The Pros and Cons of Team Problem-Solving
Working as a cohesive team is important. Teamwork simplifies tasks, improves outcomes, and fosters a stronger sense of purpose among everyone involved. But there are times when teamwork isn’t necessarily the best solution. Maintenance managers should understand when to bring the group together to overcome a challenge — and when solo delegation will yield a better outcome.
There’s no right or wrong approach to problem-solving, only a situational assessment of the pros and cons of approaching challenges as a group.
Example: production line inefficiency
For this exercise, let’s look at a simplified version of a real-world problem.
According to recent production data, one of your plant’s lines is exhibiting inefficient outputs. The line should produce 600 widgets per hour, but production has fallen to approximately 540 widgets per hour over the past week. The cause of the slowdown is unknown, and it’s up to you, the line manager, to get to the bottom of it. How will you approach the problem — with a team approach or individual delegation?
The positives of team problem-solving
With a team approach, you bring everyone together in a scrum or similar meeting to assess the issue. The benefits of an all hands on deck approach include:
- Information transparency and insights are shared among the group.
- Everyone has a vested interest in, and feels responsibility for, finding a solution.
- Multiple viewpoints can reduce confirmation bias during investigation.
- Groups can cover more ground in vetting potential cause/effect solutions.
- Opportunities for intelligent risk-taking, since risk factors are distributed across an entire team.
- Discussion can lead to improved understanding of the problem and its potential solutions.
The negatives of team problem-solving
With a more individualized approach to problem-solving — in which tasks are delegated to each member of the team, each is entrusted with their role, and there’s a plan in place for bringing it all together — you might avoid the potential cons of a team-based approach, including:
- Miscommunication leading to errors and flawed outcomes.
- Power dynamics distracting groups from the problem at hand.
- Groupthink overriding independent thought to inadvertently create bias.
- Task overlap creeping up, resulting in inefficient group problem-solving.
- Unequal participation breeding resentment in teams or among cohorts.
- Groups taking longer to agree on a solution.
Which answer is the right one?
Again, there is no “right” answer for how to approach problem-solving. The best solution is one that lends itself to the situation at hand.
In the production line inefficiency example from above, either approach may be applied to great success. A team approach might expedite cause/effect analysis and shed light on the core cause of a problem. Meanwhile, delegating tasks to individuals might yield more insight at each stage of production due to each person’s familiarity with their task.
Maintenance managers should be familiar with the pros and cons of team problem-solving, so they can decide how to approach each specific problem. In some cases, groups yield the best opportunity to discover the cause of a problem quickly. In other situations, tactful delegation is a better use of resources. The right answer is the one that results in the best possible solution.