Are You and Your Team Choosing the Right Problem Solving Tools?


Are You and Your Team Choosing the Right Problem Solving Tools?

Few professionals know more about collaborative problem solving than software geeks – so why not look at the tools they use?

Think of a time at work when you and your team need to be at the top of your game. You need to tackle unique challenges and find answers to tricky questions. You’re dealing with much complexity and ambiguity, and you need to move fast.

How do you organise your thoughts and resources? How do you develop your ideas and collaborate with your team?

Do you automatically sit down at your computer and start using a suitable application or software? Or do you reach for some whiteboard markers, coloured pens and sticky notes, and start writing, scribbling or sketching?

The tools and technologies you use for different tasks can make a massive difference to the results you get. They influence the ways you think, communicate and collaborate with others.

Embracing emerging technologies is the mantra of modern business, and going paperless is a sweeping trend. But the excessive use of digital tools and technologies can actually hinder creative problem solving, teamwork and innovation.

Being stuck in the past and holding on to traditional work tools too tightly can also be a recipe for disaster. However, when you find a good balance and start using the right tools at the right time, your productivity soars.

Let’s look at the pioneers

Few people understand this better than software developers. And if you’ve visited (or worked at) tech companies, you know that their workspaces tend to be rather eclectic.

The typical tech office is designed to help accelerate collaboration and innovation. When you look around, you not only see state-of-the-art technology devices, as you’d expect, but also lots of whiteboards and pinboards, as well as scruffy workshop spaces and so-called ‘war rooms’.

In these spaces, you’re literally surrounded by sketches, diagrams, hand notes and printouts. Every conceivable surface is utilised to capture and share ideas, and to track information, in seemingly old-fashioned ways.

Isn’t it interesting that technology experts are often such prolific users of low-tech tools?

Well, in order to do their job successfully, they not only need to understand the potentials and limitations of various tools and technologies, but also human psychology. They need to know how people think and feel, and what they experience when interacting with different devices and applications.

There’s a reason why a wide variety of industries are looking to tech companies to learn effective and innovative ways of working.

So let me share a few insights I’ve picked up from them.

1. Great ideas and game-changing plans often start with a ‘napkin sketch.’

Doodling or jotting down a sprouting idea is like thinking out loud. There are no rules or barriers; the idea can develop in any direction.

Those scribbles and sketches entice you to play with them, to change them, and to ask your team for input. They prompt you to think openly and expansively, rather than drawing your focus toward your limitations, as digital media often does.

Refined digital or printed documents can sometimes look intimidating to clients. In contrast, when they see a hand sketch, they feel more involved in the conversation and more comfortable to suggest changes. They know that what you’ve presented to them is not carved in stone.

2. Interacting with the physical space can make it easier to solve problems

To solve a complex challenge, you need to get your head around a lot of information. But if you try to keep everything in your head, you’ll soon become overloaded. This is because your short-term memory can only retain a handful of information at any given time.

On the other hand, your spacial memory has a significantly greater capacity. So map things out on a wall, and you’ll find it much easier to see the whole picture.

I use this technique in my practice all the time. Whenever I come across a complex challenge, I write down the key points on post-it notes and stick them on a wall. Then I keep moving things around until the problem and the solution becomes crystal clear.

3. Using hand notes and sketches can enhance collaboration

By capturing all key information and decision on the walls, you leave little room for ambiguity. This ensures that everyone’s is on the same page. Your team knows exactly where the project is at and what needs to be done.

Essentially any large surface that you can write on, draw on, or stick notes on – including whiteboards, pinboards, walls and even doors and windows – can provide a democratic platform for collaboration. Digital environments can rarely match this. When everyone can add their piece to the puzzle, teamwork becomes truly inclusive and engaging.

Summing up

Intelligent tools and technologies have important roles in solving complex problems but are not the only means to an end.

What’s most important is that the problem solving tools you use offer the best opportunity for your people to contribute. That’s where true intelligence lies.

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