Occasionally, your team may need to gather and generate ideas and plans for process improvements as a group. These meetings are successful when the participants have identified business problems, come up with better ways of doing things, and agreed on a plan for action. Unfortunately, some meetings conclude with key issues unresolved. A well-structured meeting is a critical starting point. But when your team really needs to dig deep for a solution, then it helps to have a few extra tools in your facilitation tool-belt. Otherwise, no matter how good your intentions, the meeting may devolve into discussion loops, silence, or simply return to old ideas.
Here are three helpful group process tools for getting at problems and coming up with solutions.
Tool #1: Sequential questioning
This technique is useful when you need to uncover important information as a group.
In this process, the facilitator decides on the main topic and prepares a set of questions in advance. These questions should progress from broad ideas down to the specific, operational level. Each question should challenge assumptions and prompt detailed discussion.
For example, if the topic is how to improve customer services, the first question could simply be: "Why aren’t our target customers buying more of our product?" Follow-up questions may focus on specific challenges that you anticipate will come up in response to the first question – each new question digging deeper than the one before.
A good method is to write one question at the top of a flip chart and then ask team members to contribute their thoughts. Write down their responses and compile lists under appropriate headings. Once you have heard from everyone, flip to a fresh sheet with the next question.
The key is to focus attention on one question at a time and always tie back to the original theme or problem statement.
Tool #2: Force field analysis
This is useful when you need to identify areas of potential conflict and bring them into the open before they become problems.
Begin by clearly stating the problem, then help the group define the goal it hopes to achieve. Write these on the top of a flip chart.
On the left side of the flip chart, write down the key factors that contribute to that goal. Encourage participation as the group brainstorms ideas.
Then, opposite the first list, brainstorm likely obstacles and challenges. Among the usual favourites are tight deadlines, limited budgets and lack of support from management.
Once all the issues are presented, decide which obstacles must be dealt with immediately and which can only be addressed later on. Then, come up with action points for each.
By mapping both sides of the equation, your team is able to anticipate potential obstacles, which increases the chances of success when executing the solution.
Tool #3: Root cause analysis
Managers often spend time dealing with the symptoms rather than actual causes. A simple root cause analysis can help the group dig beneath the surface and get at the real reasons behind the problem.
The key is distinguishing between cause and effect. You can begin by stating a observable “effect” then ask questions to uncover the underlying causes. As participants share their ideas, be mindful as a group whether each is the root cause, or a symptom of a deeper cause.
There are a few different approaches to diagramming a root cause analysis. One simple and impactful method is the 5 Whys.
In a 5 Whys, begin with a question or problem statement, then ask the group why it is so. As the group settles on an answer, repeat by asking again why it is so. With each “why” question and answer, your team is adding a layer of depth. Once you have reached five layers deep, you should be approaching the actual root cause. It is only then that you should begin thinking about the solution.