For project managers, the art of problem solving lies in getting people together who all have their own areas of expertise and then finding the most effective and efficient way to move forward. This can be a complicated, painstaking process, and it's often easy to lose sight of the big picture along the way. Still, by taking on collaborative problem solving with clear goals, leaders are more likely to discover smart, creative solutions to help the team progress in its mission.

Here are five tips that can make the difference in coming up with powerful, collaborative problem solving techniques that work for your unique projects:

1. Bring the Right Attitude to the Table

A collaborative problem solving approach starts with setting everyone's expectations appropriately and coming in to a meeting ready to hear and discuss many different viewpoints. Working together means presenting a variety of ideas and finding useful ways to draw connections instead of treating the project as a competition. That doesn't mean every suggestion is going to be a good one or practical with the available time and budget, but sometimes even noting the drawbacks to a particular proposal can come to inspire a productive new line of thinking. If you say you're collaborating, make sure everyone's attitude is to reflect what you say in your actions. Check out this video for some examples.

2. Individual Problem Solving is Essential to Collaborative Problem Solving

Though fresh perspectives are helpful, connecting with the group is often not the best starting point for working through complex issues. Before following a collaborative problem solving model to pull team members together, it's important to let individuals have some time to develop ideas on their own. Too much discussion during this phase can end up stifling creativity, discouraging team members from following lines of independent thinking that often lead to the very best solutions.

3. Split up into Smaller Groups

When the time does come to bring people together for collaborative problem solving, keeping the sizes of groups under control will help everyone get more done. Staying connected and getting assistance from across the team can help a great deal during the information-gathering phase, but breaking off into smaller groups will generate more effective problem solving activities. These focused clusters will come up with a wider range of theories and potential answers that can then be evaluated and implemented among the larger team.

4. Allow Space for Innovation and Conflict

Group discussions yield the best results when leaders allow some room for flexibility and let the conversation go down some unexpected paths. Keep these guidelines in mind as you lead team meetings:

  • Leaders should strive to create a space where talented people are free to voice their ideas.
  • For collaborative problem solving to work, team members need to feel like even thoughts that may be a little unusual or difficult to understand at first are welcomed in the room.
  • At the same time, the group should be comfortable expressing disagreement and pointing out problems.

With supportive leadership, this kind of open exchange reveals what concepts have the best chance of success. An idea grows into a plan of action when the members of the team bring their best suggestions and then ask tough questions and challenge one another.

5. Make Communication and Progress Transparent

As a project goes forward, leaders must keep the lines of communication among the team members open. Every individual taking part should understand how each assigned task is related and how they ultimately contribute to the overall goals. That's where a solution like Wrike comes in handy, offering the tools for managing workloads, monitoring timelines and sharing drafts.

Solving tricky business problems takes teamwork. Good leaders learn how to use the right strategies and tools to draw out great ideas from each worker and collaborate with the whole group to put them into action.