The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost – lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, openended, and unstructured discussions. Here is the most effective solution we think might help: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process.
Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges.
This activity is based on a further elaboration by JO Education’s staff of a resource curated by the partnership of the Erasmus+ Project FAVILLE. One of the aims of the project FAVILLE was that of developing a digital application containing several resources that could be used both face-to-face and online by groups of people and learners, under the direction of a learning facilitator.
Definition of priorities is not always easy but yet it is an essential step to define the next actions to be taken by a company. Through this activity the process of prioritisation is streamlined and organised in a way that leads to a detailed planning of what actions must be undertaken next.
Structure of the process:
Steps to follow:
1. Choose a moderator
You absolutely need to select someone on the team to take the role of the moderator. They can join in on the process but must focus on making sure no discussion breaks out and has to keep time.
2. Start with Problems – 7 min
The first step is simple: Everybody in the team sits at a table and without discussion they spend 7 minutes writing all the challenges, annoyances, mistakes or concerns that they have. Once the 7 minutes are up, each person will have a pile of problem post-its in front of them.
3. Present Problems – 4 min per person
The moderator now selects one person at a time to stand up and very quickly explain each problem as they stick them to the surface of a wall/board. Nobody else in the team is allowed to speak here. The moderator should give no more than 4 minutes per person. Once everyone has spoken and added their problems then everyone in the group has shared their challenges.
4. Select Problems to Solve — 6 min
The moderator gives each member 2 voting dots — Everybody must now vote on the challenges they consider to be the most pertinent to solve, without discussion. Everybody can vote on his own post-its/problems here and put both votes on one challenge if he/she feels strong enough about it. Once the 6 minutes are up, the moderator quickly takes the voted problems and arranges them in order of priority.
5. Reframe Problems as Standardised Challenges — 6 min
Now, only focusing on the voted and prioritised problems — the moderator is going to rewrite each one as a standardised challenge, this will help us create an array of solutions and be a little bit more broad at the start.
Let’s look at an example: The top voted post-it here says “I have no idea what’s happening on “project x”. Because many people have voted on it, we can see it is clearly an issue many people are having. Rephrasing the post-it in a “How Might We” (HMW) format allows us to make it solvable and standardise the way the challenges are written. The moderator should quickly rewrite all the problems as quickly as possible, making sure they are still prioritised before moving on.
6. Produce Solutions — 7 min
Now the top voted problem will be used to produce solutions. If there are two top voted
problems, or three just start with the one on the left first. Don’t worry about it and do not discuss it!
Now each team member is given in 7 minutes to write as many possible ways to tackle the How Might We challenge without any discussion. Removing discussion here also ensures a variety of solutions. For the moment the focus should be on the Quantity of the possible solutions rather than on their Quality.
There will be no individual presenting of solutions as this might create a bias towards the best presenters.
Once the 7 minutes are up everyone has to stick their ideas on the chosen surface. This process should be as fast as possible.
7. Vote on Solutions — 10 min
Remember this? It has been done before, right? The moderator now gives each team member is stripped of six dots to vote on the solutions they think would best solve the issue. Because the members will need to read each post-it, a little more time is given for this voting process:
8. Prioritise Solutions – 30 sec
The team now has 30 seconds to make a prioritised list of solutions — Ignore anything with less than two votes
9. Decide what to execute — 10 min
The moderator needs to be very proactive at this step, as it is the only one that has a tendency to open up discussion. The Moderator will now take each solution one by one and add them to an effort/impact scale. Effort, in this case, is how much effort we team think it will take to implement and impact is the degree to which it would solve the problem at hand.
The moderator needs to: Take the top voted solution, hovers it over the centre of the E/I scale and simply asks “higher or lower” — usually some small discussions break out here, so the moderator has to be diligent in finding a consensus and stopping any conversations extending past 20 seconds. Once the effort has been determined, the moderator uses the same drill for impact: “Higher or Lower.”
Now we have a clear overview of which high-impact solutions could be executed on and tested very quickly (In the green sweet-spot on the top left), and which high-impact solutions will take more effort (top right). The moderator should now quickly mark all post-its in the sweet spot with a contrasting dot so we can identify them later.
10. Turn Solutions into Actionable Tasks — 5 min
The moderator now takes the “Sweet Spot” solutions off the E/I scale and asks the person who wrote the solution to give actionable steps toward testing the solution. When we say actionable, we really mean something that could be executed in the timeframe of 1–2 weeks.
Once all these solutions are written up, your team now has actionable tasks that can be committed to (depending on how your team deals with task management).
The remaining solutions might be kept as a backlog if the other ones will not work properly.
Structure and Discipline create the Freedom
That’s it! In a short amount of time, your team has been able to define important challenges, produce solutions and priorities what to execute on almost entirely without discussion! We use this principle of cutting out open discussion in almost everything we do, from designing new product features to planning events or improving office space. As mentioned before: Creative problem solving is the core of design and team work — so
give it the respect it deserves and cut out the wasteful, demoralising, fatigue-inducing discussion.
Might even include personal/health problems and in this case the whole process will work as a strong team-building activity fostering empathy between the members of the group.
Written by: Facilitators of Virtual Learning (FAVILLE)’s partnership, JO Education, Italy