Problems in the Group

vs. Problems in the World

Sometimes people committed to solving a problem come together and discover one more time that good intentions do not automatically create an effective group. And sometimes the problems in the group eclipse the problem in the world they had hoped to solve.

Ideally a problem solving group would have a number of features:

  • There is a well-defined task and outcomes; the authority of the group is sufficient to be successful.
  • There is a commitment to investigation and reflection as precursors to proposing a solution (as opposed to fighting for solutions before you even explore the problem).
  • There is a commitment to exploring the substantive issues in the problem (as opposed to using the problem to secure new alliances or
    advance personal vested interests).
  • Basic respect and consideration exist among group members.
  • There is open and candid communication. (All thoughts of individuals are available to the entire group).
  • All relevant and available information is brought to the table.
  • Expertise available to the group matches the task at hand; people with the relevant expertise or experience are identified and given a level of influence commensurate with that background.

(More than one observer has commented that our U.S. Congress possesses none of these characteristics, and that certainly reflects on their apparent impotence in dealing with serious problems. But that's a topic for another time.)

The good news is that "problems in the group" are still problems, that is, they can be best approached using our typology. So the material below takes some of the most common problems in the group (organized under the ideal characteristics listed above), and points to the relevant problem type and some possible solutions.

A Clear Charter

The whole section on Aiming is the best response to this concern. When groups have an unclear or incomplete charter, their effort is vulnerable to any number of personal agendas or competing goals. A few simple questions can dramatically improve the clarity of its charter:

  • What produce or decision are we expected to deliver?
  • Do we have the resources, expertise, time, etc. to complete our charter?
  • Who will be the recipient of that product?
  • What will they do with our work product?

Investigation & Reflection

Some of the problems we see when this condition is violated include:

  • The group dives into considering solutions immediately, without reflecting on the nature of the problem; this is particularly likely when someone believes they have a good solution and do not want to waste time wallowing in the problem.
  • Some problem solvers see the issue on the table as a chance to "get closer to the seats of power"; they will distort their opinions and slant the data to cement an alliance with someone in authority.
  • The problem is characterized using colloquial language that actually reflects a preference for a certain solution, such as suggesting "we have a communication problem".

These issues are generally amenable to a strict norm against solving the problem before we know what the problem might be.

Substantive Exploration

Almost every problem can be heard as an implicit accusation. When we say "It takes too long to process credit applications", it sounds awfully close to "What's wrong with you people in Finance?". And you can expect at least a few people in the group might be personally defensive or protective of the department at risk.

The facilitator can prevent much of this simply by the way they characterize and capture the group's work.

Respect & Consideration

Groups with no history -- or a tortured history --

Open & Candid Communication




Relevant Expertise