How To Adopt A Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach Through ‘Yes, And’ Thinking

After more than 24 years of coaching, I’ve noticed that teams and organizations still use traditional problem-solving techniques despite these being either obsolete or ineffective. For example, individuals still attempt to focus and dissect problems on their own with the hope of coming up with a solution by themselves.

I also notice a pattern of clients operating in silos. They have a tendency to equate the ability to solve problems by themselves as a form of independence and initiative. This works only to a certain degree. As the problem becomes more complex, this solo-solving technique becomes ineffective. Instead, teams should tap into the increasingly diverse and multidisciplinary pool that makes up the workforce. Not only is this useful for performance and productivity but also for problem solving.

I have found the collaborative problem-solving approach, by Alexander Hancock, to be an effective approach to achieving clients’ objectives. Collaborative problem solving occurs as you collaborate with other people to exchange information, ideas or perspectives. The essence of this type of collaboration is based on “yes, and” thinking – building on and valuing each other’s ideas.

Any individual, team or company can take advantage of this approach. I have found this approach to be most effective for companies facing problems that involve team members from different departments, backgrounds and personalities. This is also an approach that is usually unique to the coaching profession.

In any situation, when someone comes to you as a leader with a problem to discuss, your role is to help him or her look for the causes and discover solutions. Your role is not to resolve the problem alone but to guide them through collaborative problem-solving approach.

Attitudes For Collaborative Problem Solving

Hancock provides the list below of attitudes that are best paired with the approach:

• Win-win abundance thinking: Collaboration allows you to work with others to develop solutions that will benefit you both. The key concept is to believe that it is possible to create a synergistic solution before you create them. It is not “you vs. me” — we can both succeed. Develop an “abundance mentality” — there is enough for everyone. “If you win, we all win.”

• Patience: Collaboration takes time. You need to recognize that you are both helping one another to reach a resolution, and it may take more than one meeting to discuss. You will often need to work together over time to reach a satisfying solution that you will both agree on.

• “Yes, and” thinking: Move away from polarized (either/or) thinking, and develop a “yes, and” way of thinking. This thinking is supporting a suggested idea and building on the idea to make it better.

Benefits Of Collaborative Problem Solving

Collaborative problem solving opens communication and builds trust in the relationship as you and your co-collaborator discover that you are both working together toward a shared outcome. This increases a joint commitment to the relationship and to the organization. It also indicates a commitment to helping others reach their goals and objectives, and to improve everyone’s performance for the company or the organization. Collaborative communication also encourages finding creative solutions. This increases the likelihood that others will take ownership of an issue and its solution.

Collaborative Problem-Solving Techniques

There are techniques that can help you engage in collaborative communication. Here are a few examples:

• Build on and connect ideas, rather than discarding one idea and looking for another one.

• Explore the strengths and drawbacks of each idea, compare and balance the pluses and drawbacks of each idea.

• Convert drawbacks to new possibilities. Try to find ways to integrate and combine new possibilities into an existing idea.

• When sharing your own opinion, make sure you offer it as a suggestion and not as a directive. The intention of collaborative problem solving is to provide a catalyst for exploration and consideration, instead of having the other person accept your advice or direction.

The collaborative problem-solving approach paves ways to open communication, trust, better planning and smooth implementation of a plan or strategy.


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Dr. Cherry

Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist, Strategist, Executive Coach, and Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Consultant for Personality Matters, Inc. Her science-based approach and brain-based techniques, propel people, teams, and organizations to build bridges and work from the inside out to achieve their goals. Dr. Cherry specializes in emotional intelligence, neuroscience, leadership development, and DEI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She received her Doctorate and Master of Science in Applied Social/Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia and Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College. She is the author of more than twenty-five Human Behavior related books for leaders, executives, and coaches. Dr. Cherry is often called the DEI Whisperer because she has a unique ability to fiercely “hold the space” and be totally present which creates a psychologically safe environment that allows others all the space they need to fully express themselves. She listens to others with head, heart and hands approach so that they are heard, seen and understood.