For collective problem solving to be really effective there are three things to get right:

1. Get the right people in the room.

It seems obvious but often goes unchecked. Do you have the subject matter expertise in the room or, at a minimum, do you have access to them? Are the decision makers present or represented. You don’t want to create a solution that won’t get the vote of confidence from the people who actually decide.

2. Constructive inter-personal behaviour.

Collective problem solving never goes well when people are throwing darts (lollies, insults, glances … add your own option) at each other. A great way to to ensure behaviour stays constructive is to create a set of ground rules for the project. These are best developed by the group for the group and policed by members of the group.

3. Use some form of rational thinking process.

This brings structure to the conversation. There are many choices. I use a combination of Interest Based Problem Solving (IBPS) and Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes (TOCTP). Both of these are based in systems thinking. IBPS captures the “interests” of key stakeholders which encourages a system wide perspective and TOCTP borrows from Socratic and scientific methodology – a very powerful combination.

These three things are necessary conditions for effective group problem solving. That means if any one of them is missing you will probably get stuck.

If you are stuck or there is conflict in the room ask these questions:

  1. Do we have the right people in the room or, do we have access to them?
  2. How are we behaving towards each other? Are we following our ground rules?
  3. Are we following our process?

If the answer to any of these is “no” then you will know how to get back on track.

Simple but highly effective.