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11 Brilliant Problem Solving Techniques Nobody Taught You
No one likes problems, especially at work. However, they’re part of our everyday work routine. If you take a look at job ads online, many of them will list “problem solvin g techniques” as a necessity for the job role. The truth is that every job in the world requires the art of problem solving.
From managing tasks to managing people, we don’t like feeling stuck, at work or outside of it. The good news is, that there are lots of tried and tested problem solving techniques that you can use to easily solve difficult situations at work or in your personal life.
Here are some of those problem solving skills and how you can use them in practice.
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The art of problem solving
Let’s start with the basics. No matter how bad the problem or how serious the situation, you can do one simple thing: breathe in, breathe out, and let’s begin with the art of problem solving.
Most people get stressed out at the mere mention of a problem. They feel like they need to come up with an answer immediately; they look for someone to blame, and they want a quick and easy exit. All of a sudden, facing a problem becomes a problem of its own.
For this very reason, it’s important to slow down and take a breather. When we are stressed out, we make one critical mistake—we resort to something called binary problem-solving . In other words, we limit our options by trying out proven problem solving skills instead of something new and more efficient.
For this reason alone, slow down and breathe; you will come up with more ways to tackle a problem.
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Ask great questions as the first
Asking questions is part of the pre-problem-solving stage. When you ask questions, your brain can come up with different scenarios and ways to make a decision. For example, a child will usually ask questions like “What if,” “Why not,” “Can we?,” “How about?” and many others. What rules should you break? Are there any beliefs we should drop? The more questions you ask, the easier it will be to find a solution to your problem.
Don’t just trust yourself
One of the many reasons why problems come up and stay unsolved is because we are too lazy or busy to distance ourselves from them. In other words, we just think from our own perspective instead of zooming out and looking at the bigger picture , where we can utilize our problem solving skills.
For example, if you’re in our industry (SaaS), you may have a situation where people sign up for your app and disappear after the trial period. Sure, you could try generating more traffic to your website , but there are other things you can do. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Has my business industry changed?
- Does my app really meet my customers’ needs?
- Does my sales strategy need improvement?
In another scenario, your employee shows up late for work, despite several of your warnings. Before taking any actions, try to understand their perspective and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they have any non-work-related problems in their life?
- What is (literally) stopping them from getting to work?
- How can I help them with problems solving?
Both situations have one thing in common – they look at the big picture before trying to tackle a specific problem.
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Do some heavy brainstorming to help the problem solving process.
A brainstorming session is one of the most effective ways to learn the art of problem solving. The gist of it is to generate as many ideas as you can and in the problem solving process, come up with a way to solve a problem. Of course, the prerequisite for any brainstorming session is a nonjudgmental, friendly environment.
If you want to brainstorm like a pro, you need to take the following steps:
- HMW or How Might We
Start the session with a question such as “How might we…?” to inspire creativity among your team. The question should be open enough to inspire and foster creativity. However, it should also be focused and narrow enough to keep your session participants focused on the problem at hand.
- Write down everything
Every member of your brainstorming session should write down all of their ideas, either on a board or on sticky notes. Once you have all of your ideas, put them down on a common board. If you are unable to generate sufficient ideas, repeat the session with the same question to master the art of problem solving.
- Discuss your ideas
To discuss each of the ideas you and your team came up with, use phrases like “I like…”, “I wish…”, “What if…”, and others.
- Select the best ideas
Now that you have all of your ideas in one place, it’s time to find the best one. For example, you could let the participants vote using sticky notes. You can also create buckets for ideas, such as “Rational choice”, “The best solution for everyone”, and others.
Using this approach, you’ll be able to save some ideas that at first seem crazy but actually make a lot of sense in the long run.
- Figure out the problem-solving process
At this stage, you have your best brainstorming ideas. This is the time to choose the best ones and come up with a plan on how to bring them to life .
You may also like:
The round-robin technique for brainstorming.
If traditional brainstorming just doesn’t work for you, there are other things you can try. If your team members sit and listen and hope that someone else will fix things for them, you need to try out the Round-Robin problem-solving method. In simple terms, this technique will require every participant to be actively involved in the brainstorming session. There is a lot of different brainstorming tools and apps .
There are just two rules:
– Participants take turns to contribute ideas, using the option to “pass” if they have nothing to contribute in that round.
– The brainstorming session is over once everyone makes a pass.
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The silent brainstorming technique
The problem with most brainstorming sessions is that the loudest people are the most likely to have their idea chosen as a solution. The quiet ones may have an excellent idea but they just sit around and never have a chance to be heard. You get the feeling that it’s more important to be active and loud than have a great idea.
If you see that happening a lot, maybe it’s time for a silent brainstorming session. You can make it happen online or in the office, the process is the same. The entire team develops ideas on their own and shares them without sitting at the same table. The main idea is that everyone’s opinion has the same weight. If you choose to do it online, it’s actually even easier to come up with a decision.
Wear the six thinking hats
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you know the Sorting Hat very well. It’s a hat that students wear and it appoints them to a house in Hogwarts that best matches their personality. Along those lines, there is a technique that Edward de Bono came up with, called The Six Hats . Using this problem solving technique, you can wear six different hats with six different perspectives.
Here are the hats that you can wear to learn the art of problem solving.
- White hat. This is the neutral hat that uses facts and figures required to solve a problem. When the problem just comes up, this is the hat that you want to wear.
- Red hat. This hat is all about emotion and intuition. When you wear this hat, you can show your gut reactions to ideas and freely express exactly how you feel.
- Black hat. When you want to show caution and express a critical viewpoint, this is the hat you want to wear. The black hat will make sure that you steer clear of bad decisions.
- Yellow hat. When you want to be positive, this hat is the one you should choose. It helps you identify the positive sides of an idea and an excellent counterweight to the black hat.
- Green hat. To explore creativity, possibilities, alternatives and fresh ideas, wear a hat in green. Contributing new ideas and options is crucial, which is why everyone should wear a green hat.
- Blue hat. This is the hat that organizes all others. This is the person that manages the entire decision-making process and makes sure that all other hats follow the rules and guidelines.
The six hat problem-solving process is excellent because it lets you see the same problem from several different angles, very quickly and easily.
When you quickly want to get to the root of a problem, try out this technique. All you need to do is ask the question “Why” five times. Start with the problem at hand and ask why it happened, making sure that your answer is objective. Continue asking “Why” for four more times. At some point, you’ll reach the true answer to your question and you can start looking for a solution.
The biggest challenge with this technique is giving rational, objective answers to each “why”. Fight the urge to answer from your own point of you. Instead, think of the logical reason why something happened. Remember, admitting that you don’t know something is far better than giving an answer that is subjective.
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Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Want to solve problems like the big boys at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors? This advanced problem solving process lets you solve problems easily. You can use it to analyze each element of your strategy and tear it apart to see how and when it can fail. By looking into the effect of each failure and how likely it is to happen, you’ll get to the best problem solving techniques. In the end, come up with a list of actions to take to prevent each of the failures you listed in the previous steps.
The wanderer problem-solving technique
When I write articles such as this one, I have one way to make them better. Once they’re done, I let them sit for a day without taking a look at them. When I get back to the article, I take a look at it with a fresh set of eyes.
You can use the same approach with your problems. Take a step back and walk away from it. Get some rest, walk outside for a bit, watch some cat videos on YouTube. In other words, remove yourself from the situation. You just may find the answer to your problem the moment your brain relaxes.
Leave room for imagination
If nothing I listed above helps you solve a problem, this is the time to get creative. If you have a way to problem solving outside of work, it may be a good idea to apply it at work too.
For example, there is an extreme case of Yoshiro Nakamotso. The name may not sound familiar, but you probably used one of this man’s patents today. He has more than 3,300 patents to his name, including a digital wristwatch, karaoke machine, a floppy disk, and many others. He came up with a crazy problem-solving technique called The Calm Room.
His Calm Room is actually a bathroom filled with 24-karat gold. This material blocks radio waves and TV signals which according to him are harmful to solving problems. He also considers oxygen to be detrimental to problem-solving . Apparently, too much oxygen means that there will be an inspiration and this is his idea of using imagination for problem-solving.
You can try and use the Calm Room method for solving problems or you can find other ways that let you use your imagination instead of cold, hard facts to solve an issue at work.
What problem solving method is best for you?
The most important point to remember is that problems happen all the time and they will keep happening. Moreover, if a problem happens at work, it will also give us information on things we need to fix. The goal of each of the problem solving process mentioned is to make your company more open to friendly conflicts and open problem-solving.
To summarize, the following are the key takea ways from these problem-solving techniques.
– Keep calm and avoid high and dry approaches to problem solving
– Ask great questions, a lot of them
– Take a look at the bigger picture and the overall context of a situation
– Try out unconventional brainstorming techniques: Round-Robin and silent brainstorming
– Wear each of the Six Hats to take a look at different approaches to a problem solving
– Ask the 5 Whys
– Prevent any potential problems with the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis
– Leave some room for imagination at the end.
Depending on the context, you may use one or more of these problem-solving process – make sure to choose one that works best for your situation, team and personality. Good luck!
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This is a very good article. I find it useful for my adult learners.
Hi Antonette. We try our best to be useful for our readers. Glad you enjoyed reading this post.
I find this to be very resourceful both personal use and grooming future managers as they develop their skills.
Thanks for this great work.
Hey Daniel! Nice to hear your feedback, we’ll do our best to keep on writing good post.
The article is no doubt useful . I observed that many people at the higher management level are afraid to accept the true cause of the problem as they fear of action against them. As management strategy there has to be a rule that any body accepting truth should not be punished on the contrary he must be empowered to solve the problem at his level only. Many problems can be solved the moment you accept the truth. I have solved many problems by using this theory during my 32 years of service in the engineering management field.
This article was very , Very , very much helpful for my college assignment. I’d say thanks trillion times to you 🙂
Hello Pruthviraj, that’s so great to hear! Thank you.
This is a very depth and resourceful article.
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Problem-Solving Techniques and Tips (That Actually Work)
Solving complex problems may be difficult but it doesn't have to be excruciating. You just need the right frame of mind and a process for untangling the problem at hand.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of techniques available to solve whatever problems come at you in the workplace.
When faced with a doozy of a problem, where do you start? And what problem-solving techniques can you use right now that can help you make good decisions?
Today's post will give you tips and techniques for solving complex problems so you can untangle any complication like an expert.
How many steps are there in problem-solving?
At its core, problem-solving is a methodical four-step process. You may even recall these steps from when you were first introduced to the Scientific Method.
- First, you must define the problem . What is its cause? What are the signs there's a problem at all?
- Next, you identify various options for solutions. What are some good ideas to solve this?
- Then, evaluate your options and choose from among them. What is the best option to solve the problem? What's the easiest option? How should you prioritize?
- Finally, implement the chosen solution . Does it solve the problem? Is there another option you need to try?
When applying problem-solving techniques, you will be using a variation of these steps as your foundation.
Takeaway: Before you can solve a problem, seek to understand it fully.
Creative problem-solving techniques
Time to get creative! You might think this will just be a list of out-of-the-box ways to brainstorm ideas. Not exactly.
Creative problem solving (CPS) is actually a formal process formulated by Sidney Parnes and Alex Faickney Osborn , who is thought of as the father of traditional brainstorming (and the "O" in famous advertising agency BBDO).
Their creative problem solving process emphasizes several things, namely:
- Separate ideation from evaluation . When you brainstorm creative ideas, have a separate time for writing it all down. Focus on generating lots of ideas. Don't prioritize or evaluate them until everything is captured.
- Judging will shut it down . Nothing stops the flow of creative ideas faster than judging them on the spot. Wait until the brainstorming is over before you evaluate.
- Restate problems as questions . It's easier to entice a group into thinking of creative ideas when challenges are stated as open-ended questions.
- Use "Yes and" to expand ideas . Here's one of the basic tenets of improv comedy. It's way too easy to shut down and negate ideas by using the word "but" (i.e. "But I think this is better..."). Avoid this at all costs. Instead, expand on what was previously introduced by saying "Yes, and..." to keep ideas flowing and evolving.
Takeaway: When brainstorming solutions, generate ideas first by using questions and building off of existing ideas. Do all evaluating and judging later.
Problem-solving tips from psychology
If you take a look at the history of problem-solving techniques in psychology, you'll come across a wide spectrum of interesting ideas that could be helpful.
Take it from experience
In 1911, the American psychologist Edward Thorndike observed cats figuring out how to escape from the cage he placed them in. From this, Thorndike developed his law of effect , which states: If you succeed via trial-and-error, you're more likely to use those same actions and ideas that led to your previous success when you face the problem again.
Takeaway: Your past experience can inform and shed light on the problem you face now. Recall. Explore.
Barriers to reproductive thinking
The Gestalt psychologists built on Thorndike's ideas when they proposed that problem-solving can happen via reproductive thinking — which is not about sex, but rather solving a problem by using past experience and reproducing that experience to solve the current problem.
What's interesting about Gestalt psychology is how they view barriers to problem-solving. Here are two such barriers:
- Are you entrenched? Look up mental set or entrenchment . This is when you're fixated on a solution that used to work well in the past but has no bearing to your current problem. Are you so entrenched with a method or idea that you use it even when it doesn't work? As Queen Elsa sang, "Let it go!"
- Are you thinking of alternative uses? There is a cognitive bias called functional fixedness which could thwart any of your critical thinking techniques by having you only see an object's conventional function. For example, say you need to cut a piece of paper in half but only have a ruler. Functional fixedness would lead you to think the ruler is only good for measuring things. (You could also use the ruler to crease the paper, making it easier to tear it in half.)
Takeaway: Think outside of the box! And by box, we mean outside of the past experience you're holding on to, or outside any preconceived ideas on how a tool is conventionally used.
More problem-solving tools
Hurson's productive thinking model.
In his book "Think Better," author and creativity guru Tim Hurson proposed a six-step model for solving problems creatively. The steps in his Productive Thinking Model are:
- Ask, "What is going on?" Define the problem and its impact on your company, then clarify your vision for the future.
- Ask, "What is success?" Define what the solution must do, what resources it needs, its scope , and the values it must uphold.
- Ask, "What is the question?" Generate a long list of questions that, when answered, will solve the problem.
- Generate answers . Answer the questions from step three.
- Forge the solution . Evaluate the ideas with potential based on the criteria from step two. Pick a solution.
- Align resources . Identify people and resources to execute the solution.
Use a fishbone diagram to see cause and effect
The most important part of defining the problem is looking at the possible root cause. You'll need to ask yourself questions like: Where and when is it happening? How is it occurring? With whom is it happening? Why is it happening?
You can get to the root cause with a fishbone diagram (also known as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram).
Basically, you put the effect on the right side as the problem statement. Then you list all possible causes on the left, grouped into larger cause categories. The resulting shape resembles a fish skeleton. Which is a perfect way to say, "This problem smells fishy."
Use analogies to get to a solution
Analogical thinking uses information from one area to help with a problem in a different area. In short, solving a different problem can lead you to find a solution to the actual problem. Watch out though! Analogies are difficult for beginners and take some getting used to.
An example: In the "radiation problem," a doctor has a patient with a tumor that cannot be operated on. The doctor can use rays to destroy the tumor but it also destroys healthy tissue.
Two researchers, Gick and Holyoak , noted that people solved the radiation problem much more easily after being asked to read a story about an invading general who must capture the fortress of a king but be careful to avoid landmines that will detonate if large forces traverse the streets. The general then sends small forces of men down different streets so the army can converge at the fortress at the same time and can capture it at full force.
Ask "12 what elses"
In her book " The Architecture of All Abundance ," author Lenedra J. Carroll (aka the mother of pop star Jewel) talks about a question-and-answer technique for getting out of a problem.
When faced with a problem, ask yourself a question about it and brainstorm 12 answers ("12 what elses") to that problem. Then you can go further by taking one answer, turning it into a question and generating 12 more "what elses." Repeat until the solution is golden brown, fully baked, and ready to take out of the oven.
Start using these techniques today
Hopefully you find these different techniques useful and they get your imagination rolling with ideas on how to solve different problems.
And if that's the case, then you have four different takeaways to use the next time a problem gets you tangled up:
- Don't start by trying to solve the problem. First, aim to understand the root of the problem.
- Use questions to generate ideas for solving the problem.
- Look to previous problems to find the answers to new ones.
- Clear your preconceived ideas and past experiences before attempting to tackle the problem.
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Want to streamline your processes and ease future problem-solving? Get started with a free two-week trial of Wrike today.
What are your favorite problem-solving techniques?
Do you have a problem-solving technique that has worked wonders for your organization? Hit the comments below and share your wisdom!
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- About Problem Solving
- Related Topics
Problem Solving Resources
Case studies, problem solving related topics.
- Continuous Improvement
- Eight Disciplines (8D)
- Fishbone Diagram
- Nine Windows
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- Problem Solving
What is Problem Solving?.
Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving
Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.
- The problem-solving process
- Problem solving resources
Problem Solving Chart
The Problem-Solving Process
In order to effectively manage and run a successful organization, leadership must guide their employees and develop problem-solving techniques. Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below.
1. Define the problem
Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes .
The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps. These steps support the involvement of interested parties, the use of factual information, comparison of expectations to reality, and a focus on root causes of a problem. You should begin by:
- Reviewing and documenting how processes currently work (i.e., who does what, with what information, using what tools, communicating with what organizations and individuals, in what time frame, using what format).
- Evaluating the possible impact of new tools and revised policies in the development of your "what should be" model.
2. Generate alternative solutions
Postpone the selection of one solution until several problem-solving alternatives have been proposed. Considering multiple alternatives can significantly enhance the value of your ideal solution. Once you have decided on the "what should be" model, this target standard becomes the basis for developing a road map for investigating alternatives. Brainstorming and team problem-solving techniques are both useful tools in this stage of problem solving.
Many alternative solutions to the problem should be generated before final evaluation. A common mistake in problem solving is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first acceptable solution is chosen, even if it’s not the best fit. If we focus on trying to get the results we want, we miss the potential for learning something new that will allow for real improvement in the problem-solving process.
3. Evaluate and select an alternative
Skilled problem solvers use a series of considerations when selecting the best alternative. They consider the extent to which:
- A particular alternative will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems.
- All the individuals involved will accept the alternative.
- Implementation of the alternative is likely.
- The alternative fits within the organizational constraints.
4. Implement and follow up on the solution
Leaders may be called upon to direct others to implement the solution, "sell" the solution, or facilitate the implementation with the help of others. Involving others in the implementation is an effective way to gain buy-in and support and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.
Regardless of how the solution is rolled out, feedback channels should be built into the implementation. This allows for continuous monitoring and testing of actual events against expectations. Problem solving, and the techniques used to gain clarity, are most effective if the solution remains in place and is updated to respond to future changes.
You can also search articles , case studies , and publications for problem solving resources.
Innovative Business Management Using TRIZ
Introduction To 8D Problem Solving: Including Practical Applications and Examples
The Quality Toolbox
Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action
One Good Idea: Some Sage Advice ( Quality Progress ) The person with the problem just wants it to go away quickly, and the problem-solvers also want to resolve it in as little time as possible because they have other responsibilities. Whatever the urgency, effective problem-solvers have the self-discipline to develop a complete description of the problem.
Diagnostic Quality Problem Solving: A Conceptual Framework And Six Strategies ( Quality Management Journal ) This paper contributes a conceptual framework for the generic process of diagnosis in quality problem solving by identifying its activities and how they are related.
Weathering The Storm ( Quality Progress ) Even in the most contentious circumstances, this approach describes how to sustain customer-supplier relationships during high-stakes problem solving situations to actually enhance customer-supplier relationships.
The Right Questions ( Quality Progress ) All problem solving begins with a problem description. Make the most of problem solving by asking effective questions.
Solving the Problem ( Quality Progress ) Brush up on your problem-solving skills and address the primary issues with these seven methods.
Refreshing Louisville Metro’s Problem-Solving System ( Journal for Quality and Participation ) Organization-wide transformation can be tricky, especially when it comes to sustaining any progress made over time. In Louisville Metro, a government organization based in Kentucky, many strategies were used to enact and sustain meaningful transformation.
Quality Improvement Associate Certification--CQIA
Certified Quality Improvement Associate Question Bank
Lean Problem-Solving Tools
Problem Solving Using A3
NEW Root Cause Analysis E-Learning
Making the Connection In this exclusive QP webcast, Jack ReVelle, ASQ Fellow and author, shares how quality tools can be combined to create a powerful problem-solving force.
Adapted from The Executive Guide to Improvement and Change , ASQ Quality Press.
36 Problem-solving techniques, methods and tools
When it comes to solving problems, getting ideas is the easy part.
But businesses often forget the other four stages of the problem-solving process that will allow them to find the best solution.
Instead of jumping straight to idea generation, your problem-solving framework should look like this:
- Identify the problem
- Reveal why it has occurred
- Brainstorm ideas
- Select the best solution
See how idea generation doesn’t appear until stage 3?!
In this extensive resource, we provide techniques, methodologies and tools to guide you through every stage of the problem-solving process.
Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll possess an extensive problem-solving arsenal that will enable you to overcome your biggest workplace challenges.
11 Problem-solving techniques for clarity and confidence
Before we dive into more comprehensive methodologies for solving problems, there are a few basic techniques you should know.
The following techniques will set you up for a successful problem-solving session with your team, allowing you to take on your biggest challenges with clarity and confidence.
1. Take a moment, take a breath
When a problem or challenge arises, it’s normal to act too quickly or rely on solutions that have worked well in the past. This is known as entrenched thinking.
But acting impulsively, without prior consideration or planning, can cause you to misunderstand the issue and overlook possible solutions to the problem.
Therefore, the first thing you should always do when you encounter a problem is: breathe in and out.
Take a step back and make a clear plan of action before you act. This will help you to take rational steps towards solving a problem.
2. Ask questions to understand the full extent of the issue
Another common mistake people make when attempting to solve a problem is taking action before fully understanding the problem.
Before committing to a theory, ask enough questions to unearth the true root of the issue.
Later in this article, we cover The 5 Why’s problem-solving methodology which you can use to easily identify the root of your problem. Give this a go at your next meeting and see how your initial understanding of a problem can often be wrong.
3. Consider alternative perspectives
A common problem-solving issue is that of myopia—a narrow-minded view or perception of the problem. Myopia can occur when you’re too involved with the problem or your team isn’t diverse enough.
To give yourself the best chance of resolving a problem, gain insight from a wide range of sources. Collaborate with key stakeholders, customers and on-the-ground employees to learn how the problem affects them and whether they have found workarounds or solutions.
To paint the broadest picture, don’t limit your problem-solving team to a specific archetype. Try to include everyone, from the chief executive to the office janitor.
If you’re working with a small team, try the Flip It! problem-solving methodology to view the issue from a fresh angle.
4. Make your office space conducive to problem-solving
The environment in which your host your brainstorming sessions should maximise creativity . When your team members trust each other and feel relaxed, they’re more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to a problem.
Here are a few ways to get your employees’ creative juices flowing:
- Play team-building games that maximise trust and build interpersonal relationships
- Improve your team’s problem-solving skills with games that encourage critical thinking
- Redesign the office with comfortable furniture and collaborative spaces
- Boost job satisfaction by creating a positive work-life balance
- Improve collaborative skills and learn to resolve conflicts
World Café is a problem-solving method that creates a casual environment conducive to creative thinking.
Keep reading to learn more about how World Café can help your team solve complex organisational problems.
5. Use problem-solving methodologies to guide the process
Because problem-solving is a creative process, it can be hard to keep it on track. As more ideas get banded around, conflicts can arise that derail the session.
That’s why problem-solving methodologies are so helpful. They offer you proven problem-solving frameworks to guide your group sessions and keep them on track.
The Six Thinking Hats problem-solving method is a popular technique that guides the process and helps your team analyse a problem from all angles.
We’re going to take a look at our favourite problem-solving methodologies in the next section of this article, XY Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies.
6. Use analogies to solve complex problems
Sometimes, solving a different problem can help you uncover solutions to another problem!
By stripping back a complex issue and framing it as a simplified analogy , you approach a problem from a different angle, enabling you to come up with alternative ideas.
After solving practice problems, your team might be more aptly equipped to solve real-world issues.
However, coming up with an analogy that reflects your issue can be difficult, so don’t worry if this technique doesn’t work for you.
The Speed Boat diagram is a visual tool that helps your employees view existing challenges as anchors holding back a boat which represents your end goals. By assigning a “weight” to each anchor, your team can prioritise which issues to tackle first.
7. Establish clear constraints
Constraints make a big problem more approachable.
Before you tackle a problem, establish clear boundaries and codes of conduct for the session. This allows your team to focus on the current issue without becoming distracted or veering off on a tangent.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Oguz A. Acar, Murat Tarakci, and Daan van Knippenberg wrote, “Constraints … provide focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to search for and connect information from different sources to generate novel ideas for new products, services, or business processes.” (Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation, 2019)
Lightning Decision Jam is a prime example of how constraints can assist the creative process. Here, your team are given strict time constraints and isn’t permitted to discuss ideas until the end.
8. Dislodge preconceived ideas
Humans are creatures of habit.
We defer to strategies that have produced positive results in the past. This is typically beneficial because recalling our previous successes means we don’t need to constantly re-learn similar tasks.
But when it comes to problem-solving, this way of thinking can trip us up. We become fixated on a solution that worked in the past, but when this fails we’re dismayed and left wondering what to do next.
To resolve problems effectively, your employees need to escape the precincts of their imaginations. This helps to eliminate functional fixedness—the belief that an item serves only its predefined function.
Alternative Application is an icebreaker game that encourages employees to think outside the box by coming up with different uses for everyday objects. Try this at your next meeting or team-building event and watch your team tap into their creativity.
9. Level the playing field
Having a diverse group of employees at your brainstorming sessions is a good idea, but there’s one problem: the extroverted members of your team will be more vocal than the introverts.
To ensure you’re gaining insight from every member of your team, you need to give your quieter employees equal opportunities to contribute by eliminating personality biases.
Read more: What icebreaker games and questions work best for introverts?
The obvious solution, then, is to “silence” the louder participants (it’s not as sinister as it sounds, promise)—all you have to do is ban your team from debating suggestions during the ideation process.
The Lightning Decision Jam methodology gives your employees equal opportunities to contribute because much of the problem-solving process is carried out in silence.
10. Take a break from the problem
Have you ever noticed how the best ideas seem to come when you’re not actively working on a problem? You may have spent hours slumped over your desk hashing out a solution, only for the “eureka!” moment to come when you’re walking your dog or taking a shower.
In James Webb Young’s book, A Technique for Producing Ideas , phase three of the process is “stepping away from the problem.” Young proclaims that after putting in the hard work, the information needs to ferment in the mind before any plausible ideas come to you.
So next time you’re in a meeting with your team trying to solve a problem, don’t panic if you don’t uncover groundbreaking ideas there and then. Allow everybody to mull over what they’ve learned, then reconvene at a later date.
The Creativity Dice methodology is a quick-fire brainstorming game that allows your team to incubate ideas while concentrating on another.
11. Limit feedback sessions
The way your team delivers feedback at the end of a successful brainstorming session is critical. Left unsupervised, excessive feedback can undo all of your hard work.
Therefore, it’s wise to put a cap on the amount of feedback your team can provide. One great way of doing this is by using the One Breath Feedback technique.
By limiting your employees to one breath, they’re taught to be concise with their final comments.
16 Tried and tested problem-solving methodologies
Problem-solving methodologies keep your brainstorming session on track and encourage your team to consider all angles of the issue.
Countless methods have wiggled their way into the world of business, each one with a unique strategy and end goal.
Here are 12 of our favourite problem-solving methodologies that will help you find the best-fit solution to your troubles.
12. Six Thinking Hats
Six Thinking Hats is a methodical problem-solving framework that helps your group consider all possible problems, causes, solutions and repercussions by assigning a different coloured hat to each stage of the problem-solving process.
The roles of each hat are as follows:
- Blue Hat (Control): This hat controls the session and dictates the order in which the hats will be worn. When wearing the Blue Hat, your group will observe possible solutions, draw conclusions and define a plan of action.
- Green Hat (Idea Generation): The Green Hat signifies creativity. At this stage of the methodology, your team will focus their efforts on generating ideas, imagining solutions and considering alternatives.
- Red Hat (Intuition and Feelings): It’s time for your employees to communicate their feelings. Here, your team listen to their guts and convey their emotional impulses without justification.
- Yellow Hat (Benefits and Values): What are the merits of each idea that has been put forward thus far? What positive impacts could they have?
- Black or Grey Hat (Caution): What are the potential risks or shortcomings of each idea? What negative impacts could result from implicating each idea?
- White Hat (Information and Data): While wearing The White Hat, your team must determine what information is needed and from where it can be obtained.
For Six Thinking Hats to work effectively, ensure your team acts within the confines of each role.
While wearing The Yellow Hat, for example, your team should only discuss the positives . Any negative implications should be left for the Black or Grey hat.
Note: Feel free to alter the hat colours to align with your cultural context.
13. Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)
Lightning Decision Jam is a nine-stage problem-solving process designed to uncover a variety of perspectives while keeping the session on track.
The process starts by defining a general topic like the internal design process, interdepartmental communication, the sales funnel, etc.
Then, armed with pens and post-it notes, your team will work through the nine stages in the following order:
- Write problems (7 minutes)
- Present problems (4 minutes/person)
- Select problems (6 minutes)
- Reframe the problems (6 minutes)
- Offer solutions (7 minutes)
- Vote on solutions (10 minutes)
- Prioritise solutions (30 seconds)
- Decide what to execute (10 minutes)
- Create task lists (5 minutes)
The philosophy behind LDJ is that of constraint. By limiting discussion, employees can focus on compiling ideas and coming to democratic decisions that benefit the company without being distracted or going off on a tangent.
14. The 5 Why’s
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the process of unearthing a problem and finding the underlying cause. To help you through this process, you can use The 5 Why’s methodology.
The idea is to ask why you’re experiencing a problem, reframe the problem based on the answer, and then ask “ why?” again. If you do this five times , you should come pretty close to the root of your original challenge.
While this might not be a comprehensive end-to-end methodology, it certainly helps you to pin down your core challenges.
15. World Café
If you’ve had enough of uninspiring corporate boardrooms, World Café is the solution.
This problem-solving strategy facilitates casual conversations around given topics, enabling players to speak more openly about their grievances without the pressure of a large group.
Here’s how to do it:
- Create a cosy cafe-style setting (try to have at least five or six chairs per table).
- As a group, decide on a core problem and mark this as the session topic.
- Divide your group into smaller teams by arranging five or six players at a table.
- Assign each group a question that pertains to the session topic, or decide on one question for all groups to discuss at once.
- Give the groups about 20 minutes to casually talk over each question.
- Repeat this with about three or four different questions, making sure to write down key insights from each group.
- Share the insights with the whole group.
World Café is a useful way of uncovering hidden causes and pitfalls by having multiple simultaneous conversations about a given topic.
16. Discovery and Action Dialogue (DAD)
Discovery and Actions Dialogues are a collaborative method for employees to share and adopt personal behaviours in response to a problem.
This crowdsourcing approach provides insight into how a problem affects individuals throughout your company and whether some are better equipped than others.
A DAD session is guided by a facilitator who asks seven open-ended questions in succession. Each person is given equal time to participate while a recorder takes down notes and valuable insights.
This is a particularly effective method for uncovering preexisting ideas, behaviours and solutions from the people who face problems daily.
17. Design Sprint 2.0
The Design Sprint 2.0 model by Jake Knapp helps your team to focus on finding, developing measuring a solution within four days . Because theorising is all well and good, but sometimes you can learn more by getting an idea off the ground and observing how it plays out in the real world.
Here’s the basic problem-solving framework:
- Day 1: Map out or sketch possible solutions
- Day 2: Choose the best solutions and storyboard your strategy going forward
- Day 3: Create a living, breathing prototype
- Day 4: Test and record how it performs in the real world
This technique is great for testing the viability of new products or expanding and fixing the features of an existing product.
18. Open Space Technology
Open Space Technology is a method for large groups to create a problem-solving agenda around a central theme. It works best when your group is comprised of subject-matter experts and experienced individuals with a sufficient stake in the problem.
Open Space Technology works like this:
- Establish a core theme for your team to centralise their efforts.
- Ask the participants to consider their approach and write it on a post-it note.
- Everybody writes a time and place for discussion on their note and sticks it to the wall.
- The group is then invited to join the sessions that most interest them.
- Everybody joins and contributes to their chosen sessions
- Any significant insights and outcomes are recorded and presented to the group.
This methodology grants autonomy to your team and encourages them to take ownership of the problem-solving process.
19. Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique
While not an end-to-end problem-solving methodology, the Round-Robin Brainstorming Technique is an effective way of squeezing every last ounce of creativity from your ideation sessions.
Here’s how it works:
- Decide on a problem that needs to be solved
- Sitting in a circle, give each employee a chance to offer an idea
- Have somebody write down each idea as they come up
- Participants can pass if they don’t have anything to contribute
- The brainstorming session ends once everybody has passed
Once you’ve compiled a long list of ideas, it’s up to you how you move forward. You could, for example, borrow techniques from other methodologies, such as the “vote on solutions” phase of the Lightning Decision Jam.
20. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis is a method for preventing and mitigating problems within your business processes.
This technique starts by examining the process in question and asking, “What could go wrong?” From here, your team starts to brainstorm a list of potential failures.
Then, going through the list one by one, ask your participants, “Why would this failure happen?”
Once you’ve answered this question for each list item, ask yourselves, “What would the consequences be of this failure?”
This proactive method focuses on prevention rather than treatment. Instead of waiting for a problem to occur and reacting, you’re actively searching for future shortcomings.
21. Flip It!
The Flip It! Methodology teaches your team to view their concerns in a different light and frame them instead as catalysts for positive change.
The game works like this:
- Select a topic your employees are likely to be concerned about, like market demand for your product or friction between departments.
- Give each participant a pile of sticky notes and ask them to write down all their fears about the topic.
- Take the fears and stick them to an area of the wall marked “fears.”
- Then, encourage your team to look at these fears and ask them to reframe them as “hope” by writing new statements on different sticky notes.
- Take these “hope” statements and stick them to an area of the wall marked “hope.”
- Discuss the statements, then ask them to vote on the areas they feel they can start to take action on. They can do this by drawing a dot on the corner of the sticky note.
- Move the notes with the most votes to a new area of the wall marked “traction.”
- Discuss the most popular statements as a group and brainstorm actionable items related to each.
- Write down the actions that need to be made and discuss them again as a group.
This brainstorming approach teaches your employees the danger of engrained thinking and helps them to reframe their fears as opportunities.
22. The Creativity Dice
The Creativity Dice teaches your team to incubate ideas as they focus on different aspects of a problem. As we mentioned earlier in the article, giving ideas time to mature can be a highly effective problem-solving strategy. Here’s how the game works:
Choose a topic to focus on, It can be as specific or open-ended as you like. Write this down as a word or sentence. Roll the die, start a timer of three minutes and start writing down ideas within the confines of what that number resembles. The roles of each number are as follows:
- Specification: Write down goals you want to achieve.
- Investigation: Write down existing factual information you know about the topic.
- Ideation: Write down creative or practical ideas related to the topic.
- Incubation: Do something else unrelated to the problem.
- Iteration: Look at what you’ve already written and come up with related ideas (roll again if you didn’t write anything yet).
- Integration: Look at everything you have written and try to create something cohesive from your ideas like a potential new product or actionable next step.
Once you’ve finished the activity, review your findings and decide what you want to take with you.
23. SWOT Analysis
The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing method for analysing the current state of your business and considering how this affects the desired end state.
The basic idea is this:
- Before the meeting, come up with a “Desired end state” and draw a picture that represents this on a flipchart or whiteboard.
- Divide a large piece of paper into quadrants marked “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Opportunities” and “Threats.”
- Starting with “Strengths”, work through the quadrants, coming up with ideas that relate to the desired end state.
- Ask your team to vote for the statements or ideas of each category that they feel are most relevant to the desired end state.
- As a group, discuss the implications that these statements have on the desired end state. Spark debate by asking thought-provoking and open-ended questions.
The SWOT Analysis is an intuitive method for understanding which parts of your business could be affecting your long-term goals.
24. The Journalistic Six
When learning to cover every aspect of a story, journalists are taught to ask themselves six essential questions:
Now, this approach has been adopted by organisations to help understand every angle of a problem. All you need is a clear focus question, then you can start working through the six questions with your team until you have a 360-degree view of what has, can and needs to be done.
Gamestorming is a one-stop creative-thinking framework that uses various games to help your team come up with innovative ideas.
Originally published as a book 10 years ago, Gamestorming contained a selection of creative games used by Silicon Valley’s top-performing businesses to develop groundbreaking products and services.
This collection of resources, plucked from the minds of founders and CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, allows you to tap into the potentially genius ideas lying dormant in the minds of your employees.
26. Four-Step Sketch
The Four-Step Sketch is a visual brainstorming that provides an alternative to traditional discussion-based ideation techniques.
This methodology requires prior discussion to clarify the purpose of the activity. Imagine you’re on a startup retreat , for example, and your team is taking part in a design sprint or hackathon.
Once you’ve brainstormed a list of ideas with your team, participants can look at the suggestions and take down any relevant notes. They then take these notes and turn them into rough sketches that resemble the idea.
Then, as a warm-up, give each participant eight minutes to produce eight alternative sketches (eight minutes per sketch) of the idea. These ideas are not to be shared with the group.
Finally, participants create new sketches based on their favourite ideas and share them with the group. The group can then vote on the ideas they think offer the best solution.
27. 15% Solutions
15% Solutions is a problem-solving strategy for motivating and inspiring your employees. By encouraging your team to gain small victories, you pave the way for bigger changes.
First, ask your participants to think about things they can personally do within the confines of their role.
Then, arrange your team into small groups of three to four and give them time to share their ideas and consult with each other.
This simple problem-solving process removes negativity and powerlessness and teaches your team to take responsibility for change.
9 Problem-solving tools for gathering and selecting ideas
Problem-solving tools support your meeting with easy-to-use graphs, visualisations and techniques.
By implementing a problem-solving tool, you break the cycle of mundane verbal discussion, enabling you to maintain engagement throughout the session.
28. Fishbone Diagram
The Fishbone Diagram (otherwise known as the Ishikawa Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram), is a tool for identifying the leading causes of a problem. You can then consolidate these causes into a comprehensive “Problem Statement.”
The term “Fishbone Diagram” is derived from the diagram’s structure. The problem itself forms the tail, possible causes radiate from the sides to form the fish skeleton while the final “Problem Statement” appears as the “head” of the fish.
Example: A fast-food chain is investigating the declining quality of their food. As the team brainstorms potential causes, they come up with reasons like “poorly trained personnel”, “lack of quality control”, and “incorrect quantity of spices.” Together with other causes, the group summarises that these problems lead to “bad burgers.” They write this as the Problem Statement and set about eliminating the main contributing factors.
29. The Problem Tree
A Problem Tree is a useful tool for assessing the importance or relevance of challenges concerning the core topic. If you’re launching a new product, for example, gather your team and brainstorm the current issues, roadblocks and bottlenecks that are hindering the process.
Then, work together to decide which of these are most pressing. Place the most relevant issues closer to the core topic and less relevant issues farther away.
30. SQUID Diagram
The Squid Diagram is an easy-to-use tool that charts the progress of ideas and business developments as they unfold. Your SQUID Diagram can remain on a wall for your team to add to over time.
- Write down a core theme on a sticky note such as “customer service” or “Innovation”—this will be the “head” of your SQUID.
- Hand two sets of different coloured sticky notes to your participants and choose one colour to represent “questions” and the other to represent “answers.”
- Ask your team to write down questions pertaining to the success of the main topic. In the case of “Innovation,” your team might write things like “How can we improve collaboration between key stakeholders?”
- Then, using the other coloured sticky notes, ask your team to write down possible answers to these questions. In the example above, this might be “Invest in open innovation software.”
- Over time, you’ll develop a spawling SQUID Diagram that reflects the creative problem-solving process.
31. The Speed Boat
The Speed Boat Diagram is a visual metaphor used to help your team identify and solve problems in the way of your goals.
Here’s how it works:
- Draw a picture of a boat and name it after the core objective.
- With your team, brainstorm things that are slowing progress and draw each one as an anchor beneath the boat.
- Discuss possible solutions to each problem on the diagram.
This is an easy-to-use tool that sparks creative solutions. If you like, your team can assign a “weight” to each anchor which determines the impact each problem has on the end goal.
32. The LEGO Challenge
LEGO is an excellent creative-thinking and problem-solving tool used regularly by event facilitators to help teams overcome challenges.
In our article 5 and 10-minute Team-Building Activities , we introduce Sneak a Peek —a collaborative team-building game that develops communication and leadership skills.
33. The Three W’s: What? So What? Now What?
Teams aren’t always aligned when it comes to their understanding of a problem. While the problem remains the same for everyone, they might have differing opinions as to how it occurred at the implications it had.
Asking “ What? So What? Now What?” Helps you to understand different perspectives around a problem.
It goes like this:
- Alone or in small groups, ask your employees to consider and write What happened. This should take between five and 10 minutes.
- Then ask So What? What occurred because of this? Why was what happened important? What might happen if this issue is left unresolved?
- Finally, ask your team Now What? What might be a solution to the problem? What actions do you need to take to avoid this happening again?
This approach helps your team understand how problems affect individuals in different ways and uncovers a variety of ways to overcome them.
34. Now-How-Wow Matrix
Gathering ideas is easy—but selecting the best ones? That’s a different story.
If you’ve got a bunch of ideas, try the Now-How-Wow Matrix to help you identify which ones you should implement now and which ones should wait until later.
Simply draw a two-axis graph with “implementation difficulty” on the Y axis and “idea originality” on the X axis. Divide this graph into quadrants and write “Now!” in the bottom left panel, “Wow!” in the bottom right panel, and “How?” in the top right panel. You can leave the top left panel blank.
Then, take your ideas and plot them on the graph depending on their implementation difficulty and level of originality.
By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of which ideas to ignore, which ones to implement now, and which ones to add to the pipeline for the future.
35. Impact-Effort Matrix
The Impact-Effort Matrix is a variation of the Now-How-Wow Matrix where the Y axis is marked “Impact” and the X axis is marked “Effort.”
Then, divide the graph into quadrants and plot your ideas.
- Top left section = Excellent, implement immediately
- Top right section = Risky, but worth a try
- Bottom left section = Low risk, but potentially ineffective
- Bottom right section = Bad idea, ignore
The Impact-Effort Matrix is a simple way for your team to weigh the benefits of an idea against the amount of investment required.
36. Dot Voting
Once you’ve gathered a substantial list of ideas from your employees, you need to sort the good from the bad.
Dot voting is a simple tool used by problem-solving facilitators as a fast and effective way for large groups to vote on their favourite ideas . You’ll have seen this method used in problem-solving methods like Flip It! and Lightning Decision Jam .
- Participants write their ideas on sticky notes and stick them to the wall or a flipchart.
- When asked, participants draw a small dot on the corner of the idea they like the most.
- Participants can be given as many votes as necessary.
- When voting ends, arrange the notes from “most popular” to “least popular.”
This provides an easy-to-use visual representation of the best and worst ideas put forward by your team.
Give your problems the attention they deserve at an offsite retreat
While working from home or at the office, your team is often too caught up in daily tasks to take on complex problems.
By escaping the office and uniting at an offsite location, you can craft a purposeful agenda of team-building activities and problem-solving sessions. This special time away from the office can prove invaluable when it comes to keeping your business on track.
If you have problems that need fixing (who doesn’t?), reach out to Surf Office and let us put together a fully-customised offsite retreat for you.
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Are you organising a company retreat and want to make sure you have all the costs under the control? Get a copy of our free Budget Calculator spreadsheet.
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Fred Perrotta from Tortuga Backpacks: Build something unique
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Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head
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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:
- Will my team be on board with the proposition?
- Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
- Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
- Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
- Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?
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:
- Use a solution that worked before
- Work backward
- Use the Kipling method
- Draw the problem
- Use trial and error
- Sleep on it
- Get advice from your peers
- Use the Pareto principle
- Add successful solutions to your toolkit
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.
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 .”
- What is the problem?
- Why is the problem important?
- When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
- How did the problem happen?
- Where is the problem occurring?
- Who does the problem affect?
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:
- Critical thinking and analytical skills
- Communication skills , including active listening
- Planning and prioritization
- Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
- Time management
- Data analysis
- Research skills
- Project management
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 .
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.
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.
Shonna Waters, PhD
Vice President of Alliance Solutions
8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems
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