Category Archives: Supervisors and Managers

When is Intervention Necessary to Ensure a Group’s Productivity?

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About Intervention

In general, facilitators neither inject themselves in issues nor direct the flow of discussion; they merely go where the group wants to go. There are occasions, however, when stronger responses are needed to make the group more functional and productive. In this module, we will discuss what these stronger responses are, why they are necessary, and when is it appropriate to use them.

 

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Why Intervention May Be Necessary

Facilitators are part of a group for a reason: to help the group achieve their goals in the most democratic and cooperative way possible. Ideally, groups should have cooperative members with knowledge, skill, and personality to assist this process. However, in the real world, groups are much more complicated. Indeed, even well-meaning group members can create dysfunctional teams. For this reason, intervention may be necessary.

An intervention is an injection of one’s self in the process in pursuit of a specific goal. Interventions are what separate a facilitator from a mere participant— the participant’s statements are contributions, whereas a facilitators’ statements are interventions.

Technically, anything that a facilitator does, both verbally and non-verbally, in the course of his or her role in a group is an “intervention.” However, the term intervention is usually reserved to relatively stronger interference in a group’s natural way of doing things.

The following are some of the reasons why intervention may be necessary:
To help the group achieve their goals. If an on-going dynamic in the group is keeping the entire team from reaching their objective, then it’s time to intervene. For example: if a coalition exists in members, decision-making might get skewed to one side of the issue.
To protect group process. If the integrity of the chosen methodology in getting results is being compromised, then a facilitator must intervene.
To prevent the escalation of an issue. Generally, facilitators should let the group handle things on their own. But some hot issues are better nipped in the bud, or they might blow up into a larger issue can create serious damage.
To sample “skills” to the group. In some occasions, group members lack the skills to deal with a group issue, e.g. two conflicting issues. In these cases, intervention may be necessary to expose the group on more functional processes.

When to Intervene
The following are some situations when intervention may be necessary:
• The group is stuck. This means that the process is not producing results, or the process is not progressing to the next level.
• The group is about to move on to the next agenda without realizing that an important aspect of the discussion is unresolved or unaddressed.
• The group continues to follow a negative pattern despite soft interventions. (We will discuss levels of interventions in the next section.)
• Something unethical is going on in the group, like a personal attack or subtle/blatant intimidation.
• Group process is being hampered by a dominant person or clique.
• Group members are misunderstanding each other.
• The facilitator perceives tension and suspiciousness in the group.

Levels of Intervention
There is a guiding principle in medicine that goes: don’t prescribe strong medicine when a milder one will do. Similarly, interventions in facilitation range from non-directive to directive, subtle to explicit, non-intrusive to very intrusive. It helps to know what the levels of intervention are in order to decide what response to give to different situations in a group.

The following are the different levels of intervention:
No intervention. Unless there is a pressing concern that requires a facilitator’s intervention, the first level of response is to do nothing. By not responding to a concern, a facilitator is effectively letting the group take care of the problem, and implement their own solution. Note though that even if a facilitator is not directly responding to the problem, he or she may be actively gathering information about the group and how they process their own issues.
Reflective Technique. The first few levels of intervention are geared towards increasing awareness within the group that a problematic situation is in place. One way to do this is to objectively state what you notice is going on. Note that you are not supposed to voice out your opinions or evaluations of the group dynamic; merely bring to awareness something that the group may not have noticed. The group is left to confirm or refute the facilitator’s observations. Either way, the result may be further clarification.
Example: “I noticed that four of you had been very quiet since we started.”
Solicit the Group’s Observations. As much as possible, let the group members identify themselves what is happening within the group. One way to do this is to solicit feedback through general leads. Example: “Jane. What can you say about what is happening right now?”
If general leads are not working, you can use direct leads. Example: “Jane, what can you say about the way the discussion about (subject) is going?
Interpret observations. This becomes necessary when the group has difficulty seeing the implications of what is going on in the process. NOTE: always phrase your interpretations in tentative fashion, as if seeking confirmation from the group if your observations are correct or incorrect.
Example: “I’m noticing that the energy is low? Are we focusing on the right issue? Or is there something else that we have more energy for?”
Suggest solutions. If the group seems to be stuck, suggest a way to deal with the problem. Note: suggest only process changes. And always get the approval of the group. Example: “We seem to be stuck, would you like to try a different approach?”
Restructure the process or an aspect of it. Change the group process by re-organizing the structure of dialogue (dyads, small groups, etc.), using problem solving processes, inserting a “process break” or changing the original agenda.
Confront. This is directly mentioning the problem, or the difficult individual. Note that confrontation is a very strong intervention, and must be used only as a last resort, when all other softer interventions have been exhausted.
Example: “I noticed that you are always encouraging the other members of the group to leave the meeting prematurely. And twice now it has disrupted the process. May I know what the reason why you’re doing this is?”

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Intervention Techniques
In the previous module, we introduced intervention and the different levels of intervention. In this module, we will focus on particular intervention techniques: use of processes, boomerang it back, and ICE it.

Using Your Processes
As process experts, the best way a facilitator can intervene in an unproductive or dysfunctional group is by introducing a process that would directly address the problem or issue.
For example, if a group’s problem is the monopoly of the floor by certain members, a facilitator can introduce the round robin discussion to ensure that everyone gets their turn to speak.
If the problem is the lack of information about the issue in contention, the facilitator can make presentation part of the agenda.
If the problem is a lack of understanding between management and staff, the facilitator can break the group into pairs of management and staff.

Boomerang it Back
To “boomerang” an issue back is to present an issue back to the group for them to resolve. The reflective technique (discussed in the previous module) is one of the basic ways of mirroring an issue to a group.
Another way to do this is to rephrase a group’s concern into a question addressed to the group. For example, when a group member says “maybe we are just too tired to think of a new idea for this project”, a facilitator can simply say “do you think you are too tired?”
Or if a group member asks a facilitator a question, the facilitator can just bounce the question back. Example: if a group member asks “should we continue this project?” the facilitator can simply reply “What do you think? Should you?”

ICE It: Identify, Check for Agreement, Evaluate How to Resolve
Another way to intervene is to use the ICE technique.
ICE stands for:
• Identify
• Check for Agreement
• Evaluate How to Resolve.
When you ICE it, you surface what the problem is, verify with the group its accuracy (or at least their agreement), and then start the process of looking for solutions.
Example: “What do you think is going on in the group right now? So, if I understand correctly, this is what is happening? Is this correct? How do we go about addressing this problem?”

What Meaningful Questions Can Gauge Employee Happiness?

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In the end, employee reviews lead to happier employees. Happier employees mean better productivity for your company. What are some of the ways to help keep your employees happy?

Ask Questions Frequently
Just as you want your employees to feel like they can ask you questions, you need to be able to do the same. Asking questions is the best way to get the answers you’re seeking. It seems so simple, right? Making it a practice to frequently ask your employees questions about all aspects of their job helps you gauge employee engagement. Asking questions also helps you understand any problems your employees are having, and allows you to fix any issues you can.

How Transparent is Management?
Another way to keep happy employees is to ask, how transparent is management? When employees feel like management is hiding information, they can start feeling disengaged. No one wants to be lied to, or feel like they are being left out of the ‘loop.’ Employees have a right to know what is going on within the company, and that knowledge will only make them work harder for you and your company. When you don’t include employees in knowing what is going on with the company, they start to feel like their contributions are not important. Your job turnover rate will increase, while productivity declines.

Rate Quality of Facility?
The next question to ask your staff is for them to rate the quality of the facility. It sounds a little odd, but you have to remember that most of us spend an average 40 hours or more per week at work. That is a lot of time to spend in one place! If the facility is not up to par, that could make your employees feel like they are not important. Keeping the facility clean and in good working order is important. Making sure that you have a place for employees to go to that they feel safe in, is even more important. While those are two criteria for a workplace, you should also factor in aesthetics. If the beige wall color is making people feel depressed, why not change it to a calming green? Ask your employees what they would like, or what would make them feel better about showing up to work. A lot of changes are simple and inexpensive, but will give you better productivity and more profits.

Contributing Factors to Work Easier?
Hopefully as a supervisor you understand what goes into your employees’ jobs. While that knowledge is important, if you don’t do the job every day, you are lacking insight. Many companies hire someone to come in and give suggestions on how to make work easier and more efficient. That may be helpful, but it’s a lot cheaper, and you will get better results by asking your employees. Asking your employees what contributing factors they suggest that would make work easier is an easy way to gain insight into their jobs. Your employees do this job every day. They can tell you what in the processes are and aren’t working. They can suggest better programs, procedures, electronic devices, etc. If the work is easier, then the productivity can increase.

What makes you Productive?
Often times as supervisors, we rack our brains about how to increase productivity. Sometimes we even have third party consultants come in to give suggestions on how to increase productivity. Those consultants have their merit, but can be a big expense to the company. It seems silly to incur such an expense when the answer could be right in front of you. It’s important to remember that your employees are your most prized resource. Who better to know what motivates them, than the employees? Take the time to ask your employees what makes them productive. They can be very effective in coming up with ideas, and different ways to raise productivity.

Recognition?
We all know how important employee recognition is. Employee recognition helps keep your employees happy, and engaged in their jobs. When you have happy employees, you have healthy profits! One of the easiest, and best ways to check if your employees are receiving good recognition is to ask them. You can run fancy reports, but it’s easier and quicker to just ask the question. Typically, employees will gladly tell you if they feel like they are being recognized for good performance.

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Opportunities to Grow and Advance?
Another question to ask your employees is if they feel like you have given them opportunities to grow and advance in their careers. Not many people want to stay in the same job for the rest of their lives. Most of us want to ‘climb up the ladder’ and strive for advanced success. Opportunities for growth and advancement can mean many different things. Here are a few different types of opportunities you could offer:
• Additional job training
• Cross training
• Paying for an employee to obtain a certificate
• Paying for an employee to obtain a college degree
• Allowing an employee to advance to another career

Confidence in Leadership?
Last, but not least, ask your employees if they have confidence in the leadership. We talk a lot about giving employees feedback, and how it’s important. Feedback helps employees know what they are doing well and what they need to work on. Asking your employees if they are confident in their leadership helps you understand what they want from their leadership team. You can use their suggestions to become a better supervisor. When you have reached your full potential as a boss, employees feel safe. Job safety helps retain employment, which reduces job turnover costs, saving the company a lot of money. Just as you want your employees to do their best, they want you to do your best. Your job is to keep them happy and productive, and it can be a major issue if you are unsuccessful. You are their boss, yes, but you can improve just as they can.

Collaborative Solutions

What are Common Mistakes Managers Make when Conducting Employee Reviews

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Contrast Effect

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We have all been affected on some level by the contrast effect, though we may not have known the term for it. Contrast effect means using one employee’s standards to gauge another employee, instead of using the preset goals. Your company sets reasonable goals and standards for its employees. While one employee is able to produce at a faster rate, that doesn’t mean another is.

When conducting an annual review, you have to stick to the goals and guidelines set forth from your company. For example, telling an employee they are getting a low score because they don’t answer as many calls per hour as Suzie, is not acceptable.

Telling an employee that the minimum standard of calls answered per hour is 15, and giving them a low score because their calls per hour is 8, is acceptable.

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Similar-to-me Effect
The next pitfall to watch out for is the similar-to-me effect. The similar-to-me effect means showing favoritism to individuals who share the same background or similarities with you, the reviewer. Favoritism and the workplace are never a good mix. So what happens when there is favoritism in the workplace?

• Respect for the supervisor is decreased.
• Work satisfaction is decreased.
• Camaraderie is decreased.
• Co-workers resent favored employees.
• Productivity is decreased.
• Job turnover is increased.
• Employee engagement is decreased.

Halo (or horn) Effect
Next we will learn about the halo (or horn) effect. The halo (or horn) effect means that a reviewer focuses only on a narrow set of goals to determine the overall rating, in an unfair manner. In an annual review, the final overall rating is determined by the summation of all of the categories. An annual review would cover all aspects of an employee’s job. With the halo (or horn) effect, the reviewer bases the overall score because on one or a few of the categories in the annual review. The score should be determined by the whole review, not just some of the sections. An example of this would be if a reviewer gave an employee a poor evaluation score because of not scoring high in one category. The employee scored high, and even exceled in all other categories, but ended up with a low overall score.

Central Tendency
Central tendency is another pitfall to watch out for. Central tendency means taking the average of the entire score for everyone within the team and assigning to each individual on the team, irrespective of their accomplishments during the specified period. As we discussed before, teamwork is important in any company. Teamwork doesn’t mean that the individual’s accomplishments and attributes are not valid. Just because the team collectively does a good job, doesn’t mean all of the individuals involved in the team did, and vice versa.

Leniency/Desire to Please
Leniency, or desire to please, is a huge pitfall of employee reviews. Leniency, or desire to please, means giving a favorable rating to an undeserving employee just to avoid conflict. Giving constructive criticism is never easy. No one wants to make an employee upset. Even though the employee may not be thrilled by the constructive criticism you’re giving, they still need to hear it. Here are some ways to give constructive criticism:
• Be specific.
• Sandwich criticism between compliments.
• Offer solutions to problems.
• Don’t overwhelm employee with too much criticism.
• Be direct.
• Show them that you care and understand.

First Impression Bias
Another thing to watch out for is first impression bias. We have all been there, had a bad day, and made a poor first impression on someone. First impression bias means allowing a prior impression of an individual to cloud all future decisions. An annual review should consist of the employee’s full year, not just a first impression.

Rater Bias
Rater bias means rating an employee based on personal feelings instead of actual facts. It’s easy to let your personal feelings cloud your judgment. Regardless of if your bias is in favor or not in favor of your employee, it’s wrong to let your personal feelings effect an employee’s review. Annual reviews need to be based on an employee’s performance only. Your personal feelings are not valid in this arena.

Recency Effect
When giving annual employee reviews, you also will want to avoid the Recency Effect. The Recency Effect is allowing the most recently concluded evaluation rating to skew the rater’s judgment with regards to the present performance evaluation. Have you heard that saying “I’m only human?” As humans, we are prone to error, but also have the ability to learn and adapt.

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Employee reviews help employees learn what they need to improve. Having previous performance reviews in mind while doing one’s current review doesn’t allow them to grow.

The point of an annual review is to show the employee what it is they need to work on, and what they are doing well. If you don’t take into account their growth, they will only become disengaged from the whole process.

Creative Problem Solving – Step 6

Planning Your Next Steps
Once you have selected one or more solutions to the problem, it is time to implement them. This module looks at identifying tasks and resources, and re-evaluating the solution and adapting as necessary.

Identifying Tasks
This part of the creative problem solving process is the time to think about the steps for making the solution become reality. What steps are necessary to put the solution into place?

Brainstorm with people involved with the problem to determine the specific steps necessary to make the solution become a reality. At this stage of the process, working with a smaller group may be more effective, unless you need approval from a large group. While making that list, identify any tasks that are critical to the timing of the solution implementation. Critical tasks are items that will delay the entire implementation schedule if they are not completed on time. Non-critical tasks are items that can be done as time and resources permit.

Identifying Resources
This part of the creative problem solving process is the time to think about the resources for making the solution become reality. What else is necessary to put the solution into place?

The types of resources that may be involved are listed below, along with some questions to think about to assign resources to the project of implementing the solution.

Time: How will you schedule the project? When would you like the solution completed? How much time will each task identified take?
Personnel: Who will complete each identified task?
Equipment: Is there any special equipment required to implement the task? Does the equipment exist or need to be obtained?
Money: How much will the solution cost? Where will the money come from?
Information: Is any additional information required to implement the solution? Who will obtain it? How?

Implementing, Evaluating, and Adapting
Once you have determined the tasks and the resources necessary to implement the solution, take action! Now is the time to use your project management skills to keep the solution implementation on track.

As part of the implementation process, you will also continue to evaluate the solution(s). It is important to be flexible and adapt the solutions as necessary, based on the evaluation of the solution’s effectiveness at solving the problem. You may need to make adjustments to the plan as new information about the solution comes to light.

Recording Lessons Learned
Once you have solved the problem successfully, it is time to apply what you have learned to make solving future problems easier.

Planning the Follow-Up Meeting
Have a follow-up meeting after the solution has been implemented. Here are some things to consider when planning this meeting:

Make sure you have a clear agenda for the meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to conduct a final evaluation of the problem, the selected solution, and the implementation project. Use the follow up meeting to find out if any of the team members still have frustrations about the problem or its solution. It is also time to celebrate successes and identify improvements, discussed in the next two topics.

Make sure to invite all of the team members involved with the creative problem solving process and the solution implementation.

Make sure to consider the meeting arrangements, such as refreshments and equipment needed.

Invite the participants in plenty of time, to make sure that all key members can be present for the meeting. Make such each participant knows the purpose of the meeting so that all have the appropriate incentive to attend.

 

Celebrating Successes
After the problem has been solved, take the time to celebrate the things that went well in the problem solving process. Try to recognize each person for their contributions and accomplishments

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You can celebrate successes by recognizing the contributions of the team members in the follow-up meeting. Alternatively, you can have a party or other form of celebration. A good activity just needs to help the team celebrate a job well done in coming up with all the solutions, evaluating them, and finally implementing a solution effectively.

Identifying Improvements
There have probably been some bumps along the road in the creative problem solving process. Take the time to identify lessons learned and ways to make improvements so that the next problem solved will be even better.

Meeting with team members and stakeholders to identify improvements is a valuable exercise for several reasons.
It ensures everyone is aware of the challenges encountered and what was done to resolve them.

If something is learned from a mistake or failed endeavor, then the effort put into the task is not entirely wasted.

Participants can apply these lessons to future problems and be more successful.

 

Creative Problem Solving – Step 5

Selecting a Solution
The next step in the process is to select one or more solutions from the possibilities. In the previous step, you will have eliminated many of the possibilities. With a short list of possibilities, you can do a final analysis to come up with one or more of the best solutions to the problem. This module discusses that final analysis, as well as a tool for selecting a solution called Paired Comparison Analysis. It also discusses analyzing potential problems that may arise with a selected solution.

 

Doing a Final Analysis
In the previous stage of the process, you performed a cost/benefit analysis. However, since we cannot always know all of the potential variables, this analysis should not be the only one you perform.

For each potential solution, you must weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages. Consider the compatibility with your priorities and values. Consider how much risk the solution involves.

Finally, consider the practicality of the solution. It may be helpful to create a map for each solution that addresses all of the relevant issues.

Consider the potential results of each solution, both the immediate results and the long-term possibilities.

In the final analysis, you will refine your shortlist and keep re-refining it until you determine the most effective solution.

 

Paired Comparison Analysis
The Paired Comparison Analysis tool is a method of prioritizing a small number of workable solutions. The first step for using this tool is to list all of the possible solutions. Label each potential solution with a letter or number.

Next, compare the solutions in pairs. Decide only between those two which solution is preferable. Assign a number to indicate the strength of the preference for each option. For example, problem solvers could assign a “3” to items they strongly prefer, a “2” to a moderate preference, or a “1” to a mild preference.

This first round continues two at a time until all of the solutions are ranked. Then all the ranks are added together to obtain a priority score for each item. The top score is the preferred solution.

For example, imagine that a group of children are deciding which fairy tale to perform in a school play. They have listed six favorites:
A) Sleeping Beauty B) Cinderella C) Snow White
D) Jack and the Beanstalk E) Hansel and Gretel F) The Three Little Pigs

Their chart might look like this:

step 5

In this example, the clear winner is choice D, or Jack and the Beanstalk.

Analyzing Potential Problems
Think forward to the solution implementation. Ask how, when, who, what, and where in relation to implementing the solution. Does the imagined future state with this problem solution match the desired state developed earlier in the process?

Brainstorm for potential problems related to the solution. Consider how likely potential problems might occur and how serious they are. These potential issues can then be evaluated as needs and wants along with the other criteria for evaluating the solution.

Sometimes this analysis can uncover a potential hardship or opportunity that changes the criteria, problem definition, or other aspects of the problem solving process. Remember to be flexible and revisit the other stages of the process when necessary.

 

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.