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Team Building Skills

Problem Solving Tools

According to an article from WebMD (Hitti, Miranda, Problem Solving: Teamwork May be Best, WedMD Medical News, April 25, 2006) teams are better at solving complex problems than individuals. In their study they discovered that complex problems were best solved by teams of 3-5 people as compared to individuals or pairs. They also learned that pairs functioned no better than individuals alone. This shows the importance of knowing how to problem solve and various techniques to use. There are some basic steps to be used in problem solving:

Building Consensus

Building consensus means coming to a general agreement. If a team lacks consensus, there will be problems. A consensus does not mean that the decision is unanimous, but it must be a decision that everyone can live with. There are many different tools that can be used to come to agreement. Using these tools effectively will:

Some tools for building consensus are brainstorming, multi-voting, affinity grouping, and nominal group technique.


Brainstorming is an excellent method to generate a long list of ideas. Since the first ideas are not usually the most innovative ideas, coming up with new ideas is always helpful. Leaders should encourage team members to think "outside the box" and create a safe environment for that to occur. Brainstorming requires very little preparation, so it can be done at any time. The procedure is:

  1. Choose someone to lead the discussion and someone to take notes.
  2. Clearly define the idea or problem the team will brainstorm.
  3. Determine the ground rules. These should be developed from the group, but they should include:
  4. Record ideas accurately and quickly so everyone can see them.
  5. Review responses to eliminate duplicates, group similarities, and discard any that are not allowable.

Depending on the length of your list, your team may need additional tools to narrow the list to a manageable size. Multi-voting is the quickest way to narrow down a list. Affinity grouping is good for organizing ideas into categories.


Multi-voting is the quickest method to use to pare down a long list of items. One you are sure that everyone understand the items on the list, members are asked to vote. The leader decides how many items each person is allowed to vote for. The procedure is:

  1. Members vote on the number of items determined by the leader. The vote may be by a show of hands, post-it notes, or tic marks. (There is some level of trust that members will vote honestly.)
  2. Count the votes for each item. Any item with votes from more than half the people will be kept on the list. (If no item has more than half the votes, take the top few items.)
  3. Vote again. This time the number of items the members may vote for will probably decrease. (The number should be half the items or less.)
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the desired number of items remain.
  5. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the remaining items.
  6. Finalize a decision.

One major advantage of multi-voting is that it equalizes the power among all members.

Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping can be done after the brainstorming activity or as an extension of one. The process is:

  1. Have all ideas written on 3x5 cards or large post-it notes.
  2. Have large sheets of paper on the tables (for 3x5 cards) or walls (for post-its).
  3. Advise the members that this activity is to be completed in silence. (That is difficult, but it will result in the best outcome.)
  4. Ask members to move the ideas around to the sheets of paper looking for similarities or themes that would connect them.
  5. After the ideas are organized, stand back and review. Ask the members their ideas as they were grouping the items.
  6. Write down the groupings for the ideas. Make sure the wording is complete enough to identify the complexity of the concept.

Affinity grouping can be very powerful, but in very large groups, it can become chaotic.

Nominal Group Technique

The nominal group technique is used when you want to pool ideas from a group who have varied judgments, talents, knowledge, and skills. This method will produce better results than simple brainstorming. There are four steps:

  1. Generate ideas individually. Explain the problem at hand and allow each person to quietly write down ideas.
  2. Record ideas as a group: In a round-robin session where each person is allowed to contribute an idea, write each idea down so that all can see them. Members may pass if they so choose.
  3. Discuss ideas as a group: Each idea is then discussed for clarification and evaluation.
  4. Vote on ideas individually: Members vote privately (anonymously) or prioritize ideas (rank from 1-5). The leader tallies the scores. A decision is based on the outcome.

Multi-voting could be used at this point to eliminate the lowest scoring ideas and then revote on the top ideas.

Next section:  Process Mapping

Team Building Skills
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Velda Arnaud, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Lead, Educate, Serve Society

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