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I was at an interview where we had to work in a team of 10 and we were required to solve two different problems with a final solution. We had 1 hour. We were acting as colleagues working for a software company which our systems had been hacked. The task was to come up with a solution to each problem and present our findings in a presentation. We did not have to create anything physically or do anything away from the table.

We knew the problems but did not know the solution for each. So we needed a problem solving team with autonomy. The team had little knowledge of the problem domain and skills in the area.

I was not sure on the following:

1) Divide the team into 2 (5 each) and each team to solve one problem. 1 hour for each problem. What happens if the good problem solver is not in both teams?

2) Be in one team of 10 and solve two problems. Divide the time so you have 30 mins for problem 1 and 30 mins for problem 2. So more input but less time. Remember that we do not know much about the subject.

The main question is: How to configure a team for this purpose?

  • 2
    Do the teams have to a) solve two different problems or b) produce two viable solutions to one problem? – P. Hopkinson Aug 18 at 20:35
  • There are two different problems to solve. There could be more than one viable solution for each but most likely need a preferred choice. – Adam83 Aug 18 at 22:54
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Some sort of hybrid solution is likely to be effective.

For example, you could split into two teams for the first 80 minutes to work on separate problems then re-assemble as a larger group and spend 15 minutes on each of the two problems to polish the solutions, leaving 10-minutes overrun time.

The "correct" approach will vary depending on a wide range of factors including:

  • problem complexity
  • required expertise
  • have the team members worked together before?
  • is the group well led? (and well disciplined)
  • problem group members
  • do you care about the outcome? (some problem solving meetings are exist to foster knowledge sharing rather than to solve important problems)
  • I believe OP said there was only 1 hour. Your timeline has them sitting on 105 minutes. – MacItaly Aug 20 at 23:24
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    @MacItaly the question has changed substantially since I answered it. The original question was entirely generic and stated 2 hours. – P. Hopkinson Aug 21 at 8:36
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This depends on how well you know your team.

In some cases a team will have one particular member who can see a problem in a wholistic manner and formulate a viable solution in broad strokes very quickly. You want this chap/chappess on both problems.

Other times you don't have anyone who stands out, so it makes more sense to split the team.

Like anything it's about understanding and utilising the tools you have efficiently. There is no one size fits all with people.

  • "you want this person to be on both problems" - I did not see it from this point of view, thanks. – Adam83 Aug 19 at 7:14

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