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Problem-Solving—The Team Approach

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.

Most adults are good problem-solvers. They deal with tough issues daily. But each person has a different process for dealing with life's challenges. So when people get together as a team and they don't have a common process, they are bound to head for conflict. To make the process easier, here are some ideas to help you and your team through it:

  1. Identify a problem to work on from such sources as

    • customer complaints;

    • observations of poor work practices;

    • data-collection systems.

  2. Form a team. Pick people who

    • have an interest in the problem;

    • are impacted by the problem;

    • will make time to resolve it;

    • have the power to implement a new solution.

  3. Establish ground rules for the team. These could include an agreement to

    • listen to each other;

    • respect a variety of ideas;

    • start meetings on time;

    • maintain a focus;

    • ensure that no one dominates the discussion.

  4. Get agreement on how the team will operate. Decide

    • how often you will meet;

    • how you will communicate with each other between meetings;

    • how you are to be organized (i.e., what roles are necessary and who will fill each);

    • what tasks are to be done by each person;

    • what deadlines the group faces.

  5. Define the problem (see the Problem-Solving Road Map on page 249) on paper, being as specific as possible. For example, instead of broadly defining a problem as a "lack of communication," narrow it down to a "lack of communication between the first and third shifts." An effective way of defining a problem is to answer these questions:

    • Who is responsible?

    • What happens?

    • When does it happen?

    • Where does it happen?

    • How does it happen?

  6. Investigate the cause. Your team has two options: it can rely on people's opinions or on data. Data are preferable, particularly when issues are complex and emotional. Opinions are acceptable for less contentious or urgent problems.

  7. Find solutions. Brainstorm for innovative ways to resolve the problem. At this stage, creativity is essential (see Creativity). Consider all the possibilities and then pick solutions that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively.

  8. Develop an action plan. List all steps to a solution, then get members to take responsibility for implementing the ideas by a specific date or time. Do not accept ASAP — it's too vague and means that the activity probably won't get done!

  9. Implement the plan. Give the volunteers your go-ahead and then follow up to make sure each person understands his or her mission.

  10. Complete the problem by

    • measuring the outcome;

    • tracking the benefits;

    • recognizing the team;

    • evaluating the process.

  11. Evaluate the process with your team. Identify those things you did well so you can repeat them for other problems, and correct the things you could have done better.

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