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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Last Updated: January 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Erin Conlon, PCC, JD . Erin Conlon is an Executive Life Coach, the Founder of Erin Conlon Coaching, and the host of the podcast "This is Not Advice." She specializes in aiding leaders and executives to thrive in their career and personal lives. In addition to her private coaching practice, she teaches and trains coaches and develops and revises training materials to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. She holds a BA in Communications and History and a JD from The University of Michigan. Erin is a Professional Certified Coach with The International Coaching Federation. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 231,967 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. [1] 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.

This is an outwardly simple but vital step.

  • 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.

This is another means to reach the nature of the problem.

  • 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.

Gathering facts helps you get a clear picture of your problem and goal.

  • 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.

Analyze information.

Looking for links and relationships in your data can help you better understand your situation.

  • 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.

This is a great time to consider all of your options.

  • 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.

A thorough analysis helps you make the best possible choice.

  • 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.

This gives you a chance to see how effective your solution really is.

  • 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.

Ask yourself if the solution is working, or if it needs to be adjusted.

  • 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.

It’s okay if your first solution doesn’t work out.

  • 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.

Like a muscle in your body, you will need to work on problem solving regularly.

  • 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.

New research shows that playing video games can improve parts of your thinking.

  • 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.

A hobby is another way that you can continue to improve your problem solving skills.

  • 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.

Expert Q&A

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Solve a Problem

  • ↑ 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
  • ↑ https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluate-community-interventions/collect-analyze-data/main
  • ↑ https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_96.htm
  • ↑ https://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

Erin Conlon, PCC, JD

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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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

how do i improve my problem solving skills

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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.

seven step problem solving process

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

how do i improve my problem solving skills

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

Great for: 

  • 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!

Mastermind Group

  • 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!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

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.

Analytical skills

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.

Collaboration

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.

Communication  

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

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.

Data analysis 

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.

Decision making

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

Dependability

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

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!

Facilitation

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.

Flexibility 

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.

Initiative 

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.

Impartiality

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.

Planning 

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.

Prioritization

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.

Project management

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. 

Record keeping

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.

Research skills

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.

Risk management

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.

Team-building 

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.

Time management 

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?

how do i improve my problem solving skills

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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how do i improve my problem solving skills

Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops.  Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…

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So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…

how do i improve my problem solving skills

What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?

Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself.  When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower.  Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…

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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills [10 Ways]

While it might seem like some people are just born with stronger problem-solving skills, there are strategies that anyone can use to improve them.

That’s right, it’s possible to significantly enhance your abilities in this area — and the best part is, most of these activities are also pretty fun!

What Are Problem Solving Skills?

Before we get to the engaging activities, let’s refine our understanding of problem-solving skills, which are any techniques that help you consistently:

  • Understand the causes of problems
  • Overcome short-term crises
  • Create strategies to solve longer-term problems
  • Turn problems into opportunities

What Problem Solving Skills Should I Have?

You’ll be able to solve problems in your role better as you grow in your industry-specific knowledge. But there are also a few universal problem solving skills we all need:

  • Defining the Problem: Deeply understanding a problem through research , leading to better solutions. Research can include interviewing, reading books and emails, analyzing financial data, searching your organization’s intranet, and organizing your findings.
  • Brainstorming: Creating a myriad of new solutions quickly. In group brainstorms, allow everyone to state ideas. Appreciate all input, and avoid criticism. Then, organize solutions into groups around common themes.
  • Analyzing: Using disciplined thought processes to evaluate each possible solution. Besides listing their costs and benefits, you might apply deductive reasoning, game theory, and the rules of logic (including fallacies) to them.
  • Managing Risk: Anticipating and trying to avoid the downsides of key solutions. Your team can list potential risks, rate how likely each is, predict a date by which each might either happen or no longer be an issue, and devise ways to reduce those risks.
  • Deciding: The ability to decide on a solution and move forward with it. After an appropriate amount of time, an analysis of possible solutions, and feedback from team members, a designated decider must choose and implement a solution.
  • Managing Emotions: Applying emotional intelligence in order to improve your and your team members’ ability to think clearly. This requires you to recognize emotions in yourself and others, manage feelings, and channel emotions into useful work.

10 Exciting Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Use these ten creative ways to improve problem solving skills, develop more strategic ways of thinking , and train your brain to do more.

1. Dance Your Heart Out

Did you know that dancing has a positive impact on neural processing, possibly developing new neural pathways to go around dopamine-depleted blockages in the brain?

This means that if you engage in ballet or another form of structured dance, doing so may facilitate convergent thinking . In other words, it may help you find a single, appropriate answer to a problem. If you need help with divergent thinking (finding multiple answers to a problem), engaging in more improvised types of dance such as hip-hop or tap might just do the trick.

2. Work out Your Brain with Logic Puzzles or Games

The winning strategy when playing chess, Sudoku, a Rubik’s Cube, or other brain-boosting games is actually to work the problem backward, not forward. The same strategy can apply to realistic strategic-thinking situations.

To build up your brain muscle and develop new problem-solving techniques, practice some logic puzzles and other games .

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

More than any other sleeping or awake state, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep directly enhances creative processing in the brain. REM sleep helps “stimulate associative networks, allowing the brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas” and are “not due to selective memory enhancements” such as memory consolidation, which occurs when awake.

4. Work out to Some Tunes

A study of cardiac rehabilitation patients tested verbal fluency after exercising with and without music. Results showed that when they listened to music while working out, participants more than doubled their scores on verbal fluency tests in contrast to when they worked out in silence. According to the study’s lead author, “The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize the cognitive output.”

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5. keep an “idea journal” with you, 6. participate in yoga.

The powerful combination of body awareness, breathing, and meditation that is required during yoga practice has been shown to significantly raise cognitive test scores. Other results from a University of Illinois study include shorter reaction times, more accuracy, and increased attention.

7. Eat Some Cheerios (And Then Think About It)

The Cheerios Effect is the name physicists have given to the event that happens when the last few cheerios in a bowl always cling to each other. The cause of this occurrence is surface tension.

The takeaway is that when it comes to experiencing tension while trying to solve a problem, cling to those around you. Rely on others’ experiences and ideas, even those from different career fields. Draw connections. Brainstorm. Work together to get the job done.

8. Use Mind Maps to Help Visualize the Problem

Mind Maps , a visual snapshot of a problem and its possible solutions, can help focus the mind, stimulate the brain, increase the capacity for creative thinking, and generate more ideas for solutions.

Make a Mind Map by drawing your problem as the central idea. Add “main branches” consisting of all the reasons for the problem. Use “sub-branches” to explore further details.

Next, make a separate Mind Map of all possible solutions to the central problem. Add “main branches” showing all the ways that your problem can be solved, such as colleagues that can help, techniques you can apply, and other resources you can use. Add “sub-branches” to further explore the details. Make a final branch with the most suitable solution for the main problem. Use “sub-branches” for details.

Through this exercise, you should be able to see which “branch” or option is the most practical, time-saving, and cost-effective problem solving method .

9. Create “Psychological Distance”

What is psychological distance? According to the construal level theory (CLT), it’s “anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves.” Some examples include taking another person’s perspective or thinking of the problem as unlikely.

Scientists have shown that by increasing the mental distance between us and our problem, we’ll have an increase in creative solutions. This happens because thinking more abstractly helps us form unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, thus allowing our minds to increase its problem solving capacity.

10. Play Some Soccer

A link has been found between our brain’s “executive functions” and sports success . When in action, our brains are quickly multitasking between moving, anticipating, strategizing, reacting, and performing. Doing all these things at once requires an enormous amount of brain activity.

This can be related to our working world when we plan, reason, monitor our actions and problem solve all at once. Therefore, it may be concluded that when you play soccer or any other fast-moving sport, you’re rewiring your brain to be quicker at thinking, processing, and reacting to problems.

To learn more about how to develop your problem-solving and decision making capabilities or to receive training on applied strategic thinking skills , contact CMOE today!

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

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

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

1. Identify the problem

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

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

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

2. Break the problem down 

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

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

3. Generate potential solutions

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

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

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

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

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

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

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

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

2. Brainstorming

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

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

3. Work backward

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

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

4. Use the Kipling method

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

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

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

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

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

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

7. Sleep on it

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

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

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

8. Get advice from your peers

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

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

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

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

9. Use the Pareto principle

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

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

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

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

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

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

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

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

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

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

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

1. Build your problem-solving skills

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

2. Practice

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

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

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

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

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

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

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

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

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

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

6. Experiment

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

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

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

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

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

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

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

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

What are metacognitive skills examples in everyday life, 31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, 5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview, leadership activities that encourage employee engagement, what is lateral thinking 7 techniques to encourage creative ideas, can dreams help you solve problems 6 ways to try, learn what process mapping is and how to create one (+ examples), 3 ways to solve your performance management problems, similar articles, the pareto principle: how the 80/20 rule can help you do more with less, thinking outside the box: 8 ways to become a creative problem solver, effective problem statements have these 5 components, contingency planning: 4 steps to prepare for the unexpected, what makes a good team, and how can you build one, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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Strategies to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills | BrainMD

Got problems? We all do.

They’re something we encounter daily, both at work and at home. Tackling problems and finding solutions are useful skills that are in high demand.

At a basic level, there are three steps to solving any problem:

  • Define the problem
  • Generate ideas for solutions
  • Implement solutions

You might be tempted to think that the first step is unnecessary. After all, that’s why you’re here in the first place, to solve a problem. However, defining the problem is arguably the most important step in problem-solving.

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

When you can spend more time defining the real problem, and not just a symptom, it will be easier to find a lasting solution.

How to better define the problem:

  • Ask “why” questions
  • Talk it through with others
  • Write down the problem in words
  • Use graphs or flow charts

Now that we’ve talked about the steps of solving a problem and how to better define it, let’s dig into some strategies to help your brain perform at its best for solving problems.

“Thanks to a process called neuroplasticity, your brain is continually reorganizing itself by forming new neural connections throughout your life, which gives you the power to make your brain better.” – Daniel G. Amen, MD

Neuroplasticity enables your brain to continue to learn and grow throughout your life. Like your muscles, your brain needs exercise to become stronger. Becoming a life-long learner will not only strengthen your brain, but also sharpen your memory, boost confidence, and bring new knowledge and skills into your life.

3 Ways to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Want to be a better problem-solver? Here's 3 Ways on How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills | BrainMD

1.    Regularly Engage in Brain Boosting Activities

There are a number of easy and fun ways to strengthen your brain. Adding one or more of these activities into your daily routines can help boost your brain and result in better problem-solving abilities.

  • Work on a jigsaw puzzle – Puzzles can be done on your own, or as a social activity. Putting together a puzzle requires concentration and spatial awareness, activating multiple parts of the brain and improving short-term memory.
  • Play a musical instrument – Research has shown that learning to play an instrument can improve neuroplasticity and help improve your memory. Playing music engages multiple regions of the brain, providing numerous benefits. Maybe it’s been a while since you last played, or maybe you’ve never learned an instrument. Either way, it’s never too late to tap into your musical side and begin making music.
  • Try a new hobby – Remember the “use it or lose it” concept when it comes to the brain. It’s recommended to never stop learning new things. Challenge yourself, no matter your age! Trying new hobbies is a great mental exercise to sharpen your brain. You also may find a new activity that brings more joy to your life.
  • Meditate – The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years as a tool for reducing stress, clearing your mind, promoting relaxation, and improving focus. Meditation is a powerful tool that can boost your brain anytime, anywhere.
  • Play brain games – Chess, crossword puzzles, and sudoku all fall under this category. Brain games are an easy and fun way to improve concentration and strengthen memory. The best part is that they only take a few minutes to play and offer a nice break during the day.
  • Read a book with a book club – Reading a book offers many benefits, including stimulating different areas of your brain to process and analyze information. When you participate in a reading group , your brain will need to remember information for later recall. This information recall is highly beneficial to protecting short-term memory. Book clubs also can provide a fun and supportive social network.

2.    Spend time NOT looking for the solution

This is counterintuitive, but it’s an important strategy to use when working on a problem. Allow yourself some downtime after defining the problem.

Let your subconscious do some work. Setting a task aside for a time can actually improve your efforts later. When you return to the problem at hand, you’ll likely have a fresh perspective.

What should you do while giving your brain a break from active problem-solving? Enjoy a hobby, get some rest, or move your body with a walk or other form of exercise.

3.    Practice healthy habits

You guessed it, those healthy habits that affect so many areas of your life are also tied to a healthy brain. Exercise, a healthy diet, and quality sleep can all help your brain function better and improve your problem-solving skills overall.

  • Exercise – Moving your body increases blood flow to the brain, which can improve your ability to think critically, clearly, and creatively. Additionally, physical activity is a known way to reduce stress and anxiousness. Research has shown creativity and problem-solving to be negatively affected by stress. Using exercise to combat stress can improve your ability to find solutions with a clear mind. By exercising regularly, your overall physical, emotional, and brain health may be positively impacted.
  • Healthy Diet – Dr. Daniel Amen teaches that one of the secrets to a healthy brain is to focus on detoxification in your diet. This includes avoiding alcohol, drinking plenty of water, and consuming detoxifying vegetables . Some good vegetables to incorporate into your diet would be lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, and asparagus. You also may try increasing your protein intake for a healthy brain, or try adding in turmeric , which can increase neuroplasticity.
  • Quality Sleep – Finally, don’t forget about the impact quality sleep, or the lack of it, can have on your brain function and problem-solving abilities. Getting a good night’s rest gives your brain time to recharge and that necessary downtime of not actively thinking about the problems needing solving. While you sleep, your subconscious has a chance to do some work for you!

When you engage in brain-boosting activities, take some downtime, and practice healthy habits you’ll be better prepared for the problems in your days. And, next time you’re faced with the inevitable problems that come with life and work, you can address them with more clarity and confidence.

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

how do i improve my problem solving skills

Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

how do i improve my problem solving skills

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From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20

Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9

Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579

Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality .  Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050

Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition .  Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .

Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .

Schooler JW, Ohlsson S, Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. J Experiment Psychol: General . 1993;122:166-183. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.2.166

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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how do i improve my problem solving skills

Introduction

Problem-solving skills are essential for both personal and professional development. The ability to find effective solutions to challenges and to think critically about various issues can greatly impact one’s success in life. Here are 12 ways to improve your problem-solving skills.

1. Identify the Root Cause

The first step in solving a problem effectively is identifying the root cause. Analyze the issue from all angles and ask yourself “why” until you identify the underlying reason behind the problem.

2. Be Curious

Curiosity drives us to explore, investigate, and learn about the world around us. To improve your problem-solving skills, cultivate curiosity by asking questions, being open-minded, and actively seeking new information.

3. Break It Down

Complex problems can be challenging to tackle all at once. Break them down into smaller, manageable pieces and address each part separately before moving on to the next.

4. Think Creatively

Thinking outside the box can help you generate innovative solutions to problems. Allow your imagination to run wild and consider alternative perspectives or approaches that you might not have considered otherwise.

5. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking involves analyzing information, evaluating evidence, and making well-informed decisions. Practice critical thinking by questioning assumptions, exploring diverse viewpoints, and considering potential biases.

6. Collaborate with Others

Two heads are often better than one when it comes to problem-solving. Work with others who have different backgrounds and experiences than yours to expand your perspective and generate new ideas.

7. Learn from Mistakes

Mistakes can be valuable learning opportunities if we approach them with a growth mindset. Reflect on past failures and consider what you might do differently in similar situations in the future.

8. Practice Active Listening

Active listening involves fully focusing on the speaker, without interrupting or imposing your own ideas prematurely. By practicing active listening, you can deepen your understanding of a problem and develop empathy for others involved.

9. Cultivate Resilience

Resilience allows us to bounce back from setbacks and persevere in the face of challenges. To strengthen your resilience, practice self-compassion, maintain a positive outlook, and seek support from friends or mentors.

10. Hone Your Decision-Making Skills

Effective problem-solving often requires sound decision-making abilities. Practice weighing pros and cons, evaluating trade-offs, and anticipating potential consequences of each option.

11. Enhance Your Observation Skills

Observation is a powerful tool for better understanding problems. Pay attention to details, ask pertinent questions, and look for patterns to help identify the most pressing issue.

12. Continuous Learning

Improving your problem-solving skills is an ongoing process. Stay open to learning new techniques, expanding your knowledge base, and maintaining a curious attitude.

Upgrading your problem-solving skills will undoubtedly give you a competitive edge in various aspects of life. By embracing these 12 strategies, you’ll be better equipped to tackle challenges effectively and creatively, both personally and professionally.

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Self-Assessment • 20 min read

How Good Is Your Problem Solving?

Use a systematic approach..

By the Mind Tools Content Team

how do i improve my problem solving skills

Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career.

But problems are something that we don't particularly like.

They're time-consuming.

They muscle their way into already packed schedules.

They force us to think about an uncertain future.

And they never seem to go away!

That's why, when faced with problems, most of us try to eliminate them as quickly as possible. But have you ever chosen the easiest or most obvious solution – and then realized that you have entirely missed a much better solution? Or have you found yourself fixing just the symptoms of a problem, only for the situation to get much worse?

To be an effective problem-solver, you need to be systematic and logical in your approach. This quiz helps you assess your current approach to problem solving. By improving this, you'll make better overall decisions. And as you increase your confidence with solving problems, you'll be less likely to rush to the first solution – which may not necessarily be the best one.

Once you've completed the quiz, we'll direct you to tools and resources that can help you make the most of your problem-solving skills.

How Good Are You at Solving Problems?

Instructions.

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

Answering these questions should have helped you recognize the key steps associated with effective problem solving.

This quiz is based on Dr Min Basadur's Simplexity Thinking problem-solving model. This eight-step process follows the circular pattern shown below, within which current problems are solved and new problems are identified on an ongoing basis. This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only.

Below, we outline the tools and strategies you can use for each stage of the problem-solving process. Enjoy exploring these stages!

Step 1: Find the Problem (Questions 7, 12)

Some problems are very obvious, however others are not so easily identified. As part of an effective problem-solving process, you need to look actively for problems – even when things seem to be running fine. Proactive problem solving helps you avoid emergencies and allows you to be calm and in control when issues arise.

These techniques can help you do this:

PEST Analysis helps you pick up changes to your environment that you should be paying attention to. Make sure too that you're watching changes in customer needs and market dynamics, and that you're monitoring trends that are relevant to your industry.

Risk Analysis helps you identify significant business risks.

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis helps you identify possible points of failure in your business process, so that you can fix these before problems arise.

After Action Reviews help you scan recent performance to identify things that can be done better in the future.

Where you have several problems to solve, our articles on Prioritization and Pareto Analysis help you think about which ones you should focus on first.

Step 2: Find the Facts (Questions 10, 14)

After identifying a potential problem, you need information. What factors contribute to the problem? Who is involved with it? What solutions have been tried before? What do others think about the problem?

If you move forward to find a solution too quickly, you risk relying on imperfect information that's based on assumptions and limited perspectives, so make sure that you research the problem thoroughly.

Step 3: Define the Problem (Questions 3, 9)

Now that you understand the problem, define it clearly and completely. Writing a clear problem definition forces you to establish specific boundaries for the problem. This keeps the scope from growing too large, and it helps you stay focused on the main issues.

A great tool to use at this stage is CATWOE . With this process, you analyze potential problems by looking at them from six perspectives, those of its Customers; Actors (people within the organization); the Transformation, or business process; the World-view, or top-down view of what's going on; the Owner; and the wider organizational Environment. By looking at a situation from these perspectives, you can open your mind and come to a much sharper and more comprehensive definition of the problem.

Cause and Effect Analysis is another good tool to use here, as it helps you think about the many different factors that can contribute to a problem. This helps you separate the symptoms of a problem from its fundamental causes.

Step 4: Find Ideas (Questions 4, 13)

With a clear problem definition, start generating ideas for a solution. The key here is to be flexible in the way you approach a problem. You want to be able to see it from as many perspectives as possible. Looking for patterns or common elements in different parts of the problem can sometimes help. You can also use metaphors and analogies to help analyze the problem, discover similarities to other issues, and think of solutions based on those similarities.

Traditional brainstorming and reverse brainstorming are very useful here. By taking the time to generate a range of creative solutions to the problem, you'll significantly increase the likelihood that you'll find the best possible solution, not just a semi-adequate one. Where appropriate, involve people with different viewpoints to expand the volume of ideas generated.

Tip: Don't evaluate your ideas until step 5. If you do, this will limit your creativity at too early a stage.

Step 5: Select and Evaluate (Questions 6, 15)

After finding ideas, you'll have many options that must be evaluated. It's tempting at this stage to charge in and start discarding ideas immediately. However, if you do this without first determining the criteria for a good solution, you risk rejecting an alternative that has real potential.

Decide what elements are needed for a realistic and practical solution, and think about the criteria you'll use to choose between potential solutions.

Paired Comparison Analysis , Decision Matrix Analysis and Risk Analysis are useful techniques here, as are many of the specialist resources available within our Decision-Making section . Enjoy exploring these!

Step 6: Plan (Questions 1, 16)

You might think that choosing a solution is the end of a problem-solving process. In fact, it's simply the start of the next phase in problem solving: implementation. This involves lots of planning and preparation. If you haven't already developed a full Risk Analysis in the evaluation phase, do so now. It's important to know what to be prepared for as you begin to roll out your proposed solution.

The type of planning that you need to do depends on the size of the implementation project that you need to set up. For small projects, all you'll often need are Action Plans that outline who will do what, when, and how. Larger projects need more sophisticated approaches – you'll find out more about these in the article What is Project Management? And for projects that affect many other people, you'll need to think about Change Management as well.

Here, it can be useful to conduct an Impact Analysis to help you identify potential resistance as well as alert you to problems you may not have anticipated. Force Field Analysis will also help you uncover the various pressures for and against your proposed solution. Once you've done the detailed planning, it can also be useful at this stage to make a final Go/No-Go Decision , making sure that it's actually worth going ahead with the selected option.

Step 7: Sell the Idea (Questions 5, 8)

As part of the planning process, you must convince other stakeholders that your solution is the best one. You'll likely meet with resistance, so before you try to “sell” your idea, make sure you've considered all the consequences.

As you begin communicating your plan, listen to what people say, and make changes as necessary. The better the overall solution meets everyone's needs, the greater its positive impact will be! For more tips on selling your idea, read our article on Creating a Value Proposition and use our Sell Your Idea Skillbook.

Step 8: Act (Questions 2, 11)

Finally, once you've convinced your key stakeholders that your proposed solution is worth running with, you can move on to the implementation stage. This is the exciting and rewarding part of problem solving, which makes the whole process seem worthwhile.

This action stage is an end, but it's also a beginning: once you've completed your implementation, it's time to move into the next cycle of problem solving by returning to the scanning stage. By doing this, you'll continue improving your organization as you move into the future.

Problem solving is an exceptionally important workplace skill.

Being a competent and confident problem solver will create many opportunities for you. By using a well-developed model like Simplexity Thinking for solving problems, you can approach the process systematically, and be comfortable that the decisions you make are solid.

Given the unpredictable nature of problems, it's very reassuring to know that, by following a structured plan, you've done everything you can to resolve the problem to the best of your ability.

This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only. It is just one of many Mind Tool quizzes that can help you to evaluate your abilities in a wide range of important career skills.

If you want to reproduce this quiz, you can purchase downloadable copies in our Store .

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😇 This tool is very useful for me.

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Regardless of your job and industry, there are certain soft skills that are universally valued by employers. Problem solving is one of them, yet the ability to solve problems is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. In fact, problem solving can be a very difficult skill to master. As the world of work becomes more complex and fast-moving, the ability to find the cause of complex problems then solve them will become increasingly vital. So, if you need to enhance your problem solving skills in response to this growing demand, we share a few practical methods for improving your problem solving techniques below.

What are problem solving skills?

5 ways to improve your problem solving skills, 1. identity and understand the right problem, 2. research the systems and practices behind the problem, 3. visualise the problem, 4. brainstorm creative solutions, 5. identify the best answer, problem solving skills: next steps, problem solving methods faq, what are the 5 steps of effective problem solving strategies.

  • Identify and understand the problem.
  • Research the systems and practices behind the problem.
  • Visualise the problem.
  • Brainstorm multiple solutions.
  • Identify the most suitable solution.

How do you develop a problem-solving mindset?

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Now that you understand what it takes to solve problems effectively, you can further upskill and advance your career with online learning courses. Hays Learning is our online learning platform covering technical, digital and soft skills. With Hays Learning, you can access a range of free online learning courses, including in problem solving.

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19 Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work - ThriveYard

19 Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work

This article discusses step-by-step ways to improve your problem solving skills at work.

Topics addressed include breaking down a problem to understand it better, digging a little deeper to find out what caused the problem, and ascertaining how widespread the problem is including how many people are affected.

Other steps outlined consist of figuring out potential solutions then narrowing down to select the best possible option under the circumstances.

Once a problem has been figured out, dealt with or resolved, additional processes entail monitoring the progress of the solution and proactively taking action to prevent future problems.

Towards the tail end of problem solving is taking in the lessons learned and helping others who might be facing similar problems which we have overcome.

You can quickly skim all the 19 tips on handling problems on the table of contents below and then click on any tip to read further details. Please enjoy reading. Thank you.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • Defining the problem
  • Finding out what caused the problem/Conducting research
  • Analyzing the impact of the problem
  • Brainstorming possible solutions
  • Evaluating alternatives/solutions
  • Choosing the best option
  • Developing an action plan/Execution strategy
  • Implementing the solution/Taking action
  • Monitoring progress
  • Evaluating the results
  • If the solution does not work
  • Problem solving mistakes
  • Ways to increase your problem solving skills
  • Challenges and obstacles in problem solving
  • Causes of problems at work
  • Problem solving skills
  • Learning from others who have solved similar problems
  • Examples of problems at work
  • Best practices for problem solving

1. Defining the problem

Why is the problem a problem? The first step in problem solving is to begin by describing, explaining or outlining the problem.

In its simplest form, a problem is an issue that is out of alignment and requires to be attended to, fixed or corrected to enable desired outcomes to be achieved.

There could be a temptation to quickly jump into figuring out solutions however, if the problem is not well understood, the solutions might not be effective and valuable time and effort could have been wasted.

Write down the problem based on your own understanding. This helps in zooming into or focusing on a specific issue. Similar to how a camera zooms on to an image before taking a picture. If the focus is blurry, the image won’t be clear.

Alternatively, think of it as identifying the starting line in a race, once you have figured out the beginning point (the problem), you set the stage for figuring out the skills, information, knowledge or resources required to get to the finishing line (the solution).

2. Finding out what caused the problem/Conducting research

What caused the problem? Once you have clearly defined the current problem, the next step is to dig a little deeper to find out the root cause or background of the problem.

Some questions to ask include the following:

  • When and where did the difficulty, obstacle or complication occur?
  • Why did the problem happen?
  • How did it happen?
  • What led to the problem?
  • Was it caused by one thing or many things?
  • What information is missing?
  • Where can you find more information?
  • What could have prevented the problem?
  • What is known about similar problems?
  • What solutions have been tried before?

3. Analyzing the impact of the problem

Who or what is affected by the problem? Determine how widespread the problem is.

  • Is it affecting one person or many? – How is it affecting them?
  • How long has the problem been going on?
  • Are there any trends?
  • Is this a re-occurring problem or a completely new one?
  • What would happen if the problem is not resolved?

Talk to different people to get first-hand accounts of the impact of the problem. Establish if it is severe or manageable.

4. Brainstorming possible solutions

What are the potential solutions? Identify possible solutions through brainstorming.

When brainstorming, state the problem, and then request everyone to independently write down their own individual answers.

Afterwards list down all the answers proposed and invite others to further build upon and refine the suggested solutions or propose additional solutions.

For a brainstorming session to be successful, the problem needs to be clearly defined, enough time needs to be scheduled, participants should take time to think through the problem and generate solutions, and solutions should not be judged during the brainstorming.

In addition, use a good facilitator to listen attentively to participants, encourage input by all and drive the discussion.

5. Evaluating alternatives/solutions

How do you select the best alternative? Once a good number of options have been gathered, the next step is to go through the alternatives and narrow down the ones that are most viable.

It is also possible that the top choices would be a merger between one or more other alternatives.

Identify the advantages and disadvantages of the top choices.

In addition, take a step back and write down the desired results, when they should be achieved as well as how the results will be measured i.e. what is expected after the problem has been eliminated or handled – imagine how it would be like when the problem is solved.

Analyze how best the top choices would lead to the desired results.

6. Choosing the best option

Will this solution solve the problem? The last step in brainstorming is deciding the best solution among the top alternatives available.

This step could be one of the most difficult and overwhelming and could trigger hesitation because of fear of making the wrong decision.

There could be a tendency to want to continue digging further to come up with more information or more alternatives.

Additionally, choosing an alternative could entail making compromises and some parties would have to make concessions therefore, there is a possibility that not everyone would be happy with the final solution.

However, at some point the decision making process will have to come to an end. Following your gut instinct and seeking advice from others can help in deciding.

You can also take a break to clear your head, relax and then make the decision with a clear mind and be able to easily explain that – “this solution is the best one because …”

Taking a poll is similarly a simple way to determine the solution that should be implemented for bigger problems.

7. Developing an action plan/Execution strategy

How will you prepare to act on the solution? Write down the final solution and come up with a plan of action for implementing it.

Break down the solution into smaller manageable steps.

The number of steps would typically vary in proportion to the complexity of a problem where generally the more complex the problem the more steps would be required to address it and vice versa.

Outline the actions that need to be done, determine who needs to do what, how much time is available, establish timelines, deadlines and gauges or ways to show if the results are being achieved.

Think about possible unexpected emergencies and risks then highlight a plan for addressing them.

8. Implementing the solution/Taking action

How will you put the solution to work? Here is where the actual work gets done. Keep the desired results or end-goal firmly in your mind then proceed to work on one step at a time.

If working with others, share the plan for solving the problem. Provide training if needed on how to accomplish the desired objectives, assemble and distribute needed resources and be available to answer clarifying questions that come up.

As you work, periodically check your progress against the action plan to ensure that you are making strides in the right direction.

When you often or regularly work on implementing different solutions, you are likely to discover better, simpler and efficient ways of solving problems.

For example, if tackling a problem for the first time takes x hours, after handling the same problem many times you are likely to fine tune your methods resulting in less time to solve a problem and more improvements and efficiencies . Better yet, you can even train others on your breakthroughs.

9. Monitoring progress

Is the problem getting corrected? Track the progress to see if the solution is working. Take a pulse check to get insight and feedback.

Under ideal circumstances, if the solution is the right one, the problem should be gradually dissipating the more the solution is implemented.

Generally, there would be a need to make tweaks here and there to either address issues that arise or to ensure that the solution has the best chance of succeeding.

Regularly check to see what is going well and what isn’t and make adjustments in good time.

If there are significant deviations from the anticipated, expected or projected outcome, find out what is causing this.

Some questions to ask when monitoring the progress of problem solving consist of:

  • How much progress has been made so far?
  • What amount of work is remaining?
  • Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing?
  • Are we within schedule?
  • Are we within budget?
  • Have we met initial milestones or targets?
  • What challenges have we encountered so far?
  • What recommended changes are needed at this point?
  • What are the next milestones?

10. Evaluating the results

Was the problem fixed? At the end of the problem solving process, it is helpful to find out if the solution was successful.

A few questions that you can ask when evaluating results include the following:

  • Did we resolve the problem within our earlier planned schedule, timeline or deadline?
  • Did we eliminate the problem within budget?
  • Is the problem fully resolved?
  • Is there anything that has not been completed?
  • Are there any lessons learned?

Conclude by documenting the results. Some items to document include the date when the problem was fixed, who ascertained that the problem was resolved and how the problem was handled or resolved.

11. If the solution does not work

The problem was not fixed, now what? The simple reality is that some solutions work and others don’t.

Some solutions can address part of a problem and conversely some solutions can even magnify the problem or reveal an even bigger problem.

When a solution does not work out as expected, of course time and resources would have gone down the drain, nonetheless, go back to the drawing board and figure out another solution.

Other remedies could consist of more time needed to allow a solution to work, more resources required, more funds or more expertise.

It is also important to analyze why the original solution did not work out to not only learn from mistakes but also to prevent repeating the same errors.

12. Problem solving mistakes

Below are examples of problem solving mistakes:

  • Refusing to admit or acknowledge that a problem exists.
  • Looking for quick fixes.
  • Thinking that there won’t be any problems.
  • Fixing symptoms instead of the root cause.
  • Focusing on putting out small fires instead of addressing the big picture problem.
  • Rushing to solve a problem before understanding it.
  • Fearing to share out of the box ideas during brainstorming.
  • Risk of group think during brainstorming or conforming to what everyone else is suggesting.
  • Not having an open mind during brainstorming.
  • Poor facilitation in brainstorming sessions.
  • Solving the wrong problem.
  • Looking for someone to blame or pointing fingers.
  • Not listening or not seeking feedback or solutions from others.
  • Thinking that you should have all the answers.
  • Solutions that are not clearly defined.
  • Lack of clear communication.
  • Assuming that people already know what to do.
  • Failing to give credit to staff who have fixed problems.
  • Fear of making the wrong decision.
  • Wrong assumptions.
  • Getting scared or panicking when a problem arises.
  • Procrastinating to make a decision or choose among alternatives.
  • Refusing to acknowledge when a solution is not working.
  • Doing nothing when a problem arises.
  • Taking a long time before attending to a problem.
  • Not being flexible or adaptable when assumptions and conditions change.

13. Ways to increase your problem solving skills

I believe that one good way of improving your problem solving skills in the office is to work on solving many problems.

You can do this by volunteering to participate in brainstorming groups or sessions and offering your input and ideas as well as listening to contributions from your colleagues.

Aim to actively work on implementing solutions to flex and stretch your problem solving muscles.

Over time, you can recognize trends or patterns in solving problems and also increase your capacity to tolerate ambiguity and unknowns at the beginning of a problem solving process.

Other ways of increasing problem solving skills include the following:

  • Observing how others solve problems.
  • Reading about problem solving techniques.
  • Practicing different problem solving methods.
  • Undergoing training on problem solving.
  • Challenging yourself to be a good problem solver and be comfortable making decisions.
  • Working on unrelated fields, assignments and different departments to cross learn new transferable subjects, skills, methods etc.
  • Playing games that help in stimulating problem solving abilities such as solving puzzles and playing chess.
  • Improving your research skills.

14. Challenges and obstacles in problem solving

Reasons why problems might not be solved include:

  • Ignoring or avoiding the problem.
  • Thinking that problem solving process takes too much time or effort.
  • Not having the authority to decide which solution should be implemented.
  • Procrastinating or inertia to resolve a problem because it could take a long time to figure out solutions especially for complex problems.
  • Thinking that the problem is more difficult than it really is.
  • Thinking that you have to figure it all out on your own.
  • Not asking for help.
  • Unwilling to take other people’s inputs.
  • Fear that implementation could be difficult.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Resource constraints; insufficient resources such as manpower and finances to properly address large scope problems.
  • Too many problems or difficulty prioritizing problems.
  • Resistance to change or new ways of doing things.
  • Not following through on solutions after the brainstorming stage.
  • Giving up too quickly when it takes long to solve a problem.
  • Not measuring progress.
  • Changing external factors causing the need to rethink or revise solutions.
  • Inexperience handling and solving problems.
  • Not wanting to deal with uncertainty.

15. Causes of problems at work

Workplace problems can be caused by issues such as micromanagement, lack of accountability, difficult work environment, too much red tape, lack of advancement opportunities and lack of recognition.

Other causes of problems in the office include: poor communication, undefined processes or procedures, lack of resources, financial difficulties, not being properly trained, boredom, lack of motivation and stress at work.

Additional factors are heavy workloads, poor performance, lack of planning, unclear expectations, poor customer service, strained working relationships, poor management, staff turnover, burnout and poor job fit.

16. Problem solving skills

Skills that can aid in improving problem solving include:

Decision making skills – useful especially in choosing between alternatives, identifying the best solution and being able to explain why the chosen solution is the best one under the circumstances.

Communication skills – helps in firstly letting others know that there is a problem then secondly in outlining how the problem will be corrected, thirdly in assigning responsibilities and explaining to others what they should be doing and fourthly in letting others know that the problem has been resolved.

Risk taking – ability to identify the pros and cons of an alternative and then arming yourself with enough information to carry out the plan of action.

Prioritization – when faced with many problems at work and being able to identify the most urgent and important problem that should be fixed.

Flexibility – conditions and situations change all the time therefore, willingness to re-analyze plans and assumptions and re-calibrate them as needed is essential.

Other helpful traits consist of willingness to receive feedback , determination and perseverance to see things through, patience, connecting the dots or figuring out the relationship between things and tolerance for uncertainty.

17. Learning from others who have solved similar problems

It is possible that this is not the first time a problem has been encountered, others within the organization or elsewhere might have encountered similar problems and successfully solved them.

A similar problem could have been previously resolved by a coworker, a manager, someone from a different department or office, a consultant, a researcher etc.

Learning from others helps to save time and boost confidence in problem solving.

It is especially important to have documented problem solving procedures for critical problems that have occurred in the past. This acts as a form of knowledge library that is stored within the organization and can be transferred from one person to another.

18. Examples of problems at work

Typical problems faced at the workplace include the following:

  • Lack of communication.
  • Lack of resources.
  • Missed deadlines.
  • Not meeting goals.
  • Difficulties getting along with others.
  • Conflicts between employees .
  • Poor leadership .
  • Financial problems.
  • Cost overruns.
  • Bad customer service.
  • Over promising or over committing.
  • External challenges and threats.
  • Difficult co-workers.
  • Lack of teamwork.
  • Poor attitude.
  • Disconnect between supervisors and subordinates.
  • Unhappy clients.
  • Insufficient or lack of feedback.
  • Job stress.
  • Difficult customers.
  • Low morale.
  • Lack of appreciation or recognition.
  • Poor work environment.
  • Inefficient or obsolete systems.
  • Duplication of efforts.
  • Inadequate training.
Example of a problem: A simple example of a problem at the workplace is – “Failing to reach the branch office’s sales goals for the year?”

Questions to ask and analyze when diagnosing and resolving this problem can consist of the following:

  • What was the annual sales goal?
  • What percentage of the goal did we achieve?
  • What was the gap?
  • How were we supposed to reach the goal?
  • Did we break down the goal into smaller achievable tasks or milestones?
  • What processes or steps did we plan for reaching the goals?
  • What action did we implement?
  • Who was responsible for what?
  • What internal and/or external challenges did we encounter?
  • What systems or methods did we implement to monitor progress towards the goal?
  • Why didn’t we reach the goal?
  • When did we realize we wouldn’t reach the goal?
  • What are the consequences for not meeting the goal?
  • How can we correct the situation?
  • How much time do we have to fix the problem?
  • How can we prevent the problem from happening again?
  • What can we learn from our mistakes?
  • Have we met the sales goals in the past?
  • Have other branch offices met their annual sales goals?
  • How did others achieve their goals?
  • What can we learn from others?

19. Best practices for problem solving

Problem solving is an ongoing learning process. Whereas problems cannot be entirely eliminated at work, you can take proactive steps to improve the organizational knowledge and capacity for handling problems.

Below are some ways that can help you to be better equipped to handle new and old problems when they arise in the workplace:

  • Working collaboratively with others to solve problems.
  • Documenting solutions to known or resolved problems; saving steps learned in resolving past issues.
  • Constantly refining problem solving methods as new and old problems are resolved.
  • Preparing and utilizing checklists for various work processes.
  • Writing and implementing standard operating procedures and policies.
  • Using handbooks, guidelines, manuals and flowcharts.
  • Adopting quality control procedures at critical stages.
  • Regularly doing projections or forecasting and assessing progress against initial plans.
  • Learning from mistakes.
  • Regular staff training.
  • Conducting risk analysis and creating back up or contingency plans.
  • Using audits to ensure that laid down procedures are being adhered to and finding out if there are any compliance problems.
  • Regularly reviewing job performance through observation, reports, check-in meetings etc.
  • Using timelines and deadlines.
  • Generating insights from data collection.
  • Implementing stronger monitoring systems.
  • Encouraging a culture of ongoing process improvements.
  • Taking initiative to resolve problems.
  • Speaking up or voicing concerns early on when problems are detected.
  • Aiming for good and regular communication across the organization.
  • Listening to employees’ feedback.
  • Encouraging suggestions for process improvements.
  • Clear goal setting including long-term and short-term planning and goals.
  • Adopting better technology and systems.
  • Using external experts where needed such as consultants.
  • Keeping track and staying up to date with external forces and changes such as changing customer preferences, economic conditions, government regulation, competition, technological advancements, political changes etc.
  • Encouraging inter-departmental cross sharing of tips and tricks in addressing challenges.
  • Evaluating results regularly.

Problem solving entails making corrections and improvements when things don’t go as expected.

Some problems can be fixed in a short amount of time while others take longer to be resolved.

At a minimum, when faced with a problem take some time to figure out what the real problem is, what caused the problem and find out potential alternatives to address the problem.

Afterwards select the best possible solution, devise a plan for carrying out the solution then implement it. Finalize by monitoring your progress and evaluating whether the problem has been resolved.

Additional Resources on Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills 9 Ways to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 5 Ways To Improve Your Problem Solving Skills How to Improve Problem Solving Skills Seven techniques for boosting independent problem solving skills in the workplace How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills with These 8 Science-Backed Techniques   Summary Article Name 19 Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills at Work Description Learn step-by-step ways to improve your problem solving skills at work including examples of problems at work, defining the problem, evaluating solutions and best practices in problem solving. Author Duncan Muguku Publisher Name ThriveYard Blog Categories

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8 Practical ways to enhance your problem solving skills

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"Effective communication begins with the art of articulation"

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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

Julia Martins contributor headshot

Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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  1. 12 Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills

    1 Define the problem clearly. Download Article This is an outwardly simple but vital step. If you don't properly understand the problem, your solutions may be ineffective or fail entirely. To define the problem you will have to ask questions and look at different angles. For example, is there one problem or actually several?

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    Learning the soft skills and critical thinking techniques that good problem solvers use can help anyone overcome complex problems. Learning problem-solving techniques is a must for working professionals in any field.

  3. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    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.

  4. How To Improve Your Problem Solving Skills [10 Ways]

    1. Dance Your Heart Out Did you know that dancing has a positive impact on neural processing, possibly developing new neural pathways to go around dopamine-depleted blockages in the brain? This means that if you engage in ballet or another form of structured dance, doing so may facilitate convergent thinking.

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    1. Analysis 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. 2. Communication Effective communication plays a significant role in problem-solving, particularly when others are involved.

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    1. Build your problem-solving skills. One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training, shadowing a mentor, or working with a coach. 2. Practice. Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily ...

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    Collaboration Collaboration skills are essential to solving problems as they allow you to work well with others towards a common goal. Nearly all workplace settings require some level of collaboration, making it an essential skill to have for every professional.

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    1. Use a strategic framework Creative problem-solving is a framework within itself. It lets you break down issues that are hard to measure with a structured approach. Try these steps: Gather information: During this phase, clarify your goal or your problem. Gather as much information and unbiased input as you can.

  9. How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills From a Brain Expert

    1. Regularly Engage in Brain Boosting Activities There are a number of easy and fun ways to strengthen your brain. Adding one or more of these activities into your daily routines can help boost your brain and result in better problem-solving abilities. Work on a jigsaw puzzle - Puzzles can be done on your own, or as a social activity.

  10. Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

    Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are: Perceptually recognizing the problem. Representing the problem in memory. Considering relevant information that applies to the problem. Identifying different aspects of the problem. Labeling and describing the problem.

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    So again, take the time to investigate the situation. Collect information, analyze your findings, and refine your diagnosis. 3. Find Multiple Solutions. Being a good problem-solver means thinking innovatively and that means thinking outside the box. Do not settle for the first solution you find. Push the boat out.

  12. How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills with These 8 Science-Backed

    So, to develop your problem-solving skills, first, take a few deep breaths, go for a walk or do whatever makes you regain your composure. 5. Keep asking why. To dig deeper into a problem, a clever trick to improve your problem-solving skills is to act like a toddler and keep asking why.

  13. 12 Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills

    Spread the loveIntroduction Problem-solving skills are essential for both personal and professional development. The ability to find effective solutions to challenges and to think critically about various issues can greatly impact one's success in life. Here are 12 ways to improve your problem-solving skills. 1. Identify the Root Cause The first step in solving a problem effectively is ...

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    1. IDENTIFY the problem. In a nutshell, my definition of problem-solving skills is very simple: it is the ability to identify the nature of a problem, deconstruct it (break it down) and develop an effective set of actions to address the challenges related to it. Indeed, in some challenging situations many students are overwhelmed with emotions ...

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    Problem-Solving Skills Definition. Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with good problem-solving skills is both a self-starter and a collaborative teammate; they are proactive in understanding the root of a problem and work with others to ...

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    1. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem Neuroscientists have proven that your brain cannot find solutions if you focus on the problem. [1]

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    Here are 5 methods you can follow to sharpen your problem-solving skills: 1. Question the Problem Repeatedly with "Why?" To solve a problem, you need first to define it.

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    Use a systematic approach. MTCT By the Mind Tools Content Team Use a systematic approach. Entienou / iStockphoto Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career. But problems are something that we don't particularly like. They're time-consuming.

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    Here are five tips to help develop your problem solving skills and become an efficient problem solver. Hopefully, they'll also help you look at problem solving from a different, solutions focused perspective. 1. Identity and understand the right problem. "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem ...

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