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The Problem-Solving Process That Prevents Groupthink
Dr. Art Markman, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, writes that group problem solving can be hampered by a lack of training and a lack of understanding of group dynamics. To fix this problem, it is important to think about the two phases of group problem solving: divergence and convergence. The former happens when the group considers as many different potential solutions as possible. By contrast, convergence occurs when a variety of proposed solutions are evaluated. In this phase, a large number of ideas are whittled down to a smaller set of solutions to the current problem.

To improve group idea generation, be aware of when you are trying to diverge and when you are trying to converge. Early in the problem-solving process, group members should work alone to craft statements describing the problem. They should then be brought back together to discuss their assessments. This ensuing discussion will lead the group to accept one or a small number of variants of these statements to work on—a healthy convergence. “When you start to generate solutions,” Markman stated, “you again want divergence.” Once again, people should work alone at the start. Their initial ideas should then be collected and sent around to other group members. When this happens, allow the divergence to continue as group members individually build on the ideas of their colleagues. This process maximizes the contribution of the group, as everyone gets to engage their knowledge in service of the problem to be solved. In addition, everyone gets to enhance the ideas generated by their colleagues. “This simple procedure works effectively, because it respects what individuals and groups do best,” the author concluded.
Harvard Business Review (11/15) Markman, Art
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