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Problem-solving and decision-making techniques

Problem-solving and decision-making techniques
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
An online search for problem-solving or decision-making techniques will generate many millions of results. For example, the Problem Solving page on the MindTools website we’ve mentioned previously lists 47 different tools!
Stephen Robbins (1991) lists a number of techniques that can be used to promote effective group and team decision-making:

Brainstorming

Also known as ‘thought showers’, brainstorming takes place when the group or team attempts to generate as many extreme or far-fetched ideas as possible. For example, the group could be asked to think about all the possible uses for a house brick.

Nominal group technique

Group members meet face to face to pool their opinions in a systematic but independent way. A problem is presented to the members and then the following steps take place:
  • Members meet as a group or team and independently write down their ideas on the problem before any discussion takes place
  • Each group or team member presents one idea to the group, which is recorded (typically on a flip chart)
  • Group or team members discuss each idea and evaluate them
  • Each member individually rank-orders the ideas. The group or team members accept the idea of receiving the highest aggregate ranking

Delphi technique

This is similar to the nominal group or team technique but it does not require the physical presence of the individual members, so it’s ideal for remote working.
It includes the following steps:
  1. When a problem is identified, all members are asked to provide a potential solution by completing a questionnaire
  2. Each member anonymously and independently completes the questionnaire
  3. Results of this round are compiled at a central location, transcribed and reproduced
  4. Each member receives a copy of the results
  5. Members are again asked for their solution as the received results tend to trigger new solutions/changes to the original positions
Steps 4 and 5 are repeated until the group or team reaches agreement

Stepladder technique

This works by adding new members to a group or team that has already discussed the problem.
It starts with two people working independently trying to find a solution to the problem. They then discuss their ideas together and agree on a solution.
During that time, a third person is being presented with the problem and presents their solution to the pair that has already agreed on the solution. All three then revisit the problem, discuss it, and re-evaluate the solution.
This process then is repeated with a fourth and then fifth person added.

Reaching a consensus

For a group to solve a problem, they must reach some kind of group consensus. This can be easier said than done, and may require emotional intelligence skills as well as rationality.
Some conflict can be useful, as long as group members are encouraged to explore each other’s reasoning with a view to coming to a consensus or compromise.
Research suggests that collaborative problem solving works best when everyone is given a role and feels individually accountable for their work. Where possible it is best to encourage team members to pick their own roles but in some cases it may be necessary to allocate roles.

Your task

Another technique that can be used to encourage people to look at a problem from a number of different perspectives is the Six Thinking Hats approach. This was developed by Edward de Bono, a renowned creative thinker who has promoted flexible thinking over a long career. The six hats refer to six different viewpoints to take when looking at a given situation or opportunity.
In the Downloads section below you will find a short pdf document on the Six Thinking Hats approach. Read this document then in your own words summarise the advantages of this approach for problem solving or decision making in a group or team.
Record your thoughts in your learning log, and comment below on how useful you think this approach – or any of the other problem-solving/decision-making techniques in this step would be for a group or team that you belong to.

References

Croghan, M. & Mann, M. (2017, March 2). 5 ways to help kids become collaborative problem-solvers. Nesta. https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/5-ways-to-help-kids-become-collaborative-problem-solvers/
Nesta. (2020). Six thinking hats. https://www.nesta.org.uk/toolkit/six-thinking-hats/
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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