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Problem Solving Techniques

The following are common problem-solving techniques that can be employed by teams in order to most effectively identify their problems, come to consensus on possible causes of and solutions to those problems, and work together toward resolution of the issue they are addressing. Each of these techniques offers different benefits; teams may decide to use one or more of the techniques below at different points in their work together, depending on the nature of the problem and the group.


Brainstorming is a process through which members of a group spontaneously contribute ideas. As advertising executive Alex F. Osborn, who coined the term "brainstorm," describes it, the process entails using the brain to storm a creative problem, with each “stormer” audaciously attacking the same objective. Structured brainstorming is a good way to solicit creative ideas or solutions to problems facing a group. Participants often feel more free to contribute ideas when they are not being corrected or challenged, and are more open to contributing ideas when their contributions are not evaluated or discussed until all thoughts are on the table.

Click here for an exercise on brainstorming.

Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is a method through which teams can depict the forces involved in the decision making process. In any situation, there are both driving and restraining forces that influence any outcome. Individuals or problems that promote change are the driving forces, and individuals or problems that support the status quo are the restraining forces. Conducting a force field analysis will help team members to better understand the forces supporting the desired change, as well as the opposition to the change, in order to work effectively toward resolution of their problem.

Click here for an exercise on performing a force field analysis.

Fishbone Analysis

Fishbone analysis is a tool that is used to analyze cause and effect relationships. The diagram that results from the exercise provides an orderly system for grouping causes of a problem that will allow team members to collectively agree upon the roots of the problems that they are facing, and to subsequently be better equipped to systematically address those issues.

Click here for an exercise on creating a fishbone diagram.

Round Robin Approach

In a “round robin” approach, a facilitator poses a discussion question to the group, then calls upon each group member in succession to respond briefly to the question. During this exercise, there is no group exchange regarding comments or ideas—group members’ contributions are simply recorded on flipchart until all participants have provided their response. Once all responses have been made and recorded, a brief discussion regarding the salient issues, or points or clarification, is conducted. Facilitators may then lead the group through a discussion, and ultimately a vote, on the ideas. The end result should be a group consensus on ways to tackle the problem that they are facing. This process allows for equal participation of all group members and reduces distractions.