8 ways teams can problem solve better than individuals

Did you know that groups are 10% more accurate at analysing data and predicting trends than individuals? Here are 8 ways to make the most of your team's collective problem-solving abilities

Jonny Fisher
by Jonny Fisher
team working on a problem together with laptop

If you’re up against a tight deadline, bringing a new employee up to speed or tackling an important project, at some point it can be tempting to take the reins and go on alone. While you probably don’t have enough hours in the day to do everyone else’s work as well as your own, studies have shown that teams are around 10% better at analysing information and making predictions than individuals. Now, 10% might not seem like a lot. For dull, routine tasks it probably isn’t enough to insist that everyone works overtime. However, if you’re looking to innovate, getting your team together might make the difference between “ok” and “excellent”.

Here are the top eight ways you can access your team’s capacity for collaborative innovation and gain that extra 10%…

  • Gather ideas. As you go through your day in your own role, there are a thousand things you aren’t seeing or experiencing. Establish a simple place for your team to share their ideas as they occur to them. You never know what might be useful later.
  • Set a challenge. Crowdsource solutions for even the smallest tasks. If you exercise your strategic muscle regularly you’ll be better prepared to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses at crunch time. Plus, you never know who might be about to have a stroke of genius.
  • Beat the clock. Always put a time limit on your problem solving: i.e. five minutes for an initial brainstorm, five minutes to develop your best idea, and then repeat. If you’ve ever crammed before an exam you’ll know that a bit of pressure can be exactly what you all need to get focused, particularly if you’re all collectively enforcing it! This system also gives everyone clearly delineated thinking and speaking time, so they can get out of their own head and listen to everyone else when they’re needed.
  • Divide and conquer. The best bit about working in a team is that you can break down a problem into its composite parts, and then tackle each one with a pair of fresh eyes. Rather than letting everyone ponder on the big picture, give them each a section to solve and then figure out collectively if and how they fit together.
  • “Yes, and” one another. This is a phrase borrowed from improvised comedy, and it’s one of the best ways to stop your team getting into a rut. When someone shares an idea, rather than explaining why it won’t work, try to develop on the part of it that might. You can keep going by asking “if [that is true], then [what comes next]?”
  • Share enthusiasm. Working alone means you sometimes lose faith in your own ideas, simply because you’ve been with them for so long. Your group can let each other know when they’ve hit on something great. Use your collective enthusiasm as a barometer for deciding what to pursue further.
  • Prototype some options. Use the man-power of your group to take a few ideas past the first stage, rather than deciding on one too early because of limited resources. Draw them up or write them out, then take the time weigh them up against one another fairly.
  • Go to a vote. Sometimes an obvious solution will emerge and you’ll all be on the same page, but it can still be valuable to practice getting on board with the majority. Even if an individual within the team preferred a different idea, ask them to throw themselves behind this one and see what their contrasting opinions can add.

Next time you want to sit alone in a room with a problem to solve, think about asking your team to get involved. Or why not check out our advice on 6 ways to create a collaborative workplace? After all, you never know who might bring the 10% that can make all the difference.

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