Everyone has heard the old adage “There's no such thing as a dumb question”. When it comes to collaborative problem solving, this couldn't be more true. At its foundation, the value of collaborative problem solving is the myriad of different views and opinions found in a larger group of workers. The most obvious ideas of one worker may not be so obvious to another, and vice versa. But these different ideas are useless without any way to share them with the group at large and collaboration will begin to suffer as a result. To facilitate collaboration and the sharing of ideas, sometimes all that is needed is to ask questions. Doing so provides several different benefits to the process of problem solving.
The first and most obvious benefit is to clarify. These questions allow a group to better understand the problem they are striving for and avoid wasting time on matters that aren't relevant. This keeps the group on task and maximizes the group's potential to reach innovative solutions that may otherwise gone unnoticed. The better a problem is understood, the better the solution.
To Get Perspective and Context
Sometimes it isn't just the question that matters, but who is asked the question. Remember, the value of collaborative problem solving comes from the diversity of opinions in a large group. While it may seem efficient to direct questions and problems to certain people based on their experience and knowledge, don't be afraid to look beyond this narrow scope. Keeping a limited focus runs the risk of ignoring valuable outside perspective on the problem at hand. You need to understand the entire context of the subject at hand and well defined (but potentially broad reaching and numerous) questions that seek to target relevant answers are key
Asking certain questions to certain people can help clarify a problem and find new insight into solving it. However, this isn't the only value questions have to the problem solving process. The simple act of asking questions can help foster collaboration itself. The more a group strives to understand the problem it is trying to solve (going back to context), the more they begin to work together as a cohesive unit. The clarity gained by asking the right questions allows individuals to stay focused and know what each member of the group is working on. Several different avenues of thought are replaced with a few focused and relevant ideas. The perspective gained by asking the right people, brings together individuals that otherwise may not interact. When this happens, new ideas and different experiences can combine to find new and innovative solutions.
For more advice on asking questions please check out Stephen Shapiro's newest whitepaper on optimizing your internal collaboration.