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Advantages of Teamwork in Problem Solving Strategies

Advantages of Teamwork in Problem Solving Strategies

There is a lot that can be said for working in teams when problem solving and thinking critically. Though solitary thinking is effective in solving problems, working in groups to generate ideas and solutions can be very beneficial, not only in the kinds of ideas generated, but also in helping those involved retain the information better.

A number of studies have indicated that team-based learning can have powerful effects on the critical thinking process. The whole idea of collaborative learning is based on the grouping and pairing of individuals with certain skill sets, with the intentions of achieving a specific goal and working through problems to find viable solutions.

Team-based learning is an in-depth approach that utilizes small groups--small being the key--in teaching and developing an understanding of a concept that requires much analytics. With the group being small, it becomes a self-directed team, working towards critical thinking and utilizing it where appropriate. Of course, being in a team can have its own set of problems, but typically, the team should strive to be novel, and should not apply templates without first exploring new possibility and alternatives to problems. The idea behind having a team is to draw ideas from each other and consolidate the content in such a way as to discover alternatives and viable solutions to problems. The expertise of each individual is contributed to the team, each one respecting the others' opinions.

Having a group helps in brainstorming--everyone should feel free to submit their ideas, without any criticism. All ideas should be entertained by the group, and filtering should occur only after each member of the group has exhausted their supply of ideas, or the group feels that it is time to begin filtering out ideas.

When working in a team, it can be easier to better understand the goals and objectives of the problem at hand. The purpose becomes easy to target, with all eyes focusing on the issues at hand and honing down to the ones that need to be focused on the most. Of course, arguments can arise over what to focus on, but typically, most individuals of a group will recognize what needs to be solved, and will gravitate towards that topic. At this stage, the group can critically think through what the team hopes to accomplish, and can lay down the functions and intentions of each member. At this stage, with the intentions of each member clear, it can save time long-term, as now the group understands what everyone wants and expects. It then becomes a bit easier to channel energy into critically reviewing the topic.

Once the purpose has been established and intentions have been made clear, the question can be stated. At this stage, the problem or issue is laid out for all to understand and accept, and thinking can now be guided into focusing on what needs to be done.

Once this has been completed, gathering information becomes the next line of duty. Everyone should call in their own expertise and cite facts, data and evidence, as well as apply their own experiences, to the issue. This allows all to indicate what they know, what they do not know, what they need to know, and who is capable of doing what. This helps in the critical thinking process, as it becomes easier to delegate tasks, while still collaborating.

Past that stage, inferences can be investigated. People make assumptions all the time. Many of those assumptions may not be valid or based on anything substantial. Some may even be dangerous in terms of viable solutions. As such, within the team, each individual is able to analyze those assumptions and any inferences made, and present it critically to the group. This helps the individual then on a metacognitive level to become more aware of their own thinking process. It helps the group filter out incorrect thinking and continue focusing on the tasks at hand. Checking the assumptions and inferences also keeps everyone thinking on a more conscious level.

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Concepts can be clarified. Sometimes, having other questions things, or point out certain pieces of thinking or evidence, can help others identify their own knowledge gaps, gaps they may not have been aware of. People questioning you is one of the best ways to understand the material; having to explain concepts to others in ways they can understand challenges our own understanding of that material, and forces us to fill in whatever gaps are present. At this stage, ideas, theories, hypotheses, principles and evidence gathered are presented and clarified in whatever ways necessary. This ensures that everyone can make sense of all the information. This is important if solutions are to be generated critically.

Further, having a group analyze together helps the individual to further solidify their point of view, as well as the points of view of others. This is also important to ensure that thinking is not being done automatically, and on a level that is not as conscious as it could be. Critical thinking does not operate on an unconscious level, but rather, one a conscious one.

Once all this has been accomplished and the team is ready to move on, all can provide the conclusions they have come up with critically. The arguments must be based on good evidence and ideas that are analytical. These conclusions must then be presented in such a way that everyone can understand.

Once these conclusions have been made and presented, it becomes possible--and necessary--to think through the implications of those conclusions. With a group of varying perspectives working conjointly, it becomes easier to see the various consequences implementing certain ideas may have. This can help mitigate costs, either in time, money, or general resources. It can also make implementing a solution more efficient, as by this time, each individual's strengths and weaknesses should be clear, and each one's strengths capitalized on. Delegation is key here. Part of critical thinking involves understanding who is capable of what.

Part of the effectiveness of team-based critical thinking is that not one person or entity has to shoulder the bulk of the workload. Under stress, the human brain functions less effectively, is less able to see flaws in the thinking process, and is less creative. With a reduced stress load that is divided among several individuals of a collective group, the individual becomes more able to work at their optimal level, and can contribute more to their organization or company.

All of the above steps relate to the general critical thinking approach:

  1. Defining the problem or issue at hand : clear thoughts on what the issue is becomes a necessary component in determining how to tackle the problem
  2. Identifying the limiting factors or potential roadblocks: recognizing the challenges faced, and either accepting them or figuring out how to get around them could be one of the greatest assets a group can give, with the constant feedback loop associated with group-based critical thinking
  3. Developing viable alternatives to issues and limiting factors : this is also related to the feedback cycle related to groups
  4. Analyzing those alternatives: everyone can utilize their own expertise to engage in the predictive modeling aspects of decision-making
  5. Selecting the most viable alternative: with a group, it can become easier to see what may be the most viable options, mostly by relying on the group members' expertise
  6. Implementing the necessary decisions: delegation is a necessary component here, as each individual within the group has certain attributes that make them most equipped to carrying out certain functions
  7. Establishing a research, development, control and evaluation process for the implementation procedure: when all are involved in the evaluative process, a strong cycle of real-time feedback can be set up, thus ensuring productivity and efficiency

With a team, however, there should be greater awareness, as each individual acts as a feedback loop for the group.

The general approach to problem solving involves the following flow:


With a group involved in each of these, it becomes possible to speed up and make more viable the thinking process.

With a focus on the mission, goals can be aligned. It may be beneficial to bring in several individuals from the various departments of a given company or organization and have them present their department's missions and goals. Once this is completed, those missions and goals can be consolidated and aligned with one another. This makes it easier, potentially, to find viable solutions that all can use.

This allows for a competitive and functional strategy. With a group-oriented view of the structure of a company or organization, communication, products and services can be strategized to become more efficient and more creative. This may establish a company or organization more competitively, with regards to similar companies and organizations.

Operational plans can be set into motion, with all departments involved playing their necessary role. This can increase morale, as well, making the company or organization that much more efficient.

Of course, it can be argued that the individual can perform all these steps on their own, without the need for a group. However, there are, or can be, solid benefits to engaging in group-oriented critical thinking, rather than individual critical thinking:

  1. Integration
  2. Better decision-making
  3. Commitment to the implementation of the decision
  4. Enhanced evaluation of the implementation

One of the major things that motivates individuals to adopt a group-based model is that the individual has internalized the group goals. Of course, this is necessary, because without internalizing goals and intentions, it becomes difficult to implement them. Individuals may also see personal gain when a group is successful, whether it be a fiscal bonus, credibility or something else. They gain from the success of the group.

Problem-solving involves communication that is transparent and viable. In this type of communication, everyone's concerns and perspectives are expressed freely, without fear of criticism. In a group, however, people can speak up, as long as the group is healthy. There is less fear over going to one individual--a higher up--than in approaching an established and friendly group. Further, the group can go to the higher-ups collectively and promote their cause better.

Further, having the transparent communication that comes with group-based interaction and problem-solving requires that people are monitored for hidden agendas. A group allows the individual to be more accountable for their actions and intentions. This promotes the critical thinking process as being transparent prevents bias from clouding judgment.

Being in a group also helps create an open-minded culture. With just one or two people in a group being creative and open-minded, it becomes easier for the rest of the group to be the same way. This encourages both individual and group growth. Just by nature of the group-based culture, in breaking down communication silos and keeping people accountable, open-minded can be the rule of thumb, thus facilitating the critical thinking process.

All in all, a group can be an effective means of engaging in the necessary component of critical thinking. With all group members engaged in the process, individual expertise can be collected for the betterment of the group's goals and intentions. Further, everyone is held accountable, and is made more aware of biases and assumptions that may cloud their overall decision-making. Also, with everyone being given proper feedback from the rest of the group, it enables to individual to better engage in metacognitive processing, helping them become a better and more productive critical thinker, whether on their own or within the group. A group can thus be an effective tool in the critical thinking process, and can advance the work and productivity of a company or organization.

Of course, each individual must also engage in the critical thinking process on their own; there should not be a blind reliance on the group's efforts. At the end, each individual is responsible for their own mind, and their own contributions. This ensures not only the development of that individual, but also the development of the group, as each group is only as effective as its individual members are on their own away from the group.

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