This chapter concludes with an activity on Influence, Compromise, and Problem Solving that includes an easy and clever game of putting together a puzzle. Seminar Leader Lianabel Oliver uses this activity to provide a break between topics, to transition between topics, and to introduce topics. She finds it especially useful in seminars that focus on helping trainees solve problems that often come with cross-functional processes and unstructured tasks . Lianabel has used this activity in seminars on the topics of standard costs and the budgeting process, as well as in customized seminars on diverse topics.
Her puzzle of choice is a child's wooden puzzle of about 10 pieces.
Problem solving and communication skills when working on cross-functional processes, projects, and unstructured tasks
This is a fun group exercise that defines and demonstrates some problemsolving issues of working on unstructured tasks or cross-functional processes such as budget setting standards, or implementing a new system. Through the assembly of a very simple puzzle, trainees discover that they do not have the information required to complete the assigned task successfully, and that this information often resides in another department or work area. Trainees learn that they must take a proactive approach to problem solving by approaching and working with other teams to solve the puzzle and complete the task at hand.
To demonstrate that assumptions made by a team and its approach to problem solving can hinder its ability to complete a task
To illustrate that individuals need to take the initiative in a problem-solving situation by approaching other teams or individuals who may have the information or resources that they need
One puzzle is required for each team. Wooden puzzles made for preschool children that usually have approximately 10 pieces per puzzle work very well. These types of puzzles can be purchased at any toy store or on the Internet.
Team style tables for 4 to 5 participants each
Each table has one scrambled puzzle for the team to put together
15 to 20 minutes
Divide the group into teams of 4 to 5 people. Have one puzzle available for each team.
Scramble the pieces of the puzzle so that each team has 4 to 5 pieces of its own puzzle and at least one or more pieces from the puzzles of each of the other teams.
Give each team the scrambled puzzle with the following instructions: "T he following exercise is a problem-solving exercise that will provide a nice break from the work we have done so far. E ach team will be given a simple puzzle to assemble. Y our task is to assemble the puzzle as a team. W hen I give you the signal, you can begin. P lease let me know as soon as your team is finished.
Tell trainees that they can begin. It will take them anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes before they realize that they cannot complete the puzzle with the pieces provided by the seminar leader. They will probably start asking questions such as, "Are you sure that we have all the pieces?" "Can we approach other teams?" The seminar leader should guide the trainees without providing the answer. Give such answers as, "Yes, all the pieces are in the room ". or "If you think it will help your team ". The teams should discover by themselves that they must approach the other teams to see if they have one or more pieces of their puzzle.
Usually one individual in a team will suggest that they approach another table. This usually prompts all team members to get up from their respective tables and approach the other teams searching for their pieces. The teams tend to finish all at the same time.
After all groups have finished, you can use the following questions to debrief participants:
How does this exercise apply to ___________ (the standards setting process, the budget preparation process, systems implementation, and so on)? Fill-in-the-blank depending on the seminar topic being addressed.
How did your group process help or hinder your ability to solve the problem?
When did the group realize that it had to seek the help of the other teams?
What learning can you take back to your organization from this exercise?
Some key points to make in the debriefing process include:
In cross-functional processes or projects, you must work with other areas to successfully complete the assigned task.
Identify who has the information you need and take the initiative to obtain it. Do not wait for these individuals to approach you. Sometimes, people do not provide or volunteer information until you ask.
If you want clarification , you need to ask. The teams usually make the assumption that they must assemble the puzzle only with the pieces they have been provided. They waste time trying to fit pieces, which obviously do not belong in the puzzle, because they fail to seek clarification on the nature of the task. When a team has doubts about the scope of a project or the specific nature of a task, they should ask a knowledgeable source (in this case, the seminar leader). Trainees quickly realize that they have just modeled problem solving behavior, both good and bad.
Pathways PR Inc.
1925 Juan B Ugalde Street
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00926-6328
LIANABEL OLIVER is a recognized expert in the field of business planning and cost management. She is President and CEO of Pathways PR Inc., a company that provides training and consulting services in the areas of cost management, strategic planning, budgeting, performance measurement, statistics, quantitative modeling, accounting processes, and general business management. She is also a course developer and faculty practitioner for the American Management Association and is the author of the AMA Course #2259 titled The Essentials of Budgeting: From Creation to Application. Her client base includes Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit organizations, and local manufacturing firms, including Banco Popular, Bacardi Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer Inc., ICN Pharmaceuticals, Los Cidrines, Angel Ramos Foundation, and Vassallo Industries.
She is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Ms. Oliver is the author of the book, T he C ost M anagement T oolbox : A M anager's G uide to C ontrolling C osts and B oosting P rofits (AMACOM, 2000).
Ms. Oliver holds a BA in Psychology and Administrative Sciences from Yale University where she graduated cum laude with honors in psychology, and an MBA from Stanford University.
Lianabel Oliver has taught the AMA seminar:
The Essentials of Budgeting: From Creation to Application