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Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies

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Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem." 

Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?

In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.

What is problem solving? 

Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.

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4 steps to better problem solving

While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here’s how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team:

1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved

One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:

Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?

What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?

Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area? 

When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?

Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?

How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?

Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.

Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:

Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed

Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team

What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.

Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet

When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th

How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.

In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.

2. Brainstorm multiple solutions

If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.

Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:

Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.

Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy. 

Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.

Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.

3. Define the solution

After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution? 

Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.

4. Implement the solution

To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.

After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.

Implement common problem-solving strategies

There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:

Trial and error

Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes. 

This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.

The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause. 

This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.

Here’s an example:

Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.

“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.

“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing. 

“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.

“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments. 

“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members. 

In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem. 

A SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:

Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem? 

Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?

Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?

Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?

As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution. 

This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions. 

Even more successful problem solving

After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve. 

Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .

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How to Nail your next Technical Interview

You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).

strategies for problem solving in the workplace

How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

" We've been stuck at it for a week now, " thought Frank to himself. His team came across a simple bin-packing problem surrounding consecutive character strings that were seemingly impossible to solve, and had been running into the same error message every time someone hit the  ‘Compile’  button.

The new guy on his team ( his first day ), who had been quiet the whole day, walked to the whiteboard and started jotting down something. When he was done, five minutes later, a solution pattern popped right out the whiteboard.

" Gosh! How did he do that? "

Well, we'll find out. Here's what we'll be covering in this article:

- What exactly is problem-solving?

- What will be the employer or manager looking for in you?

- How to approach a workplace problem?

- Problem-solving techniques in the workplace

Step 2: Define the problem

Step 3: Strategize a solution

Step 4: Find alternate solutions

Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything

Step 6: Choose a solution

Step 7: Implement

Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly

- What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for during the interview?

- How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?

What exactly is problem-solving?

Problems are a massive part of what we do in our day-to-day lives, be it at your home or workplace. 

Problem-solving is the complete process of understanding and defining the problem, brainstorming a solution, finding alternatives, implementing the best solution, and making adjustments based on the outcome.

What do hiring managers look for?

One's problem-solving ability is a harmonious accord between instinct and immense practice. As your  technical skills  age with experience, so does your ability to identify patterns and solve problems effectively.

Almost each and every employer looks for  effective problem-solving  skills in a candidate when making a hiring decision. They look for an aspirant's natural talent to dig up patterns, look at the problem with a fresh perspective, and be realistic while providing solutions. 

How to approach a workplace problem?

During computer science classes, you will find two types of students.

The first batch has a mindset that algorithms and data structures are only useful for passing the finals and getting an edge over others in interviews.

The second batch loves programming and aspires to write codes from scratch for each new project that they come across.While both mindsets may be partially correct, they do not hold up much.

In real-life situations and as part of an organization, your job drastically changes to one objective only: ' write the right amount of good code. '

For most projects, you will need to write quick, efficient codes to overcome difficult roadblocks. And the only way to achieve that skill is by getting acquainted with as many problems as possible.

Solve as many problems as possible. Learn as many Data Structures and Algorithms as you can. Get acquainted with the basics of reusing a chunk of code.  Make StackOverflow your default homepage.

Does that seem too groundbreaking? Let us simplify it for you.

Problem-solving techniques in the workplace

See, a lot of people understand the problem at hand and the syntax or logic that might explain the issue. The primary thing you need to learn is how to convert your thoughts into code to all the creative geniuses out there.

If you need a comprehensive set of instructions, here are the  problem-solving steps  that you can adopt in your day-to-day lifestyle. This procedure applies not only to coding problems but also to other general hiccups.

While some have the mental affluence to solve problems on the go, keep practicing these daily, and you too will develop critical thinking skills.

Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem

The first and most crucial step in solving a problem is to comprehend the standing concepts behind it. Believe us when we say this, a lot of employees jump to providing suggestions before actually understanding what the problem is.

A quick way to gauge your understanding is verifying if you can explain the problem to someone else. This also ties into your communication skills, and employers will gauge your ability to converse issues and solutions effectively. It is, thus, also one of the essential  interview preparation tips  for you.

Hiring managers have a behavioral question that they like asking, which revolves around the following:

" How will you be explaining a complex technical concept to a person who is not very sound technically? "

Ask yourself these questions and make a note of the solutions as you go.

The next step in this process is accumulating every bit of necessary information so that you can start assembling a solution. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds, and you can effortlessly mess up things during proceedings.

Strangely, at this time, do not focus on the solution. Instead, focus on defining the question.

Therefore, instead of saying ' the sale numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, ' say ' the sale numbers are inconsistent. '

Based on the information you collected in step 1, start separating the facts from estimations. Analyze the procedures that have been used previously and make precise adjustments based on the company policies.

Now that you have understood the problem and defined it, start strategizing a solution for it based on your findings. Workplace solutions can be majorly categorized into two different kinds, i.e.  tactical solutions and strategic solutions .

A tactical solution is a short-term fix for a standing obstacle, more like a workaround for an issue. Imagine reusing a piece of code from your last project to get around that pesky error message in your new one.

A strategic solution, on the other hand, is a long-term fix for an issue. Strategic solutions involve using a comprehensive series of steps to find the overall architecture of a problem. 

Usually, workplaces adopt the following problem-solving strategies into their policies.

Your goal as an employee should be to become as fluent in these strategies as possible. Once you can naturally zoom into the problem, you will be able to form a strategy within minutes, without having to write anything down.

Are you starting to understand how the new guy deduced a solution that quickly?

Keeping the goals and objectives in mind, understand that there's always  more than one way to skin a cat . Invite your team members and other experienced guys to brainstorm ideas alongside you.

For each problem, you should be able to find at least THREE different points of view or solutions, each with a unique USP.

Here's a neat little trick you may find useful someday in your career. Invite everyone associated with the project to this brainstorming session. Making sure that everybody gets equal participation is one of the ways you can exhibit your leadership skills while forging strong workplace relationships.

Now that you have found alternate solutions as well, it's time to evaluate these solutions. You will need to assess each solution based on various factors and list down all the pros and cons of each alternative you found in solution 4.

Create a document or spreadsheet listing down the USPs of each alternative and the positive and negative consequences thereby. You can go on adding other columns such as budget constraints, time allocation, resource requirements, workforce, and other relevant data.

The ability to quickly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. A manager will be able to evaluate and implement solutions based on such factors quickly. Train yourself to find as many parameters as you can find to analyze solutions effectively. 

Basically, your main objective is to find one effective solution out of all the ones provided on the list. The solution you choose depends on various parameters, which can be one or all of the following:

You can promote strong work ethics by running the chosen solution by everyone in your team or involved in the project before implementing it. Also, select the employees who will be actively implementing it, and ask for their feedback.

Implementing a solution does not merely mean diving headfirst with anything that you do. After you have collected the feedback and communicated the solution to everybody involved, here's what you will need to do next.

First,  redefine the objectives , in brief, to help get a better idea of the end goal. Develop a simple action plan with  defined timelines  for the solution that you agreed upon in the step above.

Implement the chosen solution according to the action plan. Then, identify the measurable parameters to track success and failure rates.

Finally, set up communication channels for regular feedback and a contingency plan in case of a failure.

The last  problem-solving step  involves actively monitoring how the solution performs in real life and if it meets the end goal for which it was adopted in the first place.

Tally how the solution functions compared to how you expected it to perform and document all changes. Check the feedback channel for any discrepancy or issues that arise during the process.

If you feel that any modification will further optimize the process, implement it after running it with your team.

Improving problem-solving skills for programmers

What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for in interviews?

Problem-solving in the workplace  is one of the most sought-after skills in any organization. During the interview, if you can highlight your ability to find creative solutions quickly along with your  technical skills , you definitely have a better chance of making it to the next round.

Hiring managers tend to leave specific questions open-ended; the notion being that without a trail for the candidate to follow, they'll be able to understand better how the candidate thinks.

Some of the crucial problem-solving skills that employers look for in the candidate include the following:

" Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. " – Helen Keller

Effective problem-solving  encompasses teamwork. As a problem-solver ( and a leader ), you need to show empathy towards your teammates, develop effective feedback channels, and use their input to solve the problem at hand.

strategies for problem solving in the workplace

Listening skills

A good listener in the workplace will be able to gather more valuable information and then use them to find unique solutions in the least possible time. Additionally, an active listener encourages every team member to get involved in the  problem-solving steps , listens to their feedback, and comes up with a profitable solution.

However, ' saying ' that you have good listening skills outright defeats the purpose.

During the interview, maintain your composure and LISTEN quietly to the problem at hand. Understand the problem and its root cause; only then provide a solution.


Irrespective of the nature of a problem, you need to be able to communicate the issue and any possible solution effectively to everybody else involved in the project. You need to brush up your delivery skills and learn which points to communicate first and last.

Interviewers may either ask your proficiency with various communication channels such as e-mail, phone, and text or give you a behavioral task and test your ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.

Creativity and critical thinking

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou

Employers in this day and age are always on the lookout for an innovative thinker, one who can see the problem with a new set of eyes and bring a unique perspective to the team. You need to be able to establish the balance between cause and effect quickly, anticipate long-term effects of a solution that you implement, and lead your team to a new direction when stuck.


More often than not, decision-making is closely tied to an employee's  problem-solving ability . Besides implementing solutions that your team comes up with, you should also be able to foresee the long-term effects and prevent catastrophes.

With quality  technical interview preparation courses , you can further understand the importance of this step.  

How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?

Your resume is the first document that a hiring manager sees. The experience and skills you mention in your resume can help you secure an interview if it catches the recruiter's attention.

The first approach you can adopt is highlighting your  analysis and problem-solving skills  right under the hard skills. This approach shows that you are confident in your technical skills and can find and implement work-based solutions efficiently.

For a full-stack web developer, the following  problem-solving skills  can be mentioned.

Critical and creative thinking and proficient in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, NPM, Database Storage, Ruby on Rails. Good at problem-solving and working in teams.

Secondly, you can list your  problem-solving ability  under the work experience section. This is an excellent way to highlight your job experience and emphasizes that you learn and implement these skills in your work.

Apart from using  problem-solving skills in your workplace , a quick way to develop your skills is to ask many questions. Only by asking questions and analyzing the information at hand can you build a workplace reputation as someone who handles challenging situations wisely. 

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Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head


Jump to section

What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.


Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:


5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.


6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.


Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 


4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

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Shonna Waters, PhD

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8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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4 problem solving techniques for the workplace

strategies for problem solving in the workplace

Solving problems is something we all have to do every single day–both at work and in our day-to-day lives.

The trouble is: Sometimes, finding the right solutions to those problems can be difficult.

We learn in school that problem solving means arriving at a value for X. This is great for an algebra test (and for most black and white problems), but solving more complex, layered, “gray area” problems… that’s different .

Say you’re a designer working on a task with various departments, for example. You need approvals and collaboration from the sales team, but no one’s answering your emails or calls because they’re stuck in meetings all day. The marketing team can’t agree on a final version. Leadership wants a design that will solve all of the brand’s UX problems. For this designer, there are a lot of layers to this problem.

We’ve all been in a similar situation.

So what do you do?

You’re going to need better problem solving strategies to cut through the ambiguity–that’s what. Let’s look at some better ways to solve the kinds of problems that show up in the working world.

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Why you need to make problem solving a skill

When you develop problem solving and decision making skills, you realize some immediate benefits. What are they?

Problem solving equips you for work

In the 1990s, research at Bells Labs found that IQ was not a predictor for work performance. Problem solving and interpersonal skills were. Having problem solving skills helps you deal with the dynamic problems that you won’t find in the classroom.

Problem solving equips you for more complex problems

Many of us solve minor problems by guessing, estimating, or making assumptions. Most of the time, this works if the problem is fairly simple. We can usually find a workaround using these tactics and some trial and error experimentation.

The trouble comes, however, when this strategy doesn’t work with more complex problems.

Nat Greene, author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers , says this: “Here’s where most folks go wrong,” said Greene. “Often, people use the same guessing methods they apply to easy problems to try to tackle hard ones–and they get steamrolled.”

In short: Tackling complex problems requires a working knowledge of problem solving as a skill set.

How to solve problems with a strategic approach

Problem solving method #1: linear thinking.

Best suited for: Work and strategy problems

How it works: Ever notice that children always seem to ask “why?” They’re absorbing knowledge like sponges–and they’re doing it strategically.

In problem solving, this strategy is known as the “ Five Whys .” This is a linear technique for breaking down a problem until you find its root causes. The idea is simple: State the problem, and then ask: “Why?” Write down your best answer. Keep on asking until you arrive at an answer that feels like the causal issue.

Workplace Problem Solving Skills-min

Once you’ve identified the root cause of the problem, the solution should present itself.

Example: As detailed in Bulletproof Problem Solving , job candidates for the consulting firm McKinsey were once asked to demonstrate their problem solving skills. The question: Did Sidney, Australia need a second airport?

Most candidates wanted to talk about air travel demand, but the most effective candidates broke the question down into its component parts. That included a series of “Why” questions that broke the problem down to specifics:

Key takeaways:

Think logically and show your work. Candidates who performed the best arrived at specific questions and followed a linear path of thinking. For McKinsey, the goal wasn’t just to see who found the correct answer. It was to see how candidates arrived there.

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Problem Solving Method #2: Design Thinking

Best suited for: Product problems, creative problems

How it works: Design thinking is an approach to problem solving methodology with the end user in mind. The first step is to empathize with the end user. After that, you’ll create testable prototypes for solutions that meet their needs.

Example: The Kingswood Trust is a charity for children with Asberger’s syndrome and autism . Katie Gaudion, a member of the product design team , decided to take an end user approach to their solutions. Rather than come up with her own set of questions, she spent time with Pete, a man with non-verbal autism.

Katie studied Pete’s actions, like picking at sofa leather. Immersing herself like this led to a change in thinking. Rather than seeing these habits as damaging, she was surprised to find them comforting. What if Pete wasn’t doing these things to destroy, but to enjoy ?

It worked. According to the Harvard Business Review , this new insight “led to the creation of living spaces, gardens, and new activities aimed at enabling people with autism to live fuller and more pleasurable lives.”

Key Takeaways:

Immerse yourself in the problem. UberEats says they immerse themselves in the places where our customers live, work, and eat. They’ve introduced processes like having new team members shadow deliveries. The result: they’ve learned more about their customers and how they think.

Observe customer behavior and respond. In one case study , Bank of America observed how some savers would fudge their own budgets by rounding up. This led to the “Keep your change” program that appealed to frugal savers and attracted new accounts.

Problem Solving Method #3: Solutions-Based Thinking

Best suited for: Big picture problems, stuck problems

Problems Come in All Shapes-min

How it works: Most people like to think of themselves as logical. Factual. Only interested in results. But as Nathan Greene wrote, we really just tend to guess our way through problems and hope for the best.

Solutions-based thinking turns that on its head. Rather than focusing on what we think should work, it shifts our focus. What actually does work?

In Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , this principle was number two: Effective people tend to think with the end in mind–and then work backwards.

Example: Think about America’s animal shelters and the dog adoption problem they face.

The challenge? It’s not that America doesn’t love dogs. In fact, America loves dogs to the point of 40% of all households having at least one. The problem is that perhaps too many people have dogs. This leads to dogs being put up for adoption with high rates of dogs in shelters.

Starting from problem-based thinking might yield all sorts of solutions. A marketing campaign for higher adoption rates, logically, should work. Unfortunately, the “Save a Life – Adopt a Dog” campaign hasn’t been able to solve the whole problem.

Yet some shelters have taken a solutions-based approach. According to Harvard Business Review , Lori Weise, the founder of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, has demonstrated that adoption is not the only way to frame the problem. Instead, one challenge is that so many former dog owners are giving up on their dogs too quickly.

Weise came up with a plan: whenever a family came in to hand over a pet, a staff member in the South Los Angeles shelter would ask if they preferred to keep the pet.

“Within the first year it was clear that the program was a remarkable success,” notes HBR. “Costs went down from $85 per pet to $60, and more families held on to their dogs.”

Ask yourself the “miracle question.” This is a concept from Solution-focused brief therapy : What will it take for you to imagine the problem as being gone? Get a clear picture of what a solution would look like. Start asking your “why” questions from this end.

Look for preventative solutions that reach the same conclusions. It’s great to get people to adopt dogs, for example. But is it even more effective to get fewer people to give up their dogs for adoption? Solutions-based thinking means focusing on what really works, not what you hope should work.

Stop guessing: Come up with problem-solving strategies to move forward

Consult any book on problem-solving activities and you’ll find elements of the above strategies present in some form. That’s because good problem solving tends to rely on reliable principles.

There’s an old maxim: You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that caused it in the first place. Rather than guess your way forward, adopt the problem-solving techniques to arrive at an answer that makes the difference.

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strategies for problem solving in the workplace



Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace


Problem-solving and decision-making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they answer ‘Yes!’ But how many of us have had training in problem-solving?  We know it’s a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?

People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that’s a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems!

There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we’re not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be “conflict-averse”. We don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more “conflict-friendly” and “conflict-competent”.

There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.)

Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.

Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.

1. Identify the issues.

2. Understand everyone’s interests.

3. List the possible solutions (options)

4. Evaluate the options.

5. Select an option or options.

6. Document the agreement(s).

7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.

Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.

This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you’re just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don’t need to go through these seven steps!

Don’t worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!

Tim Hicks is a conflict management professional providing mediation, facilitation, training, coaching, and consulting to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014 he led the Master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon as its first director. He returned to private practice in 2015. Tim is… MORE >

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Problem Solving is a Must Have In The Workplace, Here is Why

Summary: Problem Solving at Work

Problem-solving importance in the workplace.

When it comes to efficient problem solving in the workplace there can be a lot of different methods used. Some people may prefer to take a more analytical approach, while others may be more creative in their thinking. No matter what your personal preference is, it’s important to be able to adapt and change as needed when faced with a complex problems and any business problems. 

By being versatile and flexible, you’ll be better equipped to find solutions that work for everyone involved. So whether you’re looking for a new way to tackle an old issue or just starting out on your career path, here are a few tips on how to solve problems effectively in the workplace.

Workplace issues must always be overcome. We’ll look at why problem solving is so important, as well as what you can do to improve your problem-solving skills.effo

One of the essential skills in any business or workplace is the problem of problem-solving and critical thinking.

At its most effective, problem-solving allows employees to seamlessly engage in the psychological process of realizing, evaluating, and resolving daily challenges. At the core of business development, the ability to problem solve allows employees to learn to use accessible resources to work out issues in a productive manner that does not betray your company’s integrity.

Additionally, they can reach an agreeable consensus using professional perspectives afforded to them by applying problem-solving skills. In the long run, companies who utilize problem-solving training will allow their employees to efficiently and productively manage any internal or external interactions with a professionalism that will only benefit the business as a whole.


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The Process of Problem-Solving in the Workplace

In professional problem-solving training workshops, the process is usually demonstrated using a simple four-step method that involves. This is a very standard approach for problem-solving in business. But we do challenge this with DMAIC, a Lean Six Sigma method which provides a more robust overall problem-solving approach.

1. Identification:

In this aspect of the program, employees are usually exposed to the ideal way to locate an issue within the workplace. Try as you may, no organization is without flaws that affect a business’ operability. These can manifest as processes that have worn out and broken down over time or those that were flawed from inception. Using root cause analysis techniques and practicing isolating the facts, employees can undergo a method to effectively and professionally identify these issues within their setting to improve the business.

By taking the first step in establishing the origins of the problem, your employees engage in the first step in a mechanism that allows them to determine what happened, why it took place, and how to employ preventative measures to ensure it does not occur in the future. This overall approach to continuous improvement problem solving is called Kaizen (learn more) .

2. Proposition:

Once your employees have developed the capability to identify cause and effect relationships in their environments that affect productivity, they move on to being able to transfer this knowledge into offering possible solutions to address whatever problem arises . This learned ability helps less experienced employees and seasoned ones as it targets their innovative thought.

Employees can use creative strategies to tackle traditional problems using their past experiences and current lives. In addition to asking for effective strategies, this step also requires that employees conduct a risk analysis of their proposed plans. The proposition must solve the problem more effectively than the risk it poses to the company.

3. Evaluation:

Employees do not exist in isolation. Within any business, there is a multifaceted and symbiotic set of relationships that occurs. Therefore, one employee’s actions can have a direct or indirect impact on another, thus affecting the overall dynamics of the environment. On the one hand, the interdependency that is created in the work environment enables your employees to work together on more complicated issues, but it also demands cohesion in not only collaborative efforts but also performance.

It is through employee engagement with problem-solving skills that they learn to make effective decisions as a team. Problem-solving helps them understand their interdependency and allows them to implement adjustments needed to create a team that survives a constantly changing environment. They evaluate options and their effects on their co-workers to minimize negative impacts in the system.


In the final step of the process, employees are exposed to impact. Before the performance of a solution, they need to understand how the solution would work within their professional context. To do this, they rely on the efforts they used to solve previous problems. Employees learn to improve the clarity of their recall through mnemonic devices to trigger recollection and the visualization of their environments to remember and organize data.

The innovative disparity that results from their old ways and their new and improved methods in problem-solving results in an efficiency that improves their workspace. Your employees can now understand the value of evaluating the success of the options chosen and, in the future, can apply the process again. In their implementation, they will realize that problem solving is not solely issue response and conflict resolution but a multifaceted approach that impacts their entire professional experience for the best.

If you check out the ASQ website , they describe problem-solving in these 4 steps.

1. Define the problem

Differentiate fact from opinion Specify underlying causes Consult each faction involved for information State the problem specifically Identify what standard or expectation is violated Determine in which process the problem lies Avoid trying to solve the problem without data

2. Generate alternative solutions

Postpone evaluating alternatives initially Include all involved individuals in the generating of alternatives Specify alternatives consistent with organizational goals Specify short- and long-term alternatives Brainstorm on others’ ideas Seek alternatives that may solve the problem

3. Evaluate and select an alternative

Evaluate alternatives relative to a target standard Evaluate all alternatives without bias Evaluate alternatives relative to established goals Evaluate both proven and possible outcomes State the selected alternative explicitly

4. Implement and follow up on the solution

Developing problem-solving skills in the workplace

So how do you develop your problem-solving skills or that of your team? And lets share a couple of problem solving in the workplace examples.

The best way to build problem-solving skills is through teaching and then practising some of the most highly regarded problem-solving approaches. The foundation of solving any problem is the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) cycle, to avoid jumping to solutions and build a methodology that can drive continuous improvement. 

And depending on the complexity of the problem, you can use 3C’s (Concern, Cause, Countermeasure), A3 Problem-Solving (originally from Toyota), 8D’s (originally from Ford) or DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) . If it’s a new product development, then understanding the Build-Measure-Learn approach from Lean Startup is essential.

How to learn more about these problem-solving approaches? Check out our Free Lean Six Sigma Certification course – The Fundamentals of Lean to begin to explore

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How to Apply Your Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace

Amy Bergen profile image

Problem solving is a “soft skill” valued by just about every employer. And its importance will only grow in the future—the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025 (and beyond), employers will increasingly seek out creative candidates with expertise in critical thinking and problem solving . 

You’ve probably practiced problem solving skills without realizing it; most of us solve multiple problems, large and small, on a regular basis as we go about our lives. But workplace problems often require a more methodical, collaborative approach. Here’s how to sharpen your problem solving competencies for a current or potential job . 

Identify and define the problem

The simplicity of the first step makes it easy to overlook. Before you can tackle a problem, though, you need a clear understanding of what the problem is. If you’re dealing with several issues at once, address them one at a time—you may find a lot of connected problems can be traced back to a single issue. Business coach Michael Cooper says, “ A well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it ,” and that might be the case for you. 

The next step is to explain the problem as specifically as you can. Start by asking yourself “Why is this a problem?” even if the answer seems obvious. The “why” will open up other questions you can use to generate problem-solving ideas and make the issue easier for others to understand. Just because something seems like a clear problem to you doesn’t mean it’ll feel that way to someone else. 

Using creativity 

One definition of creativity is the ability to consider a task in a different way, or to think of new approaches and angles. Many organizations and individuals find themselves running into the same problems over and over. A well-timed creative solution can break the cycle. 

One framework you can use is the Creative Problem Solving [CPS] process , formalized by theorists Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes (Osborn came up with the term “ brainstorming ”). There are many variations on the specific steps of this process, but they all involve a period of idea generation or thinking up “creative challenges.” 

A creative challenge is a question designed to invite answers or suggestions. This can be as simple as replacing “I need to…” with “How can I…?” or “In what ways can I….?” Here’s what creative challenges might look like in a work context: 

Pro tip: Turning problem statements into questions is a key problem-solving skill. Questions are much more open-ended than statements, which makes it easier for you and others to find multiple possible responses.

Generating potential solutions

Next you’ll think of answers to your “creative challenge” questions. This is the problem solving skill normally called brainstorming. 

 First, get all your ideas in one place—ideally a document you can refer to and edit later. For instance, an idea generation process might be helpful when you’re coming up with: 

Once you’ve thought of as many solutions as possible, step back from the list—as long as the problem isn’t too time-sensitive—and come back with fresh eyes. 

The next step is to turn some of your ideas into actionable plans. When you see the solutions all together, you might discover how certain ideas are related and can form part of a connected strategy. 

Not every idea is going to be a winner, so here are tips for sifting through them: 

Collaborating as a team 

At any point during this process, you may realize you don’t have the best skill set or expertise to solve the problem. Or you might simply want to bring in different perspectives. 

Ultimately the solution should be a group effort, even if one person is in charge of the process. Collaboration has the bonus effect of keeping everyone on the same page. When everyone understands the task, the details, and the logistics, there’s less confusion. 

Making a decision and moving forward

Once you’ve generated, narrowed down, and developed ideas, you’re ready to pick the solution you think will be most effective. 

After you implement your plan, you’ll practice another crucial problem-solving skill, evaluation. Come up with benchmark criteria to determine whether or not the solution is working. 

For instance, maybe you’ve arranged a way for staff members to take on new responsibilities after a colleague has left abruptly or a position is eliminated. Your evaluation benchmarks will probably include performance metrics to make sure the work is complete and up to organizational standards. You’ll also want to assess whether the staff members feel they can sustain their new workloads and whether tasks are being distributed fairly.

And once solutions get underway, they may not work out exactly as you thought they would. While that’s inconvenient, it doesn’t mean the problem-solving process failed. 

Problem solving is an ongoing effort, and if you do end up going back to the idea generation board, you’ll learn even more the next time. 

What problem solving tips and techniques have you found helpful? Feel free to comment and share. 

Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.

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Helping Workers Develop Problem-Solving Skills

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May 8, 2020

Resource : blog industry : aec , engineering & design , facilities management , industrial tags : innovation , performance optimization.

Helping Workers Develop Problem-Solving Skills Image

Work is easier when everything goes perfectly and there are no problems.

But as you probably know, "perfect" is a rare state. Problems pop up from time to time and workers need to solve them.

As a result, it's important that workers be effective problem solvers. Having a workforce with well-developed problem-solving skills is a significant competitive advantage for a company.

All workers benefit from strong problem-solving skills. For example, we have a customer who led a training system upgrade for a major, multi-site manufacturing company in the United States (they make common household products and the odds are very good you've used their products). He would often tell me that he wanted to "help his machine operators become machine engineers." (Hello to you, Steve, if you happen to be reading this.)

What our customer Steve meant by that was, at least in part, that he wanted workers to have problem-solving skills so they could address problems on their own at work to decrease downtime, increase efficiency, and maximize production.

But those problem-solving skills don't come "built-in" to every person. And even those with a natural knack for it can always get better, or learn to apply those skills more effectively in a given work circumstance. And as a result, it's a good idea to provide resources to help workers develop and use problem-solving skills at work. That's what this article will focus on.

Introduction: How You Can Help Workers Develop Problem-Solving Skills

There are a number of things you can do to help workers develop effective problem-solving skills that they can use at your workplace. Those include:

We'll look at each of these steps in the following sections.

Helping Employees Acquire Basic Job Knowledge

A well-planned employee training program will help workers understand basic job knowledge, develop basic job skills, and then develop advanced job skills .

The first step of that is to help employees acquire the basic job knowledge they need to perform their job.

This includes stuff like "we produce five grades of paper" and "this is the boiler" and other simple, knowledge-based training.

We won't go into much more detail about that here, but know that we cover it more for you in this article if you want to read more, and that it's a critical-but-easy-to-overlook aspect of training if you want to quickly move the worker up to the point where they're effectively solving problems.

Helping Employees Develop Basic Job Skills

In the same way that you need to provide training so workers can acquire basic job knowledge, you've got to help them acquire basic job skills as well.

Again, this is important in general, but it will also help the worker develop problem-solving skills (because it will help him/her know "how stuff works").

As with the previous point, we won't be going into detail here, but we've got an entire article on the topic if you're feeling curious.

Providing Process Training to Employees

Process training is training that explains how a process works.

You can explain a lot of different kinds of processes with process training. For example, you could explain how a software program is developed. Or, in manufacturing, you could use process training to explain the process by which you make your product.

Here's a short example from a process training eLearning course about recaustisizing (a papermaking process):

Providing employees with effective process training will make it easier for them to apply problem-solving methods to your work processes. That process training can be in many different forms. We've provided an eLearning example above, but it can include verbal discussions, classroom-style instructor-led training, written training materials, videos, and more.

If you'd like to learn more about that, we've got an entire article devoted to how process training can improve troubleshooting skills (troubleshooting is a form of problem solving, after all).

Pro Tip : To learn more about how process training can improve problem solving and troubleshooting, check the following two books by Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark: Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement (most notably the chapter titled “Problem-Centered Instruction” and its discussion of the “Sherlock” training program on pages 298 and 299) Developing Technical Training: A Structured Approach for Developing Classroom and Computer-Based Instructional Materials (most notably the chapter titled How to Teach Processes, where she explains that “if a technician is faced with a problem on some equipment, more effective troubleshooting will result from an understanding of the technical equipment process.”) We have a book review of the second book here .

Helping Workers Be Aware of Common Cognitive Biases

It's helpful to know that all people--including you and me--have cognitive biases that may make us:

Being aware that we're subject to cognitive biases is half the battle. Finding ways to reflect and bounce ideas off of other people can help us avoid these biases and come to better understandings and following actions.

Check out our article on Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this.

Making Employees Aware of Systems Thinking

One of the hazards people easily fall into when problem-solving is taking a view that's too narrow.

Systems thinking is a way to take a more holistic, big-picture, "all things are connected" kind of view that will help us make changes that really lead to performance improvement.

Read our article on Systems Thinking for Workplace Performance Improvemen t for more on this.

Introducing Employees to Structured Problem-Solving Methods

Once your employees have the fundamental knowledge and skills mentioned above, plus an understanding of your work processes, you can begin working with them to develop their problem-solving skills.

The first part of that is to make sure they know the best way to approach problem solving.

As you may know, if a person is trying to solve a problem in a somewhat random, ad-hoc manner, it's easy to wind up wasting time and resources. That's why people recommend a structured problem-solving method that includes working through the following seven steps:

Here's a short sample from an eLearning course on problem solving that helps to introduce that method.

We can break that down even further, because there are additional tools/techniques that people can use as they progress through the problem-solving strategy to try to come up with a list of all potential causes and identify the most likely root cause, including:

Although the samples above introduce the problem-solving method and a few problem-solving tools in an eLearning course, you can introduce the method in any manner, including:

As a final tip, you may want to consider using refresher training from time-to-time to remind the worker of this method and these tools. In that case, you could do something like use the eLearning course to introduce it, and then assign periodic refresher training in the form of a quick PDF for the worker to read or even a quick online quiz for the worker to complete.

Helping Workers Learn to Apply Those Problem-Solving Skills at Your Workplace: Job Aids and Problem-Solving Practice

Now you've set the table nicely.

By this time, the worker knows the basic job knowledge and has the basic job skills that will help him/her become an effective problem solver. The worker also has a firm understanding of the work processes at your area (because this is where the worker will be applying that problem solving). And, the worker knows a structured method of problem-solving and the benefits of using it.

But that doesn't mean the worker is going to be an expert problem solver just yet. In fact, that's not likely, and in many cases, a worker with this solid foundation will still take years of job experience to transition into that experienced and highly valuable problem solver of your dreams (or, to return to the comment from my customer at the beginning of this article, to become the "machine operator who's also a machine engineer").

But who wants to wait a long time--weeks, months, or even years, depending on the complexity of the job and the problems the worker will face? And even if you do wait for years for these skills to become finely honed, it doesn't mean the worker will always identify the most likely root cause early in the problem-solving method instead of getting distracted and spending time on less likely root causes.

Wouldn't you like to dramatically compress the time frame necessary to fully hone these problem-solving skills, and help the worker learn to problem-solve as efficiently as possible?

What if you could help a worker develop problem-solving skills in six months that would otherwise take ten years to develop?

What if the problem-solving skills developed in the compressed time frame were more comprehensive (instead of relying on the hit-and-miss approach of problems the worker happened to run into during the job)?

If this all sounds good to you, read the next two steps, below.

Creating Resources (Job Aids) To Help Workers Solve Most Common Problems at Your Work Site

It's great to have a worker with this fundamental level of knowledge and skills about problem-solving and your work processes.

But why send that worker out "into the wild" alone, without additional tools?

Instead, if you create some problem-solving job aids related to the most common problems at your work area, and make it easy for the worker to access that job aid, you'll give the worker yet another step up, and of course you'll get your problems solved more quickly and effectively.

These problem-solving job aids don't have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as the table below, for example.

So what does it take to create these problem-solving job aids?

Most importantly, it requires a familiarity with your work processes and equipment, the kinds of problems that have most commonly occurred over time, and the most common solutions to these problems (side tip: it's not a bad idea to document these over time so you develop a sort of problem-solving/solution "database" of sorts).

Places to find this information include:

Once you've gotten this information together, you can make it available in a number of different formats. For example, written documents stored in a file cabinet that's easily available to workers (both where they need it and when they need it) can be a great help.

Of course, there's been a big trend toward digitizing this information and making it available to workers using mobile devices in the workplace. You may want to consider this, because it makes it much easier for your worker to access this information, and that in turn makes it much more likely that they WILL access and use it. Plus it means they'll spend less time searching for it.

Here's what one of these digitized problem-solving job aids viewed on a mobile device in the work area might look like:

mobile device for problem solving on the job image

And since we mentioned making it easier and faster to access these job aids, wouldn't it be cool if a worker could use a barcode reader built into the mobile device and automatically come up with a list of problem-solving/troubleshooting job aids relevant to a given work area, machine, or process? It's possible now, as shown below.

strategies for problem solving in the workplace

Creating Opportunities for Workers to Practice Problem-Solving Skills at Work

One last thing to consider that can really pay off is to create problem-solving training scenarios that allow your workers to practice their problem-solving skills in circumstances like the ones they'll face in the real work world.

There are a few major benefits of this. They include:

When creating training like this, keep the following points in mind:

The training could include "models" of the problem-solving techniques that an expert problem-solver would apply to the same work process and work problems (this allows the worker to compare their own ideas against a "benchmark" to see where they could improve).

Finally, this training can occur in a number of different formats (or a mixture of formats), including:

Here's an example:

problem-solving exercise image

eLearning courses like this one can help you deliver scenario-based training that helps your workers develop problem-solving skills and learn to apply them to your own work processes.

This type of training is often called scenario-based training. For more information about scenario-based training, we recommend you check this article on scenario-based training in manufacturing .

Helping Workers Create Communities of Practice and Other Forms of Collaborative Learning and Problem-Solving with Their Peers

People generally solve problems more effectively when they interact with other people. As a manager or supervisor, you can improve problem-solving by helping workers participate in in communities of practice and other collaborative problem-solving methods.

Consider helping workers learn to use some of these collaborative problem-solving methods:

Workers will generally find their solutions to problems are more effective when created in a collaborative environment.

Conclusion: Training Workers to Become More Effective Problem Solvers at Your Workplace

Well, that's our overview. Hope it helped.

As a reminder, we walked through the following aspects of providing training to help your workers become more effective problem solvers:

For some related thoughts, check our Helping Employees Learn to Learn article, which is an interview with Arun Pradhan. And you might also enjoy these tips on problem solving and innovation from the people at Freakonomics .

What thoughts of your own would you add? What are your experiences?

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Principles for Addressing Workplace Conflict

Common and ineffective strategies to deal with workplace disputes include:

Principles to Help:

Source: CDR Associates, Conflict Resolution for Managers and Leaders , John Wiley & Sons, 2007 and Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan, Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader , John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Understanding Conflict Handling Styles

In a dispute, it's often easier to describe how others respond then to evaluate how we respond. Each of us has a predominant conflict style. We can gain a better understanding of the impact that our personal conflict style has on other people. With a better understanding, you can make a conscious choice on how to respond to others in a conflict situation.

Behavioral scientists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, who developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, have identified five styles—competition, collaboration, compromise, avoidance, and accommodation. No conflict style is inherently right or wrong, but one or more styles could be inappropriate or ineffective for a given situation.

1. Competing

Value of own issue/goal: High Value of relationship: Low Result: I win, you lose

Competitors come across as aggressive, autocratic, confrontational, and intimidating. A competitive style is an attempt to gain power and pressure a change. A competitive style can be appropriate when you have to implement an unpopular decision, make a quick decision, the decision is vital in a crisis, or it is important to let others know how important an issue is to you – "standing up for your right." However, relationships are harmed beyond repair and may encourage other parties to use covert methods to get their needs met.

2. Accommodating

Value of own issue/goal: Low Value relationship: High Result: I lose, you win

Accommodators set aside their own needs because they want to please others in order to keep the peace. Smoothing or harmonizing can result in a false solution to a problem and can create feelings in a person that range from anger to pleasure. Accommodators are unassertive and cooperative and may play the role of a martyr, complainer, or saboteur. However, accommodation can be useful when one is wrong or when you want to minimize losses to preserve relationships. It can become competitive – "I am nicer than you are" – and may result in reduced creativity and increased power imbalances.

3. Avoiding

Value of own issue/goal: Low Value of relationship: Low Result: I lose, you lose

Avoiders deliberately ignore or withdraw from a conflict rather than face it. Avoiders do not seem to care about their issue or the issues of others. People who avoid the situation hope the problem will go away, resolve itself without their involvement, or rely on others to take the responsibility. Avoidance can be appropriate when you need more time to think and process, time constraints demand a delay, or the risk of confrontation is not worth what might be gained. However, avoidance is destructive if the other person perceives that you don’t care enough to engage. By not dealing with the conflict, this style allows the conflict to simmer potentially resulting in angry or negative outbursts.

4. Compromising

Value of own issue/goal: Medium Value of relationship: Medium Result: I win some, you win some

Compromisors are willing to sacrifice some of their goals and persuade others to give up theirs too–give a little, get a little. Compromisors maintain the relationship and can take less time than other methods, but resolutions focus on demands rather than needs or goals. The compromise is not intended to make all parties happy or find a decision that makes the most business sense, but rather ensures something just and equitable even if it causes a loss for both parties. Power is defined by what one part can coerce or get the other to give up. To split the difference game playing can result and the outcome is less creative and ideal.

5. Collaborating

Value of own issue/goal: High Value of relationship: High Result: I win, you win

Collaboration generates creative solutions that satisfy all the parties’ concerns and needs. Collaborators identify the underlying concerns, test assumptions, and understand the views of others. Collaboration takes time and if the relationship among the parties is not important, then it may not be worth the time and energy to create a win-win solution. However, collaboration fosters respect, trust, and builds relationships. Collaborators address the conflict directly and in a way that expresses willingness for all parties to get what they need.

In any conflict ask: "Is my preferred conflict handling style the very best I can use to resolve this conflict or solve this problem?"

Source: Thomas, K. W. and R.H. Kilmann, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Focus on Interests (Needs), Not Positions (Wants)

Understanding people's interests is not a simple task, because we tend to communicate our positions – things that are likely to be concrete and explicit. Try to recognize the difference between positions and interests to assist in creative problem solving.

Remember that figuring out your interests is just as important as figuring out their interests.

How to Identify Interests

To identify interests of the other person, you need to ask questions to determine what the person believes he or she truly needs. When you ask, be sure to clarify that you are not asking questions for justification of their position, but for a better understanding of their needs, fears, hopes, and desires.

Using open-ended questions that encourage a person to "tell their story" helps you begin to understand their interest. Open ended questions are opposite of closed-ended questions, which require a response of "yes" or "no." To illustrate the difference, consider the following example:

Examples of open-ended questions:

It is not uncommon for you or the other person to have multiple interests.

Problem solving based on interests leads to more creative and successful resolutions.

Source: Fisher, Ury, and Patton. Getting to Yes : Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Houghton Mifflin, Second Edition, 1992.

Listening Effectively

Problem solving requires effective listening skills. When you listen effectively, you help calm the other person’s emotions so they feel heard. Once emotions are deescalated then both parties can use cognitive problem-solving to generate options.

Pay attention to your listening behaviors. Be cautious of:

Check out this Ted Talk on 10 ways to improve conversations

We filter information through our biases, values, emotions, meaning of words, and physical frame of mind. Be cautious of:

How to Listen Effectively

Conflict Management Bibliography

Conflict Management Bibliography (PDF)  - Read more about how to handle conflict in the workplace; understand aspects of communication that reduce conflict such as managing emotions and having difficult conversations; and learn more about mediation, negotiation, and facilitation skills.

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