Do you remember that old story about the blind men and the elephant? In the story, six men who lived in a village in India were born blind. They grew up curious about the world around them and often asked travelers to share their stories of life outside the village. One creature featured often in the tales they heard. They learned that elephants could trample forests, but also that they could be ridden by the nobility. The men were fascinated by the idea of an elephant and would argue about it with each other.
“Elephants must be powerful giants if they can clear forests and build roads,” said one.
“No, you cannot be right. An elephant must be graceful and gentle if a princess would ride on its back,” said another.
“You are all wrong! An elephant must be a horrifying creature with a terrible horn that can pierce a man’s heart,” said the third blind man.
And so it went, day after day and night after night until the other villagers grew so tired of it that they arranged for the men to visit the palace and learn the truth about elephants for themselves.
When the blind men reached the palace, they were led to a courtyard with an elephant. They stepped forward to touch the strange creature that had been the source of so many arguments.
The first touched the die of the huge animal and declared, “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall!” The second put his hands on the elephant's trunk and declared it to be a snake, the third touched the elephant’s tusk and loudly proclaimed that they had been right all along. On it went down the line, with each blind man touching a different part of the elephant.
They were led out of the courtyard to a garden where they began to argue more passionately than ever before. Their arguments grew so loud, with each man insisting that their understanding of the elephant was correct. Suddenly, an angry voice called out, “Stop shouting! How can each of you be so certain that you are right?”
The men recognized the voice of the Rajah and quieted instantly.
“An elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah kindly. “Each of you only touched one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth.”
This story serves as a perfect reminder of the advantages that team problem-solving can bring to a team or an organization. Teams produce a more successful result 80% of the time as a result of collective thinking. When everyone adds their individual thinking and works together toward a solution, the results include benefits every leader wants for their team, including stronger communication and a greater understanding of the challenge and the solution by all team members.
Here are 7 advantages that come with team-problem solving:
1. better communication
All teams crave better communication, and solving problems with the whole team is a shortcut to achieving this goal. When working out a problem together, team members gain a better understanding of the issues involved.
Every team member brings a slightly different context to each problem and can highlight the risks and benefits of any potential solution while staying informed as to what is going on and how the activities of other team members will intersect with their area of responsibility.
2. increased understanding
Along with better communication, the process of team problem-solving leads to a greater understanding of the context the team operates within and the roles and responsibilities of their colleagues. As the problems tackled by teams are typically complex, a collaborative approach helps team members gain some knowledge and appreciation for the work of other team members.
3. Better Risk Handling
With so many different perspectives, teams are better able to identify risk, and mitigate them in advance. And because a team is better at anticipating the risks, they are more likely to assume a greater amount of risk if the reward is high, versus a single person accepting a high amount of risk on their own. This is especially true if the team has bought in, has confidence in their solution, and willingness to accept the consequences if success is not achieved.
4. Reduced possibility of bias
Wherever we go, our biases and preconceptions follow, and this can often get in the way of our individual problem-solving. Like the blind men in the story above, each team member may only be able to understand a fraction of the whole. When the entire team works together to solve the problem, the collective knowledge can be combined to create a greater understanding of both the problem and the solution.
5. Greater commitment
Problems that need to be solved collectively often require a high level of commitment. When a team faces a problem that they collectively need to solve together, and ideas and solutions are created, then individuals experience a higher level of commitment to the team and the team's potential and the value the team brings to themselves individually.
6. greater increase in talent potential
New ideas create new opportunities. When solving problems in a team, the number of ideas generated broadens the team’s potential for success by creating pathways to develop and pursue those opportunities.
In addition to providing opportunities to develop new skills, team problem-solving prepares individuals to take on larger challenges - whether it is greater responsibility or advancement as a leader. Working through complex challenges, considering higher-level strategies, and synthesizing the inputs and ideas of others are required skills at the higher levels in any organization.
7. increased creativity
Team problem solving generates more solutions which then lead to greater and more productive outputs than any one person can likely generate. Better yet, those outputs are coordinated and all aspects of the work contribute to the success of the team.
The process of brainstorming potential solutions naturally leads to creative ideas. When teams work together to solve a problem, they consider a greater number of solutions than they would when working as individuals. Often, ideas mentioned by others spark ideas that would have never been considered otherwise.
Like the blind men in the story, each team member brings a different understanding to each challenge. Each of these perspectives may be lacking critical information, and it is only when the team works together to solve the problem, that the whole challenge can be fully understood.