May 2018 Business SCAN
A fundamental part of every leader’s and manager’s role is finding ways to solve problems. Good processes are essential when approaching a problem, to be able to solve them quickly and effectively. This month’s Hot Topic introduces a study about what behaviours to empower, as well as what behaviours to decrease, in our teams to give rise to good problem-solving skills. The research also explores psychological safety in teams to make us all better problem solvers.
Traits of the best problem-solving teams
Research has demonstrated that problem-solving cultures strive best in teams with high levels of cognitive diversity. Teams that hold, for example, a blend of different problem-solving behaviours, like collaboration, identifying problems, applying information, maintaining discipline, breaking rules and inventing new approaches.
However, a crucial part of stimulating problem-solving teams is for leaders to not only consider how they will act, but as importantly, how they will not act. They need to disturb and disrupt unhelpful patterns of behaviour and commit to establishing new routines. To lay the ground for successful execution, everyone needs to strengthen and sustain psychological safety through continuous gestures and responses. People cannot express their cognitive difference if it is unsafe to do so. If leaders focus on enhancing the quality of interaction in their teams, business performance and well-being will follow.
Be deliberate about your behaviours
A study based on interviews of 150 senior executives from different organisations across the world categorises four types of organisations, based on cognitive diversity and psychological safety: generative (high diversity, high safety), oppositional (high diversity, low safety), uniform (low diversity, high safety), and defensive (low diversity, low safety). Not surprisingly, adaptability and good problem-solving correlate very highly with high levels of both cognitive diversity and psychological safety.
The same 150 executives were asked to choose five words that best describe the dominant behaviours and emotions in their organisation, from a list of more than 60. The table shows the most common behaviours selected by each group.
The table below shows the most common behaviours selected by each group:
To become a ‘Generative’ team, we need to be more curious, inquiring, experimental and nurturing. And we need to stop being hierarchical, directive, controlling and conforming.
The thing is, we choose our behaviour. However, it is not just the presence of the positive behaviours in the Generative quadrant that count, it is the corresponding absence of the negative behaviours.
Sources: Hayes, J. R. (1981) The complete problem solver. Pennsylvania: The Franklin Institute Press; Reynolds, A. and Lewis, D. (2018) The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams, HBR, 2 Apr; Delizonna, L. (2017) High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It, HBR, 24 Aug
Would you categorise your organisation as generative, oppositional, uniform or defensive? How could levels of cognitive diversity and psychological safety be improved in your team or organisation?
Other Recent Hot Topics
Discuss topics like this in detail with industry leaders.Learn More
Techniques Referenced in this Hot Topic
Build capability with the latest management and leadership techniquesLearn more
This KnowledgeBrief Hot Topic is part of our monthly Business SCAN publication
Stay ahead in business with the latest ideas, innovations and research, in brief – filtered from the finest sources globally.