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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills
Last Updated: August 27, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Erin Conlon, PCC, JD . Erin Conlon is an Executive Life Coach, the Founder of Erin Conlon Coaching, and the host of the podcast "This is Not Advice." She specializes in aiding leaders and executives to thrive in their career and personal lives. In addition to her private coaching practice, she teaches and trains coaches and develops and revises training materials to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. She holds a BA in Communications and History and a JD from The University of Michigan. Erin is a Professional Certified Coach with The International Coaching Federation. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 228,445 times.
The ability to solve problems applies to more than just mathematics homework. Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of many jobs, ranging from accounting and computer programming to detective work and even creative occupations like art, acting, and writing. While individual problems vary, there are certain general approaches to problem-solving like the one first proposed by mathematician George Polya in 1945.  X Research source By following his principles of understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back, you can improve your problem-solving and tackle any issue systematically.
Define the problem clearly.
- Try to formulate questions. Say that as a student you have very little money and want to find an effective solution. What is at issue? Is it one of income – are you not making enough money? Is it one of over-spending? Or perhaps you have run into unexpected expenses or your financial situation has changed?
State your objective.
- Say that your problem is still money. What is your goal? Perhaps you never have enough to go out on the weekend and have fun at the movies or a club. You decide that your goal is to have more spending cash. Good! With a clear goal, you have better defined the problem.
Gather information systematically.
- To solve your money shortage, for example, you would want to get as detailed a picture of your financial situation as possible. Collect data through your latest bank statements and to talk to a bank teller. Track your earnings and spending habits in a notebook, and then create a spreadsheet or chart to show your income alongside your expenditures.
- Say you have now collected all your bank statements. Look at them. When, how, and from where is your money coming? Where, when, and how are you spending it? What is the overall pattern of your finances? Do you have a net surplus or deficit? Are there any unexplained items?
Generate possible solutions.
- Your problem is a lack of money. Your goal is to have more spending cash. What are your options? Without evaluating them, come up with possible options. Perhaps you can acquire more money by getting a part-time job or by taking out a student loan. On the other hand, you might try to save by cutting your spending or by lowering other costs.
- Divide and conquer. Break the problem into smaller problems and brainstorm solutions for them separately, one by one.
- Use analogies and similarities. Try to find a resemblance with a previously solved or common problem. If you can find commonalities between your situation and one you've dealt with before, you may be able to adapt some of the solutions for use now.
Evaluate the solutions and choose.
- How can you raise money? Look at expenditures – you aren’t spending much outside of basic needs like tuition, food, and housing. Can you cut costs in other ways like finding a roommate to split rent? Can you afford to take a student loan just to have fun on the weekend? Can you spare time from your studies to work part-time?
- Each solution will produce its own set of circumstances that need evaluation. Run projections. Your money problem will require you to draw up budgets. But it will also take personal consideration. For example, can you cut back on basic things like food or housing? Are you willing to prioritize money over school or to take on debt?
Implement a solution.
- You decide to cut costs, because you were unwilling to take on debt, to divert time away from school, or to live with a roommate. You draw up a detailed budget, cutting a few dollars here and there, and commit to a month-long trial.
Review and evaluate the outcome.
- The results of your trial are mixed. On one hand, you have saved enough during the month for fun weekend activities. But there are new problems. You find that you must choose between spending cash and buying basics like food. You also need a new pair of shoes but can’t afford it, according to your budget. You may need to a different solution.
Adjust if necessary.
- After a month, you decide to abandon your first budget and to look for part-time work. You find a work-study job on campus. Making a new budget, you now have extra money without taking too much time away from your studies. You may have an effective solution.
Do regular mental exercises.
- Word games work great. In a game like “Split Words,” for example, you have to match word fragments to form words under a given theme like “philosophy.” In the game, “Tower of Babel,” you will need to memorize and then match words in a foreign language to the proper picture.
- Mathematical games will also put your problem solving to the test. Whether it be number or word problems, you will have to activate the parts of your brain that analyze information. For instance: “James is half as old now as he will be when he is 60 years older than he was six years before he was half as old as he is now. How old will James be when his age is twice what it was 10 years after he was half his current age?”
Play video games.
- Play something that will force you to think strategically or analytically. Try a puzzle game like Tetris. Or, perhaps you would rather prefer a role-playing or strategy game. In that case, something like “Civilization” or “Sim-City” might suit you better.
Take up a hobby.
- Web design, software programming, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, and chess are also hobbies that will force you to think strategically and systematically. Any of these will help you improve your overall problem solving.
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- ↑ https://math.berkeley.edu/~gmelvin/polya.pdf
- ↑ https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
- ↑ https://asq.org/quality-resources/problem-solving
- ↑ http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluate-community-interventions/collect-analyze-data/main
- ↑ https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_96.htm
- ↑ http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/problem-solving.html
- ↑ Erin Conlon, PCC, JD. Executive Life Coach. Expert Interview. 31 August 2021.
- ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5930973/
- ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/13/mental-exercises-to-keep-your-brain-sharp
- ↑ https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/video-game
- ↑ https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05449-7
About This Article
To improve your problem-solving skills, start by clearly defining the problem and your objective or goal. Next, gather as much information as you can about the problem and organize the data by rewording, condensing, or summarizing it. Then, analyze the information you've gathered, looking for important links, patterns, and relationships in the data. Finally, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate the solutions, and choose one to implement. For tips on implementing solutions successfully, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.
JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images
From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.
What Is Problem-Solving?
In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.
A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.
Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.
The problem-solving process involves:
- Discovery of the problem
- Deciding to tackle the issue
- Seeking to understand the problem more fully
- Researching available options or solutions
- Taking action to resolve the issue
Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.
Problem-Solving Mental Processes
Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:
- Perceptually recognizing the problem
- Representing the problem in memory
- Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
- Identifying different aspects of the problem
- Labeling and describing the problem
There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.
An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.
In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.
One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.
There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.
Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.
If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.
While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.
Trial and Error
A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.
This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.
In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.
Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .
Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.
How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life
If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:
- Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
- Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
- Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
- Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.
Obstacles to Problem-Solving
Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:
- Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
- Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
- Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
- Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.
How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:
- Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
- Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
- Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
- Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
- Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
- Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.
You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.
Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving . Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261
Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20
Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9
Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579
Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517
Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7
Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality . Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050
Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition . Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .
Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .
Schooler JW, Ohlsson S, Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. J Experiment Psychol: General . 1993;122:166-183. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.2.166
By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills [10 Ways]
While it might seem like some people are just born with stronger problem-solving skills, there are strategies that anyone can use to improve them.
That’s right, it’s possible to significantly enhance your abilities in this area — and the best part is, most of these activities are also pretty fun!
What Are Problem Solving Skills?
Before we get to the engaging activities, let’s refine our understanding of problem-solving skills, which are any techniques that help you consistently:
- Understand the causes of problems
- Overcome short-term crises
- Create strategies to solve longer-term problems
- Turn problems into opportunities
What Problem Solving Skills Should I Have?
You’ll be able to solve problems in your role better as you grow in your industry-specific knowledge. But there are also a few universal problem solving skills we all need:
- Defining the Problem: Deeply understanding a problem through research , leading to better solutions. Research can include interviewing, reading books and emails, analyzing financial data, searching your organization’s intranet, and organizing your findings.
- Brainstorming: Creating a myriad of new solutions quickly. In group brainstorms, allow everyone to state ideas. Appreciate all input, and avoid criticism. Then, organize solutions into groups around common themes.
- Analyzing: Using disciplined thought processes to evaluate each possible solution. Besides listing their costs and benefits, you might apply deductive reasoning, game theory, and the rules of logic (including fallacies) to them.
- Managing Risk: Anticipating and trying to avoid the downsides of key solutions. Your team can list potential risks, rate how likely each is, predict a date by which each might either happen or no longer be an issue, and devise ways to reduce those risks.
- Deciding: The ability to decide on a solution and move forward with it. After an appropriate amount of time, an analysis of possible solutions, and feedback from team members, a designated decider must choose and implement a solution.
- Managing Emotions: Applying emotional intelligence in order to improve your and your team members’ ability to think clearly. This requires you to recognize emotions in yourself and others, manage feelings, and channel emotions into useful work.
10 Exciting Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills
Use these ten creative ways to improve problem solving skills, develop more strategic ways of thinking , and train your brain to do more.
1. Dance Your Heart Out
Did you know that dancing has a positive impact on neural processing, possibly developing new neural pathways to go around dopamine-depleted blockages in the brain?
This means that if you engage in ballet or another form of structured dance, doing so may facilitate convergent thinking . In other words, it may help you find a single, appropriate answer to a problem. If you need help with divergent thinking (finding multiple answers to a problem), engaging in more improvised types of dance such as hip-hop or tap might just do the trick.
2. Work out Your Brain with Logic Puzzles or Games
The winning strategy when playing chess, Sudoku, a Rubik’s Cube, or other brain-boosting games is actually to work the problem backward, not forward. The same strategy can apply to realistic strategic-thinking situations.
To build up your brain muscle and develop new problem-solving techniques, practice some logic puzzles and other games .
3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
More than any other sleeping or awake state, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep directly enhances creative processing in the brain. REM sleep helps “stimulate associative networks, allowing the brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas” and are “not due to selective memory enhancements” such as memory consolidation, which occurs when awake.
4. Work out to Some Tunes
A study of cardiac rehabilitation patients tested verbal fluency after exercising with and without music. Results showed that when they listened to music while working out, participants more than doubled their scores on verbal fluency tests in contrast to when they worked out in silence. According to the study’s lead author, “The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize the cognitive output.”
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5. keep an “idea journal” with you, 6. participate in yoga.
The powerful combination of body awareness, breathing, and meditation that is required during yoga practice has been shown to significantly raise cognitive test scores. Other results from a University of Illinois study include shorter reaction times, more accuracy, and increased attention.
7. Eat Some Cheerios (And Then Think About It)
The Cheerios Effect is the name physicists have given to the event that happens when the last few cheerios in a bowl always cling to each other. The cause of this occurrence is surface tension.
The takeaway is that when it comes to experiencing tension while trying to solve a problem, cling to those around you. Rely on others’ experiences and ideas, even those from different career fields. Draw connections. Brainstorm. Work together to get the job done.
8. Use Mind Maps to Help Visualize the Problem
Mind Maps , a visual snapshot of a problem and its possible solutions, can help focus the mind, stimulate the brain, increase the capacity for creative thinking, and generate more ideas for solutions.
Make a Mind Map by drawing your problem as the central idea. Add “main branches” consisting of all the reasons for the problem. Use “sub-branches” to explore further details.
Next, make a separate Mind Map of all possible solutions to the central problem. Add “main branches” showing all the ways that your problem can be solved, such as colleagues that can help, techniques you can apply, and other resources you can use. Add “sub-branches” to further explore the details. Make a final branch with the most suitable solution for the main problem. Use “sub-branches” for details.
Through this exercise, you should be able to see which “branch” or option is the most practical, time-saving, and cost-effective problem solving method .
9. Create “Psychological Distance”
What is psychological distance? According to the construal level theory (CLT), it’s “anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves.” Some examples include taking another person’s perspective or thinking of the problem as unlikely.
Scientists have shown that by increasing the mental distance between us and our problem, we’ll have an increase in creative solutions. This happens because thinking more abstractly helps us form unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, thus allowing our minds to increase its problem solving capacity.
10. Play Some Soccer
A link has been found between our brain’s “executive functions” and sports success . When in action, our brains are quickly multitasking between moving, anticipating, strategizing, reacting, and performing. Doing all these things at once requires an enormous amount of brain activity.
This can be related to our working world when we plan, reason, monitor our actions and problem solve all at once. Therefore, it may be concluded that when you play soccer or any other fast-moving sport, you’re rewiring your brain to be quicker at thinking, processing, and reacting to problems.
To learn more about how to develop your problem-solving and decision making capabilities or to receive training on applied strategic thinking skills , contact CMOE today!
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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies
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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies.
To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.
We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.
Let’s get to it!
What is a problem solving process?
- What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?
Problem solving strategies
What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.
Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!
Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.
What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?
All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.
Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.
We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.
1. Problem identification
The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.
2. Problem analysis
Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.
The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.
Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges.
Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.
3. Solution generation
Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions.
The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold.
4. Solution development
No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically.
During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.
Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose.
5. Decision making
Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.
The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.
Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group.
Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved.
6. Solution implementation
This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind.
Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.
Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.
7. Solution evaluation
So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives.
None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.
Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization.
It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.
Problem solving workshops made easy
Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?
Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.
The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.
Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.
Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process
Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.
Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization.
Problem solving workshop
- Creating a bespoke, tailored process
- Tackling problems of any size
- Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use
Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match.
By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.
One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop.
We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!
Run a design sprint
- aligning large, multi-discipline teams
- quickly designing and testing solutions
- tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks
By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.
Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first.
The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking. The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work.
It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!
Break problems down into smaller issues
Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.
This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!
Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies
Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.
Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.
LEGO Serious Play
- Improving core problem solving skills
- Thinking outside of the box
- Encouraging creative solutions
LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses.
Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking.
Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.
Card Decks and Method Kits
- New facilitators or non-facilitators
- Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
- Engaging those with varied learning styles
Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.
Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.
Source external advice
Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.
If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!
- Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
- Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
- Getting multiple external points of view quickly
Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session?
A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another.
Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.
A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context.
Coaching and mentoring
- Focused learning and development
- Filling skills gaps
- Working on a range of challenges over time
Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.
A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues.
Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.
Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.
Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.
Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill.
If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!
Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.
Some active listening skills include:
- Paying complete attention to the speaker.
- Removing distractions.
- Avoid interruption.
- Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
- Responding respectfully and appropriately.
- Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
- Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.
- Observe body language.
- Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
- Remain neutral.
- Reflect and take a moment before responding.
- Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.
Active Listening #hyperisland #skills #active listening #remote-friendly This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.
All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.
Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity.
It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight.
Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.
Nine Whys #innovation #issue analysis #liberating structures With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.
Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.
Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone.
Marshmallow challenge with debriefing #teamwork #team #leadership #collaboration In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.
Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting.
In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.
Bus Trip #feedback #communication #appreciation #closing #thiagi #team This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.
Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process.
The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.
Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.
The paper clip method #sharing #creativity #warm up #idea generation #brainstorming The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.
Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.
Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them.
Agreement-Certainty Matrix #issue analysis #liberating structures #problem solving You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic . A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate. It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably. A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail. Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward. A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.
Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.
Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures.
Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.
All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result.
Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.
Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) #action #decision making #problem solving #issue analysis #innovation #design #remote-friendly The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow
Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.
Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project.
Team Purpose & Culture #team #hyperisland #culture #remote-friendly This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.
Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room.
There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention.
Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!
As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.
The Six Thinking Hats #creative thinking #meeting facilitation #problem solving #issue resolution #idea generation #conflict resolution The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.
Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.
Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.
The Creativity Dice #creativity #problem solving #thiagi #issue analysis Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.
Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard.
Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence.
Explore your Values #hyperisland #skills #values #remote-friendly Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.
The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.
That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.
15% Solutions #action #liberating structures #remote-friendly You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference. 15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change. With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.
A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others.
There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion.
Empathy map #frame insights #create #design #issue analysis An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.
Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.
It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.
Leadership Pizza #leadership #team #remote-friendly This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.
In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature.
Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.
Conflict Responses #hyperisland #team #issue resolution A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.
Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.
Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.
3 Action Steps #hyperisland #action #remote-friendly This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.
As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.
A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.
Impact and Effort Matrix #gamestorming #decision making #action #remote-friendly In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.
Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills.
While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process.
Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process. Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change.
For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!
Personal Kanban #gamestorming #action #agile #project planning Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.
Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well.
In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.
Customer experience map #ideation #concepts #research #design #issue analysis #remote-friendly Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.
Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered.
Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors.
Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process.
Decisions, Decisions… #communication #decision making #thiagi #action #issue analysis When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented. This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.
No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions.
In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.
Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.
9 Dimensions Team Building Activity #ice breaker #teambuilding #team #remote-friendly 9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.
The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.
By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.
Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.
Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.
Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.
Share best practices
Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session.
Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together.
Ask for help and attend training
Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.
Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.
Learn a process
Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format.
Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.
Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly.
Create a feedback loop
Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues.
It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them.
Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.
While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible.
Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!
Use expert exercises and methods
Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.
There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results.
Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset
Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.
Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!
Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!
Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.
A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective.
Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.
Want to design better group processes?
Over to you
Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.
Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!
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Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops. Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…
So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…
What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?
Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself. When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower. Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…
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7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager
Discover what problem-solving is, and why it's important for managers. Understand the steps of the process and learn about seven problem-solving skills.
1Managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a particular department, and sometimes a whole company, using their problem-solving skills regularly. Managers with good problem-solving skills can help ensure companies run smoothly and prosper.
If you're a current manager or are striving to become one, read this guide to discover what problem-solving skills are and why it's important for managers to have them. Learn the steps of the problem-solving process, and explore seven skills that can help make problem-solving easier and more effective.
What is problem-solving?
Problem-solving is both an ability and a process. As an ability, problem-solving can aid in resolving issues faced in different environments like home, school, abroad, and social situations, among others. As a process, problem-solving involves a series of steps for finding solutions to questions or concerns that arise throughout life.
The importance of problem-solving for managers
Managers deal with problems regularly, whether supervising a staff of two or 100. When people solve problems quickly and effectively, workplaces can benefit in a number of ways. These include:
Increased job fulfillment
Satisfied clients or customers
Better cooperation and cohesion
Improved environments for employees and customers
7 skills that make problem-solving easier
Companies depend on managers who can solve problems adeptly. Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.
As a manager , you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first. Then, you’ll use analytical skills to distinguish between ineffective and effective solutions.
Effective communication plays a significant role in problem-solving, particularly when others are involved. Some skills that can help enhance communication at work include active listening, speaking with an even tone and volume, and supporting verbal information with written communication.
3. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in any situation. People with emotional intelligence usually solve problems calmly and systematically, which often yields better results.
Emotional intelligence and resilience are closely related traits. Resiliency is the ability to cope with and bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Those who possess resilience are often capable of accurately interpreting people and situations, which can be incredibly advantageous when difficulties arise.
When brainstorming solutions to problems, creativity can help you to think outside the box. Problem-solving strategies can be enhanced with the application of creative techniques. You can use creativity to:
Approach problems from different angles
Improve your problem-solving process
Spark creativity in your employees and peers
Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to change. When a particular solution to an issue doesn't work, an adaptable person can revisit the concern to think up another one without getting frustrated.
Finding a solution to a problem regularly involves working in a team. Good teamwork requires being comfortable working with others and collaborating with them, which can result in better problem-solving overall.
Steps of the problem-solving process
Effective problem-solving involves five essential steps. One way to remember them is through the IDEAL model created in 1984 by psychology professors John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein [ 1 ]. The steps to solving problems in this model include: identifying that there is a problem, defining the goals you hope to achieve, exploring potential solutions, choosing a solution and acting on it, and looking at (or evaluating) the outcome.
1. Identify that there is a problem and root out its cause.
To solve a problem, you must first admit that one exists to then find its root cause. Finding the cause of the problem may involve asking questions like:
Can the problem be solved?
How big of a problem is it?
Why do I think the problem is occurring?
What are some things I know about the situation?
What are some things I don't know about the situation?
Are there any people who contributed to the problem?
Are there materials or processes that contributed to the problem?
Are there any patterns I can identify?
2. Define the goals you hope to achieve.
Every problem is different. The goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving depend on the scope of the problem. Some examples of goals you might set include:
Gather as much factual information as possible.
Brainstorm many different strategies to come up with the best one.
Be flexible when considering other viewpoints.
Articulate clearly and encourage questions, so everyone involved is on the same page.
Be open to other strategies if the chosen strategy doesn't work.
Stay positive throughout the process.
3. Explore potential solutions.
Once you've defined the goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving , it's time to start the process. This involves steps that often include fact-finding, brainstorming, prioritizing solutions, and assessing the cost of top solutions in terms of time, labor, and money.
4. Choose a solution and act on it.
Evaluate the pros and cons of each potential solution, and choose the one most likely to solve the problem within your given budget, abilities, and resources. Once you choose a solution, it's important to make a commitment and see it through. Draw up a plan of action for implementation, and share it with all involved parties clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing. Make sure everyone understands their role for a successful conclusion.
5. Look at (or evaluate) the outcome.
Evaluation offers insights into your current situation and future problem-solving. When evaluating the outcome, ask yourself questions like:
Did the solution work?
Will this solution work for other problems?
Were there any changes you would have made?
Would another solution have worked better?
As a current or future manager looking to build your problem-solving skills, it is often helpful to take a professional course. Consider Improving Communication Skills offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. You'll learn how to boost your ability to persuade, ask questions, negotiate, apologize, and more.
You might also consider taking Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating Immensely Human Interactions , offered by the University of Michigan on Coursera. You'll explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills common to people with emotional intelligence, and you'll learn how emotional intelligence is connected to team success and leadership.
Tennessee Tech. “ The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd ed.) , https://www.tntech.edu/cat/pdf/useful_links/idealproblemsolver.pdf.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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6 Essential Problem-Solving Skills You Need
Regardless of your industry, addressing problems is a key part of any role. While technical expertise is essential in any position, complex problems require the right problem-solving skills . Like any kind of soft skill, problem-solving comes more naturally to some people than others, but it is also a skill that can be cultivated.
Developing certain problem-solving skills will equip you to face a diverse range of challenges, make you a valuable employee or business leader, and an attractive candidate to recruiters.
Read on to learn about the essential skills all professionals should cultivate, and how to improve problem-solving skills.
Key Problem-Solving Skills All Professionals Should Develop
Identifying and analysing the problem is an essential part of developing a suitable solution. You can’t develop a strong strategy until you fully understand the problem, its root causes, and its impact on the company. Therefore, analytical abilities are an essential problem-solving skill that is vital for professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs across every industry.
Depending on your role and the problems you need to address, this could range from relatively-simple analytical skills to complex data analytics using the latest technologies.
Research is another vital part of addressing challenges, making this an essential problem-solving skill. This skill allows you to dig deeper into an issue, better understand its causes and complexities, and discover existing solutions.
Research skills could help you uncover how your competitors successfully dealt with a similar issue or, conversely, failed approaches they used that you should avoid .
It can also allow you to come up with strategies to avoid similar problems occurring in the future.
3. Decision-Making Skills
Decision-making and problem-solving go hand in hand. A big part of ultimately addressing any challenge is developing and implementing the best strategy to resolve the issue. To do this, you need to be able to make decisions.
Decision-making is itself a complex set of skills. Being decisive means being prepared to take risks, and not being afraid to fail.
However, making strong decisions also necessitates a balanced approach that appropriately manages all of the risks involved and ultimately supports the company’s overall goals and objectives.
Given this set of complexities, cultivating this skill can take a fair amount of time and effort.
Creativity is another critical problem-solving skill. Businesses are facing new and increasingly diverse challenges every day, and addressing them means coming up with new, innovative approaches. Therefore, thinking out of the box and coming up with creative solutions is essential.
While tried-and-tested methods have their merit, sometimes, the old ways of doing things simply don’t cut it, especially when faced with unprecedented challenges. Sometimes, the best solution is something that’s never been tried before. Therefore, developing the ability to think creatively and come up with new and innovative solutions is an essential part of problem-solving.
Communication is one of the most crucial soft skills that every company needs from their employees and executives. Furthermore, how well you communicate your ideas to your team, superiors, and stakeholders is an integral part of what makes you a skilled problem-solver.
It’s not just about communicating the problems, but also listening to feedback and potential solutions. Strong communication skills allow you to better understand the issue, develop more effective solutions, and ultimately convince decision-makers of their merit.
Finally, effective problem-solving means working closely with others. This may include not only your colleagues, but also stakeholders, clients, and even competitors, in order to identify and implement the best solution to any given problem.
This makes teamwork an essential problem-solving skill. Working with others is much more efficient, and allows you to draw on a range of ideas and capabilities to develop the best approach to deal with the problem. It also removes the burden of trying to find a solution alone.
How You Can Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Some people seem to be natural problem solvers, but in reality, this is a set of skills that can be developed and honed. Improving your problem-solving requires time, dedication, and regular practice — especially hands-on experience.
Practical, hands-on courses like EDHEC Online MSc in International Business Management is ideal for helping you develop the skills essential for problem-solving . Our courses teach you about the latest approaches to business challenges. You’ll also work with your peers to address these problems in a real-world setting.
By learning how to improve problem-solving skills, you’ll be able to perform better in your current role and develop the abilities you need to progress in your career or transition to a new industry.
Take a look at EDHEC’s online programs to learn more about how you can build your problem-solving skills and a range of other critical business-oriented abilities.
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Colleges Decreasing Out-of-State Tuition
Traditionally, out-of-state tuition is much more expensive than in-state, and it is inevitable for students who are interested in out-of-state colleges.
However, some colleges are alleviating or decreasing out-of-state tuition charges, according to The U.S. News and World Report . High-ranking, popular colleges that already attract many intelligent prospective students are not decreasing out-of-state charges. These colleges have many students who are willing to pay the high fees.
Also, these schools have stricter restrictions for who can apply for in-state tuition. Most of these schools only allow students to receive in-state tuition if they graduated from an in-state high school or their parents live in that state, according to The U.S. News and World Report . However, some of these schools are making it easier for out-of-state students to attain in-state tuition.
The U.S. News and World Report stated that there are ways to avoid the higher out-of-state tuition charges by moving to the state to pay taxes and claim residency. However, most students must live in the state for about a year before they can qualify for in-state tuition. Traditionally, the restrictions are tougher in states that attract more students. California is one of the strictest states.
Some colleges are allowing students to register in-state tuition to students after living on campus for a certain amount of time, registering to vote in that state and paying local taxes, according. The restrictions and details are not firm, but if students make efforts toward the aforementioned details, then it will help their cause.
Also, many other colleges reward out-of-state students with in-state tuition if they maintain a certain GPA (usually 2.5 or higher) or achieve a certain ACT/SAT score, according to The U.S. News and World Report .
Many colleges offer in-state tuition to students who live in neighboring states or close to the college, despite it being in a separate state.
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How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
We face problems every day . Whether it's a complex problem at work or a personal issue that needs solving, having good problem-solving skills is essential for success in both your personal and professional life.
If you’re feeling a little rusty in the problem-solving department, there are many ways to enhance your problem-solving abilities, like cognitive training techniques and brain games. That’s right: Games can help improve your cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory , which are essential for effective problem-solving.
So if you’re ready to learn how to improve your problem-solving skills with some of our recommended cognitive training techniques and tips, keep reading. And you’ll be making quicker, more confident decisions in no time.
What is Problem Solving, and Why is it Important?
Problem-solving is, well, the process of identifying, defining, and finding a solution to challenges or difficulties. It involves several steps, including recognizing the existence of a problem, understanding its nature, generating potential solutions, evaluating those solutions, and then implementing the best one.
Problem-solving is an essential skill that enables you to navigate various aspects of your personal and professional lives effectively. In your workplace, for example, you can quickly identify issues and implement appropriate solutions, contributing to increased productivity and efficiency. In your personal life, good problem-solving skills can help you navigate relationships, make informed decisions, and cope with unexpected situations.
Good problem-solving skills not only help you make better decisions but also improve your critical thinking abilities, allowing you to find effective solutions to complex problems. And by developing and honing your problem-solving skills through cognitive training, you can become more adaptable and resourceful, capable of tackling a wide range of challenges that life throws your way.
The Science Behind Cognitive Training for Problem Solving
So, what is cognitive training? And what does science have to say about it?
Cognitive training involves a range of activities and exercises that target different cognitive functions. These may include puzzles, memory exercises, or brain games that require strategic thinking. The goal is to stimulate your brain and enhance its ability to process information, reason effectively, and retain information. By engaging in cognitive training , you can boost your mental capabilities and improve your overall problem-solving skills.
The science behind cognitive training is rooted in neuroplasticity, or your brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout your life. In other words, when you engage in cognitively demanding tasks, your brain creates new neural pathways and strengthens existing connections. This increased connectivity leads to improved cognitive function , which, in turn, enhances problem-solving abilities. (See the… connection ?)
As you engage in cognitive training exercises, you’ll experience improvements in processing speed (the ability to absorb and process information quickly), reasoning (logical thinking and decision-making), and working memory (the capacity to hold and manipulate information over short periods). These enhanced cognitive abilities directly contribute to more effective problem-solving skills.
By understanding the principles behind cognitive training and consistently practicing these types of exercises, you can enhance your problem-solving abilities and apply these skills in various aspects of your lives. But not before you learn how to identify problems, which is a key first step to finding effective solutions.
The Problem-Solving Process
Effective problem identification is a crucial first step in the problem-solving process. Here’s how to do it:
- Define the Problem: Clearly articulating the issue at hand is essential for understanding its scope and complexity. So take time to describe the problem in detail, considering the context, constraints, and possible repercussions.
- Gather Information: Collect relevant data and information about the problem. This may involve research, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Having accurate and comprehensive information is critical for informed decision-making during the problem-solving process.
- Involve Others: Collaborate with your team or other people to ensure diverse perspectives and insights are considered. A good idea can come from everywhere, and a collective approach can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
- Identify Root Causes: Once the problem is defined, delve deeper to identify its underlying causes. Use techniques such as the "5 Whys" method or cause-and-effect analysis to pinpoint the factors contributing to the issue. Addressing these root causes is crucial for developing long-term, sustainable solutions.
- Select a Problem-Solving Strategy: Employ various problem-solving methods to devise a solution that tackles the root causes effectively. These may include brainstorming, evaluating pros and cons, or implementing a trial-and-error approach. The strategy you ultimately choose should be adaptable and considerate of potential challenges or obstacles.
By following these tips for problem identification and employing problem-solving techniques, you can increase your chances of finding effective and lasting solutions to the issues you face.
6 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
Here’s the truth: You can’t effectively solve a problem without using your critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking is the process of objectively analyzing information, evaluating the credibility of arguments, and making informed decisions based on logic and reasoning. It involves things like questioning assumptions, considering multiple perspectives, and weighing evidence before reaching a conclusion.
Think about it: Having the ability to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and make reasoned decisions allows you to approach problems logically —and we have a few tips to help you improve your ability to do just that:
- Break Down Information: To sharpen your critical thinking abilities, practice breaking down complex information into smaller components. Identify patterns, relationships, and underlying principles that can help you better understand the situation.
- Evaluate Arguments: Develop the habit of assessing the credibility and relevance of arguments presented to you. Consider the source of the information, identify any potential biases, and scrutinize the validity of the evidence provided.
- Make Reasoned Decisions: When faced with a decision, take time to gather all relevant information and consider possible outcomes. Weigh the pros and cons before arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion that takes into account both short-term and long-term consequences. (We love a good pros and cons list.)
- Play Brain Games: Regularly engaging in brain games such as Sudoku, crosswords, chess, or logic puzzles can be an effective way to enhance critical thinking skills. These games require you to analyze information, evaluate potential moves or solutions, and make strategic decisions based on reasoning. We’ll go into more detail about this later, so hang tight.
- Try Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness can enhance attention, concentration, and emotional regulation, all of which are critical for effective problem-solving. And if you're interested, you can try it for free for an entire year with the Balance app .
- Consider Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychotherapy technique that helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By learning to recognize unproductive thinking habits, you can develop more constructive approaches to problem-solving.
By exploring these various cognitive training techniques and consistently incorporating them into your daily life, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing your problem-solving skills and tackling life's challenges more logically and effectively.
How to Approach Problems with a Critical Mindset
Approaching problems with a critical mindset is a great way to turn critical thinking into a habit. But what does that mean, and how do you do it? Let’s break it down:
- Embrace Critical Thinking: Develop the habit of questioning assumptions and challenging conventional wisdom when faced with a problem. This will help to uncover hidden biases or overlooked factors that may influence the issue at hand.
- Consider Multiple Perspectives: Explore different viewpoints and perspectives when assessing a problem. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the situation and can lead to innovative solutions that might not have been apparent from a single viewpoint.
- Evaluate Evidence: Gather relevant information and carefully evaluate its credibility and reliability. Assess the strength of the evidence supporting various arguments or positions before making a decision.
By following these tips, you can develop a critical mindset that habitually enables you to approach problems more effectively, leading to well-informed decisions and lasting solutions.
Problem Solving Methods & Techniques
Now that you know a bit about how to approach a problem, here’s how you can implement these problem-solving techniques in your daily life:
- Understand the Context: When applying problem-solving techniques in different settings, it's essential to consider the unique context and constraints of each situation. The approach that works well in a professional environment may not be suitable for a personal issue, so tailor your strategies accordingly.
- Adapt and Be Flexible: Effective problem-solving requires adaptability and flexibility. Be open to changing your approach if circumstances shift or new information emerges. This willingness to adapt will help you find solutions that are relevant and sustainable in the long term.
- Communicate and Collaborate: In both workplace and personal settings, communication and collaboration are key to successful problem-solving. Share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with team members or stakeholders, and actively seek their input. A diverse array of perspectives can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
- Learn from Experience: Reflect on past problem-solving experiences and learn from both successes and failures. Apply these lessons to future situations to continuously improve your problem-solving skills.
- Practice Regularly: To develop strong problem-solving abilities, practice regularly by tackling problems in various aspects of your life. The more you practice, the more adept you'll become at identifying problems, generating solutions, and making well-informed decisions.
How to Practice Effective Decision-Making
By now, you know how to approach a problem. But how do you solve one?
Effective decision-making skills are closely related to problem-solving skills, and the two can work together to help you achieve better results. So the next time you have to make a decision, give these steps a try:
- Gather Information: Just as you need to gather information to understand a problem, you also need to gather information to make informed decisions. This may involve conducting research into various options, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Comprehensive and accurate information is crucial for evaluating potential solutions.
- Evaluate Options: Once you have gathered enough information, carefully assess the different options available to address the problem. Consider factors such as feasibility, impact, costs, and potential risks when weighing the pros and cons of each alternative.
- Make a Decision: After evaluating the options, select a solution based on the available information and your assessment of its effectiveness in addressing the root causes of the problem. Ensure that your chosen solution is sustainable in the long term and takes into account any potential challenges or obstacles that may arise.
- Monitor Outcomes: Track the outcomes of your decision to gauge its effectiveness and learn from the results. Be prepared to reassess and adjust your approach if necessary, based on feedback or changing circumstances.
- Refine Your Decision-Making Skills: Continuously work on improving your decision-making abilities by reflecting on past decisions, learning from both successes and failures, and seeking opportunities to practice these skills in various aspects of your life.
The result of putting this into action? Better outcomes and greater success. That’s a win-win if we ever saw one.
Benefits of Brain Games for Improving Problem-Solving Skills
One fun way to improve all of these problem-solving and decision-making skills we’ve discussed is by playing brain games.
Brain games stimulate your mind and foster the development of various cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory, which are all essential for effective problem-solving.
These games challenge you to think critically and make decisions based on logic and strategy. And as a result, they help cultivate a more agile and adaptable mindset that is valuable for tackling real-life problems. (Did we mention they’re also fun?)
One popular brain training app that incorporates a wide variety of games is Elevate.
With more than 40 games spread across math , reading , writing , speaking , and memory skills , the Elevate app offers personalized training programs based on your goals, and it adapts to your skill level and performance over time.
By incorporating brain games into daily routines or cognitive training programs, you’ll be able to make big improvements in your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, making it easier to tackle challenges in both personal and professional aspects of your life. Oh, and did we mention they’re also fun to play?
Start Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills Today
By knowing how to identify a problem, approach it with a critical mindset, and implement a few key problem-solving techniques, you’ll be able to tackle your next challenge with ease.
And if you’re ready to up-level your overall problem-solving skills with the help of brain training games, download the Elevate app on iOS or Android today and discover 40+ brain training games, personalized training programs, and expert guidance to help you optimize your cognitive abilities and improve your overall performance in daily life.
With the Elevate app, you can take control of your cognitive function and become a more effective problem solver. It’s what we like to call a no-brainer decision!
Enhancing Your Cognitive Abilities: An Introduction to Brain Training
- Learn what brain training is, its benefits, and how you can easily get started training your brain.
The Science of Cognitive Training: Improving Brain Function with Brain Games
- Training cognitive skills can improve brain function. Think of it like a workout for your mind. Read on to learn how brain games can help.
The Importance of Mental Fitness: Tips and Techniques to Improve Your Well-Being
- Mental fitness refers to your ability to sustain your overall well-being. Learn tips to improve yours.
19 Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work
This article discusses step-by-step ways to improve your problem solving skills at work.
Topics addressed include breaking down a problem to understand it better, digging a little deeper to find out what caused the problem, and ascertaining how widespread the problem is including how many people are affected.
Other steps outlined consist of figuring out potential solutions then narrowing down to select the best possible option under the circumstances.
Once a problem has been figured out, dealt with or resolved, additional processes entail monitoring the progress of the solution and proactively taking action to prevent future problems.
Towards the tail end of problem solving is taking in the lessons learned and helping others who might be facing similar problems which we have overcome.
You can quickly skim all the 19 tips on handling problems on the table of contents below and then click on any tip to read further details. Please enjoy reading. Thank you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Defining the problem
- Finding out what caused the problem/Conducting research
- Analyzing the impact of the problem
- Brainstorming possible solutions
- Evaluating alternatives/solutions
- Choosing the best option
- Developing an action plan/Execution strategy
- Implementing the solution/Taking action
- Monitoring progress
- Evaluating the results
- If the solution does not work
- Problem solving mistakes
- Ways to increase your problem solving skills
- Challenges and obstacles in problem solving
- Causes of problems at work
- Problem solving skills
- Learning from others who have solved similar problems
- Examples of problems at work
- Best practices for problem solving
1. Defining the problem
Why is the problem a problem? The first step in problem solving is to begin by describing, explaining or outlining the problem.
In its simplest form, a problem is an issue that is out of alignment and requires to be attended to, fixed or corrected to enable desired outcomes to be achieved.
There could be a temptation to quickly jump into figuring out solutions however, if the problem is not well understood, the solutions might not be effective and valuable time and effort could have been wasted.
Write down the problem based on your own understanding. This helps in zooming into or focusing on a specific issue. Similar to how a camera zooms on to an image before taking a picture. If the focus is blurry, the image won’t be clear.
Alternatively, think of it as identifying the starting line in a race, once you have figured out the beginning point (the problem), you set the stage for figuring out the skills, information, knowledge or resources required to get to the finishing line (the solution).
2. Finding out what caused the problem/Conducting research
What caused the problem? Once you have clearly defined the current problem, the next step is to dig a little deeper to find out the root cause or background of the problem.
Some questions to ask include the following:
- When and where did the difficulty, obstacle or complication occur?
- Why did the problem happen?
- How did it happen?
- What led to the problem?
- Was it caused by one thing or many things?
- What information is missing?
- Where can you find more information?
- What could have prevented the problem?
- What is known about similar problems?
- What solutions have been tried before?
3. Analyzing the impact of the problem
Who or what is affected by the problem? Determine how widespread the problem is.
- Is it affecting one person or many? – How is it affecting them?
- How long has the problem been going on?
- Are there any trends?
- Is this a re-occurring problem or a completely new one?
- What would happen if the problem is not resolved?
Talk to different people to get first-hand accounts of the impact of the problem. Establish if it is severe or manageable.
4. Brainstorming possible solutions
What are the potential solutions? Identify possible solutions through brainstorming.
When brainstorming, state the problem, and then request everyone to independently write down their own individual answers.
Afterwards list down all the answers proposed and invite others to further build upon and refine the suggested solutions or propose additional solutions.
For a brainstorming session to be successful, the problem needs to be clearly defined, enough time needs to be scheduled, participants should take time to think through the problem and generate solutions, and solutions should not be judged during the brainstorming.
In addition, use a good facilitator to listen attentively to participants, encourage input by all and drive the discussion.
5. Evaluating alternatives/solutions
How do you select the best alternative? Once a good number of options have been gathered, the next step is to go through the alternatives and narrow down the ones that are most viable.
It is also possible that the top choices would be a merger between one or more other alternatives.
Identify the advantages and disadvantages of the top choices.
In addition, take a step back and write down the desired results, when they should be achieved as well as how the results will be measured i.e. what is expected after the problem has been eliminated or handled – imagine how it would be like when the problem is solved.
Analyze how best the top choices would lead to the desired results.
6. Choosing the best option
Will this solution solve the problem? The last step in brainstorming is deciding the best solution among the top alternatives available.
This step could be one of the most difficult and overwhelming and could trigger hesitation because of fear of making the wrong decision.
There could be a tendency to want to continue digging further to come up with more information or more alternatives.
Additionally, choosing an alternative could entail making compromises and some parties would have to make concessions therefore, there is a possibility that not everyone would be happy with the final solution.
However, at some point the decision making process will have to come to an end. Following your gut instinct and seeking advice from others can help in deciding.
You can also take a break to clear your head, relax and then make the decision with a clear mind and be able to easily explain that – “this solution is the best one because …”
Taking a poll is similarly a simple way to determine the solution that should be implemented for bigger problems.
7. Developing an action plan/Execution strategy
How will you prepare to act on the solution? Write down the final solution and come up with a plan of action for implementing it.
Break down the solution into smaller manageable steps.
The number of steps would typically vary in proportion to the complexity of a problem where generally the more complex the problem the more steps would be required to address it and vice versa.
Outline the actions that need to be done, determine who needs to do what, how much time is available, establish timelines, deadlines and gauges or ways to show if the results are being achieved.
Think about possible unexpected emergencies and risks then highlight a plan for addressing them.
8. Implementing the solution/Taking action
How will you put the solution to work? Here is where the actual work gets done. Keep the desired results or end-goal firmly in your mind then proceed to work on one step at a time.
If working with others, share the plan for solving the problem. Provide training if needed on how to accomplish the desired objectives, assemble and distribute needed resources and be available to answer clarifying questions that come up.
As you work, periodically check your progress against the action plan to ensure that you are making strides in the right direction.
When you often or regularly work on implementing different solutions, you are likely to discover better, simpler and efficient ways of solving problems.
For example, if tackling a problem for the first time takes x hours, after handling the same problem many times you are likely to fine tune your methods resulting in less time to solve a problem and more improvements and efficiencies . Better yet, you can even train others on your breakthroughs.
9. Monitoring progress
Is the problem getting corrected? Track the progress to see if the solution is working. Take a pulse check to get insight and feedback.
Under ideal circumstances, if the solution is the right one, the problem should be gradually dissipating the more the solution is implemented.
Generally, there would be a need to make tweaks here and there to either address issues that arise or to ensure that the solution has the best chance of succeeding.
Regularly check to see what is going well and what isn’t and make adjustments in good time.
If there are significant deviations from the anticipated, expected or projected outcome, find out what is causing this.
Some questions to ask when monitoring the progress of problem solving consist of:
- How much progress has been made so far?
- What amount of work is remaining?
- Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing?
- Are we within schedule?
- Are we within budget?
- Have we met initial milestones or targets?
- What challenges have we encountered so far?
- What recommended changes are needed at this point?
- What are the next milestones?
10. Evaluating the results
Was the problem fixed? At the end of the problem solving process, it is helpful to find out if the solution was successful.
A few questions that you can ask when evaluating results include the following:
- Did we resolve the problem within our earlier planned schedule, timeline or deadline?
- Did we eliminate the problem within budget?
- Is the problem fully resolved?
- Is there anything that has not been completed?
- Are there any lessons learned?
Conclude by documenting the results. Some items to document include the date when the problem was fixed, who ascertained that the problem was resolved and how the problem was handled or resolved.
11. If the solution does not work
The problem was not fixed, now what? The simple reality is that some solutions work and others don’t.
Some solutions can address part of a problem and conversely some solutions can even magnify the problem or reveal an even bigger problem.
When a solution does not work out as expected, of course time and resources would have gone down the drain, nonetheless, go back to the drawing board and figure out another solution.
Other remedies could consist of more time needed to allow a solution to work, more resources required, more funds or more expertise.
It is also important to analyze why the original solution did not work out to not only learn from mistakes but also to prevent repeating the same errors.
12. Problem solving mistakes
Below are examples of problem solving mistakes:
- Refusing to admit or acknowledge that a problem exists.
- Looking for quick fixes.
- Thinking that there won’t be any problems.
- Fixing symptoms instead of the root cause.
- Focusing on putting out small fires instead of addressing the big picture problem.
- Rushing to solve a problem before understanding it.
- Fearing to share out of the box ideas during brainstorming.
- Risk of group think during brainstorming or conforming to what everyone else is suggesting.
- Not having an open mind during brainstorming.
- Poor facilitation in brainstorming sessions.
- Solving the wrong problem.
- Looking for someone to blame or pointing fingers.
- Not listening or not seeking feedback or solutions from others.
- Thinking that you should have all the answers.
- Solutions that are not clearly defined.
- Lack of clear communication.
- Assuming that people already know what to do.
- Failing to give credit to staff who have fixed problems.
- Fear of making the wrong decision.
- Wrong assumptions.
- Getting scared or panicking when a problem arises.
- Procrastinating to make a decision or choose among alternatives.
- Refusing to acknowledge when a solution is not working.
- Doing nothing when a problem arises.
- Taking a long time before attending to a problem.
- Not being flexible or adaptable when assumptions and conditions change.
13. Ways to increase your problem solving skills
I believe that one good way of improving your problem solving skills in the office is to work on solving many problems.
You can do this by volunteering to participate in brainstorming groups or sessions and offering your input and ideas as well as listening to contributions from your colleagues.
Aim to actively work on implementing solutions to flex and stretch your problem solving muscles.
Over time, you can recognize trends or patterns in solving problems and also increase your capacity to tolerate ambiguity and unknowns at the beginning of a problem solving process.
Other ways of increasing problem solving skills include the following:
- Observing how others solve problems.
- Reading about problem solving techniques.
- Practicing different problem solving methods.
- Undergoing training on problem solving.
- Challenging yourself to be a good problem solver and be comfortable making decisions.
- Working on unrelated fields, assignments and different departments to cross learn new transferable subjects, skills, methods etc.
- Playing games that help in stimulating problem solving abilities such as solving puzzles and playing chess.
- Improving your research skills.
14. Challenges and obstacles in problem solving
Reasons why problems might not be solved include:
- Ignoring or avoiding the problem.
- Thinking that problem solving process takes too much time or effort.
- Not having the authority to decide which solution should be implemented.
- Procrastinating or inertia to resolve a problem because it could take a long time to figure out solutions especially for complex problems.
- Thinking that the problem is more difficult than it really is.
- Thinking that you have to figure it all out on your own.
- Not asking for help.
- Unwilling to take other people’s inputs.
- Fear that implementation could be difficult.
- Fear of failure.
- Resource constraints; insufficient resources such as manpower and finances to properly address large scope problems.
- Too many problems or difficulty prioritizing problems.
- Resistance to change or new ways of doing things.
- Not following through on solutions after the brainstorming stage.
- Giving up too quickly when it takes long to solve a problem.
- Not measuring progress.
- Changing external factors causing the need to rethink or revise solutions.
- Inexperience handling and solving problems.
- Not wanting to deal with uncertainty.
15. Causes of problems at work
Workplace problems can be caused by issues such as micromanagement, lack of accountability, difficult work environment, too much red tape, lack of advancement opportunities and lack of recognition.
Other causes of problems in the office include: poor communication, undefined processes or procedures, lack of resources, financial difficulties, not being properly trained, boredom, lack of motivation and stress at work.
Additional factors are heavy workloads, poor performance, lack of planning, unclear expectations, poor customer service, strained working relationships, poor management, staff turnover, burnout and poor job fit.
16. Problem solving skills
Skills that can aid in improving problem solving include:
Decision making skills – useful especially in choosing between alternatives, identifying the best solution and being able to explain why the chosen solution is the best one under the circumstances.
Communication skills – helps in firstly letting others know that there is a problem then secondly in outlining how the problem will be corrected, thirdly in assigning responsibilities and explaining to others what they should be doing and fourthly in letting others know that the problem has been resolved.
Risk taking – ability to identify the pros and cons of an alternative and then arming yourself with enough information to carry out the plan of action.
Prioritization – when faced with many problems at work and being able to identify the most urgent and important problem that should be fixed.
Flexibility – conditions and situations change all the time therefore, willingness to re-analyze plans and assumptions and re-calibrate them as needed is essential.
Other helpful traits consist of willingness to receive feedback , determination and perseverance to see things through, patience, connecting the dots or figuring out the relationship between things and tolerance for uncertainty.
17. Learning from others who have solved similar problems
It is possible that this is not the first time a problem has been encountered, others within the organization or elsewhere might have encountered similar problems and successfully solved them.
A similar problem could have been previously resolved by a coworker, a manager, someone from a different department or office, a consultant, a researcher etc.
Learning from others helps to save time and boost confidence in problem solving.
It is especially important to have documented problem solving procedures for critical problems that have occurred in the past. This acts as a form of knowledge library that is stored within the organization and can be transferred from one person to another.
18. Examples of problems at work
Typical problems faced at the workplace include the following:
- Lack of communication.
- Lack of resources.
- Missed deadlines.
- Not meeting goals.
- Difficulties getting along with others.
- Conflicts between employees .
- Poor leadership .
- Financial problems.
- Cost overruns.
- Bad customer service.
- Over promising or over committing.
- External challenges and threats.
- Difficult co-workers.
- Lack of teamwork.
- Poor attitude.
- Disconnect between supervisors and subordinates.
- Unhappy clients.
- Insufficient or lack of feedback.
- Job stress.
- Difficult customers.
- Low morale.
- Lack of appreciation or recognition.
- Poor work environment.
- Inefficient or obsolete systems.
- Duplication of efforts.
- Inadequate training.
Example of a problem: A simple example of a problem at the workplace is – “Failing to reach the branch office’s sales goals for the year?”
Questions to ask and analyze when diagnosing and resolving this problem can consist of the following:
- What was the annual sales goal?
- What percentage of the goal did we achieve?
- What was the gap?
- How were we supposed to reach the goal?
- Did we break down the goal into smaller achievable tasks or milestones?
- What processes or steps did we plan for reaching the goals?
- What action did we implement?
- Who was responsible for what?
- What internal and/or external challenges did we encounter?
- What systems or methods did we implement to monitor progress towards the goal?
- Why didn’t we reach the goal?
- When did we realize we wouldn’t reach the goal?
- What are the consequences for not meeting the goal?
- How can we correct the situation?
- How much time do we have to fix the problem?
- How can we prevent the problem from happening again?
- What can we learn from our mistakes?
- Have we met the sales goals in the past?
- Have other branch offices met their annual sales goals?
- How did others achieve their goals?
- What can we learn from others?
19. Best practices for problem solving
Problem solving is an ongoing learning process. Whereas problems cannot be entirely eliminated at work, you can take proactive steps to improve the organizational knowledge and capacity for handling problems.
Below are some ways that can help you to be better equipped to handle new and old problems when they arise in the workplace:
- Working collaboratively with others to solve problems.
- Documenting solutions to known or resolved problems; saving steps learned in resolving past issues.
- Constantly refining problem solving methods as new and old problems are resolved.
- Preparing and utilizing checklists for various work processes.
- Writing and implementing standard operating procedures and policies.
- Using handbooks, guidelines, manuals and flowcharts.
- Adopting quality control procedures at critical stages.
- Regularly doing projections or forecasting and assessing progress against initial plans.
- Learning from mistakes.
- Regular staff training.
- Conducting risk analysis and creating back up or contingency plans.
- Using audits to ensure that laid down procedures are being adhered to and finding out if there are any compliance problems.
- Regularly reviewing job performance through observation, reports, check-in meetings etc.
- Using timelines and deadlines.
- Generating insights from data collection.
- Implementing stronger monitoring systems.
- Encouraging a culture of ongoing process improvements.
- Taking initiative to resolve problems.
- Speaking up or voicing concerns early on when problems are detected.
- Aiming for good and regular communication across the organization.
- Listening to employees’ feedback.
- Encouraging suggestions for process improvements.
- Clear goal setting including long-term and short-term planning and goals.
- Adopting better technology and systems.
- Using external experts where needed such as consultants.
- Keeping track and staying up to date with external forces and changes such as changing customer preferences, economic conditions, government regulation, competition, technological advancements, political changes etc.
- Encouraging inter-departmental cross sharing of tips and tricks in addressing challenges.
- Evaluating results regularly.
Problem solving entails making corrections and improvements when things don’t go as expected.
Some problems can be fixed in a short amount of time while others take longer to be resolved.
At a minimum, when faced with a problem take some time to figure out what the real problem is, what caused the problem and find out potential alternatives to address the problem.
Afterwards select the best possible solution, devise a plan for carrying out the solution then implement it. Finalize by monitoring your progress and evaluating whether the problem has been resolved.
Additional Resources on Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills 9 Ways to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 5 Ways To Improve Your Problem Solving Skills How to Improve Problem Solving Skills Seven techniques for boosting independent problem solving skills in the workplace How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills with These 8 Science-Backed Techniques Summary Article Name 19 Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work Description Learn step-by-step ways to improve your problem solving skills at work including examples of problems at work, defining the problem, evaluating solutions and best practices in problem solving. Author Duncan Muguku Publisher Name ThriveYard Blog Categories
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Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail
26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
By Biron Clark
Published: November 15, 2023
Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation.
Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.
Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences.
It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.
Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving
Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way. We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online. Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.
Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.
Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
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Home » Job Tips » Career Advice » Your Complete Guide to Effective Problem Solving Skills [Tips & Techniques]
Your Complete Guide to Effective Problem Solving Skills [Tips & Techniques]
Having effective problem solving skills can be a big boon for your professional life. Most employers look for candidates who are capable of solving problems the right way with less supervision.
Possessing the capacity to confidently and quickly tackle complex issues requires having several key abilities at your disposal. With study and practice, you can learn how best to approach difficult problems in order to solve them successfully.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the importance of problem-solving skills, effective problem-solving strategies, and ways to develop and refine your problem-solving techniques.
Table of Contents
What are Problem-Solving Skills?
Problem-solving skills are techniques that enable you to solve any problem effectively. With good problem-solving skills, individuals can adequately determine the source of problems and proffer solutions. This empowers an individual to approach issues from different viable perspectives.
Effective problem solvers are critical thinkers, perceptive, and knowledgeable, which enables them to break down challenging circumstances into manageable components. To excel in your career you need to hone, build, and develop adequate problem-solving skills. You can build personal development skills in order to develop competent problem-solving abilities.
Must-Have Problem-Solving Techniques
To be an effective problem solver, you must have other creative and smart abilities, below are a few smart and creative skills you can use when solving a problem:
1. Strong Research Skills
To fully understand a problem and create viable solutions, a problem solver must be able to locate and identify the root cause of a problem. As a problem solver, you might need to conduct research using a lot of problem solving methods. You can start by asking your peers for input and using web resources to conduct thorough research.
2. Analyzing and Evaluation
The ability to analyze and evaluate solutions is a typical example of a problem-solving skill. This skill will allow you to investigate several solutions and select the most suitable one for your problem.
3. Effective Communication and Active Listening
After determining the best solution to the problem, the next step would be to communicate it to the relevant stakeholders and develop a plan of action for implementing the solution. The ability to adequately solve a problem requires strong communication skills.
Possessing strong communication skills implies that one should have clear goals and deadlines for addressing a problem. Communication should also include any effects the solution may have on other parts of the organization or external stakeholders.
As a problem solver, being reliable and adaptable is a trait prized by employers. Those who have the problem solving ability to identify issues, implement solutions efficiently, and do so in a timely manner are held in high regard. It is paramount for problem-solvers to possess adaptability as well because it assures that tasks will be carried out with accuracy and creativity.
Effective Problem-Solving Steps
The following tips will help you develop effective problem-solving skills that any employer would value.
1. Identification and Definition of Problem
To become an effective problem solver, you must know how to identify and recognize problems. Identifying a problem can be tough. You may find yourself asking questions like, “Is there even an issue here?” and if so, “What is its nature?”
To get the clearest understanding possible of any potential problems, take some time to really define exactly what the problems are. Doing this will not only help you grasp them better but also allow you to explain them accurately when communicating with others.
2. Gather Information and Organise the Problem
Once a problem has been identified and defined, it is ideal to gather more facts and information about the problem to get a better understanding of the problem. Gaining additional knowledge about a problem allows you to come up with various approaches to it as well as potential solutions. It involves observing, analyzing, and structuring the issue or situation at hand. During this phase, it is important to gather as much evidence about the problem and its causes in order to make sound judgments when selecting a course of action.
3. Generate Varieties of Potential Solutions to the Problem
Once you have successfully identified and gathered information on the existing problem, your next course of action will be brainstorming and developing different viable solutions to the problem. It is important to consider the perspectives of other teammates because different people in organizations will have diverse skills and perceptions about a problem and, thus, will have different solutions.
4. Careful Analysis and Taking Decision
Before making decisions, you should analyze all the solutions generated and then select the best course of action. To successfully make the right decision, the complexity of decision-making should be considered. This is because many circumstances can prevent a decision from being successful, even if it is the right one.
Remember that while some solutions might seem appropriate, they may not be appropriate to adopt at the stipulated time frame. This might be due to other variables like a lack of resources, the culture of the organization, a limited time frame, etc.
5. Implementing the Decision
After a thorough analysis has been made, and you have finally made a decision, the next step is to act on the decision you have chosen. It is important to note that more issues could develop during implementation. Especially if the identification or structuring of the original problem wasn’t done thoroughly.
6. Evaluate the Outcomes of the Decision
Verifying that the decision taken was effective is the focus of this phase of problem-solving. Asking those who were impacted by the changes of an outcome and how they felt about it is an effective way to evaluate the outcome of a decision.
Further, keeping track of results and any extra issues that come up is a good way to hone your problem solving skills. To effectively evaluate the outcome of your decision consider answering these questions below:
- Have you achieved the objectives of the decision taken?
- Did any unplanned or unforeseen situation arise in your decision-making process?
7. Improve and Reiterate
To master the art of problem-solving, look for other situations that permit you to use techniques and skills for solving problems. Find more chances to put the skills into action. Also when solving a problem make sure the issue won’t recur and share the lessons learned. This will enhance your problem solving skills. An ideal way to cultivate good problem solving skills is to take on challenging jobs that require cognitive processing such as business marketing or work-from-home jobs in data entry .
How Can I Demonstrate My Problem-Solving Skills?
Employers can learn more about how you might contribute to their team more quickly if you demonstrate your problem-solving abilities in your resume and cover letter.
1. How to Demonstrate Problem Solving Skills on a Resume?
In the ‘Achievements’ section of your resume, it is beneficial to provide concrete examples of how you have successfully solved problems. Emphasize how your knowledge and strategic thinking positively impacted a business situation or project outcome instead of simply saying that you are great at problem-solving.
The ‘Experience’ section allows for more expansion about any relevant projects where your problem-solving abilities were beneficial in completion or success rates. Conversely, if there was an unsuccessful result due to poor decision making then explain what corrective actions were taken as well as lessons learned.
2. How to Demonstrate Problem Solving Skills on Cover Letter?
Your cover letter is an incredible opportunity to expand on your problem solving capabilities. Here, you can give a concise example of when you efficiently handled a difficulty. On the other hand, you might recognize an issue that this potential employer wants to solve and explain how exactly you would address it. For instance, if there’s evidence in a job vacancy concerning improving brand awareness, then identifying ways where you could help promote awareness about the brand through various means will be an advantage for you.
Having problem solving skills is a huge advantage that can be extremely beneficial in both your personal and professional life. Problem-solving gives you the tools to make better decisions, identify solutions for roadblocks, and reach desired goals more easily. To effectively improve your problem solving skills consider taking a course on human resource management .
We hope these tips will help build and improve your problem handling skills, let us know in the comment section the different problem you have solved at your workplace.
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Harshita is an English Literature graduate from the University of Delhi with 3 years of experience in Content Writing and Editing. Dedicated to her craft, she loves creating magic with words. She is a big fan of hoarding cute planners and journals and can be seen watching FRIENDS (almost EVERYTIME) in her spare time. Her meticulous attention to detail makes her stand out from the crowd. A typo epidemic is her worst nightmare!
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Teaching students about mike singletary, teaching students about mount ararat, teaching students about the nail bed, teaching students about the rotary engine, teaching students about spruce trees, teaching students about tom bosley, teaching students about tuatara, teaching students about zoomers, exploring the tapestry of luzon: a guide to teaching the island’s geography, strategies and methods to teach students problem solving and critical thinking skills.
The ability to problem solve and think critically are two of the most important skills that PreK-12 students can learn. Why? Because students need these skills to succeed in their academics and in life in general. It allows them to find a solution to issues and complex situations that are thrown there way, even if this is the first time they are faced with the predicament.
Okay, we know that these are essential skills that are also difficult to master. So how can we teach our students problem solve and think critically? I am glad you asked. In this piece will list and discuss strategies and methods that you can use to teach your students to do just that.
- Direct Analogy Method
A method of problem-solving in which a problem is compared to similar problems in nature or other settings, providing solutions that could potentially be applied.
- Attribute Listing
A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem, or task are listed, and then ways to change those component parts are examined.
- Attribute Modifying
A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem, or task are listed, and then options for changing or improving each part are considered.
- Attribute Transferring
A technique used to encourage creative thinking in which the parts of a subject, problem or task listed and then the problem solver uses analogies to other contexts to generate and consider potential solutions.
- Morphological Synthesis
A technique used to encourage creative problem solving which extends on attribute transferring. A matrix is created, listing concrete attributes along the x-axis, and the ideas from a second attribute along with the y-axis, yielding a long list of idea combinations.
SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify-Magnify-Minify, Put to other uses, and Reverse or Rearrange. It is an idea checklist for solving design problems.
- Direct Analogy
A problem-solving technique in which an individual is asked to consider the ways problems of this type are solved in nature.
- Personal Analogy
A problem-solving technique in which an individual is challenged to become part of the problem to view it from a new perspective and identify possible solutions.
- Fantasy Analogy
A problem-solving process in which participants are asked to consider outlandish, fantastic or bizarre solutions which may lead to original and ground-breaking ideas.
- Symbolic Analogy
A problem-solving technique in which participants are challenged to generate a two-word phrase related to the design problem being considered and that appears self-contradictory. The process of brainstorming this phrase can stimulate design ideas.
- Implementation Charting
An activity in which problem solvers are asked to identify the next steps to implement their creative ideas. This step follows the idea generation stage and the narrowing of ideas to one or more feasible solutions. The process helps participants to view implementation as a viable next step.
- Thinking Skills
Skills aimed at aiding students to be critical, logical, and evaluative thinkers. They include analysis, comparison, classification, synthesis, generalization, discrimination, inference, planning, predicting, and identifying cause-effect relationships.
Can you think of any additional problems solving techniques that teachers use to improve their student’s problem-solving skills?
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