Alternative Approaches to Problem Solving
A problem-solving meeting is often difficult to manage. While this can be a particularly effective use of group resources, the problem-solving meeting is rarely successful—perhaps because of the difficulty inherent in its management and the failure to use systematic problem-solving processes such as I have introduced in this set of essays. Knowledge about group-based problem solving abounds, but it is rarely employed in actual group meetings. The concepts and tools I have just presented are not new; yet they are rarely used to empower groups. The clear message to be gained from this discussion is that problem-solving tools should be used. They work!
If an organization is unwilling to embrace systematic problem-solving processes and tools, then the group should not be used for this purpose. A multi-round questionnaire procedure can be used instead to clarify the problem and/or solicit alternative solutions to the problem. Known as the Delphi Technique, this procedure is particularly effective when used with people who are busy or have incompatible work schedules.
A circulating notebook has also been suggested as an alternative to the problem-solving meeting. Instead of meeting to brainstorm or solve a problem, a statement can be sent around indicating what needs to be accomplished. A notebook is set up to which everyone can contribute. This notebook may be located in physical space or in digital space (web board or chat room). This freely accessible notebook becomes a repository for thoughts, ideas, and idle speculations—the same comments that might be made at a meeting. Participants in the problem-solving venture are encouraged to look through the notebook to see what others have contributed. They are then instructed to respond directly or contribute a new idea or approach. If the notebook is a paper-and-pencil affair the new contents of the notebook should be routed to everyone in on the project and, thereby, present a new, sharper focus to keep the group moving forward. These notebooks are valuable resources for problem solving, brainstorming, exchanging ideas, and gaining consensus or agreement.