Creative Problem Solving

Team dynamics: Swapping individuals

Throughout the process learning facilitators should be trying to create even teams. By even we mean functionally rather than structurally, acknowledging that individuals perform differently in different combinations. Good combinations are vibrant and productive. Spotting poor combinations is relatively easy, as the productivity of the team will be greatly reduced. Participants should be moved, as needed rather then waiting for a break in the process.

Dominant Leader

Teams should be flat in structure, with all members being equal. Some participants will see it as their duty to take control of the situation and lead the conversation and the direction of the concepts. While this behavior might be rewarded in other settings, it does little to develop the brief or the other individuals in the team. In most cases, drawing attention to this behavior and offering guidance as to the desired structure is enough to redirect the performance of the team.

Doubting/Questioning Member

For most people being asked to trust the process and defer judgment is enough, but for others the urge to question is too great. Nothing is more corrosive to the creative process than questions that narrow the thought process. Conversations should encourage divergent thinking, wild ideas and should be optimistic. There is plenty of time later for the tough questions. Teams exhibiting this behavior will require closer facilitation for a short period, until the team begins to defer judgment.

“What market is there for this idea?” in isolation this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask of an idea/product/service. Where these type of questions become the wrong questions becomes clear when we are trying to generate a volume of ideas. In the inspire phase it is important to establish the possible market opportunities for the outcome of the brief, with opportunities being the key phrase. “Opportunities” as an adjunct to a question is like adding a firework rather then a bomb to the creative process.

In the conceptualize phase the type of questions we ask become far more important. Questions should only offer opportunities, energies to the concepts that are being formed. We can trust that the process will give ample opportunity for tough questions later. The aim of the conceptualize phase is to generate a large volume of ideas/concepts. A team of four should be aiming for in the region of 100-200 concepts. There are several reasons for this level of output:

  • Initial ideas will be tied very closely to already established notions (clichéd)
  • Only by exhausting the known to we create opportunity for the unknown to emerge
  • By encouraging the ridiculous and bending the parameters of the brief we can discover new opportunities
  • Through the development of narrative we start seeing the linkages between concepts and start sowing the seeds of innovation
  • As concepts come together through their natural evolution, markets and new opportunities will emerge

As we refine the leading concepts the type of questions become more focused but still leave the door wide open for change and opportunity. The questioner should always see themselves as an explorer, rather then a doubter. As the team becomes more skilled, it gains the ability to inform the doubter as to their impact on the process and suggest a redirection.

It is only in the evaluation phase that our concepts are finally strong enough to stand up on their own two feet and face the brunt of tough questioning. Even still, while we are open to all questions it is also the responsibility of the questioner to suggest possible solutions. Not fire and forget or shrug shoulders and say they don’t know. Evaluation is steps of stairs, with a parachute. Evaluation is also the polishing phase of the narrative that accompanies the concepts. As the concept climbs the steps provided by questioning the story evolves, where the question knocks the concept back to earth the narrative can alter in order to fit the new need. The Ponderer

Quiet, deep thinkers are great in a classroom and in a team, but too many together creates a quiet and unproductive unit. Redistributing the deep thinkers across multiple teams will improve the situation.

Finding the right combination of teammates can be effortless or quite difficult depending on the group. Issues should be addressed within the group rather than pulling one person aside, quite often the group will have an alternate perspective on the situation and inform the solution. Over time each team will learn to self manage.