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Manufacturing Tomorrow

Manufacturing Tomorrow


3 Tips To Improve Collaborative Problem-Solving

May 17, 2016
By: Mark Stevens

Collaborative problem-solving is about getting the right mix of people together and leveraging each individual’s unique set of skills.

Collaboration must start with a common pool of understanding in which people share similar values of trust, integrity and honesty, and there must be a common purpose or vision. You can’t collaborate — or have any kind of relationship — without that foundation.

Once you have a solid foundation, your people can begin to work together. Here are three tips to improve collaboration.

1.  Talk it out: Most individuals in manufacturing are excellent problem solvers and fairly good executors. The key to collaboration is getting them all to work effectively together. You want to create an environment where you walk through a process, see the associated challenges, and have transparent and crucial conversations about what’s happening. Serious discussions must occur in order to identify a plan of action.

The groups involved must be willing to make change happen, and you must ensure management gets out of the way and allows those things to happen. Often, people trying to control the process hinder collaboration.

2.  Identify one common measure: When a cross-functional group is trying to solve a problem, there must be a unit of success that everybody is being graded against. Customer relationship people, for example, might be looking at how many transactions they can create in a day, but not necessarily their accuracy. Define a single unit of measure for everyone so you can keep score and define success or failure.

It’s important to keep in mind that solving problems collaboratively usually requires some type of process change, which could alter the way the group does work.

3.  Recognize the differences between people: Everyone is different, and that’s a good thing. Identify each person’s personality so you can put each one in a position to be most effective. If you put people in roles that don’t match their personality, they’re not likely to be as productive as possible.

The Predictive Index (PI) behavioral assessment is a good tool to provide insight into each person’s personality. Collaborative teams should be diverse.

For example, it’s not always a good idea to have all engineers in the room, because they might all be alike. PI can recognize people’s individual traits, such as whether they’re socially dominant, patient or able to multitask.

When problem-solving, you can always leverage technology to give visibility to where you are in the process, but there has to be a business process first. Once that is in place, you can use technology to leverage how you might automate workflows as part of the final design.

For example, JIRA is a cloud-based solution that organizes information throughout a project. It’s an effective tool to give visibility into what’s transpired with regard to a specific project.

JIRA can assign accounts to individuals and track changes as a project advances. It allows people to input their thoughts and keeps a record of everything that’s happened. You can see what’s transpired over multiple iterations, over multiple activities or even by the hour.

Of course, you can’t just command collaboration. It has to be organic. You need to ensure you have the right kind of people filling roles that suit their personalities, skills and abilities. As you shift gears through the lifecycle, it’s important to determine what type of people you want in the room at each step in the process.

For instance, at the beginning, you would have people defining the issue, scope and expectations of a project. During that time, the innovative person with big ideas will be anxiously awaiting a turn to contribute. Having had a say, the creative person will be bored as the team moves on to implementation.

In the end, the goal is to recognize the differences between people, and understand how you can leverage their varying skills at each step of the problem-solving process.


Mark Stevens
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