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How to Solve Problems
- Laura Amico
To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.
Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.
First, think of the last time you had to solve a problem. Maybe it was a big one: A major trade route is blocked and your product is time sensitive and must make it to market on time. Maybe it was a small one: A traffic jam on your way to work means you’re going to be late for your first meeting of the day. Whatever the size of the impact, in solving your problem you moved through five stages, according to “ Why Groups Struggle to Solve Problems Together ,” by Al Pittampalli.
Pittampalli finds that most of us, when working individually, move through these stages intuitively. It’s different when you’re working in a team, however. You need to stop and identify these different stages to make sure the group is aligned. For example, while one colleague might join a problem-solving discussion ready to evaluate assumptions (Stage 3), another might still be defining the problem (Stage 1). By defining each stage of your problem-solving explicitly, you increase the odds of your team coming to better solutions more smoothly.
This problem-solving technique gains extra power when applied to Alison Reynold’s and David Lewis’ research on problem-solving teams. In their article, “ The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams ,” they find that highly effective teams typically have a pair of common features: They are cognitively diverse and they are psychologically safe. They also exhibit an array of characteristics associated with learning and confidence; these teammates tend to be curious, experimental, and nurturing, for example.
As you and your colleagues consider these ideas, think about the last problem you had to solve as a team. First, map out what you remember from each step of your problem-solving. Were all of you on the same page at each stage? What aspects of the problem did you consider — or might you have missed — as a result? What can you do differently the next time you have a problem to solve? Second, ask where your team sees themselves on the chart. What kinds of behaviors could your team adopt to help you move into that top-right quadrant?
- Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.
Introduction to Problem Solving Skills
What is problem solving and why is it important.
The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.
Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.
Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life but are critical in your professional life. In the current fast-changing global economy, employers often identify everyday problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions, and to show independence and initiative to employers.
Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.
What Does Problem Solving Look Like?
The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.
Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.
But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :
- I dentify the problem
- D efine the context of the problem
- E xplore possible strategies
- A ct on best solution
IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.
Watch the video
What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].
Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.
Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
- [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.
Developing Problem Solving Processes
Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.
What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .
Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.
The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.
Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.
Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!
- [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.
“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM
Voices From the Field: Solving Problems
In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.
In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.
Meet the Partners:
- Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
- Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
- H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
- Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.
Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.
Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.
Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.
What problems did you observe in the video?
- [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
- What do you do next?
- Try to fix it yourself.
- Ask your trainer for help.
As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.
You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.
- Check the dowel pins.
- Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.
- Run the single step/single block function.
- Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.
You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.
Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.
You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.
- Look at the G-code.
After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.
You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.
After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.
As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.
It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.
- You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
- You leave a note on the machine, just in case.
You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.
While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.
- You decide to talk with your supervisor.
- You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.
As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?
Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.
From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.
Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.
You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.
Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.
Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.
It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.
You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.
In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.
You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.
At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.
In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.
The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.
Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.
You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.
Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.
It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.
How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?
In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.
You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.
You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .
Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.
You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.
When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.
You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
- Determine what happened.
- Determine why it happened.
- Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.
RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:
- Root Cause Analysis Tools
- 5 Whys Analysis
- Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
- Pareto Analysis
How Huddles Work
Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.
One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.
Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:
- Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
- Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
- Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .
One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.
- Define a clear objective.
- Have an agreed a time limit.
- During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
- If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
- Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
- Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.
When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.
- Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
- Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .
Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.
Tips for clear communication of an issue:
- Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
- Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
- Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
- If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
- Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.
Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.
The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.
Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .
Methods of Communication
Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.
Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.
Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
- [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?
Summary of Strategies
In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.
When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.
There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:
Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.
If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.
One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.
Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.
In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.
One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.
To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.
- View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication
Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.
- Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.
There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.
"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma
Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill
Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.
The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.
In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.
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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.
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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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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts.
- Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.
Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.
Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.
Problem-solving is considered a soft skill (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.
How Problem-Solving Skills Work
Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.
To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.
Theresa Chiechi / The Balance
There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.
1. Analyze Contributing Factors
To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.
To do this, you'll use skills like :
- Data gathering
- Data analysis
- Historical analysis
2. Generate Interventions
Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.
This involves skills like :
- Creative thinking
- Project design
- Project planning
3. Evaluate Solutions
Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.
This requires several skills, including:
- Test development
4. Implement a Plan
Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.
This requires skills like:
- Project management
- Project implementation
- Time management
- Benchmark development
5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness
Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.
- Customer feedback
Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.
When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.
Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:
When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.
Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills
- Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.
If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.
During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .
Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.
- It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
- Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness.
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Article • 7 min read
What Is Problem Solving?
By the Mind Tools Content Team
We all spend a lot of our time solving problems, both at work and in our personal lives.
Some problems are small, and we can quickly sort them out ourselves. But others are complex challenges that take collaboration, creativity, and a considerable amount of effort to solve.
At work, the types of problems we face depend largely on the organizations we're in and the jobs we do. A manager in a cleaning company, for example, might spend their day untangling staffing issues, resolving client complaints, and sorting out problems with equipment and supplies. An aircraft designer, on the other hand, might be grappling with a problem about aerodynamics, or trying to work out why a new safety feature isn't working. Meanwhile, a politician might be exploring solutions to racial injustice or climate change.
But whatever issues we face, there are some common ways to tackle them effectively. And we can all boost our confidence and ability to succeed by building a strong set of problem-solving skills.
Mind Tools offers a large collection of resources to help you do just that!
How Well Do You Solve Problems?
Start by taking an honest look at your existing skills. What's your current approach to solving problems, and how well is it working? Our quiz, How Good Is Your Problem Solving? lets you analyze your abilities, and signposts ways to address any areas of weakness.
Define Every Problem
The first step in solving a problem is understanding what that problem actually is. You need to be sure that you're dealing with the real problem – not its symptoms. For example, if performance in your department is substandard, you might think that the problem lies with the individuals submitting work. However, if you look a bit deeper, the real issue might be a general lack of training, or an unreasonable workload across the team.
Tools like 5 Whys , Appreciation and Root Cause Analysis get you asking the right questions, and help you to work through the layers of a problem to uncover what's really going on.
However, defining a problem doesn't mean deciding how to solve it straightaway. It's important to look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. If you commit yourself too early, you can end up with a short-sighted solution. The CATWOE checklist provides a powerful reminder to look at many elements that may contribute to the problem, keeping you open to a variety of possible solutions.
As you define your problem, you'll often discover just how complicated it is. There are likely several interrelated issues involved. That's why it's important to have ways to visualize, simplify and make sense of this tangled mess!
Affinity Diagrams are great for organizing many different pieces of information into common themes, and for understanding the relationships between them.
Another popular tool is the Cause-and-Effect Diagram . To generate viable solutions, you need a solid understanding of what's causing the problem.
When your problem occurs within a business process, creating a Flow Chart , Swim Lane Diagram or a Systems Diagram will help you to see how various activities and inputs fit together. This may well highlight a missing element or bottleneck that's causing your problem.
Quite often, what seems to be a single problem turns out to be a whole series of problems. The Drill Down technique prompts you to split your problem into smaller, more manageable parts.
General Problem-Solving Tools
When you understand the problem in front of you, you’re ready to start solving it. With your definition to guide you, you can generate several possible solutions, choose the best one, then put it into action. That's the four-step approach at the heart of good problem solving.
There are various problem-solving styles to use. For example:
- Constructive Controversy is a way of widening perspectives and energizing discussions.
- Inductive Reasoning makes the most of people’s experiences and know-how, and can speed up solution finding.
- Means-End Analysis can bring extra clarity to your thinking, and kick-start the process of implementing solutions.
Specific Problem-Solving Systems
Some particularly complicated or important problems call for a more comprehensive process. Again, Mind Tools has a range of approaches to try, including:
- Simplex , which involves an eight-stage process: problem finding, fact finding, defining the problem, idea finding, selecting and evaluating, planning, selling the idea, and acting. These steps build upon the basic, four-step process described above, and they create a cycle of problem finding and solving that will continually improve your organization.
- Appreciative Inquiry , which is a uniquely positive way of solving problems by examining what's working well in the areas surrounding them.
- Soft Systems Methodology , which takes you through four stages to uncover more details about what's creating your problem, and then define actions that will improve the situation.
Further Problem-Solving Strategies
Good problem solving requires a number of other skills – all of which are covered by Mind Tools.
For example, we have a large section of resources to improve your Creativity , so that you come up with a range of possible solutions.
By strengthening your Decision Making , you'll be better at evaluating the options, selecting the best ones, then choosing how to implement them.
And our Project Management collection has valuable advice for strengthening the whole problem-solving process. The resources there will help you to make effective changes – and then keep them working long term.
Problems are an inescapable part of life, both in and out of work. So we can all benefit from having strong problem-solving skills.
It's important to understand your current approach to problem solving, and to know where and how to improve.
Define every problem you encounter – and understand its complexity, rather than trying to solve it too soon.
There's a range of general problem-solving approaches, helping you to generate possible answers, choose the best ones, and then implement your solution.
Some complicated or serious problems require more specific problem-solving systems, especially when they relate to business processes.
By boosting your creativity, decision-making and project-management skills, you’ll become even better at solving all the problems you face.
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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.
- Identify the Problem
- Define the Problem
- Form a Strategy
- Organize Information
- Allocate Resources
- Monitor Progress
- Evaluate the Results
Frequently Asked Questions
Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.
The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.
It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.
In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.
The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.
1. Identifying the Problem
While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.
Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :
- Asking questions about the problem
- Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
- Looking at the problem from different perspectives
- Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables
2. Defining the Problem
After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address
At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.
3. Forming a Strategy
After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.
The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.
- Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
- Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.
Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.
4. Organizing Information
Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.
When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.
5. Allocating Resources
Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.
If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.
At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.
6. Monitoring Progress
After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.
It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.
Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .
7. Evaluating the Results
After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.
Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.
A Word From Verywell
It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.
Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast
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You can become a better problem solving by:
- Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
- Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
- Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
- Asking for help when needed
- Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
- Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow
It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.
Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.
If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.
Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors. The Psychology of Problem Solving . Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771
Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving . Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261
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
Last Updated: August 27, 2023 References Approved
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. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 92% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 225,331 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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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And How To List On A Resume)
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Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation.
Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That’s why employers value problem-solving skills in job candidates for just about every role.
We’ll cover problem-solving methods, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and examples of showcasing your problem-solving skills during your job search .
If you can show off your problem-solving skills on your resume , in your cover letter , and during a job interview, you’ll be one step closer to landing a job.
Companies rely on employees who can handle unexpected challenges, identify persistent issues, and offer workable solutions in a positive way.
It is important to improve problem solving skill because this is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.
Types of Problem-Solving Skills
How to improve your problem-solving skills, example answers to problem-solving interview questions, how to show off problem-solving skills on a resume, example resume and cover letter with problem-solving skills, more about problem-solving skills, problem solving skills faqs.
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Problem-solving skills are skills that help you identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently . Your ability to solve problems is one of the main ways that hiring managers and recruiters assess candidates, as those with excellent problem-solving skills are more likely to autonomously carry out their responsibilities.
A true problem solver can look at a situation, find the cause of the problem (or causes, because there are often many issues at play), and then come up with a reasonable solution that effectively fixes the problem or at least remedies most of it.
The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill , meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on the job, or through technical training.
That being said, your proficiency with various hard skills will have a direct bearing on your ability to solve problems. For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a great problem-solver; if you have no experience with astrophysics, you probably won’t be hired as a space station technician .
Problem-solving is considered a skill on its own, but it’s supported by many other skills that can help you be a better problem solver. These skills fall into a few different categories of problem-solving skills.
Problem recognition and analysis. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and discover what it is or what the root cause of it is.
You can’t begin to solve a problem unless you’re aware of it. Sometimes you’ll see the problem yourself and other times you’ll be told about the problem. Both methods of discovery are very important, but they can require some different skills. The following can be an important part of the process:
Create possible solutions. You know what the problem is, and you might even know the why of it, but then what? Your next step is the come up with some solutions.
Most of the time, the first solution you come up with won’t be the right one. Don’t fall victim to knee-jerk reactions; try some of the following methods to give you solution options.
Evaluation of solution options. Now that you have a lot of solution options, it’s time to weed through them and start casting some aside. There might be some ridiculous ones, bad ones, and ones you know could never be implemented. Throw them away and focus on the potentially winning ideas.
This step is probably the one where a true, natural problem solver will shine. They intuitively can put together mental scenarios and try out solutions to see their plusses and minuses. If you’re still working on your skill set — try listing the pros and cons on a sheet of paper.
Evaluating and weighing
Solution implementation. This is your “take action” step. Once you’ve decided which way to go, it’s time to head down that path and see if you were right. This step takes a lot of people and management skills to make it work for you.
Evaluation of the solution. Was it a good solution? Did your plan work or did it fail miserably? Sometimes the evaluation step takes a lot of work and review to accurately determine effectiveness. The following skills might be essential for a thorough evaluation.
You now have a ton of skills in front of you. Some of them you have naturally and some — not so much. If you want to solve a problem, and you want to be known for doing that well and consistently, then it’s time to sharpen those skills.
Develop industry knowledge. Whether it’s broad-based industry knowledge, on-the-job training , or very specific knowledge about a small sector — knowing all that you can and feeling very confident in your knowledge goes a long way to learning how to solve problems.
Be a part of a solution. Step up and become involved in the problem-solving process. Don’t lead — but follow. Watch an expert solve the problem and, if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to solve a problem, too. Pay attention to the steps and the skills that a person uses.
Practice solving problems. Do some role-playing with a mentor , a professor , co-workers, other students — just start throwing problems out there and coming up with solutions and then detail how those solutions may play out.
Go a step further, find some real-world problems and create your solutions, then find out what they did to solve the problem in actuality.
Identify your weaknesses. If you could easily point out a few of your weaknesses in the list of skills above, then those are the areas you need to focus on improving. How you do it is incredibly varied, so find a method that works for you.
Solve some problems — for real. If the opportunity arises, step in and use your problem-solving skills. You’ll never really know how good (or bad) you are at it until you fail.
That’s right, failing will teach you so much more than succeeding will. You’ll learn how to go back and readdress the problem, find out where you went wrong, learn more from listening even better. Failure will be your best teacher ; it might not make you feel good, but it’ll make you a better problem-solver in the long run.
Once you’ve impressed a hiring manager with top-notch problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter , you’ll need to continue selling yourself as a problem-solver in the job interview.
There are three main ways that employers can assess your problem-solving skills during an interview:
By asking questions that relate to your past experiences solving problems
Posing hypothetical problems for you to solve
By administering problem-solving tests and exercises
The third method varies wildly depending on what job you’re applying for, so we won’t attempt to cover all the possible problem-solving tests and exercises that may be a part of your application process.
Luckily, interview questions focused on problem-solving are pretty well-known, and most can be answered using the STAR method . STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and it’s a great way to organize your answers to behavioral interview questions .
Let’s take a look at how to answer some common interview questions built to assess your problem-solving capabilities:
At my current job as an operations analyst at XYZ Inc., my boss set a quarterly goal to cut contractor spending by 25% while maintaining the same level of production and moving more processes in-house. It turned out that achieving this goal required hiring an additional 6 full-time employees, which got stalled due to the pandemic. I suggested that we widen our net and hire remote employees after our initial applicant pool had no solid candidates. I ran the analysis on overhead costs and found that if even 4 of the 6 employees were remote, we’d save 16% annually compared to the contractors’ rates. In the end, all 6 employees we hired were fully remote, and we cut costs by 26% while production rose by a modest amount.
I try to step back and gather research as my first step. For instance, I had a client who needed a graphic designer to work with Crello, which I had never seen before, let alone used. After getting the project details straight, I began meticulously studying the program the YouTube tutorials, and the quick course Crello provides. I also reached out to coworkers who had worked on projects for this same client in the past. Once I felt comfortable with the software, I started work immediately. It was a slower process because I had to be more methodical in my approach, but by putting in some extra hours, I turned in the project ahead of schedule. The client was thrilled with my work and was shocked to hear me joke afterward that it was my first time using Crello.
As a digital marketer , website traffic and conversion rates are my ultimate metrics. However, I also track less visible metrics that can illuminate the story behind the results. For instance, using Google Analytics, I found that 78% of our referral traffic was coming from one affiliate, but that these referrals were only accounting for 5% of our conversions. Another affiliate, who only accounted for about 10% of our referral traffic, was responsible for upwards of 30% of our conversions. I investigated further and found that the second, more effective affiliate was essentially qualifying our leads for us before sending them our way, which made it easier for us to close. I figured out exactly how they were sending us better customers, and reached out to the first, more prolific but less effective affiliate with my understanding of the results. They were able to change their pages that were referring us traffic, and our conversions from that source tripled in just a month. It showed me the importance of digging below the “big picture” metrics to see the mechanics of how revenue was really being generated through digital marketing.
You can bring up your problem-solving skills in your resume summary statement , in your work experience , and under your education section , if you’re a recent graduate. The key is to include items on your resume that speak direclty to your ability to solve problems and generate results.
If you can, quantify your problem-solving accomplishments on your your resume . Hiring managers and recruiters are always more impressed with results that include numbers because they provide much-needed context.
This sample resume for a Customer Service Representative will give you an idea of how you can work problem solving into your resume.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Professional Summary Qualified Customer Services Representative with 3 years in a high-pressure customer service environment. Professional, personable, and a true problem solver. Work History ABC Store — Customer Service Representative 01/2015 — 12/2017 Managed in-person and phone relations with customers coming in to pick up purchases, return purchased products, helped find and order items not on store shelves, and explained details and care of merchandise. Became a key player in the customer service department and was promoted to team lead. XYZ Store — Customer Service Representative/Night Manager 01/2018 — 03/2020, released due to Covid-19 layoffs Worked as the night manager of the customer service department and filled in daytime hours when needed. Streamlined a process of moving customers to the right department through an app to ease the burden on the phone lines and reduce customer wait time by 50%. Was working on additional wait time problems when the Covid-19 pandemic caused our stores to close permanently. Education Chicago Tech 2014-2016 Earned an Associate’s Degree in Principles of Customer Care Skills Strong customer service skills Excellent customer complaint resolution Stock record management Order fulfillment New product information Cash register skills and proficiency Leader in problem solving initiatives
You can see how the resume gives you a chance to point out your problem-solving skills and to show where you used them a few times. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and list a few things that make you stand out from the crowd.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Dear Mary McDonald, I am writing in response to your ad on Zippia for a Customer Service Representative . Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this position. Many people believe that a job in customer service is simply listening to people complain all day. I see the job as much more than that. It’s an opportunity to help people solve problems, make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and turn them into life-long advocates of your brand. Through my years of experience and my educational background at Chicago Tech, where I earned an Associate’s Degree in the Principles of Customer Care, I have learned that the customers are the lifeline of the business and without good customer service representatives, a business will falter. I see it as my mission to make each and every customer I come in contact with a fan. I have more than five years of experience in the Customer Services industry and had advanced my role at my last job to Night Manager. I am eager to again prove myself as a hard worker, a dedicated people person, and a problem solver that can be relied upon. I have built a professional reputation as an employee that respects all other employees and customers, as a manager who gets the job done and finds solutions when necessary, and a worker who dives in to learn all she can about the business. Most of my customers have been very satisfied with my resolution ideas and have returned to do business with us again. I believe my expertise would make me a great match for LMNO Store. I have enclosed my resume for your review, and I would appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications. Thank you again for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Michelle Beattle
You’ve no doubt noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities or talents is so important to the entire course of getting a problem solved.
In fact, they’re worthy of a little more attention. Many of them are similar, so we’ll pull them together and discuss how they’re important and how they work together.
Communication, active listening, and customer service skills. No matter where you are in the process of problem-solving, you need to be able to show that you’re listening and engaged and really hearing what the problem is or what a solution may be.
Obviously, the other part of this is being able to communicate effectively so people understand what you’re saying without confusion. Rolled into this are customer service skills , which really are all about listening and responding appropriately — it’s the ultimate in interpersonal communications.
Analysis (data and historical), research, and topic knowledge/understanding. This is how you intellectually grasp the issue and approach it. This can come from studying the topic and the process or it can come from knowledge you’ve gained after years in the business. But the best solutions come from people who thoroughly understand the problem.
Creativity, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and flexibility. All of you creative thinkers will like this area because it’s when your brain is at its best.
Coming up with ideas, collaborating with others, leaping over hurdles, and then being able to change courses immediately, if need be, are all essential. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of diverse thinkers can help you in this area.
Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through. Think about it, these are all traits a person needs to have to make change happen and to make you comfortable taking that next step with them. Someone who is shifty and shady and never follows through, well, you’re simply not going to do what they ask, are you?
Leadership, teambuilding, decision-making, and project management. These are the skills that someone who is in charge is brimming with. These are the leaders you enjoy working for because you know they’re doing what they can to keep everything in working order. These skills can be learned but they’re often innate.
Prioritizing, prediction, forecasting, evaluating and weighing, and process flow. If you love flow charts, data analysis, prediction modeling, and all of that part of the equation, then you might have some great problem-solving abilities.
These are all great skills because they can help you weed out bad ideas, see flaws, and save massive amounts of time in trial and error.
What is a good example of problem-solving skills?
Good examples of porblem-solving skills include research, analysis, creativity, communciation, and decision-making. Each of these skills build off one another to contribute to the problem solving process. Research and analysis allow you to identify a problem.
Creativity and analysis help you consider different solutions. Meanwhile, communication and decision-making are key to working with others to solve a problem on a large scale.
What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver?
3 key attributes of a good problem solver are persistence, intellegince, and empathy. Persistence is crucial to remain motivated to work through challenges. Inellegince is needed to make smart, informed choices. Empathy is crucial to maintain positive relationships with others as well as yourself.
What can I say instead of problem-solving skills?
Instead of saying problem-solving skills, you can say the following:
Using different words is helpful, especially when writing your resume and cover letter.
What is problem-solving in the workplace?
Problem-solving in the workplace is the ability to work through any sort of challenge, conflict, or unexpected situation and still achieve business goals. Though it varies by profession, roblem-solving in the workplace is very important for almost any job, because probelms are inevitable. You need to have the appropriate level of problem-solving skills if you want to succeed in your career, whatever it may be.
Department of Labor – Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
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Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.
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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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Team building activities can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction, employee engagement and organizational success. But even with the best intentions, it’s not sufficient to simply bring a group of people together. Team building activities can prove to be the missing link that will help your group feel more connected and able to collaborate more effectively. But how do you choose the right activity, and where do you get started when trying to encourage team bonding? We're here to help with this collection of simple and effective team building activities! Building a highly effective team takes effort, consideration, and the deployment of a thoughtful group process. Remember…
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…
Effective online tools are a necessity for smooth and engaging virtual workshops and meetings. But how do you choose the right ones? Do you sometimes feel that the good old pen and paper or MS Office toolkit and email leaves you struggling to stay on top of managing and delivering your workshop? Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools to make your life easier when you need to facilitate a meeting and lead workshops. In this post, we’ll share our favorite online tools you can use to make your job as a facilitator easier. In fact, there are plenty of free online workshop tools and meeting facilitation software you can…
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How to Apply Your Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace
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How to Apply Your Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace was originally published on uConnect External Content .
Illustration by Marian Blair
Problem solving is a “soft skill” valued by just about every employer. And its importance will only grow in the future—the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025 (and beyond), employers will increasingly seek out creative candidates with expertise in critical thinking and problem solving .
You’ve probably practiced problem solving skills without realizing it; most of us solve multiple problems, large and small, on a regular basis as we go about our lives. But workplace problems often require a more methodical, collaborative approach. Here’s how to sharpen your problem solving competencies for a current or potential job .
Identify and define the problem
The simplicity of the first step makes it easy to overlook. Before you can tackle a problem, though, you need a clear understanding of what the problem is. If you’re dealing with several issues at once, address them one at a time—you may find a lot of connected problems can be traced back to a single issue. Business coach Michael Cooper says, “ A well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it ,” and that might be the case for you.
The next step is to explain the problem as specifically as you can. Start by asking yourself “Why is this a problem?” even if the answer seems obvious. The “why” will open up other questions you can use to generate problem-solving ideas and make the issue easier for others to understand. Just because something seems like a clear problem to you doesn’t mean it’ll feel that way to someone else.
One definition of creativity is the ability to consider a task in a different way, or to think of new approaches and angles. Many organizations and individuals find themselves running into the same problems over and over. A well-timed creative solution can break the cycle.
One framework you can use is the Creative Problem Solving [CPS] process , formalized by theorists Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes (Osborn came up with the term “ brainstorming ”). There are many variations on the specific steps of this process, but they all involve a period of idea generation or thinking up “creative challenges.”
A creative challenge is a question designed to invite answers or suggestions. This can be as simple as replacing “I need to…” with “How can I…?” or “In what ways can I….?” Here’s what creative challenges might look like in a work context:
- How could I manage my time more efficiently to meet this deadline?
- How can I reorganize my inbox so I see the most important messages first?
- How could we use our internal communications software in a way that keeps messages from getting lost in the shuffle?
Pro tip: Turning problem statements into questions is a key problem-solving skill. Questions are much more open-ended than statements, which makes it easier for you and others to find multiple possible responses.
Generating potential solutions
Next you’ll think of answers to your “creative challenge” questions. This is the problem solving skill normally called brainstorming.
First, get all your ideas in one place—ideally a document you can refer to and edit later. For instance, an idea generation process might be helpful when you’re coming up with:
- Scenarios for a seminar that include in-person, virtual, and hybrid options
- Ways to cover necessary shifts in an understaffed workplace (staggering people’s schedules, reassigning or rearranging duties, bringing in volunteers, etc.)
- Presenting data for an annual report in a way that makes sense to readers (visual graphs, charts, a highlights reel, etc.)
Once you’ve thought of as many solutions as possible, step back from the list—as long as the problem isn’t too time-sensitive—and come back with fresh eyes.
The next step is to turn some of your ideas into actionable plans. When you see the solutions all together, you might discover how certain ideas are related and can form part of a connected strategy.
Not every idea is going to be a winner, so here are tips for sifting through them:
- Figure out in advance what criteria you’ll use to judge the ideas (like timeframe, budget restrictions, or other factors).
- Consider previous experiences you’ve had with a similar problem. What worked and what didn’t?
- Try the SWOT technique to think about all the angles of an idea.
- Break down broader, more vague solutions into step-by-step tasks.
Collaborating as a team
At any point during this process, you may realize you don’t have the best skill set or expertise to solve the problem. Or you might simply want to bring in different perspectives.
- Remember, creativity involves trying new approaches. Someone else may propose an idea that would never have occurred to you.
- Solutions will impact some employees differently than others, depending on their roles. On your own, you may not realize how your potential solutions affect other people.
- Suspend judgment any time you’re generating creative challenges or ideas, in a group or on your own. This might not be easy, especially if you flat-out disagree with a colleague’s idea, but listen to their reasoning first. Everyone needs a chance to be heard.
Ultimately the solution should be a group effort, even if one person is in charge of the process. Collaboration has the bonus effect of keeping everyone on the same page. When everyone understands the task, the details, and the logistics, there’s less confusion.
Making a decision and moving forward
Once you’ve generated, narrowed down, and developed ideas, you’re ready to pick the solution you think will be most effective.
After you implement your plan, you’ll practice another crucial problem-solving skill, evaluation. Come up with benchmark criteria to determine whether or not the solution is working.
For instance, maybe you’ve arranged a way for staff members to take on new responsibilities after a colleague has left abruptly or a position is eliminated. Your evaluation benchmarks will probably include performance metrics to make sure the work is complete and up to organizational standards. You’ll also want to assess whether the staff members feel they can sustain their new workloads and whether tasks are being distributed fairly.
And once solutions get underway, they may not work out exactly as you thought they would. While that’s inconvenient, it doesn’t mean the problem-solving process failed.
Problem solving is an ongoing effort, and if you do end up going back to the idea generation board, you’ll learn even more the next time.
What problem solving tips and techniques have you found helpful? Feel free to comment and share.
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- Job-essential skills
- Develop your employability skills
The Collins English dictionary defines it as: the act or process of finding solutions to problems, especially by using a scientific or analytical approach. It is a vital everyday skill that you will need to have for your personal and professional life.
- Why is it important
How can I get better?
How can i demonstrate this when applying for jobs, why is it important.
- Employers like to see good problem solving skills because it also helps to show them you have a range of other competencies such as logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking and determination.
- It is a vital skills for your professional and personal life.
- It is a key skill that is assessed at job interviews..
- It is an essential skill for managers and all senior level roles.
- Those with good problem-solving skills are a valuable and trusted asset in any team – these are the people who think of new ideas, better ways of doing things, make it easier for people to understand things or help save customers time and money.
- They are proactive thinkers who like to get things done.
- Can help you progress more quickly and boost your career opportunities.
Problem-solving and critical thinking Employers look for individuals with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In this free short three-week online course from RIT you’ll learn how to develop these key skills and how to develop a framework to help you assess and analyse a situation, design a solution, and ultimately win in a competitive scenario.
- Learn more
Problem-solving – it’s a process Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analysing and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. This article from VeryWellMind identifies some key parts of the process.
- Discover more
Problem solving is vital at all levels
We often associate the skill of problem-solving with those in senior positions. After all, they have more responsibilities, as well as the authority to tackle any issues that may arise. While it’s not very likely that you will be asked to find a solution to a major business issue on your first day of a new job, the way you handle even the smallest of problems will demonstrate to an employer how well you can deal with larger ones. If your boss doubts your ability to overcome difficulties that come your way, they may not trust you with more responsibility, or consider you for a managerial role later on.
Knowing how to solve problems is therefore of paramount importance vital. Luckily, there are many ways you can develop the skill, and learning how to demonstrate it can prove invaluable at job interviews.
Acquiring a new skill doesn’t have to feel like work. You can easily build your problem-solving ability through gaming, either online or with classic board games. How many times have you played your favourite game and got stuck on the same level for hours, before you finally found a way around it? Putting yourself in a situation, even a fictional one, where you have to think creatively will help you develop the same mind-set in your everyday life. You can then apply these skills and behaviours to your professional life, too.
Don’t run away
When the going gets tough, we all have the tendency to want to hide away instead of facing the problem and coming up with a solution. Unfortunately, wishing a problem away will not make it disappear, so dealing with it promptly can be essential in keeping you sane! Even if there is no solution, the way you handle the consequences and minimise the negative impact will make you feel more powerful and able to handle any adversities.
Asking for help or advice is not a weakness! It is actually welcomed by many employers, especially while you are still learning the ropes. Listen to what people with more experience have to say, and then try to figure out if you can apply their advice to solve your problem. This will not only help you handle it with more confidence, but it will also show that you are proactive, and not afraid to consult your seniors.
History repeats itself
Perhaps the problem you are facing has happened before. In this case, if the solution was successful, you might want to follow it. If it wasn’t, you can eliminate all the ways you can’t solve the problem.
Do your research
Having all the facts can really help you understand a problem better and even identify where something went wrong. While trusting your instinct, and proposing a solution is fine, it’s wise to have some facts in your back pocket to help you convince your team, or your boss. That way, you will not only have presented them with a solution, but you will also have the facts to justify your way of thinking if you come up against any criticism.
Don’t look for problems
While spotting mistakes is a great skill, creating problems out of nowhere is not! Sometimes the simplest solution is the answer, and trying to prove yourself by tackling a problem you created will probably give you a reputation of being a trouble maker, rather than the hero you want to be seen as.
This article by topuniversities may also help when learning how to solve problems. It describes how you should handle the problem solving process.
Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee – this article from Targetjobs.com has some excellent guidance on how employers assess problem solving in your job applications and when you start work.
Demonstrating that you are a great problem solver is not always easy, as there is only so much you can include in your CV. However, one of the most common interview questions is designed to assess this skill. So, what do you say when an interviewer asks: ‘Give us an example of a situation where you faced a difficult problem?’
It can be very tempting to make up a situation, to try and make yourself sound like the master of problem-solving. However, it’s always best to be truthful, even if you feel like your example refers to a minor problem. Do try to think of a situation, perhaps in your student life, where you came across an obstacle and managed to tackle it effectively. It could be something like working as part of a project team, or writing your dissertation, for example.
If you simply can’t recall having faced any major issues at university, then use your personal life as an example. Maybe you like playing chess, which will also show your ability to think strategically. Or perhaps you travelled abroad and had problems with your booking, or finding your way around in a new country where you didn’t speak the language.
Remember, the important thing is to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet, remain calm in stressful situations and contribute to finding a solution.
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- Cultivating Critical Thinking for Problem Solving
In today's fast-paced and complex world, the ability to think critically is crucial for problem solving. Critical thinking allows us to analyze information, evaluate different perspectives, and make informed decisions. In this article, we will explore the importance of critical thinking, the process of cultivating it, strategies for fostering it, and overcoming obstacles that hinder its development. We will also discuss how to apply critical thinking in various contexts, from everyday situations to professional settings.
Understanding the Importance of Critical Thinking
When faced with challenges or dilemmas, critical thinking is the key to finding effective solutions. It enables us to question assumptions, consider alternatives, and make logical connections. Critical thinking goes beyond rote memorization or blindly following instructions. It involves independent thinking, curiosity, and the ability to adapt in a rapidly changing world.
Moreover, critical thinking empowers us to think critically about the information we encounter. In an age of information overload, it is crucial to be able to discern between reliable sources and misinformation. Critical thinking equips us with the skills to evaluate evidence, assess credibility, and make informed judgments.
The Impact of Critical Thinking on Decision Making
Effective decision making relies on critical thinking. It allows us to weigh the pros and cons, consider potential consequences, and evaluate different options objectively. Critical thinking helps us avoid hasty judgments and biases, so that decisions are well-thought-out and based on rational analysis.
Moreover, critical thinking helps us anticipate and mitigate potential risks. By considering different scenarios and evaluating potential outcomes, we can identify potential pitfalls and take proactive measures to minimize their impact. This will surely lead to more successful outcomes and prevent costly mistakes.
Lastly, critical thinking fosters creativity and innovation. It encourages us to think outside the box and explore unconventional solutions. By challenging conventional wisdom and embracing new ideas, critical thinkers can drive positive change and make significant contributions to their fields.
The Process of Cultivating Critical Thinking
Cultivating critical thinking is an ongoing process that requires practice and reflection. While some individuals may have a natural inclination towards critical thinking, it is a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time.
Developing a Critical Mindset
A critical mindset involves actively questioning assumptions, seeking evidence, and challenging preconceived notions. It requires an open and inquisitive attitude towards learning and problem solving. Here are some guidelines to develop a critical mindset:
- Engage in critical reflection: Examine your own thought processes and biases, as well as seeking feedback from others. By reflecting on our own thinking, we can identify areas for improvement and develop a more objective and rational approach to problem solving.
- Embrace intellectual humility: Recognize that we don't have all the answers and being open to new ideas and perspectives. It requires a willingness to admit when we are wrong and a commitment to constantly learning and growing.
- Cultivate intellectual curiosity: Actively seek out new information, asking questions, and exploring different viewpoints. It involves a thirst for knowledge and a desire to understand the world around us.
Enhancing Analytical Skills
Analytical skills are essential for critical thinking. They involve the ability to examine information, identify patterns, and draw logical conclusions. Here are some ways to improve these skills:
- Complete activities such as analyzing data, solving puzzles, and engaging in logical reasoning exercises.
- Read and research in diverse fields to broaden your knowledge base and expose yourself to different perspectives.
- Practice active listening to gain valuable insights and perspectives that can inform our own thinking.
- Develop strong problem-solving skills by breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts, and systematically evaluating each component.
Strategies for Fostering Critical Thinking
To foster critical thinking, it is essential to create an environment that encourages intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness. By fostering these qualities, we can stimulate critical thinking in ourselves and others.
Open-mindedness involves being receptive to different ideas and perspectives, even if they challenge our own beliefs. By valuing diverse viewpoints, we can foster a culture of critical thinking that promotes innovation and creativity.
- Actively seek out diverse opinions: Engage in conversations with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. By listening to their perspectives, we can broaden our own understanding and challenge our preconceived notions.
- Engage in respectful debates: By creating a safe and inclusive space for discussion, individuals can share their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or ridicule. This allows for the exploration of different viewpoints and encourages critical thinking.
- Encourage others to share their ideas: By creating an environment where everyone's voice is valued and respected, people feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. This not only promotes critical thinking but also enhances collaboration and teamwork.
Promoting Intellectual Curiosity
Intellectual curiosity drives critical thinking by inspiring us to ask questions and seek answers. It is the desire to explore new ideas, learn new concepts, and expand our knowledge.
- Encourage a love for learning: Provide opportunities for individuals to pursue their interests and passions. Whether it's through reading books, attending workshops, or participating in online courses, fostering a love for learning can ignite intellectual curiosity and fuel critical thinking.
- Ask thought-provoking questions: By getting individuals to think deeply about a topic, we can stimulate their curiosity and encourage them to seek answers. Thought-provoking questions challenge them to consider different perspectives, analyze information critically, and develop their own opinions.
- Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery: Offer hands-on activities, experiments, or projects that allow your team to engage with the subject matter actively. By providing these opportunities, individuals can develop a sense of ownership over their learning and become more motivated to think critically.
Overcoming Obstacles in Critical Thinking
While critical thinking is a valuable skill, there are certain obstacles that can hinder its development. Recognizing and addressing these obstacles is essential for cultivating effective critical thinking abilities.
- Influence of cognitive biases: Cognitive biases are inherent biases that affect our thinking and decision-making processes. They can lead to flawed reasoning and prevent us from considering alternative perspectives. For example, confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, while ignoring or dismissing evidence that contradicts them. Groupthink, on the other hand, occurs when individuals prioritize harmony and consensus over critical evaluation of ideas. By being aware of common cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias or groupthink, we can actively work to mitigate their impact.
- Regular self-reflection: Taking the time to examine our own thought processes and beliefs can help us identify any biases that may be influencing our thinking. Seeking input from others is also crucial in overcoming cognitive biases. By actively soliciting different perspectives and opinions, we can broaden our understanding and challenge our own prejudices.
- Information overload: In today's digital age, we are constantly bombarded with information from various sources. This influx of information can overwhelm our cognitive abilities and hinder critical thinking. It is essential to develop information literacy skills to navigate this challenge.
- Non-credible sources: With the rise of fake news and misinformation, it is crucial to critically assess the sources of information we encounter. By considering factors such as the author's expertise, the publication's reputation, and the presence of bias, we can make more informed judgments about the reliability of the information.
Applying Critical Thinking in Problem Solving
While critical thinking is valuable in itself, its true impact lies in its application to real-world problem solving. Cultivating critical thinking skills allows us to tackle challenges in various contexts, from everyday situations to professional settings.
Everyday situations offer ample opportunities to apply critical thinking. From personal relationships to day-to-day decision making, critical thinking enables us to assess situations, consider different perspectives, and make informed choices. Whether it's evaluating the credibility of a news article or weighing the pros and cons of a personal decision within the family, critical thinking helps us navigate complex situations with confidence.
In the professional world, critical thinking is highly valued and sought after. It is necessary for problem solving, decision making, and innovation. Furthermore, critical thinking lets us to analyze market trends, evaluate risks and opportunities, and develop effective strategies. By cultivating critical thinking skills, we can enhance our professional performance and contribute to the success of our organizations.
Foster Critical Thinking with Wrike
Cultivating critical thinking skills is crucial for effective problem-solving. With Wrike, you can foster an environment that encourages critical thinking. Wrike allows you to create individual folders for each project or task, serving as a central hub for all relevant information and updates, promoting transparency and encouraging informed decision-making. Beyond just fostering critical thinking, Wrike offers a comprehensive suite of tools designed to streamline your workflows, foster collaboration, and drive productivity. From real-time communication to intuitive task management features, Wrike provides everything you need to cultivate critical thinking for effective problem-solving. Ready to foster critical thinking and enhance your problem-solving capabilities? There's no better time to start than now. Get started with Wrike for free today.
Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.
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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
300+ Interview Questions Answered.
300+ Interview Questions with Expert Answers.
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.
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
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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Enhancing Mathematics Education in Malaysia: A Focus on Mathematical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills
- September 14, 2023
- Current Issues , General , UTM Nexus
Wan Akmal Izzati Wan Mohd Zawawi
PISA and TIMSS serve as crucial benchmarks for evaluating a country’s mathematical education standards. These benchmarks play a pivotal role in identifying necessary interventions and strategies to enhance the quality of education in Malaysia, encompassing academics, curriculum development, and teaching and learning (TnL) methodologies.
In line with Malaysia’s pursuit of global education excellence, the mathematics curriculum has evolved significantly, now encompassing the Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah (KSSM), Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah (KSSR), and Kurikulum Standard Pra Sekolah (KSPK). These advancements necessitate a shift away from traditional rote learning practices towards fostering meaningful mathematical comprehension among students.
Figure 1: MT & PS characteristics
One key factor contributing to students’ proficiency in mathematics is their ability to think mathematically and effectively solve problems (MT & PS). These cognitive skills encompass critical attributes such as analysis, reasoning, problem-solving, and the capacity to communicate fundamental mathematical concepts. Additionally, MT & PS encompass essential elements like specialization, generalization, conjecture, persuasion, characterization, classification, critique, and improvement (Jackson, 2021), as depicted in Figure 1.
To equip teachers for effective instruction in the new curriculum, it is imperative to provide training in MT & PS. In this collaborative effort between the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) and the Faculty of Education (FP), initiatives have been taken to raise awareness and competence among secondary school teachers. Notably, AP Dr. Yudariah Yusof, AP Dr. Norma Alias, Prof. Zaleha Ismail, and Dr. Norulhuda Ismail conducted a one-day MT & PS training program for 125 secondary mathematics teachers from 49 schools in Johor Bahru on June 24, 2023. Subsequently, CEE and FP will host a similar one-day MT & PS training session for 127 mathematics teachers from 50 secondary schools in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, on July 8, 2023.
The collaboration between CEE and FP in organizing MT & PS training programs at Johor Bahru, Johor
The collaboration between CEE and FP in organizing MT & PS training programs at Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
125 secondary mathematics teachers from 49 schools in Johor Bahru on 24th June 2023.
127 mathematics teachers from 50 schools in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan on 8th July 2023.
This comprehensive training comprises three essential components: instilling belief in mathematical thinking, imparting problem-solving strategies, and providing rationale for solutions. Teachers are encountering new challenges as they transition away from teacher-centered approaches. They are now tasked with solving unfamiliar mathematical problems and guiding students through the problem-solving process, which can be particularly challenging. The transition to address the intricate problem-solving demands presented by the new curriculum (KSSM, KSSR, and KSPK) is a shared journey for both students and teachers.
In conclusion, the enthusiastic response to MT & PS training is a promising sign for the future of mathematics education in Malaysia. Surveys indicate that 80% of teachers understand the essence of mathematical thinking, while 70% recognize the value of professional learning communities in Mathematics, facilitating the exchange of expertise and experiences. The histogram below illustrates that most teachers are in favor of adopting MT & PS approaches to cultivate thinking skills and promote meaningful learning in mathematics.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Norma Binti Alias
Associate Fellow, Centre for Engineering Education
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