Business’ best problem solving teams are small, and under pressure

business team

Under pressure employees working in small groups are more likely to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems, new research has found.

An in-depth study of problem-solving in large multinational companies found a direct link between the greater the pressure staff were put under to solve the problem, and the more creative the solution they came up with.

The study also found that the more staff were involved in coming up with a solution, the less creative the response.

Managers who saw problems as opportunities rather than threats were more likely to find creative solutions and a new way forward, the findings revealed.

The study, using data gathered in 2012 and 2013, shows that the managers who sought information from outside their own unit were not more likely to come up with creative solutions. But it showed that to obtain a creative solution, managers needed to see the problem as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Co-author Dr Andrew Parker, senior lecturer at Exeter Business School, said: “The more the problem created pressure on the unit or wider in the MNC the more likely it was to create a stimulus that resulted in more creative, exciting outcomes.”

Researchers asked managers in ICT, pharmaceutical, social media and building materials companies in Ireland, UK and France, Germany, France and Sweden about their recent experience solving problems.

The managers worked in subsidiaries of the firms, or their offices were based in a different country because they were doing a specific or focused task.

The survey asked the managers to what extent they had got the information to solve the problem from inside their unit or their immediate colleagues, or whether the information had come from outside their unit or outside the organisation. In a seperate survey their senior managers were asked if they thought creative, original and practical solutions had been used to solve the problem.

Dr Parker added: “Managers who seek problems as an opportunity are more likely to develop a creative solution. Those who did not look on it as an opportunity find it difficult to solve it creatively, and they miss the chance to innovate. They are keen to find a quick and simple solution rather than think about all the different options available to them.

“This study shows that organisations should encourage managers to see problems as opportunities. Some will just want to do what they have always done. Others will reach out beyond what they know and who they know. To be creative people need to break free of their usual habits, and define the problem in different ways.”