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9 Collaboration techniques to solve problems: A guide for leaders and people managers
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9 Collaboration techniques to solve problems: A guide for leaders and people managers

Knowing when to ask for help is a strength. Learn why collaboration to solve problems is essential to your business and how to promote a culture of teamwork.

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Imagine you’re in Rome for the summer. You don’t speak the language and the transportation system is completely different from your home country. 

You’re using Google Maps and a translation app to read signs and get around on your own. But after wandering around the Roma Termini for 15 minutes with no idea where to find your train platform, it’s time to get some help.

In this case, no one would think less of you for asking for directions. So why are we often too worried about being judged to do the same at work?

It’s a strength to know when to seek help and use collaboration to solve problems. Acknowledging that there are things you don’t know or can’t solve on your own isn’t only smart, but is actually more productive. As soon as you and your team start playing to each other’s strengths, you’ll find those KPIs far more achievable.

Instead of spinning their wheels when they’re stuck on a problem, your team needs to know when to bring in an outside perspective to find possible solutions. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of the benefits of collaborative problem-solving and learn how to get your team working together to overcome challenges.

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Benefits of collaborative problem solving

Solving complex problems in groups helps you find solutions faster. With more perspectives in the room, you’ll get ideas you’d never have thought of alone. In fact, collaboration can cause teams to spend 24% less time on idea generation. Together, you’ll spark more ideas and reach innovative solutions more quickly.

Not only that, but looking at problems in groups allows your team to learn from others, which can make them more resilient to issues in future. 

Peer-to-peer learning is also an opportunity to upskill your team while strengthening their relationships. That’s because collaborative problem-solving encourages people to trust each other as they work together towards common goals. It’s team collaboration best practice to encourage your team to share ideas without risk of humiliation.

How to get your team to solve problems collaboratively

Promoting collaborative problem-solving skills within your team allows you to create a culture where people are comfortable seeking feedback on their work. That means you won’t have to host a dedicated brainstorming session to get your team to collaborate—they’ll just start doing it naturally.

To get there, you need to foster a psychologically safe environment, provide them with the right tools, and reinforce the power of teamwork whenever possible. Here are ways to enable a collaborative problem-solving culture: 

1. Create the right environment 

Simply inviting your team to work together isn’t enough for them to actually do it. You need to foster psychological safety so they feel comfortable sharing ideas and aren’t afraid of getting called out if they are wrong. 

It all starts with your team culture 

Your culture should be supportive, inclusive, safe, trusting, respectful, and empathetic. It should make people certain that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Remind your team that brainstorming spaces are safe and all ideas are welcomed. They shouldn’t wait until they have a perfect solution to intervene. Be open-minded and treat all ideas as important even if you think they aren’t viable. This can be as simple as writing down all solutions on a shared document and asking questions for further clarification. 

Give them what they need to do their job  

Set your team up with the necessary resources and information to solve problems effectively. This includes written guidelines or even training on communication, leading a brainstorming session, or problem solving skills.

Also, technology improves collaboration in the workplace, so equip your team with the right tools for effective communication, information sharing, and project management. Make sure your team finds it easy to work with the tools they have. If they struggle to reach team mates due to technicalities, they’ll likely end up working on their own. 

Switchboard can support your existing tech stack since all browser-based apps work in their persistent rooms. In this visual digital workspace, team members always know where to find project-related information and can work together on those apps directly from Switchboard—without switching tabs.

Switchboard room with multiple files opened
Bring all your favorite browser-based apps to Switchboard and allow everyone in the room to edit them without switching tabs. Source: Switchboard

2. Promote open, transparent communication and feedback  

A huge part of creating a psychologically safe environment for collaboration is encouraging open communication and establishing a culture that embraces feedback. Using active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing their words to check your understanding, can help you truly understand individual points of view focusing only on your answer.

For example, if your team member is struggling to find the words to express themselves, don’t jump in straight away with your own assumptions. Listen openly and let them fill the silence with their thoughts. Then, try and summarize what they’ve said so far and let them correct you.

It’s also important to be transparent when setting goals and addressing potential setbacks. 

“The clearer you can be about what you need as a leader, what you need from your team, and what your clients need, you’ll be able to take action that's in alignment with creating that outcome,” says Tarah Keech, Founder of Tarah Keech Coaching

Finally, follow-up on discussions when you have results so each contributor can see the impact of their input.

3. Set clear common goals 

What makes collaboration different from compromising, for example, is that you get to work toward a common objective. When team members have a shared purpose, they become allies and are more likely to work together to find the best solution possible, instead of trying to be in the right. 

For instance, when you offer profit sharing, people earn more money if the company makes higher revenue. That means if two people work together on finding a solution, they’ll likely decide on the one that’s better for the business—because, in the end, it’ll be beneficial for both.

Also, when you set clear goals for the collaboration, you get more focused answers and help improve team productivity. For example, start a brainstorming session by clearly stating the problem “Sign-ups are down by 1%, we need to come up with ideas to get back to the regular signup rate.” 

Making it clear that you’ve identified a gap and know exactly what you need from others helps them understand why the session is relevant and what they need to do. 

4. Present collaboration as a win-win 

If you don’t set up a collaborative culture, team members will spin their wheels rather than get help to solve a problem. It’s crucial that you explain the benefits of collaboration clearly to your team so you can: 

  • Reach profitable business solutions
  • Make people feel heard and valued 
  • Bring your team together
  • Increase trust in the company’s decisions
  • Make people feel part of something bigger
  • Promote knowledge sharing

It’s your job to help team members understand that collaboration is beneficial for both individual and collective success—and find win-win scenarios.

5. Eliminate silos and solicit diverse opinions

Working in silos can affect productivity and morale as people spend more time coming up with solutions. A way to eliminate silos is by encouraging cross-functional projects and hosting team-building activities for colleagues to get to know each other. 

“The only path that creates positive change is the one you haven't taken yet,” says Tarah. Encouraging teamwork allows you to come up with more diverse alternatives to problems. “And, the fastest way to identify the path that works is by using each other as resources and co-creators,” she adds. 

Gather multiple perspectives on a problem by ensuring everyone shares their thoughts even if they’re introverted. For example, create a Switchboard room and invite everyone to add one or two ideas to the whiteboard either during or before the meeting. Then, go over each one of those ideas and vote on the best ones. This can happen anonymously so people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.

This is an easy way to bring diverse people together and see problems from multiple perspectives. “We all have stories from our lives where we pull lessons from. Imagine if we had access to other people's lessons. How much time would that save us?” says Tarah. 

Two people in a Switchboard room writing ideas on a virtual whiteboard
Switchboard’s integrated whiteboard lets team members add to it without leaving the project room. Source: Switchboard

6. Train your team on how to resolve conflicts 

Conflict resolution is a skill all managers should have, so make sure to give training on this topic. Equip your team with problem-resolution skills—for them to find mutually beneficial solutions. This will allow them to address disagreements and conflicts before they escalate to something bigger. Do this by:

Leaving your ego at the door 

Many times conflicts occur when people take things personally or when you enter team meetings with your ego by your side. 

The best advice for learning how to solve conflicts is to leave your ego at the door and assume you all want what’s best for the business. The idea of working together toward a common goal instead of discussing who’s right or which proposal is best helps reach consensus and a better alternative to all ideas.

7. “Yes, and…” every idea

This concept comes from improv and means acknowledging others’ proposals and adding to them. Improv actors use this technique to come up with stories in a group.

For example, someone enters the scene and goes “Help, mother, help!” The next person should say “Yes, dear, I’m here. And, what do you need?” If they enter the room and say “I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m not your mother,” it’ll neglect the first actor’s proposal and can make the story stagnant. 

You can apply this practice to business teamwork. If during collaborative problem-solving, you suggest an idea and someone neglects that thought, the conversation goes nowhere. 

Instead, try establishing a “yes, and…” mentality to move the conversation forward. This is an example of how this would look in practice:

  • Do: “I think the problem is that users are struggling to find the sign-up button.” “Yes, that’s a potential issue, and it might also be because the color of the button doesn’t stand out. Let’s look at our web page analytics.” 
  • Don’t: “I think the problem is that users are struggling to find the sign-up button.” “Hmm, not really, we’ve conducted usability testing and that was never an issue.”

This mindset gives space for ideas to grow, even if they seem off the mark initially. Let people explain their thoughts and you'll be surprised how solutions can result. Avoid premature judgment and create a safe space for creativity and exploration.

8. Play to everyone’s strengths 

You can’t expect the same type of insights from all team members. The beauty of having diverse people on your team is that they can all add to the conversation from their unique perspectives. 

Assign roles and responsibilities based on team members' strengths and expertise. Encourage collaboration and reach potential solutions to problems by assigning tasks that require different skill sets. 

For example, let’s say the customer support team’s workload increased in the last month. They don’t know why, but people keep complaining about their orders being wrong. The team is so busy trying to find quick solutions for the customers that they can’t take the time to get to the root cause of the problem. 

You can’t afford to close the online store and decide to host a brainstorming session with one or two key players from each department. Inviting them to this session helps bring their own experiences to the table and will help you find the problem faster. Not necessarily the ones affected by an issue are the most suited to solve it. 

9. Recognize and reward teamwork 

Acknowledge and appreciate collaborative efforts within the team. Recognize individuals who actively contribute to problem-solving and emphasize the importance of teamwork. This will help you keep your team engaged and motivated as well as remind everyone that if they collaborate, they might get rewarded. 

Give negative feedback in private with useful examples, and celebrate successes in public as a team. However, not everyone likes public recognition, so take time to understand what motivates different people from your team and implement it.

Encourage risk taking and turn failure into learning opportunities. Part of collaborating toward solutions is understanding that making mistakes is part of the process, and the faster you get to fail, the better.

The fastest way to succeed is by solving problems in groups

You can make mistakes as a tourist in Rome because the worst thing that could happen is getting lost for a couple of hours (and you can always call an Uber).

It’s different at work. Many people think that making mistakes could cause them to build up a bad reputation or, in extreme cases, lose their  job. However, that mindset is what causes you to get stuck on a problem. And, if you don’t ask others to support you, you might struggle to come up with solutions in a timely manner. 

But asking for help isn’t a mistake. It’s a sign of strength and your company should encourage people to seek different perspectives. To encourage your team to use collaboration to solve problems, build a psychologically safe environment for people to speak openly about their ideas. 

Set common goals, eliminate siloed work, and promote a “yes, and…” mentality. And, along with leaving your ego at the door, you should get equipped with the right team collaboration tools

Using a tool like Switchboard makes it easy for your team to work together to solve problems in a shared room. There, everyone can add files, edit content directly from browser-based applications, or include their ideas on a whiteboard to simplify team communication and reach solutions faster.

Work in groups to find the best solution to your business problems.
Add a whiteboard to your Switchboard room and collect your worker’s ideas live or async.
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about collaboration to solve problems

What is the purpose of collaboration?

The purpose of collaboration is to bring diverse people together to share ideas to work together towards solving a common goal. Teamwork can help organizations:

  • Shorten decision-making loops
  • Solve problems faster
  • Drive innovation
  • Improve knowledge sharing
  • Tighten team relationships
  • Get better at managing conflict
  • Create a sense of belonging

What is the difference between collaboration and compromise?

The difference between collaboration and compromise is that the first one aims to reach a common goal; while compromising, means finding a middle ground. Collaboration presents the opportunity to reach win-win solutions while compromising means someone needs to cede.

What is the difference between brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving?

The difference between brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving is that brainstorming is meant for doing group work to come up with ideas that may or may not solve a problem. Collaborative problem-solving, on the other hand, is much more structured and aims to find practical solutions to a specific problem (brainstorming can be one of the techniques used to reach that solution).

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Add a whiteboard to your Switchboard room and collect your team’s ideas live or async.