35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

problem solving team types

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   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, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

problem solving team types

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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problem solving team types

Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops.  Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…

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So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…

problem solving team types

What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?

Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself.  When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower.  Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…

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What different types of teams are in the workplace?

What different types of teams are in the workplace?

Teams have become standard in the business world. Naturally, academic institutions have implemented team-based projects to help prepare students for the workplace. 90 percent of corporate leaders feel today’s problems are so complex they require teams to provide effective solutions. These leaders believe collaboration can fuel creative thinking and problem solving critical to positive business outcomes.

Request a free demo of TeamMATE® here to learn how this online peer evaluation can help you measure and develop teamwork skills in all types of teams.

The truth is, there are many different types of teams. Some teams are permanent while others are temporary. Some are part of the corporate hierarchy while others are adjunct. One thing you can be sure of is, your career will involve working with teams. Let’s take a look at the most common types of teams in the workplace.

1. Department teams: Departmental teams have been around for quite some time. As a department team, individuals relate to specialty or focus he or she has mastered, with everyone working toward achieving goals outlined in the company’s mission statement. Some examples include developer teams at a tech start up or the sales team at a marketing agency.

Departmental teams are permanent and typically work on ongoing projects or goals.

2. Problem-solving teams: These types of teams are usually temporary and focus on solving a specific issue. For example, after the 2008 financial crisis, several organizational task force teams and governmental committees were created to come up with solutions to help the country climb out of a steep recession. Once guidelines were set in place and plans were formed, the task forces and committees were disbanded.

3. Virtual teams: A virtual team can be any type of team that communicates digitally rather than in person. Easier communication tools allow managers to build teams based on strengths and weaknesses rather than geography.

It’s important for students to master virtual skills early on in their academic career, as conference calls and WebEx presentations have become ubiquitous in the workplace.

4. Cross-functional teams: In most business settings, permanent team members are going to collaborate with other departments to tackle certain events for the company – such a new product launch. In these situations communication between internal departments is crucial in order to address the project goals.

5. Self-managed teams: These types of teams are the most empowered, as they have to power to make decisions. Each team member brings a certain skill set to the table to make informed decisions, complete assignments or deliver services for customers. Companies that implement self-managed teams say their employees tend to feel more ownership of the project.

There are many types of teams that have become commonplace in companies. It’s crucial for professors to not only help students understand how business teams operate, but to also give them the tech tools and data necessary to see how these interactions work in real time. Building teamwork is key across academia and business, so it is important to tackle challenges early on that could lead to dysfunctional teams down the road.

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Complex Problem Solving in Teams: The Impact of Collective Orientation on Team Process Demands

Associated data.

Complex problem solving is challenging and a high-level cognitive process for individuals. When analyzing complex problem solving in teams, an additional, new dimension has to be considered, as teamwork processes increase the requirements already put on individual team members. After introducing an idealized teamwork process model, that complex problem solving teams pass through, and integrating the relevant teamwork skills for interdependently working teams into the model and combining it with the four kinds of team processes (transition, action, interpersonal, and learning processes), the paper demonstrates the importance of fulfilling team process demands for successful complex problem solving within teams. Therefore, results from a controlled team study within complex situations are presented. The study focused on factors that influence action processes, like coordination, such as emergent states like collective orientation, cohesion, and trust and that dynamically enable effective teamwork in complex situations. Before conducting the experiments, participants were divided by median split into two-person teams with either high ( n = 58) or low ( n = 58) collective orientation values. The study was conducted with the microworld C3Fire, simulating dynamic decision making, and acting in complex situations within a teamwork context. The microworld includes interdependent tasks such as extinguishing forest fires or protecting houses. Two firefighting scenarios had been developed, which takes a maximum of 15 min each. All teams worked on these two scenarios. Coordination within the team and the resulting team performance were calculated based on a log-file analysis. The results show that no relationships between trust and action processes and team performance exist. Likewise, no relationships were found for cohesion. Only collective orientation of team members positively influences team performance in complex environments mediated by action processes such as coordination within the team. The results are discussed in relation to previous empirical findings and to learning processes within the team with a focus on feedback strategies.


Complex problems in organizational contexts are seldom solved by individuals. Generally, interdependently working teams of experts deal with complex problems (Fiore et al., 2010 ), which are characterized by element interactivity/ interconnectedness, dynamic developments, non-transparency and multiple, and/or conflicting goals (Dörner et al., 1983 ; Brehmer, 1992 ; Funke, 1995 ). Complex problem solving “takes place for reducing the barrier between a given start state and an intended goal state with the help of cognitive activities and behavior. Start state, intended goal state, and barriers prove complexity, change dynamically over time, and can be partially intransparent” (Funke, 2012 , p. 682). Teams dealing with complex problems in interdependent work contexts, for example in disaster, crisis or accident management, are called High Responsibility Teams. They are named High Responsibility Teams (HRTs; Hagemann, 2011 ; Hagemann et al., 2011 ) due to their dynamic and often unpredictable working conditions and demanding work contexts, in which technical faults and slips have severe consequences for human beings and the environment if they are not identified and resolved within the team immediately (Kluge et al., 2009 ). HRTs bear responsibility regarding lives of third parties and their own lives based on their actions and consequences.

The context of interdependently working HRTs, dealing with complex problems, is described as follows (Zsambok, 1997 ): Members of interdependently working teams have to reach ill-defined or competing goals in common in poor structured, non-transparent and dynamically changing situations under the consideration of rules of engagement and based on several cycles of joint action. Some or all goals are critical in terms of time and the consequences of actions result in decision-based outcomes with high importance for the culture (e.g., human life). In HRT contexts, added to the features of the complexity of the problem, is the complexity of relationships, which is called social complexity (Dörner, 1989/2003 ) or crew coordination complexity (Kluge, 2014 ), which results from the interconnectedness between multiple agents through coordination requirements. The dynamic control aspect of the continuous process is coupled with the need to coordinate multiple highly interactive processes imposing high coordination demands (Roth and Woods, 1988 ; Waller et al., 2004 ; Hagemann et al., 2012 ).

Within this article, it is important to us to describe the theoretical background of complex problem solving in teams in depth and to combine different but compatible theoretical approaches, in order to demonstrate their theoretical and practical use in the context of the analysis of complex problem solving in teams. In Industrial and Organizational Psychology, a detailed description of tasks and work contexts that are in the focus of the analysis is essential. The individual or team task is the point of intersection between organization and individual as a “psychologically most relevant part” of the working conditions (Ulich, 1995 ). Thus, the tasks and the teamwork context of teams that deal with complex problems is of high relevance in the present paper. We will comprehensively describe the context of complex problem solving in teams by introducing a model of an idealized teamwork process that complex problem solving teams pass through and extensively integrate the relevant teamwork skills for these interdependently working teams into the idealized teamwork process model.

Furthermore, we will highlight the episodic aspect concerning complex problem solving in teams and combine the agreed on transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes of teamwork with the idealized teamwork process model. Because we are interested in investigating teamwork competencies and action processes of complex problem solving teams, we will analyze the indirect effect of collective orientation on team performance through the teams' coordination behavior. The focusing of the study will be owed to its validity. Even though that we know that more aspects of the theoretical framework might be of interest and could be analyzed, we will focus on a detail within the laboratory experiment for getting reliable and valid results.

Goal, task, and outcome interdependence in teamwork

Concerning interdependence, teamwork research focuses on three designated features, which are in accordance with general process models of human action (Hertel et al., 2004 ). One type is goal interdependence, which refers to the degree to which teams have distinct goals as well as a linkage between individual members and team goals (Campion et al., 1993 ; Wageman, 1995 ). A second type is task interdependence, which refers to the interaction between team members. The team members depend on each other for work accomplishment, and the actions of one member have strong implications for the work process of all members (Shea and Guzzo, 1987 ; Campion et al., 1993 ; Hertel et al., 2004 ). The third type is outcome interdependence, which is defined as the extent to which one team member's outcomes depend on the performance of other members (Wageman, 1995 ). Accordingly, the rewards for each member are based on the total team performance (Hertel et al., 2004 ). This can occur, for instance, if a team receives a reward based on specific performance criteria. Although interdependence is often the reason why teams are formed in the first place, and it is stated as a defining attribute of teams (Salas et al., 2008 ), different levels of task interdependence exist (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Arthur et al., 2005 ).

The workflow pattern of teams can be

  • Independent or pooled (activities are performed separately),
  • Sequential (activities flow from one member to another in a unidirectional manner),
  • Reciprocal (activities flow between team members in a back and forth manner) or
  • Intensive (team members must simultaneously diagnose, problem-solve, and coordinate as a team to accomplish a task).

Teams that deal with complex problems work within intensive interdependence, which requires greater coordination patterns compared to lower levels of interdependence (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Wageman, 1995 ) and necessitates mutual adjustments as well as frequent interaction and information integration within the team (Gibson, 1999 ; Stajkovic et al., 2009 ).

Thus, in addition to the cognitive requirements related to information processing (e.g., encoding, storage and retrieval processes (Hinsz et al., 1997 ), simultaneously representing and anticipating the dynamic elements and predicting future states of the problem, balancing contradictory objectives and decide on the right timing for actions to execute) of individual team members, the interconnectedness between the experts in the team imposes high team process demands on the team members. These team process demands follow from the required interdependent actions of all team members for effectively using all resources, such as equipment, money, time, and expertise, to reach high team performance (Marks et al., 2001 ). Examples for team process demands are the communication for building a shared situation awareness, negotiating conflicting perspectives on how to proceed or coordinating and orchestrating actions of all team members.

A comprehensive model of the idealized teamwork process

The cognitive requirements, that complex problem solving teams face, and the team process demands are consolidated within our model of an idealized teamwork process in Figure ​ Figure1 1 (Hagemann, 2011 ; Kluge et al., 2014 ). Individual and team processes converge sequential and in parallel and influencing factors as well as process demands concerning complex problem solving in teams can be extracted. The core elements of the model are situation awareness, information transfer, individual and shared mental models, coordination and leadership, and decision making.

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Object name is fpsyg-08-01730-g0001.jpg

Relevant teamwork skills (orange color) for interdependently working teams (see Wilson et al., 2010 ) integrated into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Complex problem solving teams are responsible for finding solutions and reaching specified goals. Based on the overall goals various sub goals will be identified at the beginning of the teamwork process in the course of mission analysis, strategy formulation and planning, all aspects of the transition phase (Marks et al., 2001 ). The transition phase processes occur during periods of time when teams focus predominantly on evaluation and/or planning activities. The identified and communicated goals within the team represent relevant input variables for each team member in order to build up a Situation Awareness (SA). SA contains three steps and is the foundation for an ideal and goal directed collaboration within a team (Endsley, 1999 ; Flin et al., 2008 ). The individual SA is the start and end within the idealized teamwork process model. SA means the assessment of a situation which is important for complex problem solving teams, as they work based on the division of labor as well as interdependently and each team member needs to achieve a correct SA and to share it within the team. Each single team member needs to utilize all technical and interpersonal resources in order to collect and interpret up-to-date goal directed information and to share this information with other team members via “closed-loop communication.”

This information transfer focuses on sending and receiving single SA between team members in order to build up a Shared Situation Awareness (SSA). Overlapping cuts of individual SA are synchronized within the team and a bigger picture of the situation is developed. Creating a SSA means sharing a common perspective of the members concerning current events within their environment, their meaning and their future development. This shared perspective enables problem-solving teams to attain high performance standards through corresponding and goal directed actions (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ).

Expectations of each team member based on briefings, individual mental models and interpositional knowledge influence the SA, the information transfer and the consolidation process. Mental models are internal and cognitive representations of relations and processes (e.g., execution of tactics) between various aspects or elements of a situation. They help team members to describe, explain and predict circumstances (Mathieu et al., 2000 ). Mental models possess knowledge elements required by team members in order to assess a current situation in terms of SA. Interpositional knowledge refers to an individual understanding concerning the tasks and duties of all team members, in order to develop an understanding about the impact of own actions on the actions of other team members and vice versa. It supports the team in identifying the information needs and the amount of required help of other members and in avoiding team conflicts (Smith-Jentsch et al., 2001 ). This knowledge is the foundation for anticipating the team members' needs for information and it is important for matching information within the team.

Based on the information matching process within the team, a common understanding of the problem, the goals and the current situation is developed in terms of a Shared Mental Model (SMM), which is important for the subsequent decisions. SMM are commonly shared mental models within a team and refer to the organized knowledge structures of all team members, that are shared with each other and which enable the team to interact goal-oriented (Mathieu et al., 2000 ). SMM help complex problem solving teams during high workload to adapt fast and efficiently to changing situations (Waller et al., 2004 ). They also enhance the teams' performance and communication processes (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ; Mathieu et al., 2000 ). Especially under time pressure and in crucial situations when overt verbal communication and explicit coordination is not applicable, SMM are fundamental in order to coordinate implicitly. This information matching process fosters the building of a shared understanding of the current situation and the required actions. In order to do so teamwork skills (see Wilson et al., 2010 ) such as communication, coordination , and cooperation within the team are vitally important. Figure ​ Figure1 1 incorporates the teamwork skills into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Depending on the shared knowledge and SA within the team, the coordination can be based either on well-known procedures or shared expectations within the team or on explicit communication based on task specific phraseology or closed-loop communication. Cooperation needs mutual performance monitoring within the team, for example, in order to apply task strategies to accurately monitor teammate performance and prevent errors (Salas et al., 2005 ). Cooperation also needs backup behavior of each team member, for example, and continuous actions in reference to the collective events. The anticipation of other team members' needs under high workload maintains the teams' performance and the well-being of each team member (Badke-Schaub, 2008 ). A successful pass through the teamwork process model also depends e.g., on the trust and the cohesion within the team and the collective orientation of each team member.

Collective orientation (CO) is defined “as the propensity to work in a collective manner in team settings” (Driskell et al., 2010 , p. 317). Highly collectively oriented people work with others on a task-activity and team-activity track (Morgan et al., 1993 ) in a goal-oriented manner, seek others' input, contribute to team outcomes, enjoy team membership, and value cooperativeness more than power (Driskell et al., 2010 ). Thus, teams with collectively oriented members perform better than teams with non-collectively oriented members (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ). CO, trust and cohesion as well as other coordination and cooperation skills are so called emergent sates that represent cognitive, affective, and motivational states, and not traits, of teams and team members, and which are influenced, for example, by team experience, so that emergent states can be considered as team inputs but also as team outcomes (Marks et al., 2001 ).

Based on the information matching process the complex problem solving team or the team leader needs to make decisions in order to execute actions. The task prioritization and distribution is an integrated part of this step (Waller et al., 2004 ). Depending on the progress of the dynamic, non-transparent and heavily foreseeable situation tasks have to be re-prioritized during episodes of teamwork. Episodes are “temporal cycles of goal-directed activity” in which teams perform (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 359). Thus, the team acts adaptive and is able to react flexible to situation changes. The team coordinates implicitly when each team member knows what he/she has to do in his/her job, what the others expect from him/her and how he/she interacts with the others. In contrast, when abnormal events occur and they are recognized during SA processes, the team starts coordinating explicitly via communication, for example. Via closed-loop communication and based on interpositional knowledge new strategies are communicated within the team and tasks are re-prioritized.

The result of the decision making and action taking flows back into the individual SA and the as-is state will be compared with the original goals. This model of an idealized teamwork process (Figure ​ (Figure1) 1 ) is a regulator circuit with feedback loops, which enables a team to adapt flexible to changing environments and goals. The foundation of this model is the classic Input-Process-Outcome (IPO) framework (Hackman, 1987 ) with a strong focus on the process part. IPO models view processes as mechanisms linking variables such as member, team, or organizational features with outcomes such as performance quality and quantity or members' reactions. This mediating mechanism, the team process , can be defined as “members' interdependent acts that convert inputs to outcomes through cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward organizing taskwork to achieve collective goals” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 357). That means team members interact interdependently with other members as well as with their environment. These cognitive, verbal, and behavioral activities directed toward taskwork and goal attainment are represented as gathering situation awareness, communication, coordination, cooperation, the consolidation of information, and task prioritization within our model of an idealized teamwork process. Within the context of complex problem solving, teams have to face team process demands in addition to cognitive challenges related to individual information processing. That means teamwork processes and taskwork to solve complex problems co-occur, the processes guide the execution of taskwork.

The dynamic nature of teamwork and temporal influences on complex problem solving teams are considered within adapted versions (Marks et al., 2001 ; Ilgen et al., 2005 ) of the original IPO framework. These adaptations propose that teams experience cycles of joint action, so called episodes, in which teams perform and also receive feedback for further actions. The IPO cycles occur sequentially and simultaneously and are nested in transition and action phases within episodes in which outcomes from initial episodes serve as inputs for the next cycle (see Figure ​ Figure2). 2 ). These repetitive IPO cycles are a vital element of our idealized teamwork process model, as it incorporates feedback loops in such a way, that the outcomes, e.g., changes within the as-is state, are continuously compared with the original goals. Detected discrepancies within the step of updating SA motivate the team members to consider further actions for goal accomplishment.

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Teamwork episodes with repetitive IPO cycles (Marks et al., 2001 ).

When applying this episodic framework to complex problem solving teams it becomes obvious that teams handle different types of taskwork at different phases of task accomplishment (Marks et al., 2001 ). That means episodes consist of two phases, so-called action and transition phases , in which teams are engaged in activities related to goal attainment and in other time in reflecting on past performance and planning for further common actions. The addition of the social complexity to the complexity of the problem within collaborative complex problem solving comes to the fore here. During transition phases teams evaluate their performance, compare the as-is state against goals, reflect on their strategies and plan future activities to guide their goal accomplishment. For example, team members discuss alternative courses of action, if their activities for simulated firefighting, such as splitting team members in order to cover more space of the map, are not successful. During action phases, teams focus directly on the taskwork and are engaged in activities such as exchanging information about the development of the dynamic situation or supporting each other. For example, a team member recognizes high workload of another team member and supports him/her in collecting information or in taking over the required communication with other involved parties.

Transition and action phases

The idealized teamwork process model covers these transition and action phases as well as the processes occurring during these two phases of team functioning, which can be clustered into transition, action, and interpersonal processes. That means during complex problem solving the relevant or activated teamwork processes in the transition and action phases change as teams move back and forth between these phases. As this taxonomy of team processes from Marks et al. ( 2001 ) states that a team process is multidimensional and teams use different processes simultaneously, some processes can occur either during transition periods or during action periods or during both periods. Transition processes especially occur during transition phases and enable the team to understand their tasks, guide their attention, specify goals and develop courses of action for task accomplishment. Thus, transition processes include (see Marks et al., 2001 ) mission analysis, formulation and planning (Prince and Salas, 1993 ), e.g., fighting a forest fire, goal specification (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ), e.g., saving as much houses and vegetation as possible, and strategy formulation (Prince and Salas, 1993 ; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., spreading team members into different geographic directions. Action processes predominantly occur during action phases and support the team in conducting activities directly related to goal accomplishment. Thus, action processes are monitoring progress toward goals (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., collecting information how many cells in a firefighting simulation are still burning, systems monitoring (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ), e.g., tracking team resources such as water for firefighting, team monitoring and backup behavior (Stevens and Campion, 1994 ; Salas et al., 2005 ), e.g., helping a team member and completing a task for him/her, and coordination (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ; Serfaty et al., 1998 ), e.g., orchestrating the interdependent actions of the team members such as exchanging information during firefighting about positions of team members for meeting at the right time at the right place in order to refill the firefighters water tanks. Especially the coordination process is influenced by the amount of task interdependence as coordination becomes more and more important for effective team functioning when interdependence increases (Marks et al., 2001 ). Interpersonal processes occur during transition and action phases equally and lay the foundation for the effectiveness of other processes and govern interpersonal activities (Marks et al., 2001 ). Thus, interpersonal processes include conflict management (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), like the development of team rules, motivation and confidence building (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ), like encourage team members to perform better, and affect management (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ), e.g., regulating member emotions during complex problem solving.

Summing up, process demands such as transition processes that complex problem solving teams pass through, are mission analysis, planning, briefing and goal specification, visualized on the left side of the idealized teamwork process model (see Figure ​ Figure3). 3 ). The results of these IPO cycles lay the foundation for gathering a good SA and initiating activities directed toward taskwork and goal accomplishment and therefore initiating action processes. The effective execution of action processes depends on the communication, coordination, cooperation, matching of information, and task prioritization as well as emergent team cognition variables (SSA and SMM) within the team. The results, like decisions, of these IPO cycles flow back into the next episode and may initiate further transition processes. In addition, interpersonal processes play a crucial role for complex problem solving teams. That means, conflict management, motivating and confidence building, and affect management are permanently important, no matter whether a team runs through transition or action phases and these interpersonal processes frame the whole idealized teamwork process model. Therefore, interpersonal processes are also able to impede successful teamwork at any point as breakdowns in conflict or affect management can lead to coordination breakdowns (Wilson et al., 2010 ) or problems with monitoring or backing up teammates (Marks et al., 2001 ). Thus, complex problem solving teams have to face these multidimensional team process demands in addition to cognitive challenges, e.g., information storage or retrieval (Hinsz et al., 1997 ), related to individual information processing.

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The integration of transition, action, interpersonal, and learning processes into the model of an idealized teamwork process.

Team learning opportunities for handling complex problems

In order to support teams in handling complex situations or problems, learning opportunities seem to be very important for successful task accomplishment and for reducing possible negative effects of team process demands. Learning means any kind of relative outlasted changes in potential of human behavior that cannot be traced back to age-related changes (Bower and Hilgard, 1981 ; Bredenkamp, 1998 ). Therefore, Schmutz et al. ( 2016 ) amended the taxonomy of team processes developed by Marks et al. ( 2001 ) and added learning processes as a fourth category of processes, which occur during transition and action phases and contribute to overall team effectiveness. Learning processes (see also Edmondson, 1999 ) include observation, e.g., observing own and other team members' actions such as the teammate's positioning of firewalls in order to protect houses in case of firefighting, feedback, like giving a teammate information about the wind direction for effective positioning of firewalls, and reflection, e.g., talking about procedures for firefighting or refilling water tanks, for example, within the team. Learning from success and failure and identifying future problems is crucial for the effectiveness of complex problem solving teams and therefore possibilities for learning based on repetitive cycles of joint action or episodes and reflection of team members' activities during action and transition phases should be used effectively (Edmondson, 1999 ; Marks et al., 2001 ). The processes of the idealized teamwork model are embedded into these learning processes (see Figure ​ Figure3 3 ).

The fulfillment of transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes contribute significantly to successful team performance in complex problem solving. For clustering these processes, transition and action processes could be seen as operational processes and interpersonal and learning process as support processes. When dealing with complex and dynamic situations teams have to face these team process demands more strongly than in non-complex situations. For example, goal specification and prioritization or strategy formulation, both aspects of transition processes, are strongly influenced by multiple goals, interconnectedness or dynamically and constantly changing conditions. The same is true for action processes, such as monitoring progress toward goals, team monitoring and backup behavior or coordination of interdependent actions. Interpersonal processes, such as conflict and affect management or confidence building enhance the demands put on team members compared to individuals working on complex problems. Interpersonal processes are essential for effective teamwork and need to be cultivated during episodes of team working, because breakdowns in confidence building or affect management can lead to coordination breakdowns or problems with monitoring or backing up teammates (Marks et al., 2001 ). Especially within complex situations aspects such as interdependence, delayed feedback, multiple goals and dynamic changes put high demands on interpersonal processes within teams. Learning processes, supporting interpersonal processes and the result of effective teamwork are e.g., observation of others' as well as own actions and receiving feedback by others or the system and are strongly influenced by situational characteristics such as non-transparency or delayed feedback concerning actions. It is assumed that amongst others team learning happens through repetitive cycles of joint action within the action phases and reflection of team members within the transition phases (Edmondson, 1999 ; Gabelica et al., 2014 ; Schmutz et al., 2016 ). The repetitive cycles help to generate SMM (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993 ; Mathieu et al., 2000 ), SSA (Endsley and Robertson, 2000 ) or transactive memory systems (Hollingshead et al., 2012 ) within the team.

Emergent states in complex team work and the role of collective orientation

IPO models propose that input variables and emergent states are able to influence team processes and therefore outcomes such as team performance positively. Emergent states represent team members' attitudes or motivations and are “properties of the team that are typically dynamic in nature and vary as a function of team context, inputs, processes, and outcomes” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 357). Both emergent states and interaction processes are relevant for team effectiveness (Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ).

Emergent states refer to conditions that underlie and dynamically enable effective teamwork (DeChurch and Mesmer-Magnus, 2010 ) and can be differentiated from team process, which refers to interdependent actions of team members that transform inputs into outcomes based on activities directed toward task accomplishment (Marks et al., 2001 ). Emergent states mainly support the execution of behavioral processes (e.g., planning, coordination, backup behavior) during the action phase, meaning during episodes when members are engaged in acts that focus on task work and goal accomplishment. Emergent states like trust, cohesion and CO are “products of team experiences (including team processes) and become new inputs to subsequent processes and outcomes” (Marks et al., 2001 , p. 358). Trust between team members and cohesion within the team are emergent states that develop over time and only while experiencing teamwork in a specific team. CO is an emergent state that a team member brings along with him/her into the teamwork, is assumed to be more persistent than trust and cohesion, and can, but does not have to, be positively and negatively influenced by experiencing teamwork in a specific team for a while or by means of training (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ). Thus, viewing emergent states on a continuum, trust and cohesion are assumed more fluctuating than CO, but CO is much more sensitive to change and direct experience than a stable trait such as a personality trait.

CO of team members is one of the teamwork-relevant competencies that facilitates team processes, such as collecting and sharing information between team members, and positively affects the success of teams, as people who are high in CO work with others in a goal-oriented manner, seek others' input and contribute to team outcomes (Driskell et al., 2010 ). CO is an emergent state, as it can be an input variable as well as a teamwork outcome. CO is context-dependent, becomes visible in reactions to situations and people, and can be influenced by experience (e.g., individual learning experiences with various types of teamwork) or knowledge or training (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Bell, 2007 ). CO enhances team performance through activating transition and action processes such as coordination, evaluation and consideration of task inputs from other team members while performing a team task (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ; Salas et al., 2005 ). Collectively oriented people effectively use available resources in due consideration of the team's goals, participate actively and adapt teamwork processes adequately to the situation.

Driskell et al. ( 2010 ) and Hagemann ( 2017 ) provide a sound overview of the evidence of discriminant and convergent validity of CO compared to other teamwork-relevant constructs, such as cohesion, also an emergent state, or cooperative interdependence or preference for solitude. Studies analyzing collectively and non-collectively oriented persons' decision-making in an interdependent task demonstrated that teams with non-collectively oriented members performed poorly in problem solving and that members with CO judged inputs from teammates as more valuable and considered these inputs more frequently (Driskell and Salas, 1992 ). Eby and Dobbins ( 1997 ) also showed that CO results in increased coordination among team members, which may enhance team performance through information sharing, goal setting and strategizing (Salas et al., 2005 ). Driskell et al. ( 2010 ) and Hagemann ( 2017 ) analyzed CO in relation to team performance and showed that the effect of CO on team performance depends on the task type (see McGrath, 1984 ). Significant positive relationships between team members' CO and performance were found in relation to the task types choosing/decision making and negotiating (Driskell et al., 2010 ) respectively choosing/decision making (Hagemann, 2017 ). These kinds of tasks are characterized by much more interdependence than task types such as executing or generating tasks. As research shows that the positive influence of CO on team performance unfolds especially in interdependent teamwork contexts (Driskell et al., 2010 ), which require more team processes such as coordination patterns (Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Wageman, 1995 ) and necessitate mutual adjustments as well as frequent information integration within the team (Gibson, 1999 ; Stajkovic et al., 2009 ), CO might be vitally important for complex problem solving teams. Thus, CO as an emergent state of single team members might be a valuable resource for enhancing the team's performance when exposed to solving complex problems. Therefore, it will be of interest to analyze the influence of CO on team process demands such as coordination processes and performance within complex problem solving teams. We predict that the positive effect of CO on team performance is an indirect effect through coordination processes within the team, which are vitally important for teams working in intensive interdependent work contexts.

  • Hypothesis 1: CO leads to a better coordination behavior, which in turn leads to a higher team performance.

As has been shown in team research that emergent states like trust and cohesion (see also Figure ​ Figure1) 1 ) affect team performance, these two constructs are analyzed in conjunction with CO concerning action processes, such as coordination behavior and team performance. Trust between team members supports information sharing and the willingness to accept feedback, and therefore positively influences teamwork processes (McAllister, 1995 ; Salas et al., 2005 ). Cohesion within a team facilitates motivational factors and group processes like coordination and enhances team performance (Beal et al., 2003 ; Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ).

  • Hypothesis 2: Trust shows a positive relationship with (a) action processes (team coordination) and with (b) team performance.
  • Hypothesis 3: Cohesion shows a positive relationship with (a) action processes (team coordination) and with (b) team performance.

Materials and methods

In order to demonstrate the importance of team process demands for complex problem solving in teams, we used a computer-based microworld in a laboratory study. We analyzed the effectiveness of complex problem solving teams while considering the influence of input variables, like collective orientation of team members and trust and cohesion within the team, on action processes within teams, like coordination.

The microworld for investigating teams process demands

We used the simulation-based team task C 3 Fire (Granlund et al., 2001 ; Granlund and Johansson, 2004 ), which is described as an intensive interdependence team task for complex problem solving (Arthur et al., 2005 ). C 3 Fire is a command, control and communications simulation environment that allows teams' coordination and communication in complex and dynamic environments to be analyzed. C 3 Fire is a microworld, as important characteristics of the real world are transferred to a small and well-controlled simulation system. The task environment in C 3 Fire is complex, dynamic and opaque (see Table ​ Table1) 1 ) and therefore similar to the cognitive tasks people usually encounter in real-life settings, in and outside their work place (Brehmer and Dörner, 1993 ; Funke, 2001 ). Figure ​ Figure4 4 demonstrates how the complexity characteristics mentioned in Table ​ Table1 1 are realized in C 3 Fire. The screenshot represents the simulation manager's point of view, who is able to observe all units and actions and the scenario development. For more information about the units and scenarios, please (see the text below and the Supplementary Material). Complexity requires people to consider a number of facts. Because executed actions in C 3 Fire influence the ongoing process, the sequencing of actions is free and not stringent, such as a fixed (if X then Y) or parallel (if X then Y and Z) sequence (Ormerod et al., 1998 ). This can lead to stressful situations. Taking these characteristics of microworlds into consideration, team processes during complex problem solving can be analyzed within laboratories under controlled conditions. Simulated microworlds such as C 3 Fire allow the gap to be bridged between laboratory studies, which might show deficiencies regarding ecological validity, and field studies, which have been criticized due to their small amount of control (see Brehmer and Dörner, 1993 ).

Overview of complexity characteristics of microworlds in general and in C 3 Fire (cf. Funke, 2001 ).

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Examples for the complexity characteristics in Table ​ Table1 1 represented within a simulation scenario in C 3 Fire.

In C 3 Fire, the teams' task is to coordinate their actions to extinguish a forest fire whilst protecting houses and saving lives. The team members' actions are interdependent. The simulation includes, e.g., forest fires, houses, tents, gas tanks, different kinds of vegetation and computer-simulated agents such as firefighting units (Granlund, 2003 ). It is possible, for example, that the direction of wind will change during firefighting and the time until different kinds of vegetation are burned down varies between those. In the present study, two simulation scenarios were developed for two-person teams and consisted of two firefighting units, one mobile water tank unit (responsible for re-filling the firefighting units' water tanks that contain a predefined amount of water) and one fire-break unit (a field defended with a fire-break cannot be ignited; the fire spreads around its ends). The two developed scenarios lasted for 15 min maximum. Each team member was responsible for two units in each scenario; person one for firefighting and water tank unit and person two for firefighting and fire-break unit. The user interface was a map system (40 × 40 square grid) with all relevant geographic information and positions of all symbols representing houses, water tank units and so on. All parts of the map with houses and vegetation were visible for the subjects, but not the fire itself or the other units; instead, the subjects were close to them with their own units (restricted visibility field; 3 × 3 square grid). The simulation was run on computers networked in a client-server configuration. The subjects used a chat system for communication that was logged. For each scenario, C 3 Fire creates a detailed log file containing all events that occurred over the course of the simulation. Examples of the C 3 Fire scenarios are provided in the Figures S1 – 3 and a short introduction into the microworld is given in the video. Detailed information regarding the scenario characteristics are given in Table S1 . From scenario one to two, the complexity and interdependence increased.


The study was conducted from Mai 2014 until March 2015. Undergraduate and graduate students ( N = 116) studying applied cognitive sciences participated in the study (68.1% female). Their mean age was 21.17 years ( SD = 3.11). Participants were assigned to 58 two-person teams, with team assignments being based on the pre-measured CO values (see procedure). They received 2 hourly credits as a trial subject and giveaways such as pencils and non-alcoholic canned drinks. The study was approved by the university's ethics committee in February 2014.

The study was conducted within a laboratory setting at a university department for business psychology. Prior to the experiment, the participants filled in the CO instrument online and gave written informed consent (see Figure ​ Figure5). 5 ). The median was calculated subsequently ( Md = 3.12; range: 1.69–4.06; scale range: 1–5) relating to the variable CO and two individuals with either high ( n = 58) or low ( n = 58) CO values were randomly matched as teammates. The matching process was random in part, as those two subjects were matched to form a team, whose preferred indicated time for participation in a specific week during data collection were identical. The participants were invited to the experimental study by e-mail 1–2 weeks after filling in the CO instrument. The study began with an introduction to the experimental procedure and the teams' task. The individuals received time to familiarize themselves with the simulation, received 20 min of training and completed two practice trials. After the training, participants answered a questionnaire collecting demographic data. Following this, a simulation scenario started and the participants had a maximum of 15 min to coordinate their actions to extinguish a forest fire whilst protecting houses and saving lives. After that, at measuring time T1, participants answered questionnaires assessing trust and cohesion within the team. Again, the teams worked on the following scenario 2 followed by a last round of questionnaires assessing trust and cohesion at T2.

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Overview about the procedure and measures.

Demographic data such as age, sex, and study course were assessed after the training at the beginning of the experiment.

Collective Orientation was measured at an individual level with 16 items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ) developed by the authors (Hagemann, 2017 ) based on the work of Driskell et al. ( 2010 ). The factorial structure concerning the German-language CO scale was proven prior to this study (χ 2 = 162.25, df = 92, p = 0.000, χ 2 /df = 1.76, CFI = 0.97, TLI = 0.96, RMSEA = 0.040, CI = 0.030-0.051, SRMR = 0.043) and correlations for testing convergent and discriminant evidence of validity were satisfying. For example, CO correlated r = 0.09 ( p > 0.10) with cohesion, r = 0.34 ( p < 0.01) with cooperative interdependence and r = −0.28 ( p < 0.01) with preference for solitude (Hagemann, 2017 ). An example item is “ I find working on team projects to be very satisfying ”. Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.81.

Trust in team members' integrity, trust in members' task abilities and trust in members' work-related attitudes (Geister et al., 2006 ) was measured with seven items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ). An example item is “ I can trust that I will have no additional demands due to lack of motivation of my team member .” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.83 (T1) and 0.87 (T2).

Cohesion was measured with a six-item scale from Riordan and Weatherly ( 1999 ) rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree ). An example item is “ In this team, there is a lot of team spirit among the members .” Coefficient alpha for this scale was 0.87 (T1) and 0.87 (T2).

Action process: coordination

Successful coordination requires mechanisms that serve to manage dependencies between the teams' activities and their resources. Coordination effectiveness was assessed based on the time the firefighting units spent without water in the field in relation to the total scenario time. This measure is an indicator of the effectiveness of resource-oriented coordination, as it reflects an efficient performance regarding the water refill process in C 3 Fire, which requires coordinated actions between the two firefighting units and one water tank unit (Lafond et al., 2011 ). The underlying assumption is that a more successful coordination process leads to fewer delays in conducting the refill process. Coordination was calculated by a formula and values ranged between 0 and 1, with lower values indicating better coordination in the team (see Jobidon et al., 2012 ).

Team performance

This measure related to the teams' goals (limiting the number of burned out cells and saving as many houses/buildings as possible) and was quantified as the number of protected houses and the number of protected fields and bushes/trees in relation to the number of houses, fields, and bushes/trees, respectively, which would burn in a worst case scenario. This formula takes into account that teams needing more time for firefighting also have more burning cells and show a less successful performance than teams that are quick in firefighting. To determine the worst case scenario, both 15-min scenarios were run with no firefighting action taken. Thus, the particularities (e.g., how many houses would burn down if no action was taken) of each scenario were considered. Furthermore, the houses, bushes/trees and fields were weighted according to their differing importance, mirroring the teams' goals. Houses should be protected and were most important. Bushes/trees (middle importance) burn faster than fields (lowest importance) and foster the expansion of the fire. Values regarding team performance ranged between 0 and 7.99, with higher values indicating a better overall performance. Team performance was calculated as follows (see Table ​ Table2 2 ):

Explanation of formula for calculating team performance in both scenarios.

Means, standard deviations, internal consistencies, and correlations for all study variables are provided in Table ​ Table3 3 .

Means, standard deviations, internal consistencies, and correlations for all study variables.

Performance range from 0 to 7.99; Time without Water range from 0 to 1 (lower values indicate a more effective handling of water); CO range from 1 to 5 .

Team complex problem solving in scenario 1 correlated significantly negative with time without water in scenario 1, indicating that a high team performance is attended by the coordination behavior (as a team process). The same was true for scenario 2. In addition, time without water as an indicator for team coordination correlated significantly negative with the team members' CO, indicating that team members with high CO values experience less time without water in the microworld than teams with members with low CO values.

In order to analyze the influence of CO on team process demands such as coordination processes and thereby performance within complex problem solving teams we tested whether CO would show an indirect effect on team performance through the teams' coordination processes. To analyze this assumption, indirect effects in simple mediation models were estimated for both scenarios (see Preacher and Hayes, 2004 ). The mean for CO was 3.44 ( SD = 0.32) for teams with high CO values and it was 2.79 ( SD = 0.35) for teams with low CO values. The mean concerning team performance in scenario 1 for teams with high CO values was 6.30 ( SD = 1.64) and with low CO values 5.35 ( SD = 2.30). The mean concerning time without water (coordination behavior) for teams with high CO values was 0.16 ( SD = 0.08) and with low CO values 0.20 ( SD = 0.09). In scenario 2 the mean for team performance was 6.26 ( SD = 2.51) for teams with high CO values and it was 4.36 ( SD = 2.24) for teams with low CO values. The mean concerning time without water for teams with high CO values was 0.18 ( SD = 0.08) and with low CO values 0.25 ( SD = 0.11).

For analyzing indirect effects, CO was the independent variable, time without water the mediator and team performance the dependent variable. The findings indicated that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by time without water for scenario 1 (Table ​ (Table4) 4 ) and scenario 2 (Table ​ (Table5). 5 ). In scenario 1, CO had no direct effect on team performance ( b(YX) ), but CO significantly predicted time without water ( b(MX) ). A significant total effect ( b(YX) ) is not an assumption in the assessment of indirect effects, and therefore the non-significance of this relationship does not violate the analysis (see Preacher and Hayes, 2004 , p. 719). Furthermore, time without water significantly predicted team performance when controlling for CO ( b(YM.X) ), whereas the effect of CO on team performance was not significant when controlling for time without water ( b(YX.M) ). The indirect effect was 0.40 and significant when using normal distribution and estimated with the Sobel test ( z = 1.97, p < 0.05). The bootstrap procedure was applied to estimate the effect size not based on the assumption of normal distribution. As displayed in Table ​ Table4, 4 , the bootstrapped estimate of the indirect effect was 0.41 and the true indirect effect was estimated to lie between 0.0084 and 0.9215 with a 95% confidence interval. As zero is not in the 95% confidence interval, it can be concluded that the indirect effect is indeed significantly different from zero at p < 0.05 (two-tailed).

Indirect Effect for Coordination and Team Performance in Scenario 1.

Y = Team Performance Scenario 1; X = Collective Orientation T0; M = Coordination (time without water in scenario 1); Number of Bootstrap Resamples 5000 .

Indirect Effect for Coordination and Team Performance in Scenario 2.

Y = Team Performance Scenario 2; X = Collective Orientation T0; M = Coordination (time without water in scenario 2); Number of Bootstrap Resamples 5000 .

Regarding scenario 2, CO had a direct effect on team performance ( b(YX) ) and on time without water ( b(MX) ). Again, time without water significantly predicted team performance when controlling for CO ( b(YM.X) ), whereas the effect of CO on team performance was not significant when controlling for time without water ( b(YX.M) ). This time, the indirect effect was 0.60 (Sobel test, z = 2.31, p < 0.05). As displayed in Table ​ Table5, 5 , the bootstrapped estimate of the indirect effect was 0.61 and the true indirect effect was estimated to lie between 0.1876 and 1.1014 with a 95% confidence interval and between 0.0340 and 1.2578 with a 99% confidence interval. Because zero is not in the 99% confidence interval, it can be concluded that the indirect effect is indeed significantly different from zero at p < 0.01 (two-tailed).

The indirect effects for both scenarios are visualized in Figure ​ Figure6. 6 . Summing up, the results support hypothesis 1 and indicate that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by the teams' coordination behavior, an action process. That means, fulfilling team process demands affect the dynamic decision making quality of teams acting in complex situations and input variables such as CO influence the action processes within teams positively.

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Object name is fpsyg-08-01730-g0006.jpg

Indirect effect of collective orientation on team performance via coordination within the teams for scenario 1 and 2, * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001, numbers in italic represent results from scenario 2, non-italic numbers are from scenario 1.

Trust between team members assessed after scenario 1 (T1) and after scenario 2 (T2) did not show any significant correlation with the coordination behavior or with team complex problem solving in scenarios 1 and 2 (Table ​ (Table3). 3 ). Thus, hypotheses 2a and 2b are not supported. Cohesion at T1 showed no significant relationship with team performance in both scenarios, one significant negative correlation ( r = −0.22, p < 0.05) with the coordination behavior in scenario 1 and no correlation with the coordination behavior in scenario 2. Cohesion at T2 did not show any significant correlation with the coordination behavior or with team performance in both scenarios. Thus, hypotheses 3a and 3b could also not be supported. Furthermore, the results showed no significant relations between CO and trust and cohesion. The correlations between trust and cohesion ranged between r = 0.39 and r = 0.51 ( p < 0.01).

The purpose of our paper was first to give a sound theoretical overview and to combine theoretical approaches about team competencies and team process demands in collaborative complex problem solving and second to demonstrate the importance of selected team competencies and processes on team performance in complex problem solving by means of results from a laboratory study. We introduced the model of an idealized teamwork process that complex problem solving team pass through and integrated the relevant teamwork skills for interdependently working teams into it. Moreover, we highlighted the episodic aspect concerning complex problem solving in teams and combined the well-known transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes of teamwork with the idealized teamwork process model. Finally, we investigated the influence of trust, cohesion, and CO on action processes, such as coordination behavior of complex problem solving teams and on team performance.

Regarding hypothesis 1, studies have indicated that teams whose members have high CO values are more successful in their coordination processes and task accomplishment (Eby and Dobbins, 1997 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ; Hagemann, 2017 ), which may enhance team performance through considering task inputs from other team members, information sharing and strategizing (Salas et al., 2005 ). Thus, we had a close look on CO as an emergent state in the present study, because emergent states support the execution of behavioral processes. In order to analyze this indirect effect of CO on team performance via coordination processes, we used the time, which firefighters spent without water in a scenario, as an indicator for high-quality coordination within the team. A small amount of time without water represents sharing information and resources between team members in a reciprocal manner, which are essential qualities of effective coordination (Ellington and Dierdorff, 2014 ). One of the two team members was in charge of the mobile water tank unit and therefore responsible for filling up the water tanks of his/her own firefighting unit and that of the other team member on time. In order to avoid running out of water for firefighting, the team members had to exchange information about, for example, their firefighting units' current and future positions in the field, their water levels, their strategies for extinguishing one or two fires, and the water tank unit's current and future position in the field. The simple mediation models showed that CO has an indirect effect on team performance mediated by time without water, supporting hypothesis 1. Thus, CO facilitates high-quality coordination within complex problem solving teams and this in turn influences decision-making and team performance positively (cf. Figure ​ Figure1). 1 ). These results support previous findings concerning the relationships between emergent states, such as CO, and the team process, such as action processes like coordination (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ; Driskell et al., 2010 ) and between the team process and the team performance (Stevens and Campion, 1994 ; Dierdorff et al., 2011 ).

Hypotheses 2 and 3 analyzed the relationships between trust and cohesion and coordination and team performance. Because no correlations between trust and cohesion and the coordination behavior and team complex problem solving existed, further analyses, like mediation analyses, were unnecessary. In contrast to other studies (McAllister, 1995 ; Beal et al., 2003 ; Salas et al., 2005 ; Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ), the present study was not able to detect effects of trust and cohesion on team processes, like action processes, or on team performance. This can be attributed to the restricted sample composition or the rather small sample size. Nevertheless, effect sizes were small to medium, so that they would have become significant with an increased sample sizes. The prerequisite, mentioned by the authors, that interdependence of the teamwork is important for identifying those effects, was given in the present study. Therefore, this aspect could not have been the reason for finding no effects concerning trust and cohesion. Trust and cohesion within the teams developed during working on the simulation scenarios while fighting fires, showed significant correlations with each other, and were unrelated to CO, which showed an effect on the coordination behavior and the team performance indeed. The results seem to implicate, that the influence of CO on action processes and team performance might be much more stronger than those of trust and cohesion. If these results can be replicated should be analyzed in future studies.

As the interdependent complex problem-solving task was a computer-based simulation, the results might have been affected by the participants' attitudes to using a computer. For example, computer affinity seems to be able to minimize potential fear of working with a simulation environment and might therefore, be able to contribute to successful performance in a computer-based team task. Although computers and other electronic devices are pervasive in present-day life, computer aversion has to be considered in future studies within complex problem-solving research when applying computer-based simulation team tasks. As all of the participants were studying applied cognitive science, which is a mix of psychology and computer science, this problem might not have been influenced the present results. However, the specific composition of the sample reduces the external validity of the study and the generalizability of the results. A further limitation is the small sample size, so that moderate to small effects are difficult to detect.

Furthermore, laboratory research of teamwork might have certain limitations. Teamwork as demonstrated in this study fails to account for the fact that teams are not simple, static and isolated entities (McGrath et al., 2000 ). The validity of the results could be reduced insofar as the complex relationships in teams were not represented, the teamwork context was not considered, not all teammates and teams were comparable, and the characteristic as a dynamic system with a team history and future was not given in the present study. This could be a possible explanation why no effects of trust and cohesion were found in the present study. Maybe, the teams need more time working together on the simulation scenarios in order to show that trust and cohesion influence the coordination with the team and the team performance. Furthermore, Bell ( 2007 ) demonstrated in her meta-analysis that the relationship between team members' attitudes and the team's performance was proven more strongly in the field compared to the laboratory. In consideration of this fact, the findings of the present study concerning CO are remarkable and the simulation based microworld C3Fire (Granlund et al., 2001 ; Granlund, 2003 ) seems to be appropriate for analyzing complex problem solving in interdependently working teams.

An asset of the present study is, that the teams' action processes, the coordination performance, was assessed objectively based on logged data and was not a subjective measure, as is often the case in group and team research studies (cf. Van de Ven et al., 1976 ; Antoni and Hertel, 2009 ; Dierdorff et al., 2011 ; Ellington and Dierdorff, 2014 ). As coordination was the mediator in the analysis, this objective measurement supports the validity of the results.

As no transition processes such as mission analysis, formulation, and planning (Prince and Salas, 1993 ), goal specification (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ), and strategy formulation (Prince and Salas, 1993 ; Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ) as well as action processes such as monitoring progress toward goals (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1995 ) and systems monitoring (Fleishman and Zaccaro, 1992 ) were analyzed within the present study, future studies should collect data concerning these processes in order to show their importance on performance within complex problem solving teams. Because these processes are difficult to observe, subjective measurements are needed, for example asking the participants after each scenario how they have prioritized various tasks, if and when they have changed their strategy concerning protecting houses or fighting fires, and on which data within the scenarios they focused for collecting information for goal and systems monitoring. Another possibility could be using eye-tracking methods in order to collect data about collecting information for monitoring progress toward goals, e.g., collecting information how many cells are still burning, and systems monitoring, e.g., tracking team resources like water for firefighting.

CO is an emergent state and emergent states can be influenced by experience or learning, for example (Kozlowski and Ilgen, 2006 ). Learning processes (Edmondson, 1999 ), that Schmutz et al. ( 2016 ) added to the taxonomy of team processes developed by Marks et al. ( 2001 ) and which occur during transition and action phases and contribute to team effectiveness include e.g., feedback . Feedback can be useful for team learning when team learning is seen as a form of information processing (Hinsz et al., 1997 ). Because CO supports action processes, such as coordination and it can be influenced by learning, learning opportunities, such as feedback, seem to be important for successful task accomplishment and for supporting teams in handling complex situations or problems. If the team is temporarily and interpersonally unstable, as it is the case for most of the disaster or crisis management teams dealing with complex problems, there might be less opportunities for generating shared mental models by experiencing repetitive cycles of joint action (cf. Figure ​ Figure2) 2 ) and strategies such as cross training (Salas et al., 2007 ) or feedback might become more and more important for successful complex problem solving in teams. Thus, for future research it would be of interest to analyze what kind of feedback is able to influence CO positively and therefore is able to enhance coordination and performance within complex problem-solving teams.

Depending on the type of feedback, different main points will be focused during the feedback (see Gabelica et al., 2012 ). Feedback can be differentiated into performance and process feedback. Process feedback can be further divided into task-related and interpersonal feedback. Besides these aspects, feedback can be given on a team-level or an individual-level. Combinations of the various kinds of feedback are possible and are analyzed in research concerning their influence on e.g., self- and team-regulatory processes and team performance (Prussia and Kinicki, 1996 ; Hinsz et al., 1997 ; Jung and Sosik, 2003 ; Gabelica et al., 2012 ). For future studies it would be relevant to analyze, whether it is possible to positively influence the CO of team members and therefore action processes such as coordination and team performance or not. A focus could be on the learning processes, especially on feedback, and its influence on CO in complex problem solving teams. So far, no studies exist that analyzed the relationship between feedback and a change in CO, even though researchers already discuss the possibility that team-level process feedback shifts attention processes on team actions and team learning (McLeod et al., 1992 ; Hinsz et al., 1997 ). These results would be very helpful for training programs for fire service or police or medical teams working in complex environments and solving problems collaboratively, in order to support their team working and their performance.

In summary, the idealized teamwork process model is in combination with the transition, action, interpersonal and learning processes a good framework for analyzing the impact of teamwork competencies and teamwork processes in detail on team performance in complex environments. Overall, the framework offers further possibilities for investigating the influence of teamwork competencies on diverse processes and teamwork outcomes in complex problem solving teams than demonstrated here. The results of our study provide evidence of how CO influences complex problem solving teams and their performance. Accordingly, future researchers and practitioners would be well advised to find interventions how to influence CO and support interdependently working teams.

Ethics statement

This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of Ethical guidelines of the German Association of Psychology, Ethics committee of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Department of Computer Science and Applied Cognitive Science with written informed consent from all subjects. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by the Ethics committee of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Department of Computer Science and Applied Cognitive Science.

Author contributions

VH and AK were responsible for the conception of the work and the study design. VH analyzed and interpreted the collected data. VH and AK drafted the manuscript. They approved it for publication and act as guarantors for the overall content.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01730/full#supplementary-material

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Team Types: Why they matter, and how to harness their power

problem solving team types

Ashley McCann

Every leader has their idea of the perfect team—a group with the skills, personalities, and competencies to achieve any goal. And while it’s easy to believe there’s a “right” way to assemble that Ocean’s Eleven team, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Any team can be great —provided you understand their Team Type.

Learning about different Team Types in the workplace can help you put together the right group for the goal you’re pursuing. Whether you’re looking to drive innovation, improve efficiency, or encourage collaboration, there’s a Team Type that can help your organization address its needs.

What are Team Types?

A Team Type refers to the collective work style of a group of teammates. This work style is determined by the team’s unique makeup of employee behaviors .

According to PI’s science team, there are nine observable Team Types :

  • Cultivating
  • Pathfinding
  • Stabilizing

How a Team Type is Determined

Each Type Team differs in its natural behavioral strengths. For example, an Exploring Team tends to consist of big-picture thinkers and risk takers; this type of team often lends itself well to innovation and agility. By contrast, a Stabilizing Team typically consists of more detail-oriented, risk-adverse employees. For that reason, a Stabilizing Team can be relied on to improve efficiencies and build new processes.

Just as these Team Types have strengths, they also have caution areas to beware of. You likely wouldn’t ask a Stabilizing Team to brainstorm a new product, just as much as you wouldn’t ask an Exploring Team to actually build that product.

The key, then, is to understand the team you have, and the goals you’re pursuing. So long as your Team Type is aligned with your strategy, you set yourself—and your people—up for success.

Why are teams important in organizations?

Teams are formed for a variety of business functions , often with unique responsibilities, objectives, or skill levels. For instance, a leadership team comprised of managers can serve a wildly different purpose than a project team in terms of its scope of work, level of responsibility, and duration.

A project team may consist of groups of employees tasked with the specific project of bringing a new product to market and may be disbanded once that project has been completed. 

A leadership team , by contrast, refers to a group of individuals in management positions from different departments. This team is often responsible for decision making and sharing information about the employees and projects they oversee with other managers and executives, and has no set “end date.” 

By understanding your Team Type, as well as your team function, you can strategically structure work teams in a way that makes it easier to define and achieve shared goals. 

Learn more about effective team building:

  • Crush your team goals with PI Design’s Team Discovery.

5 ways PI Design can help you build winning teams

Example of a cross-functional team

Different types of teams in the workplace

Most organizations have a wide range of team structures and functions. Teams may be grouped by role, department, work location, employment status, or project; you can even have teams within teams. In short, there’s no limit to the possible configurations when it comes to bringing employees together for a common purpose. 

Here is a brief overview of the most commonly created teams: 

Project teams

Project teams are made up of a group of individuals who often have different roles, tasks, and deadlines but who are all working together toward the same outcome. A project team is usually temporary. 

Functional teams

The team members of a functional team typically share the same skills, are from the same department, or report to the same manager. Functional teams are usually permanent. 

Cross-functional teams 

Cross-functional teams consist of individuals who come from a variety of different departments and have a range of skills and expertise. These types of teams typically serve as a task force to solve problems or make decisions that require different types of input or experience.

Operational teams

Members of an operational team have roles and responsibilities that serve the purpose of supporting employees and/or teams so that they can work more efficiently and effectively. Tasks assigned to an operational team often relate to organizing and optimizing the workflow and processes of an organization in an effort to maximize productivity. 

Virtual teams

With the rise of remote work, virtual teams have become more common. Virtual teams rarely work together in the same physical space, and their commonality lies in their offsite location. Online collaboration tools are especially important to keep these teams organized, informed, and communicating. 

Self-managed teams

As indicated by the name, self-managing teams (also known as autonomous teams ) don’t rely on a team leader or project manager for guidance. The team members are fully responsible for every aspect of the decision-making process, from deadlines and tasks to expectations and outcomes. The flexibility available to self-managed teams often results in creative problem-solving and an increase in overall productivity. 

Problem-solving teams

A problem-solving team is usually similar to a project team—it’s a group of individuals with different skills or experience who are brought together from various departments to find a solution to a specific challenge or crisis. This team is usually (and hopefully) temporary in nature. 

Leadership teams

As referenced above, leadership teams usually consist of managers, team leaders, or executives and exist to identify strategies to improve the organization, as well as provide a greater sense of company-wide cohesion by communicating about the different roles, projects, and updates from their respective departments. 

Benefits of clearly defined team functions

Putting together a successful team involves more than assigning a common interest or activity to a group of employees. To create a fully optimized team, you should consider the scope of work, the competencies of employees, the soft skills, and the personality types of your group members, as well as the management style, tools, and processes that will support the team and its initiatives.

You may need a functional team, like a marketing team, to define your product’s messaging, but a cross-functional team might be necessary if that messaging includes product features or limitations that only a developer would fully understand or if the goal is to have feedback from customers inspire future developments. 

Understanding the proposed team’s objectives and the skills, expertise, management style, and work environment necessary to achieve those goals are the first steps of team development.

How PI helps you leverage Team Types

Distrust, incompatibility, and miscommunication are all obstacles to having a cohesive and collaborative team. PI Design uses data to identify what motivates your team, as individuals and as a group, and provides you with a custom action plan to achieve success.

Here’s how it works: 

  • You: Take PI’s six-minute behavioral assessment, and learn how you work and manage best.
  • Team: Discover your team’s collective strengths and caution areas, and reveal your specific Team Type. 
  • Strategy: Visualize the work to be done side-by-side with the capabilities of your team. Identify potential misalignment, and get instant insights to close the gap and crush your goals. 

 Even the smallest changes you make with PI Design can create a monumental impact on your team’s morale and productivity.

problem solving team types

Ashley McCann is a content writer who specializes in the things that matter most to people. She loves travel, the Oxford comma, and those tiny kitchen cooking videos.

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1 Defining Teams and Groups

The content included in this chapter is adapted from two open university chapters: working in groups and teams and groups and teamwork, what is a group.

Our tendency to form groups is a pervasive aspect of organizational life. In addition to formal groups, committees, and teams, there are informal groups, cliques, and factions.

Group sitting around technology

Formal groups are used to organize and distribute work, pool information, devise plans, coordinate activities, increase commitment, negotiate, resolve conflicts and conduct inquests. Group work allows the pooling of people’s individual skills and knowledge, and helps compensate for individual deficiencies. Estimates suggest most managers spend 50 percent of their working day in one sort of group or another, and for top management of large organizations this can rise to 80 percent. Thus, formal groups are clearly an integral part of the functioning of an organization.

No less important are informal groups. These are usually structured more around the social needs of people than around the performance of tasks.   Informal groups usually serve to satisfy needs of affiliation, and act as a forum for exploring self-concept as a means of gaining support, and so on. However, these informal groups may also have an important effect on formal work tasks, for example by exerting subtle pressures on group members to conform to a particular work rate, or as ‘places’ where news, gossip, etc., is exchanged.

What is a team?

Exploration Activity

Write your own definition of a ‘team’ (in 20 words or less). 

Provide an example of a team working toward an achievable goals

You probably described a team as a group of some kind. However, a team is more than just a group. When you think of all the groups that you belong to, you will probably find that very few of them are really teams. Some of them will be family or friendship groups that are formed to meet a wide range of needs such as affection, security, support, esteem, belonging, or identity. Some may be committees whose members represent different interest groups and who meet to discuss their differing perspectives on issues of interest.

In this reading the term ‘work group’ (or ‘group’) is often used interchangeably with the word ‘team,’ although a team may be thought of as a particularly cohesive and purposeful type of work group. We can distinguish work groups or teams from more casual groupings of people by using the following set of criteria (Adair, 1983). A collection of people can be defined as a work group or team if it shows most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

  • A definable membership: a collection of three or more people identifiable by name or type;
  • A group identity: the members think of themselves as a group;
  • A sense of shared purpose: the members share some common task or goals or interests;
  • Interdependence: the members need the help of one another to accomplish the purpose for which they joined the group;
  • Interaction: the members communicate with one another, influence one another, react to one another;
  • Sustainability: the team members periodically review the team’s effectiveness;
  • An ability to act together.

Usually, the tasks and goals set by teams cannot be achieved by individuals working alone because of constraints on time and resources, and because few individuals possess all the relevant competences and expertise. Sports teams or orchestras clearly fit these criteria.

List some examples of teams of which you are a member – both inside and outside work – in your learning file.

Now list some groups .

What strikes you as the main differences?

By contrast, many groups are much less explicitly focused on an external task. In some instances, the growth and development of the group itself is its primary purpose; process is more important than outcome. Many groups are reasonably fluid and less formally structured than teams. In the case of work groups, an agreed and defined outcome is often regarded as a sufficient basis for effective cooperation and the development of adequate relationships. Teamwork is usually connected with project work and this is a feature of much work. Teamwork is particularly useful when you have to address risky, uncertain, or unfamiliar problems where there is a lot of choice and discretion surrounding the decision to be made. In the area of voluntary and unpaid work, where pay is not an incentive, teamwork can help to motivate support and commitment because it can offer the opportunities to interact socially and learn from others (Piercy & Kramer, 2017). Furthermore, people are more willing to support and defend work they helped create (Stanton, 1992).

Importantly, groups and teams are not distinct entities. Both can be pertinent in personal development as well as organizational development and managing change. In such circumstances, when is it appropriate to embark on teambuilding rather than relying on ordinary group or solo working?

In general, the greater the task uncertainty the more important teamwork is, especially if it is necessary to represent the differing perspectives of concerned parties.  In such situations, the facts themselves do not always point to an obvious policy or strategy for innovation, support, and development: decisions are partially based on the opinions and the personal visions of those involved.

There are risks associated with working in teams as well. Under some conditions, teams may produce more conventional, rather than more innovative, responses to problems. The reason for this is that team decisions may regress towards the average, with group pressures to conform cancelling out more innovative decision options (Makin, Cooper, & Cox, 1989). It depends on how innovative the team is, in terms of its membership, its norms, and its values.

Teamwork may also be inappropriate when you want a fast decision. Team decision making is usually slower than individual decision making because of the need for communication and consensus about the decision taken. Despite the business successes of Japanese companies, it is now recognized that promoting a collective organizational identity and responsibility for decisions can sometimes slow down operations significantly, in ways that are not always compensated for by better decision making.

Is a team or group really needed?

There may be times when group working – or simply working alone – is more appropriate and more effective. For example, decision-making in groups and teams is usually slower than individual decision-making because of the need for communication and consensus. In addition, groups and teams may produce conventional rather than innovative responses to problems, because decisions may regress towards the average, with the more innovative decision options being rejected (Makin et al., 1989).

In general, the greater the task uncertainty , that is to say the less obvious and more complex the task to be addressed, the more important it will be to work in a group or team rather than individually. This is because there will be a greater need for different skills and perspectives, especially if it is necessary to represent the different perspectives of the different stakeholders involved.

Table 2 lists some occasions when it will be appropriate to work in teams, in groups or alone.

When to work alone, in groups or in teams

Types of teams

Different organizations or organizational settings lead to different types of team. The type of team affects how that team is managed, what the communication needs of the team are and, where appropriate, what aspects of the project the project manager needs to emphasize. A work group or team may be permanent, forming part of the organization’s structure, such as a top management team, or temporary, such as a task force assembled to see through a particular project. Members may work as a group continuously or meet only intermittently. The more direct contact and communication team members have with each other, the more likely they are to function well as a team. Thus, getting a group to function well is a valuable management aim.

The following section defines common types of team. Many teams may not fall clearly into one type, but may combine elements of different types. Many organizations have traditionally been managed through a hierarchical structure. This general structure is illustrated in Figure 1  below.

The number of levels clearly depends upon the size and to some extent on the type of the organization. Typically, the span of control , the number of people each manager or supervisor is directly responsible for, averages about five people, but this can vary widely. As a general rule it is bad practice for any single manager to supervise more than 7-10 people.

problem solving team types

While the hierarchy is designed to provide a stable ‘backbone’ to the organization, projects are primarily concerned with change, and so tend to be organized quite differently. Their structure needs to be more fluid than that of conventional management structures. There are four commonly used types of project team: the functional team, the project (single) team, the matrix team and the contract team.

Why is it problematic for a manager to supervise too many people? How does this relate to groups, is there an ideal group size or configuration?

The project (single) team

The hierarchical structure described above divides groups of people along largely functional lines: people working together carry out the same or similar functions. A functional team is a team in which work is carried out within a group organized around a similar function or task. This can be project work. In organizations in which the functional divisions are relatively rigid, project work can be handed from one functional team to another in order to complete the work. For example, work on a new product can pass from marketing, which has the idea, to research and development, which sees whether it is technically feasible, thence to design and finally manufacturing. This is sometimes known as ‘baton passing’ – or, less flatteringly, as ‘throwing it over the wall’!

The project, or single, team consists of a group of people who come together as a distinct organizational unit in order to work on a project or projects. The team is often led by a project manager, though self-managing and self-organizing arrangements are also found. Quite often, a team that has been successful on one project will stay together to work on subsequent projects. This is particularly common where an organization engages repeatedly in projects of a broadly similar nature – for example developing software, or in construction. Perhaps the most important issue in this instance is to develop the collective capability of the team, since this is the currency for continued success. People issues are often crucial in achieving this.

The closeness of the dedicated project team normally reduces communication problems within the team. However, care should be taken to ensure that communications with other stakeholders (senior management, line managers and other members of staff in the departments affected, and so on) are not neglected, as it is easy for ‘us and them’ distinctions to develop.

The matrix team

In a matrix team , staff report to different managers for different aspects of their work. Matrix structures are often, but not exclusively, found in projects. Matrix structures are more common in large and multi-national organizations. In this structure, staff are responsible to the project manager for their work on the project while their functional line manager may be responsible for other aspects of their work such as appraisal, training, and career development, and ‘routine’ tasks. This matrix project structure is represented in Figure 2. Notice how the traditional hierarchy is cross-cut by the ‘automated widget manufacturing configuration.’

Figure 2

In this form of organization, staff from various functional areas (such as design, software development, manufacturing or marketing) are loaned or seconded to work on a particular project. Such staff may work full- or part-time on the project. The project manager thus has a recognizable team and is responsible for controlling and monitoring its work on the project.

However, many of the project staff will still have other duties to perform in their normal functional departments. The functional line managers they report to will retain responsibility for this work and for the professional standards of their work on the project, as well as for their training and career development. It is important to overcome the problems staff might have with the dual reporting lines (the ‘two-boss’ problem). This requires building good interpersonal relationships with the team members and regular, effective communication.

The contract team

The contract team is brought in from outside in order to do the project work. Here, the responsibility to deliver the project rests very firmly with the project manager. The client will find such a team harder to control directly. On the other hand, it is the client who will judge the success of the project, so the project manager has to keep an eye constantly on the physical outcomes of the project. A variant of this is the so-called ‘outsourced supply team’, which simply means that the team is physically situated remotely from the project manager, who then encounters the additional problem of ‘managing at a distance’.

Mixed structures

Teams often have mixed structures:

  • Some members may be employed to work full time on the project and be fully responsible to the project manager. Project managers themselves are usually employed full time.
  • Others may work part time, and be responsible to the project manager only during their time on the project. For example, internal staff may well work on several projects at the same time. Alternatively, an external consultant working on a given project may also be involved in a wider portfolio of activities.
  • Some may be part of a matrix arrangement, whereby their work on the project is overseen by the project manager and they report to their line manager for other matters. Project administrators often function in this way, serving the project for its duration, but having a career path within a wider administrative service.
  • Still others may be part of a functional hierarchy, undertaking work on the project under their line manager’s supervision by negotiation with their project manager. For instance, someone who works in an organization’s legal department may provide the project team with access to legal advice when needed.

In relatively small projects the last two arrangements are a very common way of accessing specialist services that will only be needed from time to time.

Modern teams

In addition to the traditional types of teams or groups outlined above, recent years have seen the growth of interest in three other important types of team: ‘self-managed teams’, ‘self-organizing teams’, and ‘dispersed virtual teams.’

A typical self-managed team may be permanent or temporary. It operates in an informal and non-hierarchical manner, and has considerable responsibility for the way it carries out its tasks. It is often found in organizations that are developing total quality management and quality assurance approaches. The Industrial Society Survey observed that: “Better customer service, more motivated staff, and better quality of output are the three top motives for moving to [self-managed teams], managers report.”

In contrast, organizations that deliberately encourage the formation of self-organizing teams   are comparatively rare. Teams of this type can be found in highly flexible, innovative organizations that thrive on creativity and informality. These are modern organizations that recognize the importance of learning and adaptability in ensuring their success and continued survival. However, self-organizing teams exist, unrecognized, in many organizations. For instance, in traditional, bureaucratic organizations, people who need to circumvent the red tape may get together in order to make something happen and, in so doing, spontaneously create a self-organizing team. The team will work together, operating outside the formal structures, until its task is done and then it will disband.

Table 2 shows some typical features of self-managed and self-organizing teams.

Table 2: Comparing Self-managed and Self-Organizing Teams

Many organizations set up self-managed or empowered teams as an important way of improving performance and they are often used as a way of introducing a continuous improvement approach. These teams tend to meet regularly to discuss and put forward ideas for improved methods of working or customer service in their areas. Some manufacturers have used multi-skilled self-managed teams to improve manufacturing processes, to enhance worker participation and improve morale. Self-managed teams give employees an opportunity to take a more active role in their working lives and to develop new skills and abilities. This may result in reduced staff turnover and less absenteeism.

Self-organizing teams are usually formed spontaneously in response to an issue, idea or challenge. This may be the challenge of creating a radically new product, or solving a tough production problem. In Japan, the encouragement of self-organizing teams has been used as a way of stimulating discussion and debate about strategic issues so that radical and innovative new strategies emerge. By using a self-organizing team approach companies were able to tap into the collective wisdom and energy of interested and motivated employees.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual teams are increasingly common. A virtual team is one whose primary means of communicating is electronic, with only occasional phone and face-to-face communication, if at all. Virtual teams use technologies like, Zoom, Skype, Teams, Basecamp, etc. to coordinate, meet, and share work (Kniffen et al., 2021). Table 3 contains a summary of benefits virtual groups provide to organizations and individuals, as well as the potential challenges and disadvantages virtual groups present.

Table 3. Teams have organizational and individual benefits, as well as possible challenges and disadvantages

Why do (only some) teams succeed?

Clearly, there are no hard-and-fast rules which lead to team effectiveness . The determinants of a successful team are complex and not equivalent to following a set of prescriptions. However, the results of poor teamwork can be expensive, so it is useful to draw on research, experience and case studies to explore some general guidelines. What do I mean by ‘team effectiveness’? – the achievement of goals alone? Where do the achievements of individual members fit in? and How does team member satisfaction contribute to team effectiveness?

Borrowing from Adair’s (1983) leadership model, the left-hand side of Figure 3 shows the main constituents of team effectiveness: the satisfaction of individual membership needs, successful team interaction and the achievement of team tasks. These elements are not discrete, so Figure 3 shows them as overlapping. For example, team member satisfaction will be derived not only from the achievement of tasks but also from the quality of team relationships and the more social aspects of teamworking: people who work almost entirely on their own, such as teleworkers and self-employed business owner-managers, often miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off colleagues in team situations. The experience of solitude in their work can, over time, create a sense of isolation, and impair their performance. The effectiveness of a team should also relate to the next step, to what happens after the achievement of team goals.

Figure 3

The three elements could be reconfigured as an iceberg, most of which is below the water’s surface (the right-hand side of Figure 3). Superficial observation of teams in organizations might suggest that most, if not all, energy is devoted to the explicit task (what is to be achieved, by when, with what budget and what resources). Naturally, this is important. But too often the concealed part of the iceberg (how the team will work together) is neglected. As with real icebergs, shipwrecks can ensue.

For instance, if working in a particular team leaves its members antagonistic towards each other and disenchanted with the organization to the point of looking for new jobs, then it can hardly be regarded as fully effective, even if it achieves its goals. The measure of team effectiveness could be how well the team has prepared its members for the transition to new projects, and whether the members would relish the thought of working with each other again.

In addition to what happens inside a team there are external influences that impact upon team operations. Restated, teams operate in complex systems composed on both internal and external stakeholders, resources, and outcomes. The factors shown in Figure 4 interact with each other in ways that affect the team and its development. We don’t fully understand the  complexity of these interactions and combinations. The best that we can do is discuss each factor in turn and consider some of the interactions between them and how they relate to team effectiveness. For instance, discussions about whether the wider culture of an organization supports and rewards teamworking, whether a team’s internal and/or external customers clearly specify their requirements and whether the expectations of a team match those of its sponsor will all either help or hinder a team’s ongoing vitality.

Figure 4

  • Adair, J. (1983) Effective Leadership , Gower.
  • Industrial Society (1995) Managing Best Practice: Self Managed Teams . Publication no. 11, May 1995, London, Industrial Society.
  • Kniffin, K. M., Narayanan, J., Anseel, F., Antonakis, J., Ashford, S. P., Bakker, A. B., … & Vugt, M. V. (2021). COVID-19 and the workplace: Implications, issues, and insights for future research and action.  American Psychologist ,  76 (1), 63.
  • Makin, P., Cooper, C. and Cox, C. (1989) Managing People at Work , The British Psychological Society and Routledge.
  • Stanton, A. (1992). Learning from experience of collective teamwork. In Paton R., Cornforth C, and Batsleer, J. (Eds.) Issues in Voluntary and Non-profit Management , pp. 95–103, Addison-Wesley.
  • Piercy, C. W., & Kramer, M. W. (2017). Exploring dialectical tensions of leading volunteers in two community choirs.  Communication Studies, 68 , 208-226.

Groups used to organize and distribute work, pool information, devise plans, coordinate activities, increase commitment, negotiate, resolve conflicts and conduct inquests.

Groups not formally sanctioned (by an organization) which serve to satisfy needs of affiliation, and act as a forum for exploring self-concept as a means of gaining support, and so on.

a particularly cohesive and purposeful type of work group

the less obvious and more complex the task to be addressed

the number of people each manager or supervisor is directly responsible for

a group of people who come together as a distinct organizational unit in order to work on a project or projects.

other parties involved or affected by decision a team makes (e.g., customers, co-workers, managers, etc.)

a team in which members report to different managers for different aspects of their work

A team brought in from outside in order to do the project work

A team which operates in an informal and non-hierarchical manner, and has considerable responsibility for the way it carries out its tasks

A team in which members self-select their membership, this type of team is typically marked by an informal work style and little input or direction from senior management. These teams are often formed spontaneously in response to an issue, idea or challenge.

A combination of task achievement, individual success, and positive team interactions across both the task and process dimensions of team work.

A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that interact to form a unified whole. A system is surrounded and influenced by its environment. Systems are described by its boundaries, structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.

Defining Teams and Groups Copyright © 2021 by Cameron W. Piercy, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem." 

Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?

In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.

What is problem solving? 

Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.

Decision-making tools for agile businesses

In this ebook, learn how to equip employees to make better decisions—so your business can pivot, adapt, and tackle challenges more effectively than your competition.

Make good choices, fast: How decision-making processes can help businesses stay agile ebook banner image

4 steps to better problem solving

While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here’s how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team:

1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved

One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:

Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?

What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?

Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area? 

When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?

Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?

How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?

Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.

Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:

Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed

Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team

What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.

Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet

When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th

How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.

In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.

2. Brainstorm multiple solutions

If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.

Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:

Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.

Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy. 

Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.

Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.

3. Define the solution

After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution? 

Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.

4. Implement the solution

To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.

After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.

Implement common problem-solving strategies

There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:

Trial and error

Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes. 

This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.

The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause. 

This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.

Here’s an example:

Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.

“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.

“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing. 

“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.

“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments. 

“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members. 

In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem. 

A SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:

Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem? 

Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?

Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?

Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?

As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution. 

This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions. 

Even more successful problem solving

After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve. 

Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .

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One reason many of us came to the field of software engineering or software development is because we enjoy solving problems. It exercises out mental muscles, and gives us a feeling of satisfaction to know we can add value to our organizations and customers by solving tough problems. However, as the organizations we work for get bigger, and the scope of work gets bigger, so too do the problems we need to solve. There comes a point where we can’t solve them alone, or even with the immediate team we work with. Some problems require a cross-organization, multi-function approach. When our goal is to be a more agile, lean-thinking organization, we need to develop approaches to solving these types of problems.

This is where Problem Solving Teams come into play. Problem Solving Teams are temporary structures that bring together leaders and team members from across the organization to focus on solving a specific problem. The benefits are many, including not just a solved problem, but also a more resilient organization, a stronger social network and a growing cohort of problem solvers with increased skills and abilities.

This approach draws from many influences, including complexity science, social network theory, military doctrine, flight crews, and emergency responders. We have been experimenting with this approach across several areas that involve multiple geographies and multiple functions.

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How to Solve Problems

  • Laura Amico

problem solving team types

To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.

Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.

  • Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

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></center></p><h2>13 Problem-Solving Activities & Exercises for Your Team</h2><ul><li>December 4, 2023</li><li>Project Management</li><li>21 min read</li></ul><p><center><img style=

Are you looking to enhance your or your team’s problem-solving abilities? Engaging in activities specifically designed to stimulate your and your team’s critical thinking skills can be an excellent way to sharpen your problem-solving prowess. Whether you enjoy puzzles, brain teasers, or interactive challenges, these activities provide an opportunity to overcome obstacles and think creatively.

By immersing yourself in problem-solving activities, you can develop valuable strategies, improve your decision-making abilities, and boost your overall problem-solving IQ. Get ready to unlock your full potential and tackle any challenge that comes your way with these exciting activities for problem-solving.

In this article, we will explore activities for problem-solving that can help enhance your team’s problem-solving skills, allowing you to approach challenges with confidence and creativity.

What Are Problem Solving Activities?

Problem-solving activities or problem-solving exercises are interactive games requiring critical thinking to solve puzzles. They enhance teamwork & critical thinking. Examples include building towers, navigating simulated challenges, and fostering creativity and communication.

For instance, imagine a team working together to construct the tallest tower using limited materials. They strategize, communicate ideas, and problem-solve to create the best structure, promoting collaboration and inventive thinking among team members.

Some widely practiced problem-solving activities include:

  • A Shrinking Vessel: Teams must fit into a shrinking space, testing their cooperation and adaptability.
  • Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower: Participants build a tower using marshmallows and spaghetti, promoting creative engineering.
  • Egg Drop: Protecting an egg from a fall challenges problem-solving skills.
  • Desert Island Survival: Teams simulate survival scenarios, encouraging creative solutions.
  • Rolling Dice: A simple yet effective game involving chance and decision-making.
  • Build a Tower: Constructing a stable tower with limited resources fosters teamwork and innovation, etc.

13 Easy Activities For Problem-Solving Ideas to Enhance Team Collaboration

Team building activities offer a great opportunity to test problem-solving abilities and promote effective collaboration within a group to problem solving group activities. By engaging in these activities, teams can break the monotony of the workplace and create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

Here are nine easy-to-implement activities that can bring substantial change to your team culture and overall workplace dynamics.

#1. Crossword Puzzles

Crossword Puzzles

Objective: To enhance problem-solving skills, vocabulary, and cognitive abilities through engaging crossword puzzles. 

Estimated Time: 15-20 Minutes 

Materials Needed:

  • Crossword puzzle sheets
  • Pens or pencils
  • Distribute crossword puzzle sheets and pens/pencils to each participant.
  • Explain the rules of crossword puzzles and the goal of completing as many clues as possible within the given time.
  • Participants individually or in pairs work on solving the crossword puzzle by filling in the correct words.
  • Encourage critical thinking, word association, and collaborative discussions for solving challenging clues.
  • At the end of the time limit, review the answers and discuss any interesting or challenging clues as a group.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving: Participants engage in critical thinking while deciphering clues, promoting effective problem-solving skills.
  • Vocabulary Expansion: Exposure to new words and phrases within the crossword improves vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Cognitive Stimulation: The mental exercise of solving the puzzle stimulates the brain, enhancing cognitive abilities.
  • Team Collaboration: If done in pairs, participants practice collaboration and communication to solve clues together.
  • Achievement and Motivation: Successfully completing the crossword brings a sense of accomplishment and motivates individuals to explore more puzzles.

Tips for Facilitators:

  • Provide varying levels of crossword puzzles to accommodate different skill levels.
  • Encourage participants to share strategies for solving challenging clues.
  • Emphasize the fun and educational aspects of the activity to keep participants engaged.

#2. A Shrinking Vessel

A Shrinking Vessel

Estimated Time: 10-15 Minutes

  • Materials Needed: A rope and a ball of yarn
  • Prepare the Setting: Lay a rope on the floor in a shape that allows all team members to stand comfortably inside it. For larger teams, multiple ropes can be used, dividing them into smaller groups.
  • Enter the Circle: Have all team members stand inside the rope, ensuring that nobody steps outside its boundaries.
  • Shrinking the Circle: Begin gradually shrinking the rope’s size, reducing the available space inside the circle.
  • Adapt and Maintain Balance: As the circle shrinks, team members must make subtle adjustments to maintain their positions and balance within the shrinking area.
  • The Challenge: The objective for the team is to collectively brainstorm and find innovative ways to keep every team member inside the circle without anyone stepping outside.
  • Collaboration and Communication: The activity promotes teamwork and open communication as participants strategize to stay within the shrinking circle.
  • Adaptability: Team members learn to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances, fostering agility and flexibility.
  • Creative Problem-Solving: The challenge encourages inventive thinking and brainstorming to find unique solutions.
  • Trust Building: By relying on each other’s actions, participants build trust and cohesion among team members.
  • Time-Efficient: The short duration makes it an ideal icebreaker or energizer during meetings or workshops.
  • Observe and Facilitate: Monitor the team’s dynamics and offer guidance to encourage equal participation and effective problem-solving.
  • Encourage Verbalization: Prompt participants to voice their ideas and collaborate vocally, aiding in real-time adjustments.
  • Debrief Thoughtfully: Engage the team in a discussion afterward, reflecting on strategies employed and lessons learned.
  • Emphasize Adaptability: Highlight the transferable skill of adaptability and its significance in both professional and personal contexts.

#3. Human Knots

Human Knots

  • Objective: Improving Collaboration & enhancing Communication Skills

Estimated Time: 15-20 minutes

  • Materials: None required


  • Organize your team into a compact circle. For more sizable teams, subdivide them into smaller clusters, with each cluster forming its own circle. 
  • Direct each individual to grasp the hands of two other people in the circle, with the exception of those positioned directly adjacent to them. This action will result in the formation of a complex “human knot” within the circle. 
  • Present the challenge to the group: to unravel themselves from this entanglement while maintaining their hold on each other’s hands. If preferred, you can establish a specific time limit. 
  • Observe the team members collaborating to unravel the knot, witnessing their collective effort to devise solutions and free themselves from the intricate puzzle.
  • Team Cohesion: The activity encourages team members to interact closely, promoting bonding and understanding among participants.
  • Effective Communication: Participants practice clear and concise communication as they coordinate movements to untangle the knot.
  • Problem-Solving: The challenge stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving skills as individuals work collectively to find the optimal path for untangling.
  • Adaptability: Participants learn to adapt their actions based on the evolving dynamics of the human knot, fostering adaptability.
  • Trust Building: As individuals rely on each other to navigate the intricate knot, trust and cooperation naturally develop.
  • Set a Positive Tone: Create an inclusive and supportive atmosphere, emphasizing that the focus is on collaboration rather than competition.
  • Encourage Verbalization: Urge participants to articulate their intentions and listen to others’ suggestions, promoting effective teamwork.
  • Observe Group Dynamics: Monitor interactions and step in if needed to ensure everyone is actively engaged and included.
  • Reflect and Share: Conclude the activity with a debriefing session, allowing participants to share their experiences, strategies, and key takeaways.
  • Vary Grouping: Change group compositions for subsequent rounds to enhance interactions among different team members.

#4. Egg Drop

Egg Drop

Helps With: Decision Making, Collaboration

  • A carton of eggs
  • Construction materials (balloons, rubber bands, straws, tape, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • A suitable location for the activity
  • Assign each team a single egg and random construction materials.
  • Teams must create a carrier to protect the egg from breaking.
  • Drop the carriers one by one and increase the height if necessary to determine the most durable carrier.
  • The winning team is the one with the carrier that survives the highest drop.
  • Decision Making: Participants engage in critical decision-making processes as they select construction materials and determine carrier designs.
  • Collaboration: The activity necessitates collaboration and coordination among team members to construct an effective carrier.
  • Problem-Solving: Teams apply creative problem-solving skills to devise innovative methods for safeguarding the egg.
  • Risk Management: Participants learn to assess potential risks and consequences while making design choices to prevent egg breakage.
  • Celebrating Success: The victorious team experiences a sense of accomplishment, boosting morale and promoting a positive team spirit.
  • Provide Diverse Materials: Offer a wide range of construction materials to stimulate creativity and allow teams to explore various design options.
  • Set Safety Guidelines: Prioritize safety by specifying a safe drop height and ensuring participants follow safety protocols during construction.
  • Encourage Brainstorming: Prompt teams to brainstorm multiple carrier ideas before finalizing their designs, fostering diverse perspectives.
  • Facilitate Reflection: After the activity, lead a discussion where teams share their design strategies, challenges faced, and lessons learned.
  • Highlight Collaboration: Emphasize the significance of teamwork in achieving success, acknowledging effective communication and cooperation.

#5. Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower

Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower

Helps With: Collaboration

Estimated Time: 20-30 Minutes

Materials Needed (per team):

  • Raw spaghetti: 20 sticks
  • Marshmallow: 1
  • String: 1 yard
  • Masking tape: 1 roll
  • Tower Construction: Instruct teams to collaborate and utilize the provided materials to construct the tallest tower possible within a designated time frame.
  • Marshmallow Support: Emphasize that the tower must be capable of standing independently and supporting a marshmallow at its highest point.
  • Prototype and Iterate: Encourage teams to engage in prototyping and iteration, testing different design approaches and refining their tower structures.
  • T eamwork and Communication: Promote effective teamwork and communication as team members coordinate their efforts to build a stable and tall tower.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Evaluate each tower based on its height, stability, and the successful placement of the marshmallow at the top.
  • Collaboration: Participants collaborate closely, sharing ideas and working together to design and construct the tower.
  • Innovative Thinking: The activity encourages innovative thinking as teams experiment with different strategies to build a stable tower.
  • Time Management: Teams practice time management skills as they work within a specified time limit to complete the task.
  • Problem-Solving: Participants engage in creative problem-solving to address challenges such as balancing the marshmallow and constructing a sturdy tower.
  • Adaptability: Teams adapt their approaches based on trial and error, learning from each iteration to improve their tower designs.
  • Set Clear Guidelines: Clearly explain the materials, objectives, and evaluation criteria to ensure teams understand the task.
  • Foster Creativity: Encourage teams to think outside the box and explore unconventional methods for constructing their towers.
  • Emphasize Collaboration: Highlight the importance of effective communication and teamwork to accomplish the task successfully.
  • Time Management: Remind teams of the time limit and encourage them to allocate their time wisely between planning and construction.
  • Reflect and Share: Facilitate a discussion after the activity, allowing teams to share their design choices, challenges faced, and lessons learned.


Objective: To engage participants in the strategic and analytical world of Sudoku, enhancing logical thinking and problem-solving abilities. 

Estimated Time: 20-25 Minutes 

  • Sudoku puzzle sheets
  • Pencils with erasers
  • Distribute Sudoku puzzle sheets and pencils to each participant.
  • Familiarize participants with the rules and mechanics of Sudoku puzzles.
  • Explain the goal: to fill in the empty cells with numbers from 1 to 9 while adhering to the rules of no repetition in rows, columns, or subgrids.
  • Encourage participants to analyze the puzzle’s layout, identify potential numbers, and strategically fill in cells.
  • Emphasize the importance of logical deduction and step-by-step approach in solving the puzzle.
  • Provide hints or guidance if needed, ensuring participants remain engaged and challenged.
  • Logical Thinking: Sudoku challenges participants’ logical and deductive reasoning, fostering analytical skills.
  • Problem-Solving: The intricate interplay of numbers and constraints hones problem-solving abilities.
  • Focus and Patience: Participants practice patience and attention to detail while gradually unveiling the solution.
  • Pattern Recognition: Identifying number patterns and possibilities contributes to enhanced pattern recognition skills.
  • Personal Achievement: Successfully completing a Sudoku puzzle provides a sense of accomplishment and boosts confidence.
  • Offer varying levels of Sudoku puzzles to cater to different skill levels.
  • Encourage participants to share strategies and techniques for solving specific challenges.
  • Highlight the mental workout Sudoku provides and its transferable skills to real-life problem-solving.


Helps With: Communication, Problem-solving, & Management

  • A lockable room
  • 5-10 puzzles or clues
  • Hide the key and a set of clues around the room.
  • Lock the room and provide team members with a specific time limit to find the key and escape.
  • Instruct the team to work together, solving the puzzles and deciphering the clues to locate the key.
  • Encourage efficient communication and effective problem-solving under time pressure.
  • Communication Skills: Participants enhance their communication abilities by sharing observations, ideas, and findings to collectively solve puzzles.
  • Problem-solving Proficiency: The activity challenges teams to think critically, apply logical reasoning, and collaboratively tackle intricate challenges.
  • Team Management: The experience promotes effective team management as members assign tasks, prioritize efforts, and coordinate actions.
  • Time Management: The imposed time limit sharpens time management skills as teams strategize and allocate time wisely.
  • Adaptability: Teams learn to adapt and adjust strategies based on progress, evolving clues, and time constraints.
  • Clear Introduction: Provide a concise overview of the activity, emphasizing the importance of communication, problem-solving, and time management.
  • Diverse Challenges: Offer a mix of puzzles and clues to engage various problem-solving skills, catering to different team strengths.
  • Supportive Role: Act as a facilitator, offering subtle guidance if needed while allowing teams to independently explore and solve challenges.
  • Debriefing Session: Organize a debriefing session afterward to discuss the experience, highlight successful strategies, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Encourage Reflection: Encourage participants to reflect on their teamwork, communication effectiveness, and problem-solving approach.

#8. Frostbite for Group Problem Solving Activities

Frostbite for Group Problem Solving Activities

Helps With: Decision Making, Trust, Leadership

  • An electric fan
  • Construction materials (toothpicks, cardstock, rubber bands, sticky notes, etc.)
  • Divide the team into groups of 4-5 people, each with a designated leader.
  • Blindfold team members and prohibit leaders from using their hands.
  • Provide teams with construction materials and challenge them to build a tent within 30 minutes.
  • Test the tents using the fan to see which can withstand high winds.
  • Decision-Making Proficiency: Participants are exposed to critical decision-making situations under constraints, allowing them to practice effective and efficient decision-making.
  • Trust Development: Blindfolding team members and relying on the designated leaders fosters trust and collaboration among team members.
  • Leadership Skills: Designated leaders navigate the challenge without hands-on involvement, enhancing their leadership and communication skills.
  • Creative Problem Solving: Teams employ creative thinking and resourcefulness to construct stable tents with limited sensory input.
  • Team Cohesion: The shared task and unique constraints promote team cohesion and mutual understanding.
  • Role of the Facilitator: Act as an observer, allowing teams to navigate the challenge with minimal intervention. Offer assistance only when necessary.
  • Clarity in Instructions: Provide clear instructions regarding blindfolding, leader restrictions, and time limits to ensure a consistent experience.
  • Debriefing Session: After the activity, conduct a debriefing session to discuss team dynamics, leadership approaches, and decision-making strategies.
  • Encourage Communication: Emphasize the importance of effective communication within teams to ensure smooth coordination and successful tent construction.
  • Acknowledge Creativity: Celebrate creative solutions and innovative approaches exhibited by teams during the tent-building process.

#9. Dumbest Idea First

Dumbest Idea First

Helps With: Critical Thinking & Creative Problem Solving Activity

Estimated Time: 15-20 Minutes

Materials Needed: A piece of paper, pen, and pencil

  • Problem Presentation: Introduce a specific problem to the team, either a real-world challenge or a hypothetical scenario that requires a solution.
  • Brainstorming Dumb Ideas: Instruct team members to quickly generate and jot down the most unconventional and seemingly “dumb” ideas they can think of to address the problem.
  • Idea Sharing: Encourage each participant to share their generated ideas with the group, fostering a relaxed and open atmosphere for creative expression.
  • Viability Assessment: As a team, review and evaluate each idea, considering potential benefits and drawbacks. Emphasize the goal of identifying unconventional approaches.
  • Selecting Promising Solutions: Identify which seemingly “dumb” ideas could hold hidden potential or innovative insights. Discuss how these ideas could be adapted into workable solutions.
  • Divergent Thinking: Participants engage in divergent thinking, pushing beyond conventional boundaries to explore unconventional solutions.
  • Creative Exploration: The activity sparks creative exploration by encouraging participants to let go of inhibitions and embrace imaginative thinking.
  • Critical Analysis: Through evaluating each idea, participants practice critical analysis and learn to identify unique angles and aspects of potential solutions.
  • Open Communication: The lighthearted approach of sharing “dumb” ideas fosters open communication, reducing fear of judgment and promoting active participation.
  • Solution Adaptation: Identifying elements of seemingly “dumb” ideas that have merit encourages participants to adapt and refine their approaches creatively.
  • Safe Environment: Foster a safe and non-judgmental environment where participants feel comfortable sharing unconventional ideas.
  • Time Management: Set clear time limits for idea generation and sharing to maintain the activity’s energetic pace.
  • Encourage Wild Ideas: Emphasize that the goal is to explore the unconventional, urging participants to push the boundaries of creativity.
  • Facilitator Participation: Participate in idea generation to demonstrate an open-minded approach and encourage involvement.
  • Debriefing Discussion: After the activity, facilitate a discussion on how seemingly “dumb” ideas can inspire innovative solutions and stimulate fresh thinking.

This activity encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving. It allows teams to explore unconventional ideas that may lead to unexpected, yet effective, solutions.

#10: Legoman


Helps With: Foster teamwork, communication, and creativity through a collaborative Lego-building activity.

Estimated Time: 20-30 minutes

  • Lego bricks
  • Lego instruction manuals

Procedure :

  • Divide participants into small teams of 3-5 members.
  • Provide each team with an equal set of Lego bricks and a Lego instruction manual.
  • Explain that the goal is for teams to work together to construct the Lego model shown in the manual.
  • Set a time limit for the building activity based on model complexity.
  • Allow teams to self-organize, build, and collaborate to complete the model within the time limit.
  • Evaluate each team’s final model compared to the manual’s original design.
  • Enhanced Communication: Participants must communicate clearly and listen actively to collaborate effectively.
  • Strengthened Teamwork: Combining efforts toward a shared goal promotes camaraderie and team cohesion.
  • Creative Problem-Solving: Teams must creatively problem-solve if pieces are missing or instructions unclear.
  • Planning and Resource Allocation: Following instructions fosters planning skills and efficient use of resources.
  • Sense of Achievement: Completing a challenging build provides a sense of collective accomplishment.
  • Encourage Participation: Urge quieter members to contribute ideas and take an active role.
  • Highlight Teamwork: Emphasize how cooperation and task coordination are key to success.
  • Ensure Equal Engagement: Monitor group dynamics to ensure all members are engaged.
  • Allow Creativity: Permit modifications if teams lack exact pieces or wish to get creative.
  • Focus on Enjoyment: Create a lively atmosphere so the activity remains energizing and fun.

#11: Minefield


Helps With: Trust, Communication, Patience

Materials Needed: Open space, blindfolds

  • Mark a “minefield” on the ground using ropes, cones, or tape. Add toy mines or paper cups.
  • Pair up participants and blindfold one partner.
  • Position blindfolded partners at the start of the minefield. Direct seeing partners to verbally guide them through to the other side without hitting “mines.”
  • Partners switch roles once finished and repeat.
  • Time partnerships and provide prizes for the fastest safe crossing.
  • Trust Building: Blindfolded partners must trust their partner’s instructions.
  • Effective Communication: Giving clear, specific directions is essential for navigating the minefield.
  • Active Listening: Partners must listen closely and follow directions precisely.
  • Patience & Support: The exercise requires patience and encouraging guidance between partners.
  • Team Coordination: Partners must work in sync, coordinating movements and communication.
  • Test Boundaries: Ensure the minefield’s size accommodates safe movement and communication.
  • Monitor Interactions: Watch for dominant guidance and ensure both partners participate fully.
  • Time Strategically: Adjust time limits based on the minefield size and difficulty.
  • Add Obstacles: Introduce additional non-mine objects to increase challenge and communication needs.
  • Foster Discussion: Debrief afterward to discuss communication approaches and trust-building takeaways.

#12: Reverse Pyramid

Reverse Pyramid.

Helps With: Teamwork, Communication, Creativity

Materials Needed: 36 cups per group, tables

  • Form small groups of 5-7 participants.
  • Provide each group with a stack of 36 cups and a designated building area.
  • Explain the objective: Build the tallest pyramid starting with just one cup on top.
  • Place the first cup on the table, and anyone in the group can add two cups beneath it to form the second row.
  • From this point, only the bottom row can be lifted to add the next row underneath.
  • Cups in the pyramid can only be touched or supported by index fingers.
  • If the structure falls, start over from one cup.
  • Offer more cups if a group uses all provided.
  • Allow 15 minutes for building.

Teamwork: Collaborate to construct the pyramid.

Communication: Discuss and execute the building strategy.

Creativity: Find innovative ways to build a tall, stable pyramid.

Clarify Expectations: Emphasize the definition of a pyramid with each row having one less cup.

Encourage Perseverance: Motivate groups to continue despite challenges.

Promote Consensus: Encourage groups to work together and help each other.

Reflect on Failure: Use collapses as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles and improving.

Consider Competitions: Modify the activity for competitive teams and scoring.

#13: Stranded


Helps With: Decision-making, Prioritization, Teamwork

Materials Needed: List of salvaged items, paper, pens

  • Present a scenario where teams are stranded and must prioritize items salvaged from a plane crash.
  • Provide teams with the same list of ~15 salvaged items.
  • Instruct teams to agree on an item ranking with #1 being the most important for survival.
  • Teams share and compare their prioritized lists. Identify differences in approach.
  • Discuss what factors influenced decisions and how teams worked together to agree on priorities.
  • Critical Thinking: Weighing item importance requires analytical thinking and discussion.
  • Team Decision-Making: Coming to a consensus fosters team decision-making capabilities.
  • Prioritization Skills: Ranking items strengthen prioritization and justification abilities.
  • Perspective-Taking: Understanding different prioritizations builds perspective-taking skills.
  • Team Cohesion: Collaborating toward a shared goal brings teams closer together.
  • Encourage Discussion: Urge teams to discuss all ideas rather than allow single members to dominate.
  • Be Engaged: Circulate to listen in on team discussions and pose thought-provoking questions.
  • Add Complexity: Introduce scenarios with additional constraints to expand critical thinking.
  • Highlight Disagreements: When priorities differ, facilitate constructive discussions on influencing factors.
  • Recognize Collaboration: Acknowledge teams that demonstrate exceptional teamwork and communication.

Now let’s look at some common types of problem-solving activities.

Types of Problem-Solving Activities

The most common types of problem-solving activities/exercises are:

  • Creative problem-solving activities
  • Group problem-solving activities
  • Individual problem-solving activities
  • Fun problem-solving activities, etc.

In the next segments, we’ll be discussing these types of problem-solving activities in detail. So, keep reading!

Creative Problem-Solving Activities

Creative problem solving (CPS) means using creativity to find new solutions. It involves thinking creatively at first and then evaluating ideas later. For example, think of it like brainstorming fun game ideas, discussing them, and then picking the best one to play.

Some of the most common creative problem-solving activities include:

  • Legoman: Building creative structures with LEGO.
  • Escape: Solving puzzles to escape a room.
  • Frostbite: Finding solutions in challenging situations.
  • Minefield: Navigating a field of obstacles.

Group Problem-Solving Activities

Group problem-solving activities are challenges that make teams work together to solve puzzles or overcome obstacles. They enhance teamwork and critical thinking.

For instance, think of a puzzle-solving game where a group must find hidden clues to escape a locked room.

Here are the most common group problem-solving activities you can try in groups:

  • A Shrinking Vessel
  • Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower
  • Cardboard Boat Building Challenge
  • Clue Murder Mystery
  • Escape Room: Jewel Heist
  • Escape Room: Virtual Team Building
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Dumbest Idea First

Individual Problem-Solving Activities

As the name suggests, individual problem-solving activities are the tasks that you need to play alone to boost your critical thinking ability. They help you solve problems and stay calm while facing challenges in real life. Like puzzles, they make your brain sharper. Imagine it’s like training your brain muscles to handle tricky situations.

Here are some of the most common individual problem-solving activities:

  • Puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, etc.)
  • Brain teasers
  • Logic problems
  • Optical illusions
  • “Escape room” style games

Fun Problem-Solving Activities

Fun problem-solving activities are enjoyable games that sharpen your critical thinking skills while having a blast. Think of activities like the Legoman challenge, escape rooms, or rolling dice games – they make problem-solving exciting and engaging!

And to be frank, all of the mentioned problem-solving activities are fun if you know how to play and enjoy them as all of them are game-like activities.

Team Problems You Can Address Through Problem Solving Activities

Fun problem-solving activities serve as dynamic tools to address a range of challenges that teams often encounter. These engaging activities foster an environment of collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, enabling teams to tackle various problems head-on. Here are some common team problems that can be effectively addressed through these activities:

  • Communication Breakdowns:  

Activities like “Escape,” “A Shrinking Vessel,” and “Human Knots” emphasize the importance of clear and effective communication. They require teams to work together, exchange ideas, and devise strategies to accomplish a shared goal. By engaging in these activities, team members learn to communicate more efficiently, enhancing overall team communication in real-world situations.

  • Lack of Trust and Cohesion:  

Problem-solving activities promote trust and cohesiveness within teams. For instance, “Frostbite” and “Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower” require teams to collaborate closely, trust each other’s ideas, and rely on each member’s strengths. These activities build a sense of unity and trust, which can translate into improved teamwork and collaboration.

  • Innovative Thinking:  

“Dumbest Idea First” and “Egg Drop” encourage teams to think outside the box and explore unconventional solutions. These activities challenge teams to be creative and innovative in their problem-solving approaches, fostering a culture of thinking beyond traditional boundaries when faced with complex issues.

  • Decision-Making Challenges:  

Activities like “Onethread” facilitate group decision-making by providing a platform for open discussions and collaborative choices. Problem-solving activities require teams to make decisions collectively, teaching them to weigh options, consider different viewpoints, and arrive at informed conclusions—a skill that is transferable to real-world decision-making scenarios.

  • Leadership and Role Clarification:  

Activities such as “Frostbite” and “Egg Drop” designate team leaders and roles within groups. This provides an opportunity for team members to practice leadership, delegation, and role-specific tasks. By experiencing leadership dynamics in a controlled setting, teams can improve their leadership skills and better understand their roles in actual projects.

  • Problem-Solving Strategies:  

All of the problem-solving activities involve the application of different strategies. Teams learn to analyze problems, break them down into manageable components, and develop systematic approaches for resolution. These strategies can be adapted to real-world challenges, enabling teams to approach complex issues with confidence.

  • Team Morale and Engagement:  

Participating in engaging and enjoyable activities boosts team morale and engagement. These activities provide a break from routine tasks, energize team members, and create a positive and fun atmosphere. Elevated team morale can lead to increased motivation and productivity.

By incorporating these fun problem-solving activities, teams can address a variety of challenges, foster skill development, and build a more cohesive and effective working environment. As teams learn to collaborate, communicate, innovate, and make decisions collectively, they are better equipped to overcome obstacles and achieve shared goals.

The Benefits of Problem Solving Activities for Your Team

The Benefits of Problem Solving Activities for Your Team

#1 Better Thinking

Problem-solving activities bring out the best in team members by encouraging them to contribute their unique ideas. This stimulates better thinking as team managers evaluate different solutions and choose the most suitable ones.

For example, a remote team struggling with communication benefited from quick thinking and the sharing of ideas, leading to the adoption of various communication modes for improved collaboration.

#2 Better Risk Handling

Team building problem solving activities condition individuals to handle risks more effectively. By engaging in challenging situations and finding solutions, team members develop the ability to respond better to stressful circumstances.

#3 Better Communication

Regular communication among team members is crucial for efficient problem-solving. Engaging in problem-solving activities fosters cooperation and communication within the team, resulting in better understanding and collaboration. Using tools like OneThread can further enhance team communication and accountability.

#4 Improved Productivity Output

When teams work cohesively, overall productivity improves, leading to enhanced profit margins for the company or organization. Involving managers and team members in problem-solving activities can positively impact the company’s growth and profitability.

How Onethread Enhances the Effect of Problem Solving Activities

Problem-solving activities within teams thrive on collaborative efforts and shared perspectives. Onethread emerges as a potent facilitator, enabling teams to collectively tackle challenges and harness diverse viewpoints with precision. Here’s a comprehensive view of how Onethread amplifies team collaboration in problem-solving initiatives:

Open Channels for Discussion:

Open Channels for Discussion

Onethread’s real-time messaging feature serves as a dedicated hub for open and seamless discussions. Teams can engage in brainstorming sessions, share insightful observations, and propose innovative solutions within a flexible environment. Asynchronous communication empowers members to contribute their insights at their convenience, fostering comprehensive problem analysis with ample deliberation.

Centralized Sharing of Resources:

Centralized Sharing of Resources

Effective problem-solving often hinges on access to pertinent resources. Onethread’s document sharing functionality ensures that critical information, references, and research findings are centralized and readily accessible. This eradicates the need for cumbersome email attachments and enables team members to collaborate with precise and up-to-date data.

Efficient Task Allocation and Monitoring:

Efficient Task Allocation and Monitoring

Problem-solving journeys comprise a series of tasks and actions. Onethread’s task management capability streamlines the delegation of specific responsibilities to team members. Assign tasks related to research, data analysis, or solution implementation and monitor progress in real time. This cultivates a sense of accountability and guarantees comprehensive coverage of every facet of the problem-solving process.

Facilitated Collaborative Decision-Making: Navigating intricate problems often demands collective decision-making. Onethread’s collaborative ecosystem empowers teams to deliberate over potential solutions, assess pros and cons, and make well-informed choices. Transparent discussions ensure that decisions are comprehensively comprehended and supported by the entire team.

Seamless Documentation and Insights Sharing:

Seamless Documentation and Insights Sharing

As the problem-solving journey unfolds, the accumulation of insights and conclusions becomes pivotal. Onethread’s collaborative document editing feature empowers teams to document their discoveries, chronicle the steps undertaken, and showcase successful solutions. This shared repository of documentation serves as a valuable resource for future reference and continuous learning.

With Onethread orchestrating the backdrop, team collaboration during problem-solving activities transforms into a harmonious fusion of insights, ideas, and actionable steps.

What are the 5 problem-solving skills?

The top 5 problem-solving skills in 2023 are critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and data literacy. Most employers seek these skills in their workforce.

What are the steps of problem-solving?

Problem-solving steps are as follows: 1. Define the problem clearly. 2. Analyze the issue in detail. 3. Generate potential solutions. 4. Evaluate these options. 5. Choose the best solution. 6. Put the chosen solution into action. 7. Measure the outcomes to assess effectiveness and improvements made. These sequential steps assist in efficient and effective problem resolution.

How do you teach problem-solving skills?

Teaching problem-solving involves modelling effective methods within a context, helping students grasp the problem, dedicating ample time, asking guiding questions, and giving suggestions. Connect errors to misconceptions to enhance understanding, fostering a straightforward approach to building problem-solving skills.

So here is all about “activities for problem solving”.No matter which activity you choose, engaging in problem-solving activities not only provides entertainment but also helps enhance cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, decision making, and creativity. So why not make problem solving a regular part of your routine?

Take some time each day or week to engage in these activities and watch as your problem-solving skills grow stronger. Plus, it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time and challenge yourself mentally.

So go ahead, grab a puzzle or gather some friends for a game night – get ready to have fun while sharpening your problem-solving skills!

problem solving team types

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Module 8: Groups, Teams, and Teamwork

Types of teams, learning outcomes.

  • Describe the advantages of teams.
  • Describe the disadvantages of teams.
  • Differentiate between task forces and cross-functional teams.
  • Differentiate between virtual teams and self-managing teams.

Business organizations have both groups and teams. A group is formed around a common interest or purpose with the goal of sharing information, but there is no collective accountability. Work groups may consist of social clubs or volunteer efforts. A team’s focus is collective performance, with both individual and mutual accountability. For example, all of the people who work in accounting constitute a group, but people from each functional department who meet regularly to standardize financial procedures are a team. Before we look more closely at what constitutes an effective (high-performing) team, we will review the advantages and disadvantages of using teams in the workplace.

Advantages of Teams in the Workplace

Teams bring together people with diverse skills and make something that nobody could do alone.  A well-planned team improves motivation . Communication is higher on teams, and the diverse skill set means teams can discover new approaches.  Because teams have specific shared goals, team members usually enjoy greater autonomy, variety, task identity, task significance, and feedback. Teams often enjoy the social support for difficult tasks, improving morale and motivation.

Another benefit of teams is to improve product and service quality. Each Whole Foods grocery store operates with an average of ten “self-managed” teams, including produce, prepared foods, groceries, etc. Each store also has a team made up of just the team leaders from each team to facilitate communication and sharing. Each team takes responsibility for the quality of the products and service in its area.

Efficiency in product development is another advantage to building teams within the traditional hierarchy. Teams can analyze and identify dependent tasks in a nonlinear process, sometimes realizing startling improvements.

Employees also benefit from participating on teams. They develop relationships to people from other areas of the business and learn more about what is happening across functional department lines ( cross training ). A 2009 study by CG and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management of eighty global software development teams showed that members of effective teams are more motivated and report greater job satisfaction, which leads to fewer employees quitting.

Practice Question

Disadvantages of teams.

Not all teams are wildly successful. When companies do not make adequate efforts to create, build, and support strong teams, employees may initially become discouraged and leave the firm. You read in the first section about some of the behavioral problems related to teams, including social loafing . Another phenomenon that can happen in groups is groupthink . We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section, but it involves the reluctance to speak out against the majority opinion in fear of upsetting other members and disrupting social cohesion. When a few people begin to speak for the whole team, individual members may not feel as responsible for the team’s success.

Teams are also ineffective when they lack leadership, when the decision making is not democratic, and when the team lacks expertise and necessary skills. Eventually, team members don’t feel accountable, and the team fails. Finally, some teams fail because the members are not adequately prepared or supported. Teams can’t perform well if they have no clear purpose, are not given autonomy, and don’t have the resources required.

Some individuals are not compatible with teamwork.  Workers must be selected to fit the team as well as requisite job skills. Conflict will develop between team members, so leaders must be able to step in.  And teams can be time-consuming due to the need for coordination and consensus.

PRactice Question

Three people in a meeting sitting at a table with scraps of paper all around

Companies create different types of teams for different purposes.

A cross-functional team is just what it sounds like—a team that pulls its members from across the different functional areas of an organization. For example, cross-functional teams may be composed of representatives from production, sales, marketing, finance, and legal. The strength of this type of team lies in its members having different functional backgrounds, education, and experience. The diversity of experience aids innovative problem solving and decision making.

Unfortunately, the very factors that give cross-functional teams strength can also lead to weaknesses. Without a strong leader and very specific goals, it may be hard to foster social cohesion in cross-functional teams and to create a system of accountability. A cross-functional team might be brought together to review and make recommendations on potential acquisitions or mergers.

A task force is a group or committee, usually of experts or specialists, formed for analyzing, investigating, or solving a specific problem. Quite often, a task force is formed in reaction to a problem or specific event, and once the job is done, the task force is disbanded. The goal of a task force is to offer solutions, support, and, if possible, create preventive measures for issues. Types of concerns that may generate task forces in the workplace include bullying, health and wellness, employee training, increasing customer sales, or improving employee job satisfaction. A project team is similar to a task force, but a project team is often ongoing and covers a wider range of tasks.

Virtual teams are groups of individuals working together with a common purpose but from different locations. People may be in different time zones or even different organizations. The obvious advantage of a virtual team is the low cost, both in time and money to maintain it. Meeting in virtual time increases flexibility for the members (no need to get dressed before the meeting!) and allows the organization to use the talent of people from around the globe. The idea of virtual teams is relatively new. However, according to the IQVIS management consulting firm, virtual teams have grown 80 percent in business use from 2005 to 2015. Virtual teams are possible thanks to advances in communications and technology, such as e-mail, the World Wide Web (Internet), videoconferencing, and other products.

Working across cultures can be as challenging as working cross-functionally. Working with different cultures means working with very different leadership styles and decision-making processes. In the United States, managers tend to gather data, make a quick decision, and move forward, making corrections as need. Northern Europeans prefer to slowly build consensus, whereas French schoolchildren are trained to debate and confront. Some business consultants will tell you that decisions in Japan are made in small, informal conversations before the formal meeting ever takes place.

In spite of these barriers, many companies have been adapting virtual teams. SAP is the world’s largest inter-enterprise software company with more than thirty thousand employees in sixty countries. It relies on virtual teams to survive. It has five headquarters around the globe, each one with a specific area of expertise shared via virtual meetings. IBM and General Electric are corporations that also depend on virtual team strategies.

Self-Managing Teams

A self-managed team is a group of employees that’s responsible and accountable for all or most aspects of producing a product or delivering a service. It could be thought of as a mini-company within a larger organization. Traditional organizations assign tasks to employees depending on their skills or the functional department (sales, finance, production). A self-managed team carries out the supporting tasks as well, such as planning and scheduling the technical workflow tasks, and human resource tasks such as managing vacations and absences. Team members may take turns leading and assuming technical responsibilities.

Because of the autonomy given to self-managed teams, these teams have greater ownership of the jobs they perform. Some benefits of self-managed teams are: team members share accountability for what they accomplish, which can be a great motivator; individuals have greater commitment to the task because they’re directly responsible for its results; and they take on some of a manager’s work so he can continue on other tasks.

However, self-managed teams are not without problems. Groupthink occurs more frequently with these teams. Members may struggle during the transition from supervisor-led management to self-management, possibly because of lack of interpersonal skills or poor implementation by the company. Not surprisingly, the most effective self-managing teams are found in companies where the corporate culture supports democratic decision making and the employees are generally well-educated.

Practice Questions


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types of teams

  | 4 min read

4 types of teams you’ll find in organisations

Chances are you’re reading this because you are part of a team. You could be in a workplace team, a sports team or maybe you’re just getting started in management and want to understand the different types of teams. Whatever reason you’re here, we’re glad you snuck over to this side of the internet.

By definition, a team is a group of individuals who collaborate on related tasks to achieve a common goal . Whether it’s reaching a sales target, reducing safety incidences or reaching a team goal, collaboration and teamwork are essential. Teams generally have a list of set activities to take part in that can define their team in relation to the organisation – think ‘design team’, ‘sales team’ and ‘operations team’.

Learning about how different teams operate is useful for just about everyone. Science shows us that social interaction and teamwork contributed to our evolutio n as well as the size of our human brains. Isn’t that fascinating?

Read on to find out more about the different types of teams you’ll come across throughout your career and your life.

4 Different Types of Teams

#1: functional teams.

Functional teams are permanent and include members of the same department with different responsibilities. A manager is responsible for everything and everyone reports to them. This is the typical top-down management approach that you’ll see in most organisations. Across all organisational teams, it’s important to prioritise workplace culture; the foundations of which are communication and trust.

To take your functional team to the next level, consider running a program in-house to improve communication by giving your team the tools to give feedback without causing offense. Additionally, it may be worthwhile getting clear on each individual teams’ goals, identity and preferred support methods to boost productivity and individual employee engagement.

Diagram of functional team by Pragmatic Thinking

#2: Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams are made up of individuals from various departments. These teams tackle specific tasks that require different inputs and expertise. This can happen when various teams need to work on a project together to get the best outcome. This can be a difficult dynamic to navigate if teams have been operating in a ‘silo’ approach up until the point of collaboration. It’s crucial that the different personalities and perspectives are embraced, and that everyone in the cross-functional team are working to their strengths .

problem solving team types

#3: Self-Managed Teams

Generally, individuals in self-managed teams are employees of the same organisation who work together. Even though they may have a wide array of objectives, their aim is to reach a common goal. They operate without managers and are relatively autonomous, sharing responsibility and leadership. High-performing teams can often fall into this category.

People working in startups or small businesses may also find themselves in this type of team dynamic. It can be difficult for people who have worked in other types of teams for most of their career to adjust to this way of working, so there will likely be an adjustment period of sorts. It’s crucial that self-managed teams know how to deliver feedback and have tough conversations with tact. Without high levels of communication, trust, autonomy and mutual respect, self-managed teams will find it difficult to thrive.

problem solving team types

#4: Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are made up of individuals who work in different physical locations and who use technology and collaboration tools to achieve a common goal.

With more employees looking for work from home opportunities, virtual teams will become much more common in the future of work . You may even have a few remote team members in your organisation right now who need to collaborate within a functional or cross-functional team.

It’s important for virtual team members to be involved from a cultural perspective within your organisation. Having face to face video calls and giving your team members the opportunity to connect on a personal relationship level will help to improve rapport and moral. We’ve already shared a bunch of info on creating a strong remote team culture , so give that a look when you have a moment.

problem solving team types

Did you find this article useful? Be sure to share it with a fellow manager directly or better yet, give it a share on LinkedIn.

If you’d like to explore the topic of team dynamics further, we’d recommend taking a look at our article on how to turn your dysfunctional team into an effective team , it’s a real good read.

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what is team

What is a Team? Definition, Features, Types, Strategies, and Examples

Table of Contents

What is a Team?

A team is a cohesive group of individuals with diverse skill sets and shared objectives, working collaboratively within an organizational culture. Unlike a mere group, a team focuses on a common goal , leveraging mutual support and compatible interactions.

Teams vary in types – ranging from self-managed and cross-functional teams to virtual and process improvement teams – each serving distinct purposes. Successful teams exhibit traits like open communication, strong leadership, and a collective understanding of goals, fostering synergy and outperforming individual efforts.

Teams offer advantages such as enhanced decision-making , comprehensive problem-solving, and increased morale. While teams harness varied expertise for greater innovation and problem-solving, individual efforts can sometimes be more focused and expedient.

In practice, a blend of both individual contributions and collaborative teamwork often optimizes organizational productivity.

Examples of Teams

Let’s look at some common team examples in the workplace settings:

  • Work Groups or Natural Teams
  • Project Teams
  • Self-Managed Teams
  • Functional Teams

Cross-Functional Teams

  • Process Improvement Teams
  • Matrix Teams
  • Contract Teams

Virtual Teams

  • Operational Teams
  • Sales Teams
  • Marketing Teams
  • Research and Development Teams
  • Customer Support Teams
  • Creative Teams

Characteristics of Team

Here are five common characteristics of a team:

Common Goal

Teams share a unified objective or purpose. This goal guides their efforts, aligning individual actions toward achieving collective success.


Team members rely on each other’s contributions and skills. Their success is intertwined, emphasizing collaboration and mutual support.

Open Communication

Effective teams maintain transparent and frequent communication. Open dialogue fosters trust, enables idea-sharing, and resolves conflicts efficiently.

Leadership and Support

Successful teams benefit from capable leadership that guides, motivates, and supports members. Good leadership encourages growth and maintains team cohesion.

Synergy and Collective Performance

Teams produce results that exceed individual capabilities through synergy. Collective efforts create a combined performance greater than what each member could achieve alone.

Read More: 5 Stages of Group Formation

Types of Teams

Let’s look at 4 most common team types in management:

Problem-Solving Team

Comprised of individuals with diverse skills, a problem-solving team is formed to address specific issues within an organization. They collaboratively work to find solutions, improve quality, enhance productivity, or address workplace challenges.

Self-Managed Team

Empowered with autonomy, a self-managed team oversees its day-to-day operations, making decisions on tasks like quality, safety, scheduling, and personnel matters. It manages and executes responsibilities without direct supervision, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.

Involves members from different functional areas or departments, combining diverse expertise to tackle tasks that require varied inputs. Promotes collaboration, leveraging a range of skills to achieve specific objectives efficiently.

Geographically dispersed members collaborate through digital tools like video conferencing and email, enabling remote work. It facilitates collaboration and flexibility, allowing team members to work together despite physical distances.

Read More: The 10 Reasons for Group Formation

Importance of Teams in the Workplace

Let’s look at the five key importance of teams in the workplace:

Enhanced Problem Solving

Teams with diverse skill sets and perspectives offer a broader range of solutions. Collaborative brainstorming and collective expertise help tackle complex problems more effectively than individual efforts.

Increased Innovation and Creativity

A team environment fosters an open exchange of ideas, encouraging innovative thinking. Diverse viewpoints and collaborative dynamics often lead to fresh concepts and inventive solutions.

Improved Efficiency and Productivity

Teams distribute workloads, leveraging each member’s strengths. With tasks divided based on skills, teams often achieve objectives faster and more efficiently than individuals working alone.

Enhanced Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Working in teams promotes a sense of belonging and shared purpose. Collaborative environments where contributions are valued lead to higher job satisfaction and increased engagement.

Read More: 7 Pros and 5 Cons of Working in a Group

Better Decision-Making

Teams facilitate collective decision-making by pooling diverse perspectives. With varied inputs and viewpoints, teams are often more equipped to make informed and comprehensive decisions compared to individual choices.

Strategies To Manage Teams

So far we understand what a team is and its importance – now, let’s look at some strategies you can employ to manage it effectively:

Clear Goal Setting and Communication

Establish clear, achievable goals and communicate them effectively to the team. Clarity ensures everyone understands the objectives, fostering alignment and focus among members.

Role Clarity and Delegation

Clearly define roles and responsibilities within the team. Delegation based on individual strengths ensures tasks are distributed effectively, optimizing productivity and minimizing confusion.

Read More: The 10 Importance of Group Work in the Organization

Regular Feedback and Recognition

Provide constructive feedback to team members regularly, acknowledging their contributions. Recognition of achievements fosters motivation, encouraging continued high performance.

Promote Collaboration and Team Building

Encourage an environment where team members collaborate and support one another. Team-building activities foster stronger relationships, trust, and camaraderie among members, enhancing teamwork.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Foster an adaptable environment that embraces change. Encourage flexibility in approaches, allowing teams to adjust strategies based on evolving circumstances, promoting resilience and agility.

Teams Vs. Groups

Teams and groups both entail gatherings of individuals, yet their essence and purpose diverge notably. Teams unite around shared goals, interdependence, and a collective commitment to achieve specific objectives. Contrastingly, groups might lack a unified aim, often comprising individuals with distinct interests or goals.

Teams exhibit higher cohesion, mutual accountability, and a collaborative spirit, while groups might function more independently with less interconnectedness. Teams prioritize collective performance, sharing responsibilities and accomplishments, whereas groups may focus more on individual achievements.

Ultimately, teams harness collective synergy toward a unified goal, while groups might operate with less cohesion and a focus on individual outcomes or interests.

Read Next: The 10 Characteristics of a Group

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Types of Teams [Advantages and Disadvantages]

  • Types of Teams [Advantages and Disadvantages]

Teams can be divided into four main groups: project teams, self-managed teams, virtual teams, and operational teams. What type of team you have depends on its purpose, location, and organizational structure. Each type of team comes with its unique set of strengths and weaknesses. In order to fully utilize your team, you first need to understand where each type of team works the best.

At the bottom of this post, you'll find a cheat sheet with an overview of all the types of teams, their main characteristics, pros, and cons!

Project Teams

Project teams are groups of employees who work collectively toward shared goals. This type of team allows you to structure work in a specific, measurable, and time-constrained way. You can assign clear roles, responsibilities, and deadlines. Also, by selecting both experienced and inexperienced workers, you enable them to do informal coaching and mentoring.

There are four main types of project teams:

Functional Teams

These teams are permanent and always include members of the same department with different responsibilities. A manager is responsible for everything, and everyone reports to him. These types of teams are more likely to be found in companies that incorporate traditional project management .

problem solving team types

Sometimes, in order to complete a project, several departments need to work together. For example:

  • Work on the new product starts with the idea from the marketing department ;
  • The idea is passed down to research and development to determine its feasibility;
  • After R&D, the design department  is tasked with giving it an appealing look and feel;
  • And finally, the product is made by the manufacturing department.

This type of approach is known as ‘baton passing’. It requires a manager that has oversight of the entire project and ensures that there are no obstacles when it comes to transferring work from one team to another.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Functional Teams


  • Handles routine work
  • Line management has control of projects
  • Pools technical and professional expertise


  • Difficult communication across areas
  • Pushing the decision-making process upwards

Cross-functional Teams

Cross-functional teams are made up of members from various departments. These teams tackle specific tasks that require different inputs and expertise. Even though cross-functional teams are becoming increasingly popular  worldwide, a recent study  has proven that a whopping 75% of all cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

problem solving team types

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cross-functional Teams

  • Greater speed of task completion
  • Can handle a wide array of projects
  • Source of unconventional ideas
  • Takes a long time to develop cohesion
  • Management can prove to be challenging
  • Diversity can cause conflict

Matrix Teams

These teams are characterized by a “two-boss system” , where an individual reports to a different manager for various aspects of his work. This type of team is the product of the  Matrix management approach .

problem solving team types

Let’s say Jeff, a designer, was given the task of making a design for a new product that marketing provided an idea for and that R&D deemed feasible. By being included in this project, Jeff all of a sudden has two bosses: the first one is a project manager who only cares about the design being done, while the other one is his functional line manager who’ s in charge of Jeff’s training, career development, and routine tasks.

[Find our cheat sheet with all these types of teams on one page at the bottom of this post]

While this approach helps the top management retain control over the project without being included in day-to-day decisions, employees are often faced with challenges of dual command : Jeff now has to report to two managers, who might give him conflict instructions, which causes confusion and frustration.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Matrix Teams

  • Acceptable to traditional managers
  • Flexibility for assigned personnel
  • Top management controls projects, stays out of daily activities
  • Dual reporting
  • The team leader is usually unable to choose who will be on the project
  • Difficult performance appraisal

Contract Teams

Contract teams are outsourced teams that are tied down by a contract and brought in to complete a part of a project. After the project is completed and the contract has ended, the client can cut all ties to the team, no questions asked.

problem solving team types

The project manager is the key to success when it comes to contract teams. The project manager has to :

  • maintain constant communication between the team and the client,
  • compensate for the lack of a team’s physical presence (given that most contract teams work remotely),
  • bear full responsibility for the success or failure of a project

Advantages and Disadvantages of Contract Teams

  • Easy employment of experts
  • A team can use the existing management structure
  • No need for client training
  • Difficult assessment of project progress for the client
  • Difficult to resolve political and organizational issues
  • The client is the only judge of success

Self-managed Teams

problem solving team types

Typically, members of self-managed teams are employees of the same organization who work together, and even though they have a wide array of objectives, their aim is to reach a common goal. There is no manager nor authority figure, so it is up to members to determine rules and expectations, to solve problems when they arise, and to carry shared responsibility for the results.

One of the first major companies that decided to implement self managed teams was software company Valve in 2012 . Around 300 employees have neither bosses nor a formal division of labor. Instead, they are expected to organize themselves around individual or group projects and are obligated to take care of customer support themselves. The work ethic at Valve relied heavily on individual responsibility.

When setting up a self-managed team, you have to define two parameters:

  • Levels of responsibility
  • The autonomy that is given to the self-managed team

Research  has shown that employees in self-managed teams feel more useful on the job and find their jobs more challenging, although there is no proof that they are actually more productive.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Managed Teams

  • Autonomy improves employee motivation;
  • Team members can manage their own time and handle tasks when it suits them;
  • You don’t have to pay for an office;
  • Shared responsibility instills pride in team accomplishments.
  • The lack of hierarchical authority can put personal relationships over good judgment;
  • It can lead to conformity that suppresses creativity and critical thinking;
  • An added layer of responsibility is time-consuming and requires skills that some people simply don’t have;
  • Training time and costs are higher due to a broader scope of duties.

Virtual (Remote) Teams

Virtual teams are made up of people who work in different physical locations and who rely heavily on collaboration tools to get things done together. Virtual teams provide members with a better life-work balance and allow business owners to employ the best experts in the field, regardless of the fact that they live on another continent.

problem solving team types

One of the organizations that had the most success with its virtual teams is  Automattic, best known by their company, WordPress . Over 100 employees in 43 different countries use WordPress plugin P2 that enables them to communicate with each other in real-time. Also, when a new employee gets on board he receives a $2.000 stipend to improve his home office, gets the latest Macbook, and an open “time off” policy to use to take free time whenever they need.

It may seem a little farfetched, but this policy is one of the key factors behind Automatic’s success: WordPress is now used by 40% of websites globally .

Remote employee monitoring is so different from monitoring staff in an office environment. It demands huge trust, as well as having efficient communication channels set up. You have to learn to read a person's emotions and level of confidence without being able to see their face – which is hard. — Cam Lee, Rock Agency

Types of virtual teams

According to the  Manager’s guide to virtual teams , virtual teams are characterized by three dimensions:

  • Time - WHEN people work. They could work during different hours, on different shifts, or in different time-zones.
  • Space - WHERE people work. They could be working right next to each other or hundreds of miles away.
  • Culture - HOW and WHOM people work for. ‘Culture’ dimension includes factors such as gender, race, language, profession, education, nationality, as well as political, social, religious, and economic factors.

Operational teams

Operational teams  support other types of teams. They are formed to make sure that all back-office processes go smoothly.

problem solving team types

For example, the Human Resource department doesn’t handle any projects but it has to perform candidate screening, interviewing, and recruiting. If one of the  key players decides to leave , HR has to find a substitute so the respective team can carry on its work.

Also, operational teams can have their own projects and function like a project team because they have well-defined roles and responsibilities. For instance, if the accounting department received a task to make an annual financial report by a certain date, they will most likely devise a timeline, delegate tasks, and keep track of deadlines just like any other project team.

What type of team is right for you?

When choosing a type of team to perform a certain task, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the team’s purpose exactly?
  • How many people are required, and what will their roles be?
  • Are selected members capable of self-management, or they require a strong leader?
  • Is it necessary for them to be located in a single place?
  • Is their engagement temporary or permanent?

If you have a project that requires input from marketing, design as well as the Customer Support department, choose a cross-functional team.

"An effective team would demonstrate: The willingness to teach one another, Clear communication, High morale to maintain inspiration, Fill in gaps for one another (skill, time, circumstance), Strong as an individual, unstoppable as a group." — Kalila Lang,  DigiSomni

If, on the other hand, you choose to outsource the design, and the agency you have chosen uses a designer that works remotely, the only logical way to go is opting for a mixture of virtual and contract teams.

In practice, you will rarely find a team that can be defined as solely functional or solely virtual: most teams in modern business represent a hybrid of some, if not all of the team types.

Download our cheat sheet , print it out for an overview of the most common types of teams!

problem solving team types

Types of Teams Cheat Sheet

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Other posts in the series on The Big Book of Team Culture

  • Real Life Examples of Successful Teamwork [9 Cases]
  • Tips To Take Better Meeting Notes
  • How To Be a Good Team Leader
  • How to Create Organizational Culture
  • All Leadership Theories in Under 15 Minutes
  • Belbin Team Roles: Theory and Practice
  • How To Deal With a Toxic Coworker
  • Organizational Culture and Its Impact on Team Performance
  • What Is Teamwork Actually?
  • High Performing Teams: What Are They and How Do I Build One?
  • Characteristics of a Productive Team
  • Group vs Team [Differences, Comparison, Transformation]

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14 Best Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities For 2024

The best teams see solutions where others see problems. A great company culture is built around a collaborative spirit and the type of unity it takes to find answers to the big business questions.

So how can you get team members working together?

How can you develop a mentality that will help them overcome obstacles they have yet to encounter?

One of the best ways to improve your teams’ problem solving skills is through team building problem solving activities .

“86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.” — Bit.AI

These activities can simulate true-to-life scenarios they’ll find themselves in, or the scenarios can call on your employees or coworkers to dig deep and get creative in a more general sense.

The truth is, on a day-to-day basis, you have to prepare for the unexpected. It just happens that team building activities help with that, but are so fun that they don’t have to feel like work ( consider how you don’t even feel like you’re working out when you’re playing your favorite sport or doing an exercise you actually enjoy! )

Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities

What are the benefits of group problem-solving activities?

The benefits of group problem-solving activities for team building include:

  • Better communication
  • Improved collaboration and teamwork
  • More flexible thinking
  • Faster problem-solving
  • Better proactivity and decision making

Without further ado, check out this list of the 14 best team-building problem-solving group activities for 2024!

Page Contents (Click To Jump)

Popular Problem Solving Activities

1. virtual team challenge.

Virtual Team Challenges are popular problem-solving activities that involve a group of people working together to solve an issue. The challenge generally involves members of the team brainstorming, discussing, and creating solutions for a given problem.

Participants work both individually and collaboratively to come up with ideas and strategies that will help them reach their goals.

Why this is a fun problem-solving activity: Participants can interact and communicate with each other in a virtual environment while simultaneously engaging with the problem-solving activities. This makes it an enjoyable experience that allows people to use their creative thinking skills, build team spirit, and gain valuable insights into the issue at hand.

Problem-solving activities such as Virtual Team Challenges offer a great way for teams to come together, collaborate, and develop creative solutions to complex problems.

2. Problem-Solving Templates

Problem-Solving Templates are popular problem-solving activities that involve a group of people working together to solve an issue. The challenge generally involves members of the team utilizing pre-made templates and creating solutions for a given problem with the help of visual aids.

This activity is great for teams that need assistance in getting started on their problem-solving journey.

Why this is a fun problem-solving activity: Problem-Solving Templates offer teams an easy and stress-free way to get the creative juices flowing. The visual aids that come with the templates help team members better understand the issue at hand and easily come up with solutions together.

This activity is great for teams that need assistance in getting started on their problem-solving journey, as it provides an easy and stress-free way to get the creative juices flowing.

Problem Solving Group Activities & Games For Team Building

3. coworker feud, “it’s all fun and games”.

Coworker Feud is a twist on the classic Family Feud game show! This multiple rapid round game keeps the action flowing and the questions going. You can choose from a variety of customizations, including picking the teams yourself, randomized teams, custom themes, and custom rounds.

Best for: Hybrid teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Coworker Feud comes with digital game materials, a digital buzzer, an expert host, and a zoom link to get the participants ready for action! Teams compete with each other to correctly answer the survey questions. At the end of the game, the team with the most competitive answers is declared the winner of the Feud.

How to get started:

  • Sign up for Coworker Feud
  • Break into teams of 4 to 10 people
  • Get the competitive juices flowing and let the games begin!

Learn more here: Coworker Feud

4. Crack The Case

“who’s a bad mamma jamma”.

Crack The Case is a classic WhoDoneIt game that forces employees to depend on their collective wit to stop a deadly murderer dead in his tracks! Remote employees and office commuters can join forces to end this crime spree.

Best for: Remote teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: The Virtual Clue Murder Mystery is an online problem solving activity that uses a proprietary videoconferencing platform to offer the chance for employees and coworkers to study case files, analyze clues, and race to find the motive, the method, and the individual behind the murder of Neil Davidson.

  • Get a custom quote here
  • Download the app
  • Let the mystery-solving collaboration begin!

Learn more here: Crack The Case

5. Catch Meme If You Can

“can’t touch this”.

Purposefully created to enhance leadership skills and team bonding , Catch Meme If You Can is a hybrid between a scavenger hunt and an escape room . Teammates join together to search for clues, solve riddles, and get out — just in time!

Best for: Small teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Catch Meme If You Can is an adventure with a backstory. Each team has to submit their answer to the puzzle in order to continue to the next part of the sequence. May the best team escape!

  • The teams will be given instructions and the full storyline
  • Teams will be split into a handful of people each
  • The moderator will kick off the action!

Learn more here: Catch Meme If You Can

6. Puzzle Games

“just something to puzzle over”.

Puzzle Games is the fresh trivia game to test your employees and blow their minds with puzzles, jokes , and fun facts!

Best for: In-person teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Eight mini brain teaser and trivia style games include word puzzles, name that nonsense, name that tune, and much more. Plus, the points each team earns will go towards planting trees in the precious ecosystems and forests of Uganda

  • Get a free consultation for your team
  • Get a custom designed invitation for your members
  • Use the game link
  • Dedicated support will help your team enjoy Puzzle Games to the fullest!

Learn more here: Puzzle Games

7. Virtual Code Break

“for virtual teams”.

Virtual Code Break is a virtual team building activity designed for remote participants around the globe. Using a smart video conferencing solution, virtual teams compete against each other to complete challenges, answer trivia questions, and solve brain-busters!

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Virtual Code Break can be played by groups as small as 4 people all the way up to more than 1,000 people at once. However, every team will improve their communication and problem-solving skills as they race against the clock and depend on each other’s strengths to win!

  • Reach out for a free consultation to align the needs of your team
  • An event facilitator will be assigned to handle all of the set-up and logistics
  • They will also provide you with logins and a play-by-play of what to expect
  • Sign into the Outback video conferencing platform and join your pre-assigned team
  • Lastly, let the games begin!

Learn more here: Virtual Code Break

8. Stranded

“survivor: office edition”.

Stranded is the perfect scenario-based problem solving group activity. The doors of the office are locked and obviously your team can’t just knock them down or break the windows.

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Your team has less than half an hour to choose 10 items around the office that will help them survive. They then rank the items in order of importance. It’s a bit like the classic game of being lost at sea without a lifeboat.

  • Get everyone together in the office
  • Lock the doors
  • Let them start working together to plan their survival

Learn more here: Stranded

9. Letting Go Game

“for conscious healing”.

The Letting Go Game is a game of meditation and mindfulness training for helping teammates thrive under pressure and reduce stress in the process. The tasks of the Letting Go Game boost resiliency, attentiveness, and collaboration.

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Expert-guided activities and awareness exercises encourage team members to think altruistically and demonstrate acts of kindness. Between yoga, face painting, and fun photography, your employees or coworkers will have more than enough to keep them laughing and growing together with this mindfulness activity!

  • Reach out for a free consultation
  • A guide will then help lead the exercises
  • Let the funny videos, pictures, and playing begin!

Learn more here: Letting Go Game

10. Wild Goose Chase

“city time”.

Wild Goose Chase is the creative problem solving activity that will take teams all around your city and bring them together as a group! This scavenger hunt works for teams as small as 10 up to groups of over 5000 people.

Best for: Large teams

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: As employees and group members are coming back to the office, there are going to be times that they’re itching to get outside. Wild Goose Chase is the perfect excuse to satisfy the desire to go out-of-office every now and then. Plus, having things to look at and see around the city will get employees talking in ways they never have before.

  • Download the Outback app to access the Wild Goose Chase
  • Take photos and videos from around the city
  • The most successful team at completing challenges on time is the champ!

Learn more here: Wild Goose Chase

11. Human Knot

“for a knotty good time”.


The Human Knot is one of the best icebreaker team building activities! In fact, there’s a decent chance you played it in grade school. It’s fun, silly, and best of all — free!

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: Participants start in a circle and connect hands with two other people in the group to form a human knot. The team then has to work together and focus on clear communication to unravel the human knot by maneuvering their way out of this hands-on conundrum. But there’s a catch — they can’t let go of each other’s hands in this team building exercise.

  • Form a circle
  • Tell each person to grab a random hand until all hands are holding another
  • They can’t hold anyone’s hand who is directly next to them
  • Now they have to get to untangling
  • If the chain breaks before everyone is untangled, they have to start over again

Learn more here: Human Knot

12. What Would You Do?

“because it’s fun to imagine”.


What Would You Do? Is the hypothetical question game that gets your team talking and brainstorming about what they’d do in a variety of fun, intriguing, and sometimes, whacky scenarios.

Best for: Distributed teams

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: After employees or coworkers start talking about their What Would You Do? responses, they won’t be able to stop. That’s what makes this such an incredible team building activity . For example, you could ask questions like “If you could live forever, what would you do with your time?” or “If you never had to sleep, what would you do?”

  • In addition to hypothetical questions, you could also give teammates some optional answers to get them started
  • After that, let them do the talking — then they’ll be laughing and thinking and dreaming, too!

13. Crossing The River

“quite the conundrum”.


Crossing The River is a river-crossing challenge with one correct answer. Your team gets five essential elements — a chicken, a fox, a rowboat, a woman, and a bag of corn. You see, the woman has a bit of a problem, you tell them. She has to get the fox, the bag of corn, and the chicken to the other side of the river as efficiently as possible.

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: She has a rowboat, but it can only carry her and one other item at a time. She cannot leave the chicken and the fox alone — for obvious reasons. And she can’t leave the chicken with the corn because it will gobble it right up. So the question for your team is how does the woman get all five elements to the other side of the river safely in this fun activity?

  • Form teams of 2 to 5 people
  • Each team has to solve the imaginary riddle
  • Just make sure that each group understands that the rowboat can only carry one animal and one item at a time; the fox and chicken can’t be alone; and the bag of corn and the chicken cannot be left alone
  • Give the verbal instructions for getting everything over to the other side

14. End-Hunger Games

“philanthropic fun”.

Does anything bond people quite like acts of kindness and compassion? The End-Hunger Games will get your team to rally around solving the serious problem of hunger.

Best for: Medium-sized teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Teams join forces to complete challenges based around non-perishable food items in the End-Hunger Games. Groups can range in size from 25 to more than 2000 people, who will all work together to collect food for the local food bank.

  • Split into teams and compete to earn boxes and cans of non-perishable food
  • Each team attempts to build the most impressive food item construction
  • Donate all of the non-perishable foods to a local food bank

Learn more here: End-Hunger Games

People Also Ask These Questions About Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities

Q: what are some problem solving group activities.

  • A: Some problem solving group activities can include riddles, egg drop, reverse pyramid, tallest tower, trivia, and other moderator-led activities.

Q: What kind of skills do group problem solving activities & games improve?

  • A: Group problem solving activities and games improve collaboration, leadership, and communication skills.

Q: What are problem solving based team building activities & games?

  • A: Problem solving based team building activities and games are activities that challenge teams to work together in order to complete them.

Q: What are some fun free problem solving games for groups?

  • A: Some fun free problem solving games for groups are kinesthetic puzzles like the human knot game, which you can read more about in this article. You can also use all sorts of random items like whiteboards, straws, building blocks, sticky notes, blindfolds, rubber bands, and legos to invent a game that will get the whole team involved.

Q: How do I choose the most effective problem solving exercise for my team?

  • A: The most effective problem solving exercise for your team is one that will challenge them to be their best selves and expand their creative thinking.

Q: How do I know if my group problem solving activity was successful?

  • A: In the short-term, you’ll know if your group problem solving activity was successful because your team will bond over it; however, that should also translate to more productivity in the mid to long-term.

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Types of Teams

There are three different types of teams: problem-solving teams, self-directed work teams, and functional teams.

Problem-solving teams involve sharing ideas and suggestions amongst members to a great extend. This type of team is used “temporarily in order to bring knowledgeable employees together to tackle a specific problem” (Pride et al., 2011, p.296).

problem-solving teams

Self-directed work teams , on the other hand, represent teams that have been assigned tasks coupled with authority and skills to manage themselves. Members belonging to such type of teams found to be highly motivated and satisfied due to increased level of task variety and control over the job.

self-directed teams

An alternative variation of team is a functional team that is formed from employees belonging more or less to the same hierarchal level but, employed in different departments of the company. The main advantage associated with this specific team format relates to the fact that employees from various organisational departments offer varying perspectives on the issue, so that problems can be resolved with an increased level of efficiency (Steers and Nardon, 2008).

functional team


Pride, W.M, Hughes, R.J & Kapoor, J.R. (2011) “Business”, 11 th edition, Cengage Learning

Steers, R.M. & Nardon, L. (2008). “Managing in the Global Economy”, ME Sharpe

problem solving team types

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5 Types of Teams. What’s Your Choice?

Pavel Kukhnavets  / Oct 4, 2018

5 Types of Teams. What’s Your Choice?

Different types of companies have logically provoked the evolution of different types of teams. Some of the teams are permanent and others are temporary. Some are part of the corporate hierarchy, others are adjunct.

The career of a product manager definitely involves working with teams. About 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important”. Only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews. 39% of surveyed employees believe that people in their own companies don’t collaborate enough.

In this article, we define the most common types of business teams in the workplace. But first, let’s identify the core difference between teams and groups.

5 types of teams

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

Groups and teams

Business companies include both groups and teams.

  • Groups are usually formed around common interests or purposes with the goal of sharing information, but there is no collective accountability. It can be a social club or a workgroup with volunteer efforts.
  • Teams’ focus is collective performance, where the members have both individual and mutual accountability. Therefore, companies create teams to bring together groups of people with complementary skills and interests to work toward a common goal.

Of course, each type comes with its set of strengths and weaknesses. The type of team you need depends on your purposes, location, and organizational structure.

The early concept of teams rose to popularity in the 1970s. However, modern teamwork is fully integrated into the activities and organizational culture.

Advantages of Teams

The main advantage is that a team brings together different people with diverse skills and allows them to make something that nobody could do alone.

The communication level is higher on teams. Effective teams can discover new approaches and improve product and service quality.

One more team’s advantage is the efficiency in product development within the traditional hierarchy. Team members are able to analyze and identify dependent tasks, sometimes applying great improvements.

Disadvantages of Teams

Unfortunately, not all teams perform successfully. When managers do not care about creating and supporting strong teams, the members may become discouraged and leave the company.

An important point is the reluctance to speak out against the majority opinion. It’s about fear of upsetting other members and disrupting social cohesion.

Teams can be ineffective if they lack leadership, expertise, and necessary skills: the team members do not feel accountable, and the team fails . Teams can not also work well if they have no defined purposes and resources required.

Employees are more productive when they work together and this is the main idea of team collaboration. Although many different types of teams may benefit a company, 5 of them are particularly relevant.

5 Types of Teams

“A successful team is a group of many hands and one mind.” Bill Bethel

Project team

A project team is a group of employees that work collectively and have shared goals and strategies.

This type of team means structuring work in a specific, measurable, and time-constrained way. Project teams allow assigning clear roles and responsibilities, set specific deadlines.

We define 4 subspecies of project teams:

1. Functional team

A functional team is permanent. It includes members of the same department with different responsibilities. There is a manager who is responsible for everything. Everyone in the team reports to him.

A functional team can be usually recognized in traditional project management companies.

This type requires a manager who ensures that there are no obstacles when it comes to transferring work from one team to another.

2. Cross-functional team

A cross-functional team consists of members from different departments. This kind of team tackles specific tasks that require different expertise and inputs.

Cross-functional teams are becoming increasingly popular all over the world. However, there is an opinion that the whopping number of all cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

3. Matrix team

A matrix team is a “2-boss system”. Here an individual reports to a different manager for his/her work. A matrix team is the product of a Matrix management approach.

It helps top managers to retain control over the project without being involved in decisions.

4. Contract team

A contract team is an outsourced team where the members are tied down by a contract.

The client can easily cut all ties to the team after the project is completed and the contract has ended. In this kind of team, the role of project managers is crucial. They have to maintain constant communication between the customer and team members, to compensate for the lack of the team’s physical presence, to bear full responsibility for project success or failure.

Self-managed teams

Self-managed teams consist of employees of the same company who work together. Although they have a wide set of objectives, their key goal is to reach a common result.

There is no manager here. The members of self-managed teams should determine rules and expectations, solve problems and bare shared responsibilities.

Thinking about creating a self-managed team, you should pay attention to the levels of responsibility and the autonomy that is given to the team.

The main advantages of self-managed teams are:

  • Improved motivation because of autonomy
  • Ability to manage own time and handle tasks when it suits employees
  • No pay for office
  • Pride in team accomplishments because of shared responsibility

What about the disadvantages? One of the weak points is about the lack of hierarchical authority that can put personal relationships over good judgment.

This can suppress creativity and critical thinking. You should also pay attention to training time and costs that are higher due to a broader scope of duties.

different teams

Virtual team

A virtual team involves employees who work in different locations and who rely on the power of communication and collaboration tools to get things done together.

This kind of team provides people with a better life-work balance and allows business owners to hire the best experts.

There are different types of virtual teams that are characterized by 3 dimensions: time, space, and culture.

  • Time is about when people work (during different hours, on different shifts, in different time-zones).
  • Space is about where people work (right next to each other or hundreds of kilometers away).
  • Culture is about how people work (including such factors as gender, age, race, language, education, nationality, social, religious, economic factors, etc.)

Operational team

An operational team deals with supporting other types of teams. It is formed to make sure that all office processes go smoothly.

Operational teams may have their own projects and function as they also have well-defined roles and responsibilities.

Problem-solving team

A problem-solving team is usually temporary. It is focused on solving a specific issue. This kind of team may be created after the financial crisis or any unplanned event or challenge. It is aimed to come up with solutions to help the company climb out of a steep recession.

Once guidelines are set in place and plans are formed, the task forces and committees are disbanded.

How to make your team successful?

Do not forget about team collaboration tools that assist to make communication and management processes easier. There are numerous benefits of such online tools, including:

  • The precise and clear delegation of work
  • Increased productivity
  • Work across geographic locations
  • The faster way to work across departments
  • Better reporting and tracking issues
  • Better organization of workplace docs, etc.

Kinds of product teams, Hygger review

What’s your choice?

If you have some hesitations about what kind of team approach to choose, try to ask yourself at least the following 6 questions:

  • What are the goals of the potential team?
  • How many people are required?
  • How do you identify their roles?
  • Will their engagement be temporary or permanent?
  • Do the employees require a strong leader?
  • Is it necessary to be located in a single place?

If your goal is to perform a project that requires input from marketing, design and customer support depts, choose a cross-functional team.

If you are going to outsource designers, an agency, or people to work remotely, then the only logical way is to opt for a mixture of virtual and contract team.

Actually, most teams in the modern business world represent a hybrid of some, if not all of the team types.

What kind of team do you have? Could you share the strong and weak sides of your specific team? Feel free to comment!

Related posts:

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  • How DevOps Takes Care of the Challenges Faced by Development and Operation Teams
  • Importance of Teamwork: Key Benefits for Product Teams
  • 4 Team Building Activity Types Even for the Most Demanding Team Member
  • How to Find Your Way Among the Popular Types of Leadership Styles?

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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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What is a Team? Definition, Features, Types, and Strategies To Manage

Page Contents

What is Team?

We certainly once are a team member anywhere. In school/college when there was an annual program, we participated and performed as team members in games like volleyball, football, hockey, etc.

A team can be defined as a group of people who interact and influence each other for the achievement of a common purpose. Team members are mutually accountable for achieving common objectives.

The best definition of a team may be, when, members are the backbone to each other, members are sure they will get the same response as they provide, builds synergy, everyone is optimistic, and no one left the ground until the goal is achieved.

One of the most essential functions of an excellent leader is to create team spirit among the group members. Mostly we see the use of team words in sports games like cricket, football, volleyball, and hockey.

Effective team building is equally essential for the success of an organization . For effective team building dynamic leadership qualities are essential. In organizations, teams are created among employees for the attainment of organizational objectives effectively and efficiently.

The ideology of the team can be broadly classified into four orientations viz, power, role, task, and performance. If the ideology of the team and the preferred ideology of the members are also the same orientation, there is a perfect match and members can have sound psychological contact with the teams.

Teams potentially make more creative decisions and coordinate work without the need for close supervision. All teams require some form of communication to coordinate and share common objectives.

Definitions of Teams :

  • A group whose individual effort results in a performance that is greater than the sum of the individual inputs – S. P. Robbins
  • A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set a performance goal, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable – Katzenbach and Douglas Smith
  • A team is a group of workers that functions as a unit, often with little or no supervision to carry out organizational functions – Ricky W. Griffins

Thus, a team is a formal group made up of interdependent individuals who are responsible for achieving common objectives. A team generates synergy through coordinated efforts.

Also Read : The 4 Styles of Leadership Based on Authority [Explained]

Teams are more flexible and responsive to changing events than traditional departments or other forms of permanent grouping. Teams facilitate employees’ participation in the opening decision.

Characteristics of Team

An effective work team is characterized by its following attributes.

Diverse Expertise

A team comprises a small group of individuals who possess different skills that complement one another, allowing them to tackle various aspects of a project or problem effectively.

Shared Objectives

All team members must align and work towards common goals, ensuring everyone is on the same page and focused on achieving the desired outcomes.

Empowered Autonomy

Teams are self-directed, autonomous, and self-managing entities, empowered to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions without constant supervision.

Individual and Collective Responsibility

Each team member is accountable for their own contributions and actions, while also embracing mutual accountability to foster a sense of ownership and ensure collective success.

Unified Commitment

A team demonstrates tireless dedication and unity toward the accomplishment of shared objectives, fostering a collaborative environment where everyone is committed to achieving success.

Effective Communication

Two-way communication channels are established within the team, facilitating open dialogue, active listening, and understanding among members, leading to better collaboration and problem-solving .

Synergy and Coordination

Through coordinated efforts, a team generates synergy by leveraging the collective strengths and skills of its members, creating a harmonious and amplified effect that enhances overall productivity and outcomes.

Leadership Roles

Within the team, specific individuals take on leadership roles , guiding and directing the team toward goal achievement, providing guidance, and support, and fostering a positive team dynamic.

Difference Between a Team and a Group

There are differences between teams and groups. They are not the same thing. All teams are groups because they consist of people within a unifying relationship. But not all groups are teams, some groups are just people assembled.

Also Read: What is Autocratic Leadership? Definition, Features, Types, Examples, and Pros/Cons

Other differences include:

Types of Teams

There are several types of teams that can be found in the workplace. Work teams are responsible for a specific set of the task, the most common types of teams include the following four:

4 types of team

Problem-Solving Team

As the name implies, teams are formed to solve organizational problems. Problem-solving teams are composed of 5 to 12 employees from the same department to improve quality, efficiency, and work environment.

In problem-solving teams, members share ideas or offer suggestions on how work processes and methods can be improved. Members are not fully independent, they can offer suggestions but can not force implementation.

Quality circle falls in this category. Quality circles are small teams of employees consisting of 8 to 10 members, who share an area of responsibility. They meet regularly to discuss their problems, investigate the cause of problems, recommend solutions, and take corrective actions. They assume the responsibility for solving quality problems and evaluate their own feedback.

Self-Managed Team

A self-managed team is a formal group of employees that operates without a manager. These are the small group of employees, typically 10 to 15 number, who perform highly related or independent jobs and bear the responsibilities of their supervisors.

Self-managed team member’s jobs include planning and scheduling of work, assigning tasks to members, collective control over the pace of work making operating decisions, and taking action on problems.

Fully self-managed work teams pick their own members and have the members assess each other’s doing. As a result, supervisory positions will have little importance and may even be eliminated.

Related : What is Laissez-Faire Leadership? Definition, Features, Examples, and Pros/Cons

Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams consist of employees from about the same hierarchal level but different work areas in an organization. This is an effective means for employees from diverse areas within an organization to exchange information, develop new ideas, solve problems, and coordinate complex tasks.

The diverse work team can help identify creative or unique solutions. It takes time to build trust and teamwork, especially among those from different backgrounds with different experiences and perspectives. Committees and task forces are examples of cross-functional teams.

Virtual Teams

A virtual team uses computer technology to tie together physically dispersed members to achieve a common goal. It allows groups to meet without concern for space and enables organizations to link workers together in a way that would have been impossible in the past.

Virtual teams can do all the things that other teams do share information, make decisions, and complete tasks. Its members use technological advances, like video conferencing, email, zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams meetings, the Internet, etc.

Virtual teams do coordinate work and take decisions fairly and efficiently. Its members can do their work even if they are far apart and spread in different geographical locations.

How To Manage A Team Effectively?

Effective teams are the key to organizational success. You can follow the following six techniques /strategies to effectively manage your teams.

Appropriate Team Size

The composition of teams should be tailored to the demands of the tasks at hand, considering factors such as job complexity, deadlines, and desired outcomes. It is crucial to strike a balance to ensure the team is neither overwhelmed nor underutilized, maximizing efficiency and productivity.

Additionally, the nature of the job plays a role in determining the team size. For complex and multifaceted projects, larger teams may be necessary to cover various aspects effectively, while smaller teams might be suitable for simpler tasks.

Clear and Challenging Goals

Each team should be assigned specific, challenging, achievable, clear, and acceptable goals to provide a sense of direction and purpose. Well-defined objectives help team members align their efforts, prioritize tasks, and stay motivated.

Furthermore, the goals should be realistic and attainable, considering the available resources and capabilities of the team.

Fair and Consistent Management Policies

Effective team management requires fair and consistent policies and practices. This includes providing equal opportunities for team members to contribute, recognizing and rewarding achievements, and establishing transparent evaluation criteria. Such practices foster a positive team culture, build trust, and enhance overall performance.

Equal Importance of Individuals

Each team member should be valued and treated as an integral part of the team’s success. Recognizing the unique skills and perspectives that each individual brings promotes collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

Encouraging open communication and respecting diverse contributions leads to a more inclusive and productive team environment.

Effective Conflict Management

Conflicts within teams are inevitable, but they should be addressed promptly and transparently. Implementing effective conflict management strategies , such as active listening, mediation, and compromise, enables team members to express their concerns and find mutually satisfactory resolutions.

This promotes a healthy team dynamic, strengthens relationships, and avoids potential disruptions to productivity.

Adequate Resource Allocation

Providing teams with the necessary resources is crucial for their success. Adequate resources include tangible assets like funding, equipment, and technology, as well as intangible resources like training and mentorship.

Ensuring teams have access to the right resources empowers them to execute tasks efficiently, overcome challenges, and deliver high-quality results.

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The 6 Best 3D Brain Teaser Puzzles for Handheld Challenges and Spatial Problem Solving

From board game Kanoodle to cast-iron playthings.

3d brain teasers

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At Popular Mechanics , we’ve got an office full of curious puzzlers and calculated tinkerers. So, to find out which puzzles are worth spending that precious mental energy (and money) on, we called some in, dropped them off in a common space, and Slacked some colleagues to help put them together. If you’re a puzzle fiend and love to get your brain working, below are the ones that most impressed our resident nerds.

Game on and check our picks for the best retro gaming consoles , board games for families , and beginner gaming PCs .

The Best 3D Brain Teaser Puzzles

  • Best Overall: Educational Insights Kanoodle
  • Best Upgrade: Craighill Tycho Puzzle
  • Best Hanayama: Bepuzzled Labyrinth Hanayama
  • Best for Kids: Uncommon Goods T-Rex 3D Puzzle Building Kit
  • Best 3D Puzzle: Original 3D Crystal Puzzles Grand Castle Deluxe

What to Consider

Types of puzzles.

Brain teaser puzzles cover a broad range, from multi-piece posers you take apart and reassemble to 3D jigsaws.

Multi-piece puzzles are either lock-based (which involve pulling apart and putting together geometric shapes via turning, clicking, maneuvering, or shimmying each piece) or spatial (which involve organizing and arranging items based on color, shape, or both).

Japanese puzzle maker Hanayama is one of the most popular brands in this space, specializing in handheld cast-iron pieces that require unlocking and removing pieces from one another and putting them back together. Hanayama rates its puzzles using difficulty levels 1 to 6, with higher numbers indicating more difficulty. Of course, these are subjective ratings, but after testing a few, we believe the higher-end Hanayama puzzles involve creative problem-solving that the average person finds difficult.

While traditional 2D jigsaw puzzles are assembled on flat surfaces and resemble a box art image, 3D jigsaws are slightly more challenging. They require spatial awareness—a.k.a., an understanding of how things fit together in space—and actual instructions. Sometimes, the pieces are lettered or numbered. But, like most puzzles, you can kick it into hard mode by tossing those instructions.

Are you someone who enjoys reassembling puzzles? If not, stick to something simple that doubles as a display once it’s complete. Logic puzzles from Hanayama aren’t always the best to show off on a shelf or desktop, but higher-end pieces from Craighill are practically made for showing off. 3D jigsaw puzzles are similar to regular jigsaw puzzles—you likely won’t remember where all the pieces go if you disassemble and reassemble it several months apart.

How We Tested

“Brain teaser” is a bit subjective, but we settled on products that enhance and stimulate spatial reasoning skills, critical thinking, and logic—with a healthy dose of fun. We only focused on puzzles that involve pulling pieces apart and putting them together, playing with colors, and tinkering.

We researched popular puzzle brands and landed on a few major ones: BePuzzled, Hanayama, and Kanoodle-maker Educational Insights. We ignored any products that looked flimsy or cheap. We also avoided any wooden puzzles, as their difficulties are hard to gauge, they’re mostly geared toward children, and, frankly, they remind us of that peg game from Cracker Barrel —also cheap. Lastly, for the sake of brevity, we avoided anything that seemed like a multi-pack overkill , focusing on quality instead of quantity.

BePuzzled, Hanayama, Uncommon Goods, and Educational Insights sent various puzzles for us to try out in our offices. I emptied each box onto a table and told my colleagues, “Hey, come over here and work on these while I watch you tinker.” Through two weeks of work-time breaks, lunch hours, and random communal puzzling sprees, we gauged each puzzle below on effort (How hard is this to figure out? How much time is this taking?), difficulty (How many people did it take to solve?), value (Would we do this puzzle again?), and material (Is it plastic or metal?).

Although we typically keep a 2D puzzle on the table for screen breaks, the puzzlers at Popular Mechanics found that the best 3D puzzles were the straightforward ones that needed little to no explanation. Anything that felt the most enticing to pick up and play, either due to visual attraction or office gossip/word of mouth, topped our final list.

Educational Insights Kanoodle 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Kanoodle 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Kanoodle recently became a TikTok sensation , and after spending hours tinkering with it at the office, picking up games over breakfast, and watching colleagues play it, I can see why: It’s highly addictive. Holistically, it’s got everything I want in a brain teaser puzzle—it’s colorful, pocket-sized, easy to learn, super stimulating, and it makes me feel like a genius when I solve it.

Kanoodle’s goal is simple, but it always proves challenging. The board has 48 spaces, 12 uniquely shaped, color-connected beads, and a booklet of 200 puzzles, sorted in numerical order from easiest to hardest. To play, pick a puzzle from the booklet and set your pieces on the board according to the puzzle’s design. After setup, you’ll notice you have pieces left over. The goal is to fit those pieces on your board without moving the design you just laid out.

It’s comparable to clearing lines in Tetris, except instead of clearing lines, your prize is being able to shut your Kanoodle case. There are also a few pages of 3D puzzles, which involve stacking play pieces on top of each other.

Educational Insights claims Kanoodle expands spatial reasoning skills and enhances critical thinking. Several resources for children with autism recommend Kanoodle for developing fine motor skills, including National Autism Resources and Therapy Shoppe .

“It’s a fun, engaging way to develop problem-solving skills,” says Digital Content Producer Amber Joglar , who spent hours playing this at her desk instead of working (sorry, Amber). “The puzzles get more challenging and involved as you move through levels, and it’s a nice way to get a brain break that doesn’t involve screen time.”

The game is excellent for ages 7 and up, and we especially recommend it for adults looking for a non-screen activity . (It’s helped me calm down on more demanding days.) Its clamshell, pocket-sized packaging makes it easy to travel with and, as evidenced by my office mates, it’s easy to learn and play with others. We simply can’t get enough of this game.

Original 3D Crystal Puzzles Grand Castle Deluxe 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Grand Castle Deluxe 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

If this looks annoying to put together, you’ll be happy to know that it very much is. And if you like that sort of challenge, the Grand Castle Deluxe is a frustrating yet satisfying build—the total opposite of the cardboard T-Rex. Rather than slide its parts into place, you assemble this puzzle by correctly stacking and interlocking its 105 transparent plastic pieces. Each piece has tiny (hard to read, due to its clear plastic) letters that correspond to others… somehow . Frankly, we don’t even know if we’re doing it right—it doesn’t come with instructions, and after visiting a URL on the back of the box, its PDF instructions aren’t quite helpful, either.

Its rigor isn’t solely due to a lack of instructions but also its design—every piece looks the same, even if they’re in different shapes. After unboxing and dumping each plastic bag full of pieces out on a table, we had a hard time figuring out where even to start.

It’s not impossible, though. Producer Barry Knoblach took a long while to lay out the pieces and assess the situation. “As someone who prefers finishing puzzles instead of seeing how long they take to complete, I was frustrated when I eventually got stuck,” he says. “The castle’s spires are especially difficult, and no directions came with the box. The puzzle is fun once you get the hang of it, but lack of clarity on its parts knocks my rating of it down.”

Uncommon Goods T-Rex 3D Puzzle Building Kit

T-Rex 3D Puzzle Building Kit

Not so much a brain teaser as it is a 3D puzzle, this T-Rex 3D puzzle-building kit is still a mild head-scratcher. It takes the traditional 2D puzzle and changes it into a layered pile of 3D cardboard, where you slide pieces into slots to make a shape. It has 72 numbered, precut pieces you pop out of place and attach to each other. The box says it’ll take 60 minutes to complete, but Raab assembled it solo in less than 30.

Because of its easy difficulty level and unique 3D build, we highly recommend this for children learning spatial awareness. It’s also a great art project when complete, as a simple paint job would make this pop in a bedroom or on a desktop. Although it’s made of cardboard, its pieces are sturdy and it doesn’t feel cheap.

Bepuzzled Hanayama Labyrinth Metal 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Hanayama Labyrinth Metal 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

The objective of this two-piece puzzle is simple: Remove both rings and put them back together. It’s not as easy as it looks. A nub on each end of the horseshoe-like ring marked “Laby” prevents the two rings from pulling away from each other, while both sides of the other ring present two different labyrinths. You must guide the nubs on one ring through the mazes on the other ring, and try not to hit any dead ends on the way.

I tinkered with this Hanayama-branded brainteaser for 20 minutes before giving up. Meanwhile, one of my colleagues fiddled with it for two hours only to get nowhere. Our Assistant Reviews Editor, Adam Schram , successfully pulled both rings apart by feeling his way through the maze while talking and keeping his mind occupied on other things—and in 10 minutes, no less.

The puzzle has a great weight to it. And while it’s made of metal, unlike Craighill’s pieces, it doesn’t stink of it. Both pieces feel like solid cast iron, lending a pleasing tactility and heft. The brand says this puzzle has a difficulty level of 5 for “experts,” but your mileage may vary if you’re anything like Schram.

We also tested the Hanayama Infinity puzzle , in which users pull out bearings from a seemingly invincible figure-8 loop. Staff Photographer Trevor Raab figured it out in less than 10 minutes despite its level 6 difficulty. We do like its design quite a lot, though.

Craighill Tycho 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Tycho 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

The Tycho puzzle is hefty and beautiful, with eight interlocking stainless steel and brass components. You spin it on a countertop to break it apart, then reassemble it by sliding pieces in place. In its core is a hidden cavity that can hold a surprise—large enough for a tiny fortune-cookie-sized message, really—and it’s got a solid weight of nearly 2 pounds . It’s a tough cube puzzle that feels brutalist by design.

We’ve been passing this cube around in the office to see who can assemble it the fastest, and a group of four colleagues got it in less than 30 minutes, though it took lots of tinkering and talking through to reassemble. Many love its weight and feel, and several (myself included) say it looks mesmerizing on a shelf or countertop. It’s definitely a statement piece in a way, maybe establishing authority on a boss’s desk or classiness on a mantle at home.

It also stinks like coins. After toying with the puzzle, the combination of brass and steel had our hands smelling like pennies. If you prefer your puzzles scentless, this may not be for you. It’s also relatively expensive due to its craftsmanship and heavy materials.

We also tried the very similar Tetra puzzle from Craighill, which was as big of a hit in our offices as the Tycho. Though we prefer the Tycho due to its eight-piece makeup (rather than the Tetra’s four), we still enjoyed it. It’s $98—less than the Tycho and still hardy enough to make a statement.

Uncommon Goods 540 Colors 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

540 Colors 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle

Probably our favorite puzzle to look at and assemble as a group, this sphere is a blast. It has 540 pieces and cycles through a rainbow ombre gradient, transitioning from red to pink to orange to yellow as you spin it. Each plastic piece is slightly curved, and they’re all satisfying to slot together. The finished puzzle sits on top of a plastic pedestal to display.

Four of us assembled this in less than two hours, separating the pieces by color and then attempting to link each bright hue with its washed-out transitional pieces. It’s remarkably sturdy when put into place, and it’s fun to assemble a puzzle in a shape that should, theoretically, be smooth.

The only problem we had with it was its transitional colors. It was difficult to tell which faded, white-washed pieces fit where, as some color differences were hard to make out. The transitions between each colored area isn’t as smooth as we’d like. Piece placement definitely benefits from a second opinion and a flashlight.

Headshot of Kevin Cortez

Kevin Cortez is an editor for Runner's World, Bicycling, and Popular Mechanics covering reviews. A culture and product journalist for over ten years, he’s an expert in men’s style, technology, gaming, coffee, e-bikes, hiking, gear, and all things outdoors. He most recently worked as the Style Editor for Reviewed, a top product recommendation site owned by USA TODAY. He also helped with the launch of WSJ's Buy Side commerce vertical, and has covered the music and podcast industries for Mass Appeal, Genius, Vulture, Leafly, Input, and The A.V. Club. Equally passionate about leisure as he is his penmanship, Kevin dedicates his spare time to graphic novels, birding, making cold brew, and taking long, meandering walks.

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Jacquelyn Burt Earns 2024 John Tate Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising

Department of Computer Science & Engineering Undergraduate Academic Advisor Jacquelyn Burt was awarded the 2024 John Tate Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising. Named in honor of John Tate, Professor of Physics and first Dean of University College (1930-41), the Tate Awards serve to recognize and reward high-quality academic advising, calling attention to the contribution academic advising makes to helping students formulate and achieve intellectual, career, and personal goals.

“I thought it was a trick when I got the email that I was being nominated,” said Jacquelyn. “Within the advising field, this award is a big deal; I described it to my parents as ‘the advising Grammys’. Part of what makes it so cool is the nomination process, which involves several letters of support from students and colleagues as well as putting together a kind of portfolio of some of the programs and resources I’ve helped develop. So many different people contributed to that on my behalf, so it was really powerful to be reminded of the impact of my work and the amazing colleagues and students I get to love!”

Jacquelyn is a lifelong Gopher, earning her B.S. in business marketing education in 2014 and her M.Ed. in education policy and leadership in 2019. She joined the CS&E student services team in 2019, where she quickly developed a reputation as a staunch ally and advocate for her students. In 2021, Jacquelyn received the Gopher Spirit Award , recognizing the U of M advisor who contributes to a positive office culture, is inclusive, and brings others up. “I feel the most useful when a student or colleague is misunderstanding something, or experiencing a lot of stress, and I am able to help separate it into smaller pieces or come up with a different way of looking at it,” said Jacquelyn. “If I can shine light on something, help shift a lens or perspective, or give an idea or experience a bit of breathing room, I’m doing my job.”

When asked about what inspired her to work in advising, Jacquelyn replied, “When I first came to the University of Minnesota as a freshman, I was a family and social sciences major - I love relationships and helping, and so figured a career in marriage and family therapy sounded good. However, I’ve also always loved education and felt most at home at school - when I finished my undergraduate degree, I didn’t want to leave college because I loved it so much! Student advising seemed like a cool sweet spot between classroom teaching, advocacy, and being in a helping role. Ultimately, I’ve really come to see advising as facilitation work: I help students identify and navigate barriers to their goals, experiences, and personal development.”

As an undergraduate advisor, Jacquelyn manages a caseload of over 450 students in multiple majors, minors and other departmental programs. On top of her advising duties, Jacquelyn has undertaken a number of projects to better the undergraduate student experience, including establishing a weekly newsletter; designing, promoting, and executing departmental events and programs; and developing and teaching students through a variety of training and credit-bearing coursework. Most notably, Jacquelyn created and now facilitates mandatory implicit bias training for all 200+ undergraduate teaching assistants, as well as teaching CSCI 2915: Teaching Methods in Computer Science (a leadership and communication skills seminar) each semester.

“Within our student services team, we’ve developed a great culture of initiative and problem-solving: like, if you identify a problem and have or can create tools to help address it, amazing - you go get it!” said Jacquelyn. “We all believe that students deserve to have positive and supportive experiences while they are here, and we’ve built an advising team that trusts each of us to help bear that belief out. I definitely could not do my job without the collaboration, encouragement, and love of the whole team.”

On top of her work within CS&E, Jacquelyn has personally designed advising resources that have made an impact for undergraduate students across the entire university. Her “Explore & Expand” tool (originally developed for the college’s major/minor expo) is used widely throughout the entire University, particularly within the Center for Academic Planning and Exploration office. Additionally, her “Academic Progress Audit System Guide” resource (originally used within the departmental “Welcome to the Major” workshops) has been used in advisor training and onboarding. Above all, Jacquelyn has a keen eye for making connections, and for communicating things that can be overwhelmingly complex with both clarity and compassion.

“When I applied for this job, I had to come up with an ‘advising philosophy,’” said Jacquelyn. “What I landed on is anytime a student leaves an interaction with me, I want them to feel a little bit more seen, supported, and celebrated. I am a naturally celebratory person, which I’ve learned to embrace - and this award is a wonderful way to celebrate the work of advising!”

Learn more about the John Tate Award at the Provost website . 

Jacquelyn Burt headshot

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The latest on the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl celebration shooting

By Adrienne Vogt , Leinz Vales , Chris Isidore , Antoinette Radford and Elise Hammond , CNN

No one has been charged yet in Kansas City shooting. Here's what we know so far, as investigation continues

From CNN staff

Cleanup underway at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 15, following a shooting that took place at the end of a rally celebrating the  Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl win.

Police are investigating a shooting that killed one person and wounded more than 20 others on Wednesday. The shooting happened after a rally celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl win.

Here's what we know so far:

  • Victims: The woman killed has been identified as Lisa Lopez-Galvan , a local DJ and a mom of two kids, according to her family and police. More than 20 others were hurt, ranging from 8 to 47 years old , according to Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves. Half of those people were under the age of 16, she added. A majority of the patients admitted to University Health Truman Medical Center and Children's Mercy Kansas City have been discharged , hospital officials.
  • What happened: The shooting was a personal dispute between "several people" in which others were wounded, Graves said. She said there was no link to terrorism or homegrown extremism.
  • No one charged: Initially, police detained three people for further investigation — one adult and two juveniles, according to Graves. The adult was released Thursday afternoon after police determined they were not involved, a spokesperson for the police department said. Two juveniles still in custody have not yet been charged, but police are working with juvenile prosecutors to "review investigative findings," officials added.
  • Ongoing investigation: Bullets and shell casings left behind at the scene of the shooting are key pieces of evidence being analyzed to determine a possible connection to the people in police custody as well as any other possible suspects, a law enforcement source told CNN. Police said they recovered an unspecified number of guns. ATF investigators will also look at whether the bullets or shell casings match any of those firearms or any weapons in databases, according to the source.
  • Witness accounts: One man said he overheard an altercation before the shooting where a woman told a presumed shooter, "Don’t do it, not here; this is stupid." He said the person pulled out a gun and "started shooting and spinning in a circle," Jacob Gooch, Sr. told CBS' Gayle King. Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Trey Smith told ABC he found shelter in a closet and guided others to safety. He also helped calm scared kids, as did cornerback L'Jarius Sneed .

Adult released from custody after Super Bowl celebration shooting, police say

From CNN's Raja Razek

One of the three people detained in the wake of Wednesday’s Super Bowl celebration shooting has been released, the Kansas City Police Department said. That person was determined not to have been involved, a police spokesperson tells CNN. 

Only two juvenile teens are currently in custody in connection with the incident, according to the police department.

"A third person who was in custody was determined to not be involved," spokesperson Alayna Gonzalez said.

"The two juveniles are currently being held in custody while we work with juvenile prosecutors to review investigative findings and determine applicable charges," the spokesperson added. "The juvenile court system determines the custody status of all juvenile arrests."

Chiefs player recalls past experiences with gun violence while trying to comfort kids during shooting

From CNN's David Close

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed said the shooting after Super Bowl celebrations on Wednesday brought back memories of being a target of gun violence.

"It just brings back trauma, brings back (bad) times," Sneed told ESPN's Hannah Storm on Thursday. "It's not something you want to be in — never. Just, in that moment, I just knew what to do and how to comfort the kids at that moment."

Sneed said he and others rushed into a building when the chaos started. The four-year NFL pro said kids "surrounded me" while seeking shelter in a basement. 

"I tried to comfort them in that situation. Just tell them everything is OK. Just rubbing their back(s) and just be like, 'Everything’s going to be fine,'" he said.

"It's very sad," he told ESPN. "Just for the kids. They are trying to celebrate something, a big accomplishment for us. We were just trying to celebrate it with them, and for that to happen is very tragic."

Most shooting patients at 2 Kansas City hospitals have been discharged, officials say

From CNN’s Andi Babineau

A majority of the patients admitted to University Health Truman Medical Center and Children's Mercy Kansas City have been discharged, hospital officials confirmed Thursday afternoon. 

At University Health Truman Medical Center , eight of the 12 patients have been released. Of the four still being treated, three suffered gunshot wounds and one sustained a broken bone while trying to flee the scene, according to doctors.

Two of the gunshot victims are in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit, Dr. Dustin Neel said. He called one a “young gentleman” and the other an “older woman,” and said they were the first two patients the hospital received. 

Children’s Mercy Kansas City said they initially admitted 12 people after the shooting — 11 children and one adult. Nine of the children had gunshot wounds. All but three patients have been discharged as of Thursday, hospital officials said.

Those three still in the hospital are children, Chief Nursing Officer Stephanie Meyer said. She said they have been stabilized and all are doing well and expected to make full recoveries. 

Radio traffic details law enforcement response during Kansas City shooting

From CNN’s David Williams

Radio traffic between law enforcement and other emergency responders details the response to Wednesday’s shooting at the Chiefs victory rally at Union Station in Kansas City.

In the Broadcastify channel Kansas City Metro Area Fire, EMS, and Police, authorities can be heard working to get medical personnel to wounded victims and coordinate the search for suspects.

“Fire’s getting reports of shots fired at (unintelligible) and Main … there’s a bunch of people running, can we get more people down here?" one person said.

On the radio, responders are heard reporting a shooting on the west side of Union Station and dispatching emergency medics. Later, officers take one person into custody and start to try to clear the crowd out.

"Do we have our party in custody yet?" one person asked. "We’ve got one party in custody. I don’t know how many shooters we had. We’ve got two guns located over here with us," another person replies. "Copy that, what do you need?" the person said. "Right now, I think we just gotta get people out of here. If you could send more officers to kind of help clear the crowd," they answer.

Biden was devastated and frustrated by Kansas City mass shooting, White House says

From CNN's Donald Judd

President Joe Biden is devastated but “also frustrated” by Wednesday’s mass shooting in Kansas City that killed one person and injured more than 20 others, the White House said Thursday.

"This gun violence epidemic is, you know, really destroying our communities, is having an effect on our communities, and he is going to do everything that he can to continue to move forward with protecting our communities, but Congress needs to act, Congress needs to act," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

In a statement lamenting the shooting Wednesday, Biden mourned that the celebration “turned to tragedy,” before calling on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, limit high-capacity magazines and strengthen background checks.

The press secretary wouldn’t say if Biden plans to speak to the victims or travel to Kansas City.

Family of woman killed in shooting remembers her as a loving mother and wife

An undated photo of Lisa Lopez-Galvan.

The family of the woman killed in a shooting after a Super Bowl celebration for the Kansas City Chiefs is remembering her as an amazing mother, wife and daughter.

Radio  DJ Lisa Lopez-Galvan  died after getting shot at the rally, her family and her employer KKFI 90.1 FM have said, and police confirmed her death on Thursday.

"We are heartbroken with the loss of our loved one, Elizabeth 'Lisa,'" her family said in a statement, adding that she leaves behind her husband and two kids.

"We ask to please keep our family in your prayers as we grieve the loss of Lisa’s death while also supporting our other loved ones who were impacted in this senseless act," the family said.

CNN's Chris Boyette contributed reporting to this post.

Bullets and shell casings are major focus of investigation, source says

From CNN's Josh Campbell

A law enforcement officer looks around the scene after the shooting in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 14.

Bullets and shell casings left behind at the scene of Wednesday's shooting after the Chiefs Super Bowl rally in Kansas City, Missouri, are key pieces of evidence being analyzed to determine a possible connection to individuals currently in custody — as well as any possible additional suspects — a law enforcement source told CNN. 

Specialists from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are also analyzing bullets recovered at the scene and in victims to determine which gun was responsible for killing or injuring specific people, the source said. 

Ejected casings are additionally being studied to identify whether unique markings left behind on a shell casing by a gun during firing — similar to a fingerprint — match other shootings in law enforcement databases, the source said. 

On Wednesday, Kansas City police said three people had been detained, and an unspecified number of guns were recovered by police.

In addition to helping tie those guns to rounds fired at the scene, the source said ATF investigators are working to determine whether any bullets and shell casings recovered fail to fit the unique profile of those recovered weapons, which could indicate additional suspects are at large. 

Half of shooting victims were children, according to police chief

From CNN's Chris Boyette and Chris Isidore

Emergency personnel arrive at the scene after the shooting in Kansas City, Missouri, Wednesday, February 14.

Half of the over 20 people injured in the shooting at the end of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory rally are under the age of 16, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said.

The victims range in age from 8 to 47 years old, according to Graves. The one person who has died from the shooting was 43 years old, she confirmed. CNN  previously reported that Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a Kansas City-area radio DJ, died during the shooting and was identified by KKFI radio 90.1 FM.

There were 22 victims of the shooting who were treated at the scene and transported by emergency personnel, said Kansas City Interim Fire Chief Ross Grundyson on Thursday. Of those taken to hospitals, there were eight critical patients in critical condition, seven in serious condition and six with minor injuries. He said all the critical patients were transported off the scene within 10 minutes of first responders’ arrival.

The number treated and transported by first responders may not include everyone who was injured, as some victims may have sought treatment on their own after fleeing the scene.

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    1. Virtual Team Challenge Virtual Team Challenges are popular problem-solving activities that involve a group of people working together to solve an issue. The challenge generally involves members of the team brainstorming, discussing, and creating solutions for a given problem.

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  20. Types of Teams

    There are three different types of teams: problem-solving teams, self-directed work teams, and functional teams. Problem-solving teams involve sharing ideas and suggestions amongst members to a great extend. This type of team is used "temporarily in order to bring knowledgeable employees together to tackle a specific problem" (Pride et al., 2011, p.296).

  21. 5 Types of Teams. What's Your Choice?

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  22. 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

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  23. What Is Team? Definition, Features, Types, & Strategies

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