The Best Way for Teams to Solve Problems and Generate Ideas

by wamda, September 16, 2010

This research article, published in the journal Management Science, by Karan Giotra of INSEAD and Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich of The Wharton School, examines the effectiveness of different methods for solving problems- namely a "team" approach, where everyone works together, as compared to a "hybrid" approach, in which indviduals work alone and then work together. The findings suggest that a hybrid approach works best.


In a wide variety of organizational settings, teams generate a number of possible solutions to a problem, and then select a few for further investigation. We examine the effectiveness of two creative problem solving processes for such tasks— one, where the group works together as a team (the team process), and the other where individuals
first work alone and then work together (the hybrid process). We define effectiveness as the quality of the best ideas identified by the group.

We build theory that relates previously observed group behaviour to four different variables that characterize the creative problem solving process: (1) the average quality of ideas generated, (2) the number of ideas generated, (3) the variance in the quality of ideas generated, and (4) the ability of the group to discern the quality of the ideas. Prior research defines effectiveness as the quality of the average idea, ignoring any differences in variance and in the ability to discern the best ideas.

In our experimental set-up, we find that groups employing the hybrid process are able to generate more ideas, to generate better ideas, and to better discern their best ideas compared to teams that rely purely on group work. Moreover, we find that the frequently recommended brainstorming technique of building on each other’s ideas is counter-productive: teams exhibiting such build-up neither create more ideas nor are the ideas that build on previous ideas better.

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