why problem solvers need to clearly define the problem. It also introduces several tools to use when defining a problem and writing a problem statement.

Defining the Problem
When a problem comes to light, it may not be clear exactly what the problem is. You must understand the problem before you spend time or money implementing a solution.
It is important to take care in defining the problem. The way that you define your problem influences the solution or solutions that are available. Problems often can be defined in many different ways.

You must address the true problem when continuing the creative problem solving process in order to achieve a successful solution. You may come up with a terrific solution, but if it is a solution to the wrong problem, it will not be a success.

In some cases, taking action to address a problem before adequately identifying the problem is worse than doing nothing. It can be a difficult task to sort out the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. However, it is important to identify the underlying problem in order to generate the right solutions. Problem solvers can go down the wrong path with possible solutions if they do not understand the true problem. These possible solutions often only treat the symptoms of the problem, and not the real problem itself.

Four tools to use in defining the problem are:
Determining where the problem originated
Defining the present state and the desired state
Stating and restating the problem
Analyzing the problem
You may not use all of these tools to help define a problem. Different tools lend themselves to some kinds of problems better than other kinds.

 

Determining Where the Problem Originated
Successful problem solvers get to the root of the problem by interviewing or questioning anyone who might know something useful about the problem. Ask questions about the problem, including questions that:
Clarify the situation
Challenge assumptions about the problem
Determine possible reasons and evidence
Explore different perspectives concerning the problem
Ask more about the original question

If you did not define the problem, find out who did. Think about that person’s motivations. Challenge their assumptions to dig deeper into the problem.

Defining the Present State and the Desired State
When using this tool, you write a statement of the situation as it currently exists. Then you write a statement of what you would like the situation to look like. The desired state should include concrete details and should not contain any information about possible causes or solutions. Refine the descriptions for each state until the concerns and needs identified in the present state are addressed in the desired state.

 

Stating and Restating the Problem
The problem statement and restatement technique also helps evolve the understanding of the problem. First write a statement of the problem, no matter how vague. Then use various triggers to help identify the true problem. The triggers are:
Place emphasis on different words in the statement and ask questions about each emphasis.

Replace one word in the statement with a substitute that explicitly defines the word to reframe the problem.

Rephrase the statement with positives instead of negatives or negatives instead of positives to obtain an opposite problem.

Add or change words that indicate quantity or time, such as always, never, sometimes, every, none or some.

Identify any persuasive or opinionated words in the statement. Replace or eliminate them.
Try drawing a picture of the problem or writing the problem as an equation.

Analyzing the Problem
When the cause of the problem is not known, such as in troubleshooting operations, you can look at the what, where, who, and extent of the problem to help define it.

What? – “What” questions help to identify the problem. Use “what” questions both to identify what the problem is, as well as what the problem is not. “What” questions can also help identify a possible cause.

Where? – “Where” questions help to locate the problem. Use “where” questions to distinguish the difference between locations where the problem exists and where it does not exist.

When? – “When” questions help discover the timing of the problem. Use “when” questions to distinguish the difference between when the problem occurs and when it does not, or when the problem was first observed and when it was last observed.

Extent? – Questions that explore the magnitude of the problem include:
How far vs. how localized?
How many units are affected vs. how many units are not affected?
How much of something is affected vs. how much is not affected?
Examining the distinctions between what, where, when, and to what extent the problem is and what, where, when and to what extent it is not can lead to helpful insights about the problem. Remember to sharpen the statements as the problem becomes clearer.

Writing the Problem Statement
Writing an accurate problem statement can help accurately represent the problem. This helps clarify unclear problems. The problem statement may evolve through the use of the four problem definition tools and any additional information gathered about the problem. As the statement becomes more refined, the types and effectiveness of potential solutions are improved.

The problem statement should:
• Include specific details about the problem, including who, what, when, where, and how
• Address the scope of the problem to identify boundaries of what you can reasonably solve

The problem statement should not include:
• Any mention of possible causes
• Any potential solutions
A detailed, clear, and concise problem statement will provide clear-cut goals for focus and direction for coming up with solutions.

Preparing for Brainstorming
Before we learn ways to generate solutions in the problem solving process, we will prepare the way for creativity. This module introduces common mental blocks to productive brainstorming, as well as techniques for dealing with the mental blocks. It also presents some ideas for stimulating creativity.

 

 

Identifying Mental Blocks
Brainstorming can help you arrive at a solution to the problem, even for problems that seem unsolvable or that seem to only have inadequate solutions. However, before beginning a successful brainstorming session to generate ideas, you must remove any mental blocks. Mental blocks can eliminate great solutions before they are thoroughly examined as possibilities or springboards to other possible solutions.

There are many types of mental blocks. Most blocks to problem-solving fit into the following categories.
Emotions: Emotional blocks can include anything from a fear of risk taking to a tendency to judge or approach the problem with a negative attitude.
Distractions: Too much information, irrelevant information, or environmental distractions can prevent a productive brainstorming session.
Assumptions: If problem solvers assume there is only one correct solution, they will be unable to generate additional ideas. Assumptions also become mental blocks from stereotypes or perceived boundaries where none exist.
Culture: Culture defines the way we live and limits the ideas we may generate or consider. However, not every culture is the same. Sometimes the cultural blocks are unnecessary, and sometimes we do not consider cultural limitations when we should.
Communication difficulties: If we cannot communicate our ideas in some way – speaking, writing, or pictures – these communication difficulties can block our progress in generating ideas.

Removing Mental Blocks
So what do you do when you identify a mental block? Carol Goman has identified several structured techniques for blockbusting.

The first technique is an attitude adjustment. To remove blocks arising from a negative attitude, list the positive aspects or possible outcomes of the problem. Remember that problems are also opportunities for improvement.

The next technique deals with risk taking. To remove emotional blocks arising from a fear of failure, define the risk, then indicate why it is important. Define what the worst possible outcome might be and what options there are in that scenario. Think about how to deal with that possible failure.

The next technique encourages you to break the rules. Some rules are important, but when rules create an unnecessary imaginary boundary, they must be disregarded so that problem solvers can come up with innovative solutions.

The fourth technique is to allow imagination, feelings, and a sense of humor to overcome a reliance on logic and a need to conduct problem solving in a step-by-step manner.

The fifth technique involves encouraging your creativity. We’ll look at that in more detail in the next topic.

Stimulating Creativity
The creative problem solving process requires creativity. However, many people feel that they are not creative. This is the sign of a mental block at work. Everyone can tap into creative resources in their brains. Sometimes, it just takes a little extra prodding.

Creativity is not something to be turned on and off when needed. The potential for creativity is always there. We just need to learn how to access it.

Here are some tips for creating a creative mental space to encourage productive brainstorming sessions.
• Go outside for a few minutes, especially for a nature walk or bike ride. Exercising and getting sunshine even for just a few minutes are sure ways to redirect your brain to a more creative outlook.
• Change your perspective. Work on the floor or go to the park for you brainstorming session.
• Breathe deeply. Especially when stressed, we tend to become shallow breathers. Fill your entire lungs with air to get some extra oxygen to your brain. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 15 minutes for not only more creativity, but for a great burst of energy.
• Meditate. Focus intently on a candle flame or find another way to quiet your mind of all of your responsibilities and distractions. For a group, try guided meditation.
• Write in a journal. Write for 15-20 minutes in a spare notebook or plain paper. It does not have to be about the specific problem you need to solve, but you may discover some mental blocks if you do write about the problem. Dump all of your mental clutter on to one to three pages that no one will ever see (unless you want them to).

Then let the pages and their recorded thoughts go, even if just in your mind.

Once you get your creative juices flowing, keep them going by trying the following ideas everyday:
• Carry a small notebook or jot ideas in your PDA. Be prepared for ideas whenever they come. Ideas often come as you are drifting off to sleep or as you are waking.
• Stretch your boundaries by posing new questions to yourself, learning things outside your specialty, or breaking up set patterns of doing things.
• Be receptive to new, fragile ideas that may still need time to develop.
• Be observant of details, including self-details.
• Find a creative hobby, including working puzzles and playing games.

 

Creative Problem Solving – Step 1

What is Creative Problem Solving?
Creative problem solving has evolved since its inception in the 1950s. However, it is always a structured approach to finding and implementing solutions.
The creative problem solving process involves creativity. The problem solvers come up with solutions that are innovative, rather than obtaining help to learn the answers or implementing standard procedures.
The creative problem solving process is at work anytime you identify solutions that have value or that somehow improve a situation for someone.

What are the Steps in the Creative Solving Process?
The Creative Problem Solving Process uses six major steps to implement solutions to almost any kind of problem. The steps are:
1. Information Gathering, or understanding more about the problem before proceeding
2. Problem Definition, or making sure you understand the correct problem before proceeding
3. Generating Possible Solutions using various tools
4. Analyzing Possible Solutions, or determining the effectiveness of possible solutions before proceeding
5. Selecting the Best Solution(s)
6. Planning the Next Course of Action (Next Steps), or implementing the solution(s)

Step 1 – Gather Information about the Problem

The first step in the creative problem solving process is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the correct problem, you need to know as much about it as possible. In this module, we will explore different types of information, key questions, and different methods used to gather information.

Understanding Types of Information
There are many different types of information. The following list includes information you will need to consider when beginning the creative problem solving process:
• Fact
• Opinion
• Opinionated Fact
• Concept
• Assumption
• Procedure
• Process
• Principle

Facts are small pieces of well-known data. Facts are based on objective details and experience. Opinions are also based on observation and experience, but they are subjective and can be self-serving. When a fact and opinion are presented together, it is an opinionated fact, which may try to indicate the significance of a fact, suggest generalization, or attach value to it. Opinionated facts are often meant to sway the listener to a particular point of view using the factual data.

Concepts are general ideas or categories of items or ideas that share common features. Concepts are important pieces of information to help make connections or to develop theories or hypotheses. Assumptions are a type of concept or hypothesis in which something is taken for granted.
Procedures are a type of information that tells how to do something with specific steps. Processes are slightly different, describing continuous actions or operations to explain how something works or operates. Principles are accepted rules or fundamental laws or doctrines, often describing actions or conduct.

Identifying Key Questions
When tackling a new problem, it is important to talk to anyone who might be familiar with the problem. You can gather a great deal of information by asking questions of different people who might be affected by or know about the problem. Remember to ask people with years of experience in the organization, and lower-level employees. Sometimes their insights can provide valuable information about a problem.

What questions should you ask? The key questions will be different for every situation. Questions that begin with the following are always a good starting point:
• Who? • When?
• What? • Why?
• Which? • How?
• Where?

Here are some examples of more specific questions:
Who initially defined the problem?
What is the desired state?
What extent is the roof being damaged?
Where is the water coming from?
When did the employee finish his training?
How can we increase our market share?
Which equipment is working?

One important source of information on a problem is to ask if it has been solved before. Find out if anyone in your company or network has had the same problem. This can generate great information about the problem and potential solutions.

Methods of Gathering Information
When gathering information about a problem, there are several different methods you can use. No one method is better than another. The method depends on the problem and other circumstances. Here are some of the ways you can collect information about a problem:

Conduct interviews.
Identify and study statistics.
Send questionnaires out to employees, customers, or other people concerned with the problem.
Conduct technical experiments.
Observe the procedures or processes in question first hand.
Create focus groups to discuss the problem.

 

What are the Benefits of High Performance Teams

The Benefits of High Performance Teams
There are many benefits of high performing teams. In creating high performance teams, employees become more satisfied, and their quality of work improves. Taking the time to build high performance teams in an organization creates loyalty, creates visibility, enhances collaboration, and provides optimum productivity.

Creates Loyalty
Developing high performing teams instills intrinsic motivation within employees. They find meaning in their work, and this satisfies them more than extrinsic motivators such as commissions. When employees are intrinsically motivated at work, they are less likely to leave the organization. Satisfied employees are loyal, and loyalty reduces turnover. It ensures that only qualified employees staff the organization. Success is assured when qualified employees have a genuine interest in the success of the business.

Optimum Productivity
Creating high performance teams will lead to optimum productivity. This benefit goes beyond numbers on reports. Optimal productivity begins with the behavior of individual team members who learn to trust each other. As trust builds within the team, the individual members will work together more efficiently. As the team learns to work together, their roles become clear to them, and they communicate better. All of these factors help to create an amiable work environment. As the work environment improves, productivity will also improve, and the path to optimum productivity becomes evident.

Collaboration
Collaboration is both a product of high performance teams and an essential aspect of them. Collaboration occurs when the members of the team work together towards a single goal. Successful collaboration requires everyone involved to respect and encourage diversity. This includes the diversity of opinion and people. Respect is the key to collaboration. Conflicting ideas are inevitable, but beneficial solutions are probable when all parties treat each other with respect and learn to see from different points of view.

Creates Visibility
High performance teams create visibility. The actions taken by each member of the teams need to be apparent to everyone involved, particularly the manager of the team. Visibility allows everyone to know:
• Who is assigned each task
• How tasks are progressing
• Expected date of completion
• People who need assistance
• Relevant questions
When there is visibility, teams work better together. Additionally, people are praised and rewarded when their actions are visible.

 

Challenges of High Performance Teams
Anyone seeking to develop a high performance team will face the same challenges as any other team. When creating high performance teams, however, you will have the skills to address these challenges and move your group forward through competition, turnover, productivity, and fear. The information in this module can be used to address issues as they appear in your teams.

Can Create Competition
Competition can become a problem in any organization, and this is particularly true when teams are developing. Unhealthy competition occurs when team members fight among each other for power and control. When teams become too competitive, communication and creativity suffer as people keep ideas to themselves. Additionally, a competitive environment will destroy morale and have an adverse impact on creativity.

Fortunately, there are ways to address competition:
• Address competition at the beginning: Competition and conflict are natural, and team members should be prepared to face it from the beginning.
• Make roles clear: Conflict and competition increase in uncertainty.
• Treat all team members with equal respect: Managers often encourage competition in the way that they treat people.

High Turnover Rate
Creating teams can increase turnover when they are not implemented correctly. People are often resistant to change, and changes to create high performing teams are no exception. There are important steps that people can take to reduce turnover among teams:
• Be sincere: Employees know when the sole goal of high performance teams is to make more money. They need to understand how the change benefits them.
• Appreciate employees: Show appreciation when people make steps towards teamwork.
• Encourage open communication: Make people comfortable sharing concerns.
Creating a safe and respectful work environment will help retain useful employees.

Negative Focus on Productivity
While it is true that high performance teams will improve productivity, productivity should not be the primary focus of the team. Too much focus can be placed on productivity. When this happens, other important factors may be overlooked, such as communication and employee satisfaction. Additionally, short-term strategies to improve productivity will not always have a positive impact on teams. For example, adding hours might increase productivity immediately, but it will also cause employee burnout. A balanced view of productivity is necessary to support high performing teams.

Fear of Failure
The fear of failure will cause a team to lose heart and damage performance. Fear reduces confidence and enthusiasm. Additionally, when people are afraid of making mistakes, they are less likely to explore new ideas or take risks. Creating a safe work environment will also serve to remove this fear from team members.
Limiting Fear of Failure:
• Encourage employees to share their ideas without fear of ridicule or retribution.
• Do not threaten or harshly punish people for minor mistakes.
• Foster a culture of collaboration.

 

How Assistants Can Be More Effective

It is impossible to be an effective assistant if you do not use the tools of the trade. The tools of the trade for an assistant go beyond simply printing, filing, and taking messages. You need to become familiar with machines, computer programs, and etiquette to become a successful assistant. If you are unsure about any job-related tools, you should take the time to educate yourself.

Email Protocol
Today, email is a necessary form of communication. Emails allow people to respond when convenient, and it is easy to save emails to servers and prevent the loss of valuable information. Understanding basic email protocol is essential, considering that it is a main method of communication in the business world. An email is similar to a business letter, but it does not require a heading with a date and address. When sending or replying to emails, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.
• Double-check the address: Make sure that the wrong address was not accidentally used. Not double-checking could cause problems.
• CC carefully: Do not carbon copy your entire address book. Only copy people on emails when the issue concerns them. You may also blind carbon copy to protect the privacy of your recipients.
• Subject: Choose a subject heading that is professional and pertains to the topic.
• Salutation: Use standard greetings, like a letter. Introduce yourself if you have not met the individual.
• Body: Maintain a professional tone, and proofread for mistakes. Do not use all caps because that is considered yelling.
• Formatting: Do not over think formatting. It is a message, not a webpage, and a basic paragraph format is typically all that is required. Additionally, you should avoid distracting fonts and emoticons.
• Sign off: Sign off like you would a business letter.

Office Machinery
Being an assistant requires a basic understanding of office machinery. The company that you work for determines the machinery that you will use. Each organization has different needs and purchases equipment accordingly. However, some devices are more common than others. Common office machinery includes faxes, scanners, copiers, printers, postage machines, shredders, and telephones. It is not enough to simply know how to use a piece of equipment; you should familiarize yourself with ways to troubleshoot problems. If you do not have the manuals for a faulty machine, you can always look up the item online.

Computer and Software Skills
Every assistant needs to have basic computer and software skills. Do not expect anyone in your organization to teach you how to use a computer. The computer and software that you use will depend on the organization. You should be familiar with basic computer skills such as keyboard and mouse use, external devices, and retrieving files. Most companies require an understanding of Microsoft Office, which includes Word for documents, Excel for spreadsheets, and PowerPoint for presentations. You should be familiar with databases and the Internet. You may need to use financial software such as Quicken. Some positions also require a basic knowledge of graphic design. Online training, books, and classes are available in computer and software skills.

Communication Skills
The ability to communicate is necessary for a successful career. You need to brush up on both your verbal and written communication skills if you want to make a good impression.
While it is true that writing is not the main aspect of your job, you will have writing tasks. Remember that people will judge your abilities based on your writing style. Emails, reports, memos, and proofreading may fall under the assistant’s domain.
Improve Writing:
• Spell check: Run a spelling and grammar check on everything that you write.
• Proofread: Typos occur after a spell check. Proofread for grammar and spelling.
• Be professional: Use a professional tone in your writing. Avoid slang and informal terms.
• Use mistakes: Do not become offended if someone points out a mistake in your writing. Learn from the mistake and do not repeat it.
Writing is a skill that you can easily improve. Take a class from time to time to hone your writing and improve your communication technique.
Assistants also need excellent verbal skills. You will need to demonstrate proper phone etiquette, plan events, and inform your manager about important topics. You may also have opportunities for public speaking.

Improve Verbal Communication:
• Think: Consider everything you say. Do not simply respond.
• Speak clearly: Annunciate and speak slowly to be understood. Do not rattle off as fast as you type.
• Be confident: Make eye contact and monitor your body language.
• Get to the point: Do not ramble; speak concisely.
• Be sociable: Remain professional while making others feel at ease.
• Share the conversation: Dominating the conversation will make people feel uncomfortable.
• Listen: Practice active listening skills.
We are not always aware of how we communicate verbally. You can ask friends and family for feedback and model your verbal communication on others.

Phone and Voicemail Etiquette
You are the voice of the company when you answer the phone and make calls. It is necessary to follow basic phone etiquette so that you represent yourself, your, manager, and your company well.

• Identify yourself when someone calls.
• Ask before placing someone on hold.
• Answer the phone within three rings.
• Be friendly
• Do not eat or chew gum on the phone.
• Know what you are going to say before you call someone.
• Limit personal calls.
• Do not call people before or after business hours unless prior permission is given.

Voicemail is a useful tool. However, in a fast-paced work environment, many people do not check their voicemail as often as their email. You need to decide when a voicemail is necessary. If you have a great deal of information to impart, voicemail may not be the best option. When you do use a voicemail, follow the basic etiquette.
• Prepare: Know what you are going to say ahead of time. Do not ramble, or the listener might not finish listening to your message.
• Be concise: Leave a brief message with your name, number, and the purpose of the call.
• Speak clearly: Speak into the phone, turn off background noise, and annunciate.
When setting up your own voicemail, avoid cute or silly outgoing messages. Be professional, and keep your outgoing messages up-to-date.

Word Processing
Word processing is an essential part of any business position. The word processor has replaced the typewriter for creating documents. Common business documents include reports, memos, letters, and legal documents. While most companies use Microsoft Word as the main word processing program, other options are available. For example, AbiWord is an open source application, and Google Docs is web-based.
The word processor that you use will depend on your organization. Do not panic if you find yourself working with an unfamiliar word processor. They all have similar operations, and most offer tutorials. Word processors are more than glorified typewriters. They provide a number of tools including: spell check, grammar check, Thesaurus, Dictionary, editing, word counts, formatting, and alignment to make creating documents easier. Taking advantage of the tools available will improve your documents, making them more professional.

Business Writing
Business writing includes emails, memos, reports, and business letters. Each one has its own formatting, but there are a few basic guidelines you can follow with all of your business writing to ensure that the message is clear and effective.

• Identify your goal: Determine if you need to inform, persuade, etc.
• Understand your audience: Create your message around the expectations and interest of your readers. You audience will determine the tone that you use.
• Stay concise: Use short, simple sentences so that you do not lose interest. You should also condense information to keep the message shorter.
• Structure: Make sure that your topics transition easily. Use space to emphasize breaks for different topics.
• Grammar and spelling: Check your grammar and spelling with the word processor and by proofreading.

Internet Research
As an assistant, you will have to do a great deal of research. The Internet makes this task faster and easier. All research, however, is not created equal. Basic search engine results are based on clicks and keywords, and they will not always provide the detailed information you need. You should familiarize yourself with specialized search engines such as www.firstgov.gov. A number of databases, such as ABI/Information Research, also allow you to access information. When you find information, always determine if you have a legitimate source. A blog based on opinion with little research cited, for example, would be suspect.