Collaborative problem solving

Collaborative problem solving

The way we work has evolved in recent years as a necessary response to changing technology and demands in the workplace. As different issues start to arise, many companies have begun looking to collaborative problem solving approaches and Design Thinking to find creative ways to address these matters.

At the forefront of collaborative working is Professor Ulrich Weinberg, director of the School of Design Thinking at the Hasso-Plattner Institute. His work on group thinking has revolutionised the way many businesses tackle problem solving. Weinberg talks about the success he has seen when working with companies:

“I’m just returning from a trip to China, I was invited by the CEO of Haier […] he read the Chinese version of my book and he invited me to discuss with him the radical changes he made with his company. Right now he has 70,000 people and he is rearranging the whole company structure towards an ecosystem of microenterprises – he enables people to be entrepreneurs in the structure of their company and I am completely with him that this is probably the best structure of large organisations.”

Weinberg’s method for collaborative problem solving

  1. Based around a non-linear approach, collaborative problem solving is not merely about getting from A to B. It’s an iterative process that repeats the different stages of the problem solving Design Thinking procedure until the best and most desirable results are found.
  2. Weinberg’s method also champions collaborative thinking over individual methods which foster a competitive environment. He believes encouraging a diverse range of input from a variety of employees across different teams can yield better results in problem solving. In a society where we are taught to compete against each other individually, Weinberg says: ““We are not prepared for a collaborative environment, we are all prepared for a highly competitive environment”.
  3. He encourages the use of a collaborative environment that facilitates people working together, and inspires them to think creatively.

You may be asking: why is problem solving important? Businesses face many problems on a day to day basis, and a collaborative problem solving approach can be extremely useful in solving many of them. To provide a practical example of how this method can be applied, we’ll run you through how to tackle the changes in the upcoming GDPR ruling in May 2018.

What is the GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will replace the Data Protection Directive in May 2018, in an attempt to harmonise data privacy and protection laws across Europe. Its aim is to protect all EU citizens against data breaches and, as such, companies who are non-compliant could pay heavy fines.

But to get prepared well in advance, the collaborative problem solving system could help you create the perfect solution to the changes the new regulations will pose.

How can collaborative problem solving help prepare for the GDPR?

To start this method, it’s important to think about the environment in which you undertake your project. Professor Weinberg highlights the need for a space to encourage collaborative working across a company. He talks about his development of We-Q spaces which he has incorporated into businesses to allow physical spaces to aid collaborative problem solving.

“At the School of Design Thinking, we designed ‘We Q’ spaces, which are actually not ‘IQ’ representing the intelligence of a single person in the ‘I’ model – it’s more the ‘we’ qualities and we focus on that. We had to physically redesign the spaces […] working environments need to be redesigned and we are encouraging companies to do that”.

To encourage this kind of working in your team, you should think about creating a similar space. Consider investing in whiteboards so that your team can work on a project together. Similarly, use Post-it notes so that everyone can jot down their ideas and each can be taken into consideration. They can be colour coded to represent facts, ideas and opinions and moved through the stages listed below, so you can reconsider and reiterate them when they’re needed.

Next, invite a variety of people to your solution meeting. Include different people from different disciplines throughout the company to collect a variety of opinions and ideas on the process.

Step-by-step Design Thinking:

  1. Discovery Phase: This is the point where you take a look at your issue and start to assess where you need to find the unmet needs. In this case you will need to assess the upcoming changes surrounding data security due to GDPR and find out where your company isn’t quite up-to-date.
  2. Frame opportunity: Gain some perspective on the problem by framing it in different ways. Look for patterns and themes and see where they sit in comparison to the rest of your company. In terms of the GDPR, are you seeing consistent issues regarding password protection for example? Reframe that problem into an opportunity to train and inform employees on secure password protection training.
  3. Incubate: Before you start the process collaboratively, send people your insights so far, let them absorb it all individually before bringing them together to express their ideas.
  4. Ideate/Illuminate: Bring your team of multi-disciplined participants together to discuss issues and search for creative solutions. Use the collaborative working space you have created and the diverse stimuli around you to inspire ideas. Use your Post-it notes to explore and re-explore ideas.

Use the whiteboard to expand on ideas together to get creativity flowing. In terms of the GDPR you can bring your team together to think of creative ways to align your company with the new regulations.

  1. Evaluate and refine: Once you have explored your options and generated a variety of creative solutions, you must whittle them down to the best ideas. Display your Post-it note ideas on a wall and look for the ones with the biggest impact. When you have the best ways to tackle the GDPR, work with your team to refine your choice further and vote, taking into consideration the following criteria:
  • Technical feasibility – is it possible?
  • Desirability – is it something you want?
  • Business viability – is it right for your business?
  1. Rapid prototype testing: Start to run tests on your idea to assess whether it will really work within your business. Think about how it would work at each individual stage and once again consult a diverse range of people about the idea. With the GDPR think about the effectiveness of your idea – is it ticking all the criteria of the new regulations? And does it work for your company?
  2. Deliver: Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to implement and begin the test and learn process.
  3. Iterate and change: As mentioned before, this process is not a linear one. After your plan has been launched, evaluate how it performs in the real world and collect feedback. Even if there aren’t any pressing issues, keep reiterating the process to further refine and hone your ideas to get the best possible outcomes. By using this method well in advance, by the time May 2018 comes around, you will be well prepared for the new GDPR regulations.

As you work through these processes, don’t be afraid to repeat any of the stages if you don’t believe the result is satisfactory. Weinberg talks about how we should break out of the conventional way we work, a way we have been taught at school, and attempt this new method to get the best, most creative results:

“With first grade, kids learn that their classmates are their competitors because they have to be better than the other kids, and all the kids learn the same pattern. And it’s not the pattern of collaboration on first hand, it’s the pattern of competition […] The problem is, in the real world, in a networked world we are living in now, that kind of pattern is obsolete.”

If you take on board the professor’s theories and the shifts in modern company dynamics, you can make the most of this new, effective way of thinking and start to revolutionise the way you tackle issues in your company.