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Group Problem Solving in a Parish

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

Background for Group Problem Solving

Clergy and lay leaders are faced with many decisions resolving problems or policy clarification. Minor decisions and policies resolving these problems are often achieved simply through direct clergy or parish council action without the need to involve other sectors of the parish.

Occasionally problems arise, however, that affect a significant portion of the parish or an aspect of parish activity. It becomes apparent that the involvement of lay leaders and those affected by the problem and therefore any proposed solution to the problem, must be involved from the very beginning in formulating the proposed solution.

The beginning of group problem solving is acknowledging that a problem exists and accepting that it may be necessary from the very start to obtain consensus on the source of the problem and the proposed solution.

Clearly, problems vary in their complexity and importance. Those that are not resolved successfully tend to become more complex and to grow in importance. Much too often parishes do not resolve problems successfully because they do not know how to do so.

Effective problem solving does not assign blame, point fingers, or produce “winners” and” losers,” but rather resolves problems in order to allow a parish to move forward with its mission.

Problem solving is a learned skill that can be easily taught to anyone interested in becoming a catalyst for successful problem solving within his/her parish.

Conducting Group Problem Solving Sessions

Personnel: The process is coordinated by a facilitator and involves both a problem presenter and recorder(s).

Size: Twelve to 20 participants is an ideal group. However, larger groups may be run by breaking them into multiples of the 12 to 20 size and conducting the process simultaneously in two separate locations with two facilitators.

Time: Two hours. The time necessary may vary depending on the complexity of the problem and the enthusiasm of the group. However, the process should rarely take more than two hours.

Materials: A large flip chart pad (27″ x 24″), markers, and masking tape.

Room: Tables and chairs set up so that group members can work as a team (six to ten people per table).

Task: The group will discuss a problem and together with the problem presenter arrive at a proposed solution.

Facilitator Tasks and Demeanor:

  • Does not get involved in the content of the process (what is right or wrong; good or bad; correct or incorrect);

  • Serves as a guide and interpreter;

  • Ensures that the process is followed during all other stages.

Problem Presenter Tasks and Demeanor:

  • Allows the facilitator to control the process;

  • Organizes and presents the problem information needed for analysis;

  • Does not participate in problem finding or solution finding except to react and respond to what the group develops;

  • Is open and accepting to the group’s questions and ideas.

Recorder Tasks and Demeanor:

  • Records the essence of the process on the Group Memory (large flip chart sheets generated in the process);

  • Spelling is not important and abbreviations are very helpful;

  • More than one recorder may be needed if the group is very large.

Group Memory:

  • The record created on the flip chart paper (pages numbered consecutively) of the data that are presented and developed by the group is posted on the walls of the room for all to see;

  • The facilitator stops at various stages in the process to recap what is going on;

  • The problem presenter takes the “Group Memory” with him at the close of the session;

  • Group: Agrees to keep everything said and heard during the session confidential and to discuss only with other group members;

  • Agrees to work with the problem presenter and the facilitator to support the process and develop solutions for the presenter.

The Group Problem Solving Process:

Times indicated are approximate. The process itself should determine how much time is spent in each segment. The process is what is important in this activity and not the time keeping. Therefore, the group should dictate the pace and timing of the activity with reminders from the facilitator.

A. 10 minutes – A presenter is asked to cover the following points in a brief description of the problem:

1) Main Problem Title 2) Main Problem Statement (under 50 words) 3) Any key subsidiary problems. 4) Individuals or groups key to the problem. 5) Why it is a problem?

B. 15-20 minutes – The following items are addressed and recorded on flip chart sheets posted on the wall.

1) Why 2) What 3) Where 4) When 5) How 6) Cast of characters 7) Financial picture

C. 15 minutes – Clarification of problem by group. Questions are directed to presenter and guided by facilitator. Again, information is recorded on flip chart sheets.

D. 15-20 minutes – Problem finding. The presenter leaves the room so that the group can work freely. Participants select specific items from flip charts and formulate problem statements which are recorded on new flip chart sheets.

E. 10-15 minutes – Further clarification of problem. The presenter is invited back in to review the list of possible problems produced by the group. The facilitator restates each problem and answers any clarification questions the presenter has. The presenter is then asked to select not fewer than three or more than five of the proposed problems that he/she believes are critical, marking each with a “X” on the flip chart sheets.

F. 15-20 minutes – Solution finding. Again, the presenter leaves the room in order to allow the group to work freely. The group brainstorms on solutions to suggest to the presenter. These are recorded on flip chart sheets.

Guidelines on Brainstorming:

1) The number of ideas presented is what is important, not the quality of any particular idea. 2) Ideas presented should be combined and improved upon. 3) Ideas are presented without criticism from group members. 4) Group members are free to state all ideas as they come to mind.

G. 15-20 minutes – Solution acceptance and implementation. The presenter returns and reviews the list of possible solutions. The facilitator answers any clarification questions from the presenter. The presenter then selects not fewer than three or more than five of the proposed solutions that he/she is willing to accept and implement, and marks them with an “X” on the flip chart sheets. The presenter then tells the group why he/she has chosen each and what action steps will be taken to implement the solutions.

Group Problem Solving: Summary of the Process

1) Problem title 2) Problem statement 3) Background Where When What Who Why How 4) Cast of characters 5) Financial picture 6) Clarification 7) Problem finding 8) Clarification 9) Solution finding 10) Solution acceptance 11) Implementation 12) Reporting and Evaluation


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