Generating new ideas and engaging in effective problem solving can best be accomplished by combining great minds with a variety of perspectives. One employee’s expertise in design can be complemented by another employee’s financial savvy. Management’s big picture view can be readjusted with employee-focused input.
Committees, focus groups, and team building sessions are all utilized to initiate creative solutions and seek innovative ideas. Under the right circumstances, these groups can be extremely effective. However, several factors can diminish the productivity of the group process:
n Unspoken opinions – Often there is pressure within a group to appear unanimous. Members often do not disagree for fear of being an outcast. Decisions are made without the benefit of everyone’s real ideas and thoughts.
■ Trying to be self-contained – Many times, a group will fail to consult with outside experts. The group wants the glory all for itself, and individual members feel the need to impress others with their ability to do it all. Without the feedback of outsiders, the group can suffer.
■ Failure to look for an alternative – Repeatedly, once a good suggestion is made, the brainstorming stops. There is a tendency to jump at the first appealing solution and get on with it. Unfortunately, this eliminates many other good solutions that may have been raised.
■ Rejecting nonconforming information – Many groups shut out new ideas once they have set their focus. This can lead to overlooked errors and further mistakes in decision-making. Rigidity sets in, and if the group makes an error, it may be too blind to see it.
■ Boredom – If a group is not energized and feeling a sense of excitement, apathy and boredom may set in. When people are bored, they just want to complete the task. Again, this can lead to quick and irresponsible decision-making.
If you believe that any of these problems are occurring in your group, it’s time to act:
■ Regroup – Break the group up into several smaller groups if possible. Make each smaller group responsible for specific goals.
■ New insight – If the group is small to begin with, add a new member or two. Often they can serve as a reality check for the group and get it back on track.
■ Devil’s advocate – If adding a new group member isn’t an option, assign someone in the group to the role of the dissenter. Don’t just throw the dissenter to the wolves, so to speak. Let group members know the devil’s advocate is there to bring opposing views by challenging their ideas.
■ Seek an expert – Bring in an objective expert and tell group members they will be sitting in on a meeting or two and making suggestions. Make this a bonus for the group, not a rebuke.
■ Provide motivation – Create some outside activities to help alleviate boredom. Come up with bonuses for the most creative idea or the best suggestion of the week. Give the group something to look forward to and something to strive to achieve.
The benefits of a collaborative process are many. Groups can produce innovative ideas and engage in problem-solving activities by using the dynamic resulting from various perspectives. By discouraging premature judgments and encouraging input, groups can deliver results far in excess of those that result from individual efforts.