In group problem solving, we generate new ideas, we assess or judge them, and we experiment to see how well they work. Since experimenting is usually costly and time-consuming, we use our judgment to select the most promising ideas for experimentation. But the judging process makes mistakes. Here are two insights that can help prevent rejecting good ideas or accepting bad ones.
- The right to judge is inalienable
- After idea generation, and the newborn ideas are subjected to judging and evaluation, two traps await. First, we sometimes confuse judging ideas with judging the people who generated them. Honest attempts to critique ideas can seem like personal criticism, and criticism intended to be personal can be disguised as honest attempts to critique the ideas.
- Second, during judging, judges and their comments might in turn be judged. This secondary judging degrades the judging process. In some cases, generators might demand that judges themselves address the issues they identify: "Show us how to fix it," or "If you're so smart, show me a better way." Such demands that judges "earn" the right to judge are violations of the (usually implicit) contract between the judges and the larger group. They freeze the judging process and they might even inhibit contributions by other judges.
- When we act as judges of new ideas, we must take care to judge the ideas — not their generators — in good faith. When we provide comments on newborn ideas, we must also suggest underlying principles that can guide the generators during the next cycle. When we ask people to judge new ideas, we can accept or reject their comments, but we must trust that those comments are provided in good faith, unless there is clear proof to the contrary.
- Judging can uncover misunderstandings
- Generators have their Judging newborn ideas is one
of the earliest points at which
differences in understanding
the problem become clearown understandings of the problem to be solved; judges have theirs. Judging newborn ideas is one of the earliest points at which differences in these understandings become clear.
- In processing judges' comments, difficulties can arise if the group mistakenly assumes that there is only one understanding of the problem. The ensuing debate about the relevance of a critique can in fact be irrelevant itself, if what's needed is consensus about the problem definition, rather than consensus about the judges' comments.
- Shared group understanding of the problem definition is one of the first things to check when processing judges' critiques. For any reasonably complex problem, all of the members' understandings will likely require multiple revisions. Success depends on the group converging on a single understanding of the problem, and judges' critiques provide an important means of exposing divergences.
As you begin judging these ideas, keep in mind that your understanding of how groups solve problems is yours; others have theirs.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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