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Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders in Any Industry

Business man leading team in problem-solving exercise with white board

  • 17 Jan 2023

Any organization offering a product or service is in the business of solving problems.

Whether providing medical care to address health issues or quick convenience to those hungry for dinner, a business’s purpose is to satisfy customer needs .

In addition to solving customers’ problems, you’ll undoubtedly encounter challenges within your organization as it evolves to meet customer needs. You’re likely to experience growing pains in the form of missed targets, unattained goals, and team disagreements.

Yet, the ubiquity of problems doesn’t have to be discouraging; with the right frameworks and tools, you can build the skills to solve consumers' and your organization’s most challenging issues.

Here’s a primer on problem-solving in business, why it’s important, the skills you need, and how to build them.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals.

Your business removes obstacles in customers’ lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals.

Design Thinking

Design thinking , as described by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , is a human-centered , solutions-based approach to problem-solving and innovation. Originally created for product design, design thinking’s use case has evolved . It’s now used to solve internal business problems, too.

The design thinking process has four stages :

4 Stages of Design Thinking

  • Clarify: Clarify a problem through research and feedback from those impacted.
  • Ideate: Armed with new insights, generate as many solutions as possible.
  • Develop: Combine and cull your ideas into a short list of viable, feasible, and desirable options before building prototypes (if making physical products) and creating a plan of action (if solving an intangible problem).
  • Implement: Execute the strongest idea, ensuring clear communication with all stakeholders about its potential value and deliberate reasoning.

Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise.

Creative Problem-Solving

Another, less structured approach to challenges is creative problem-solving , which employs a series of exercises to explore open-ended solutions and develop new perspectives. This is especially useful when a problem’s root cause has yet to be defined.

You can use creative problem-solving tools in design thinking’s “ideate” stage, which include:

  • Brainstorming: Instruct everyone to develop as many ideas as possible in an allotted time frame without passing judgment.
  • Divergent thinking exercises: Rather than arriving at the same conclusion (convergent thinking), instruct everyone to come up with a unique idea for a given prompt (divergent thinking). This type of exercise helps avoid the tendency to agree with others’ ideas without considering alternatives.
  • Alternate worlds: Ask your team to consider how various personas would manage the problem. For instance, how would a pilot approach it? What about a young child? What about a seasoned engineer?

It can be tempting to fall back on how problems have been solved before, especially if they worked well. However, if you’re striving for innovation, relying on existing systems can stunt your company’s growth.

Related: How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Why Is Problem-Solving Important for Leaders?

While obstacles’ specifics vary between industries, strong problem-solving skills are crucial for leaders in any field.

Whether building a new product or dealing with internal issues, you’re bound to come up against challenges. Having frameworks and tools at your disposal when they arise can turn issues into opportunities.

As a leader, it’s rarely your responsibility to solve a problem single-handedly, so it’s crucial to know how to empower employees to work together to find the best solution.

Your job is to guide them through each step of the framework and set the parameters and prompts within which they can be creative. Then, you can develop a list of ideas together, test the best ones, and implement the chosen solution.

Related: 5 Design Thinking Skills for Business Professionals

4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need

1. problem framing.

One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.

“Before you begin to generate solutions for your problem, you must always think hard about how you’re going to frame that problem,” Datar says in the course.

For instance, imagine you work for a company that sells children’s sneakers, and sales have plummeted. When framing the problem, consider:

  • What is the children’s sneaker market like right now?
  • Should we improve the quality of our sneakers?
  • Should we assess all children’s footwear?
  • Is this a marketing issue for children’s sneakers specifically?
  • Is this a bigger issue that impacts how we should market or produce all footwear?

While there’s no one right way to frame a problem, how you do can impact the solutions you generate. It’s imperative to accurately frame problems to align with organizational priorities and ensure your team generates useful ideas for your firm.

To solve a problem, you need to empathize with those impacted by it. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and experiences. While many believe empathy is a fixed trait, it’s a skill you can strengthen through practice.

When confronted with a problem, consider whom it impacts. Returning to the children’s sneaker example, think of who’s affected:

  • Your organization’s employees, because sales are down
  • The customers who typically buy your sneakers
  • The children who typically wear your sneakers

Empathy is required to get to the problem’s root and consider each group’s perspective. Assuming someone’s perspective often isn’t accurate, so the best way to get that information is by collecting user feedback.

For instance, if you asked customers who typically buy your children’s sneakers why they’ve stopped, they could say, “A new brand of children’s sneakers came onto the market that have soles with more traction. I want my child to be as safe as possible, so I bought those instead.”

When someone shares their feelings and experiences, you have an opportunity to empathize with them. This can yield solutions to their problem that directly address its root and shows you care. In this case, you may design a new line of children’s sneakers with extremely grippy soles for added safety, knowing that’s what your customers care most about.

Related: 3 Effective Methods for Assessing Customer Needs

3. Breaking Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind in which you examine situations through the lens of past experiences. This locks you into one mindset rather than allowing you to consider alternative possibilities.

For instance, your cognitive fixedness may make you think rubber is the only material for sneaker treads. What else could you use? Is there a grippier alternative you haven’t considered?

Problem-solving is all about overcoming cognitive fixedness. You not only need to foster this skill in yourself but among your team.

4. Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment

As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to problem-solving. In a psychologically safe environment, all team members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, which are likely influenced by their personal opinions and experiences.

If employees are penalized for “bad” ideas or chastised for questioning long-held procedures and systems, innovation has no place to take root.

By employing the design thinking framework and creative problem-solving exercises, you can foster a setting in which your team feels comfortable sharing ideas and new, innovative solutions can grow.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

How to Build Problem-Solving Skills

The most obvious answer to how to build your problem-solving skills is perhaps the most intimidating: You must practice.

Again and again, you’ll encounter challenges, use creative problem-solving tools and design thinking frameworks, and assess results to learn what to do differently next time.

While most of your practice will occur within your organization, you can learn in a lower-stakes setting by taking an online course, such as Design Thinking and Innovation . Datar guides you through each tool and framework, presenting real-world business examples to help you envision how you would approach the same types of problems in your organization.

Are you interested in uncovering innovative solutions for your organization’s business problems? Explore Design Thinking and Innovation —one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses —to learn how to leverage proven frameworks and tools to solve challenges. Not sure which course is right for you? Download our free flowchart .

problem solving in business

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What Is Problem Solving in Business?

Problem-solving in business is defined as implementing processes that reduce or remove obstacles that are preventing you or others from accomplishing operational and strategic business goals.

In business, a problem is a situation that creates a gap between the desired and actual outcomes. In addition, a true problem typically does not have an immediately obvious resolution.

Business problem-solving works best when it is approached through a consistent system in which individuals:

  • Identify and define the problem
  • Prioritize the problem based on size, potential impact, and urgency
  • Complete a root-cause analysis
  • Develop a variety of possible solutions
  • Evaluate possible solutions and decide which is most effective
  • Plan and implement the solution

Why Problem Solving Is Important in Business

Understanding the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace will help you develop as a leader. Problem-solving skills will help you resolve critical issues and conflicts that you come across. Problem-solving is a valued skill in the workplace because it allows you to:

  • Apply a standard problem-solving system to all challenges
  • Find the root causes of problems
  • Quickly deal with short-term business interruptions
  • Form plans to deal with long-term problems and improve the organization
  • See challenges as opportunities
  • Keep your cool during challenges

How to Solve Business Problems Effectively

There are many different problem-solving skills, but most can be broken into general steps. Here is a four-step method for business problem solving:

1) Identify the Details of the Problem: Gather enough information to accurately define the problem. This can include data on procedures being used, employee actions, relevant workplace rules, and so on. Write down the specific outcome that is needed, but don’t assume what the solution should be.

2) Creatively Brainstorm Solutions: Alone or with a team, state every solution you can think of. You’ll often need to write them down. To get more solutions, brainstorm with the employees who have the greatest knowledge of the issue.

3) Evaluate Solutions and Make a Decision: Compare and contrast alternative solutions based on the feasibility of each one, including the resources needed to implement it and the return on investment of each one. Finally, make a firm decision on one solution that clearly addresses the root cause of the problem.

4) Take Action: Write up a detailed plan for implementing the solution, get the necessary approvals, and put it into action.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are specific procedures that can be used to complete one or more of the four general steps of problem-solving (discussed above). Here are five important examples:

Using Emotional Intelligence: You’ll solve problems more calmly when you learn to recognize your own emotional patterns and to empathize with and guide the emotions of others. Avoid knee-jerk responses and making assumptions.

Researching Problems: An effective solution requires an accurate description of the problem. Define simple problems using quick research methods such as asking, “What? Where? When? and How much?.” Difficult problems require more in-depth research, such as data exploration, surveys, and interviews.

Creative Brainstorming: When brainstorming with a group, encourage idea creation by listening attentively to everyone, and recognizing everyone’s unique contributions.

Logical Reasoning: Develop standard logical steps for analyzing possible solutions to problems. Study and apply ideas about logical fallacies, deductive reasoning, and other areas of analytical thought.

Decisiveness: Use an agreed-upon system for choosing a solution, which can include assigning pros and cons to solutions, identifying mandatory results, getting feedback about solutions, choosing the decision-maker(s), and finishing or repeating the process.

How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

Learning how to solve business problems takes time and effort. Though some people appear to have been born with superior problem-solving skills, great problem solvers usually have practiced and refined their abilities. You can develop high-level skills for solving problems too, through the following methods:

Ask and Listen: Don’t expect to solve every problem alone. Ask for advice, and listen to it carefully.

Practice Curiosity: Any time you’re involved in solving a problem, practice researching and defining the problem just a little longer than you would naturally.

Break Down Problems: Whenever possible, break large problems into their smallest units. Then, search for solutions to one unit at a time.

Don’t Label Yourself Negatively: Don’t allow a problem to mean something negative about you personally. Separate yourself from it. Look at it objectively and be part of the solution.

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10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving

Posted august 3, 2021 by harriet genever.

Navigate uncertainty by following this 10-step process to develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue with confidence. 

When you start a small business or launch a startup, the one thing you can count on is the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly you plan, forecast , and test, problems are bound to arise. This is why as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to solve business problems effectively.

What is problem solving in business?

Problem solving in business relates to establishing processes that mitigate or remove obstacles currently preventing you from reaching strategic goals . These are typically complex issues that create a gap between actual results and your desired outcome. They may be present in a single team, operational process, or throughout your entire organization, typically without an immediate or obvious solution. 

To approach problem solving successfully, you need to establish consistent processes that help you evaluate, explore solutions, prioritize execution, and measure success. In many ways, it should be similar to how you review business performance through a monthly plan review . You work through the same documentation, look for gaps, dig deeper to identify the root cause, and hash out options. Without this process, you simply cannot expect to solve problems efficiently or effectively. 

Why problem solving is important for your business

While some would say problem-solving comes naturally, it’s actually a skill you can grow and refine over time. Problem solving skills will help you and your team tackle critical issues and conflicts as they arise. It starts from the top. You as the business owner or CEO needing to display the type of level-headed problem solving that you expect to see from your employees.

Doing so will help you and your staff quickly deal with issues, establish and refine a problem solving process, turn challenges into opportunities, and generally keep a level head. Now, the best business leaders didn’t just find a magic solution to solve their problems, they built processes and leveraged tools to find success. And you can do the same.

By following this 10-step process, you can develop your problem-solving skills and approach any issue that arises with confidence. 

1. Define the problem

When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don’t thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn’t actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.

For instance, if you realize that your sales from new customers are dropping, your first inclination might be to rush into putting together a marketing plan to increase exposure. But what if decreasing sales are just a symptom of the real problem? 

When you define the problem, you want to be sure you’re not missing the forest for the trees. If you have a large issue on your hands, you’ll want to look at it from several different angles:

Competition 

Is a competitor’s promotion or pricing affecting your sales? Are there new entrants in your market? How are they marketing their product or business?

Business model 

Is your business model sustainable? Is it realistic for how fast you want to grow? Should you explore different pricing or cost strategies?

Market factors

How are world events and the nation’s economy affecting your customers and your sales?

Are there any issues affecting your team? Do they have the tools and resources they need to succeed? 

Goal alignment 

Is everyone on your team working toward the same goal ? Have you communicated your short-term and long-term business goals clearly and often?

There are a lot of ways to approach the issue when you’re facing a serious business problem. The key is to make sure you’re getting a full snapshot of what’s going on so you don’t waste money and resources on band-aid solutions. 

Going back to our example, by looking at every facet of your business, you may discover that you’re spending more on advertising than your competitors already. And instead, there’s a communication gap within your team that’s leading to the mishandling of new customers and therefore lost sales. 

If you jumped into fixing the exposure of your brand, you would have been dumping more money into an area you’re already winning. Potentially leading to greater losses as more and more new customers are dropped due to poor internal communication.

This is why it’s so vital that you explore your blind spots and track the problem to its source.

2. Conduct a SWOT analysis

All good businesses solve some sort of problem for customers. What if your particular business problem is actually an opportunity, or even a strength if considered from a different angle? This is when you’d want to conduct a SWOT analysis to determine if that is in fact the case.

SWOT is a great tool for strategic planning and bringing multiple viewpoints to the table when you’re looking at investing resources to solve a problem. This may even be incorporated in your attempts to identify the source of your problem, as it can quickly outline specific strengths and weaknesses of your business. And then by identifying any potential opportunities or threats, you can utilize your findings to kickstart a solution. 

3. Identify multiple solutions with design thinking

As you approach solving your problem, you may want to consider using the design thinking approach . It’s often used by organizations looking to solve big, community-based problems. One of its strengths is that it requires involving a wide range of people in the problem-solving process. Which leads to multiple perspectives and solutions arising.

This approach—applying your company’s skills and expertise to a problem in the market—is the basis for design thinking.

It’s not about finding the most complex problems to solve, but about finding common needs within the organization and in the real world and coming up with solutions that fit those needs. When you’re solving business problems, this applies in the sense that you’re looking for solutions that address underlying issues—you’re looking at the big picture.

4. Conduct market research and customer outreach

Market research and customer outreach aren’t the sorts of things small business owners and startups can do once and then cross off the list. When you’re facing a roadblock, think back to the last time you did some solid market research or took a deep dive into understanding the competitive landscape .

Market research and the insights you get from customer outreach aren’t a silver bullet. Many companies struggle with what they should do with conflicting data points. But it’s worth struggling through and gathering information that can help you better understand your target market . Plus, your customers can be one of the best sources of criticism. It’s actually a gift if you can avoid taking the negatives personally .

The worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is isolating yourself from your customers and ignore your competition. So survey your customers. Put together a competitive matrix . 

fill-in-the-blank LivePlan

5. Seek input from your team and your mentors

Don’t do your SWOT analysis or design thinking work by yourself. The freedom to express concerns, opinions, and ideas will allow people in an organization to speak up. Their feedback is going to help you move faster and more efficiently. If you have a team in place, bring them into the discussion. You hired them to be experts in their area; use their expertise to navigate and dig deeper into underlying causes of problems and potential solutions.

If you’re running your business solo, at least bring in a trusted mentor. SCORE offers a free business mentorship program if you don’t already have one. It can also be helpful to connect with a strategic business advisor , especially if business financials aren’t your strongest suit.

Quoting Stephen Covey, who said that “strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” speaking to the importance of diversity when it comes to problem-solving in business. The more diverse a team is , the more often innovative solutions to the problems faced by the organization appear.

In fact, it has been found that groups that show greater diversity were better at solving problems than groups made up specifically of highly skilled problem solvers. So whoever you bring in to help you problem-solve, resist the urge to surround yourself with people who already agree with you about everything.

6. Apply lean planning for nimble execution

So you do your SWOT analysis and your design thinking exercise. You come up with a set of strong, data-driven ideas. But implementing them requires you to adjust your budget, or your strategic plan, or even your understanding of your target market.

Are you willing to change course? Can you quickly make adjustments? Well in order to grow, you can’t be afraid to be nimble . 

By adopting the lean business planning method —the process of revising your business strategy regularly—you’ll be able to shift your strategies more fluidly. You don’t want to change course every week, and you don’t want to fall victim to shiny object thinking. But you can strike a balance that allows you to reduce your business’s risk while keeping your team heading in the right direction.

Along the way, you’ll make strategic decisions that don’t pan out the way you hoped. The best thing you can do is test your ideas and iterate often so you’re not wasting money and resources on things that don’t work. That’s Lean Planning .

7. Model different financial scenarios

When you’re trying to solve a serious business problem, one of the best things you can do is build a few different financial forecasts so you can model different scenarios. You might find that the idea that seemed the strongest will take longer than you thought to reverse a negative financial trend. At the very least you’ll have better insight into the financial impact of moving in a different direction.

The real benefit here is looking at different tactical approaches to the same problem. Maybe instead of increasing sales right now, you’re better off in the long run if you adopt a strategy to reduce churn and retain your best customers. You won’t know unless you model a few different scenarios. You can do this by using spreadsheets, and a tool like LivePlan can make it easier and quicker.

8. Watch your cash flow

While you’re working to solve a challenging business problem, pay particular attention to your cash flow and your cash flow forecast . Understanding when your company is at risk of running out of cash in the bank can help you be proactive. It’s a lot easier to get a line of credit while your financials still look good and healthy, than when you’re one pay period away from ruin.

If you’re dealing with a serious issue, it’s easy to start to get tunnel vision. You’ll benefit from maintaining a little breathing room for your business as you figure out what to do next.

9. Use a decision-making framework

Once you’ve gathered all the information you need, generated a number of ideas, and done some financial modeling, you might still feel uncertain. It’s natural—you’re not a fortune-teller. You’re trying to make the best decision you can with the information you have.

This article offers a really useful approach to making decisions. It starts with putting your options into a matrix like this one:

problem solving in business

Use this sort of framework to put everything you’ve learned out on the table. If you’re working with a bigger team, this sort of exercise can also bring the rest of your team to the table so they feel some ownership over the outcome.

10. Identify key metrics to track

How will you know your problem is solved? And not just the symptom—how will you know when you’ve addressed the underlying issues? Before you dive into enacting the solution, make sure you know what success looks like.

Decide on a few key performance indicators . Take a baseline measurement, and set a goal and a timeframe. You’re essentially translating your solution into a plan, complete with milestones and goals. Without these, you’ve simply made a blind decision with no way to track success. You need those goals and milestones to make your plan real .

Problem solving skills to improve

As you and your team work through this process, it’s worth keeping in mind specific problem solving skills you should continue to develop. Bolstering your ability, as well as your team, to solve problems effectively will only make this process more useful and efficient. Here are a few key skills to work on.

Emotional intelligence

It can be very easy to make quick, emotional responses in a time of crisis or when discussing something you’re passionate about. To avoid making assumptions and letting your emotions get the best of you, you need to focus on empathizing with others. This involves understanding your own emotional state, reactions and listening carefully to the responses of your team. The more you’re able to listen carefully, the better you’ll be at asking for and taking advice that actually leads to effective problem solving.

Jumping right into a solution can immediately kill the possibility of solving your problem. Just like when you start a business , you need to do the research into what the problem you’re solving actually is. Luckily, you can embed research into your problem solving by holding active reviews of financial performance and team processes. Simply asking “What? Where? When? How?” can lead to more in-depth explorations of potential issues.

The best thing you can do to grow your research abilities is to encourage and practice curiosity. Look at every problem as an opportunity. Something that may be trouble now, but is worth exploring and finding the right solution. You’ll pick up best practices, useful tools and fine-tune your own research process the more you’re willing to explore.

Brainstorming

Creatively brainstorming with your team is somewhat of an art form. There needs to be a willingness to throw everything at the wall and act as if nothing is a bad idea at the start. This style of collaboration encourages participation without fear of rejection. It also helps outline potential solutions outside of your current scope, that you can refine and turn into realistic action.

Work on breaking down problems and try to give everyone in the room a voice. The more input you allow, the greater potential you have for finding the best solution.

Decisiveness

One thing that can drag out acting upon a potential solution, is being indecisive. If you aren’t willing to state when the final cutoff for deliberation is, you simply won’t take steps quickly enough. This is when having a process for problem solving comes in handy, as it purposefully outlines when you should start taking action.

Work on choosing decision-makers, identify necessary results and be prepared to analyze and adjust if necessary. You don’t have to get it right every time, but taking action at the right time, even if it fails, is almost more vital than never taking a step.  

Stemming off failure, you need to learn to be resilient. Again, no one gets it perfect every single time. There are so many factors in play to consider and sometimes even the most well-thought-out solution doesn’t stick. Instead of being down on yourself or your team, look to separate yourself from the problem and continue to think of it as a puzzle worth solving. Every failure is a learning opportunity and it only helps you further refine and eliminate issues in your strategy.

Problem solving is a process

The key to effective problem-solving in business is the ability to adapt. You can waste a lot of resources on staying the wrong course for too long. So make a plan to reduce your risk now. Think about what you’d do if you were faced with a problem large enough to sink your business. Be as proactive as you can.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2021.

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Harriet Genever

Harriet Genever

Posted in management, join over 1 million entrepreneurs who found success with liveplan.

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To Solve a Tough Problem, Reframe It

  • Julia Binder
  • Michael D. Watkins

problem solving in business

Research shows that companies devote too little effort to examining problems before trying to solve them. By jumping immediately into problem-solving, teams limit their ability to design innovative solutions.

The authors recommend that companies spend more time up front on problem-framing, a process for understanding and defining a problem. Exploring different frames is like looking at a scene through various camera lenses while adjusting your angle, aperture, and focus. A wide-angle lens gives you a very different photo from that taken with a telephoto lens, and shifting your angle and depth of focus yields distinct images. Effective problem-framing is similar: Looking at a problem from a variety of perspectives helps you uncover new insights and generate fresh ideas.

This article introduces a five-phase approach to problem-framing: In the expand phase, the team identifies all aspects of a problem; in examine, it dives into root causes; in empathize, it considers key stakeholders’ perspectives; in elevate, it puts the problem into a broader context; and in envision, it creates a road map toward the desired outcome.

Five steps to ensure that you don’t jump to solutions

Idea in Brief

The problem.

Research shows that most companies devote too little effort to examining problems from all angles before trying to solve them. That limits their ability to come up with innovative ways to address them.

The Solution

Companies need a structured approach for understanding and defining complex problems to uncover new insights and generate fresh ideas.

The Approach

This article introduces a five-phase approach to problem-framing: In the expand phase, the team identifies all aspects of a problem; in examine, it dives into root causes; in empathize, it considers key stakeholders’ perspectives; in elevate, it puts the problem into a broader context; and in envision, it creates a road map toward the desired outcome.

When business leaders confront complex problems, there’s a powerful impulse to dive right into “solving” mode: You gather a team and then identify potential solutions. That’s fine for challenges you’ve faced before or when proven methods yield good results. But what happens when a new type of problem arises or aspects of a familiar one shift substantially? Or if you’re not exactly sure what the problem is?

  • JB Julia Binder is the director of the Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business and a professor of sustainable innovation at IMD.
  • Michael D. Watkins is a professor of leadership and organizational change at IMD , a cofounder of Genesis Advisers , and the author of The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking .

problem solving in business

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Purdue University

Effective Problem-Solving Techniques in Business

A business team discusses a problem in a conference room

January 20, 2023

Purdue Online

Problem solving is an increasingly important soft skill for those in business. The Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum drives this point home. According to this report, complex problem solving is identified as one of the top 15 skills that will be sought by employers in 2025, along with other soft skills such as analytical thinking, creativity and leadership.

Dr. Amy David , clinical associate professor of management for supply chain and operations management, spoke about business problem-solving methods and how the Purdue University Online MBA program prepares students to be business decision-makers.

Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Essential in Leadership Roles?

Every business will face challenges at some point. Those that are successful will have people in place who can identify and solve problems before the damage is done.

“The business world is constantly changing, and companies need to be able to adapt well in order to produce good results and meet the needs of their customers,” David says. “They also need to keep in mind the triple bottom line of ‘people, profit and planet.’ And these priorities are constantly evolving.”

To that end, David says people in management or leadership need to be able to handle new situations, something that may be outside the scope of their everyday work.

“The name of the game these days is change—and the speed of change—and that means solving new problems on a daily basis,” she says.

The pace of information and technology has also empowered the customer in a new way that provides challenges—or opportunities—for businesses to respond.

“Our customers have a lot more information and a lot more power,” she says. “If you think about somebody having an unhappy experience and tweeting about it, that’s very different from maybe 15 years ago. Back then, if you had a bad experience with a product, you might grumble about it to one or two people.”

David says that this reality changes how quickly organizations need to react and respond to their customers. And taking prompt and decisive action requires solid problem-solving skills.

What Are Some of the Most Effective Problem-Solving Methods?

David says there are a few things to consider when encountering a challenge in business.

“When faced with a problem, are we talking about something that is broad and affects a lot of people? Or is it something that affects a select few? Depending on the issue and situation, you’ll need to use different types of problem-solving strategies,” she says.

Using Techniques

There are a number of techniques that businesses use to problem solve. These can include:

  • Five Whys : This approach is helpful when the problem at hand is clear but the underlying causes are less so. By asking “Why?” five times, the final answer should get at the potential root of the problem and perhaps yield a solution.
  • Gap Analysis : Companies use gap analyses to compare current performance with expected or desired performance, which will help a company determine how to use its resources differently or adjust expectations.
  • Gemba Walk : The name, which is derived from a Japanese word meaning “the real place,” refers to a commonly used technique that allows managers to see what works (and what doesn’t) from the ground up. This is an opportunity for managers to focus on the fundamental elements of the process, identify where the value stream is and determine areas that could use improvement.
  • Porter’s Five Forces : Developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter, applying the Five Forces is a way for companies to identify competitors for their business or services, and determine how the organization can adjust to stay ahead of the game.
  • Six Thinking Hats : In his book of the same name, Dr. Edward de Bono details this method that encourages parallel thinking and attempting to solve a problem by trying on different “thinking hats.” Each color hat signifies a different approach that can be utilized in the problem-solving process, ranging from logic to feelings to creativity and beyond. This method allows organizations to view problems from different angles and perspectives.
  • SWOT Analysis : This common strategic planning and management tool helps businesses identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

“We have a lot of these different tools,” David says. “Which one to use when is going to be dependent on the problem itself, the level of the stakeholders, the number of different stakeholder groups and so on.”

Each of the techniques outlined above uses the same core steps of problem solving:

  • Identify and define the problem
  • Consider possible solutions
  • Evaluate options
  • Choose the best solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Evaluate the outcome

Data drives a lot of daily decisions in business and beyond. Analytics have also been deployed to problem solve.

“We have specific classes around storytelling with data and how you convince your audience to understand what the data is,” David says. “Your audience has to trust the data, and only then can you use it for real decision-making.”

Data can be a powerful tool for identifying larger trends and making informed decisions when it’s clearly understood and communicated. It’s also vital for performance monitoring and optimization.

How Is Problem Solving Prioritized in Purdue’s Online MBA?

The courses in the Purdue Online MBA program teach problem-solving methods to students, keeping them up to date with the latest techniques and allowing them to apply their knowledge to business-related scenarios.

“I can give you a model or a tool, but most of the time, a real-world situation is going to be a lot messier and more valuable than what we’ve seen in a textbook,” David says. “Asking students to take what they know and apply it to a case where there’s not one single correct answer is a big part of the learning experience.”

Make Your Own Decision to Further Your Career

An online MBA from Purdue University can help advance your career by teaching you problem-solving skills, decision-making strategies and more. Reach out today to learn more about earning an online MBA with Purdue University .

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Smith Sockbeson, C. E., (2021). Professionalism: Problem Solving. In SAGE Skills: Business . SAGE Publications, Inc., [https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841]

Smith Sockbeson, Caitlin E.. "Professionalism: Problem Solving." In SAGE Skills: Business . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2021, [https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841].

Smith Sockbeson, C. E., 2021. Professionalism: Problem Solving in SAGE Skills: Business. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. Available at: doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841]>[Accessed 21 Dec 2023]

Smith Sockbeson, Caitlin E.. "Professionalism: Problem Solving." SAGE Skills: Business . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 21 Dec 2023, doi:[https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841].

Smith Sockbeson, Caitlin E., (2021). Professionalism: Problem Solving. In SAGE Skills: Business . SAGE Publications, Inc., [https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841]

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  • Defining the Problem
  • Determining Causes and Possible Solutions
  • Making and Communicating Decisions
  • How Bad Decisions Happen
  • By: Caitlin E. Smith Sockbeson Edited by: Barbara A. Ritter
  • Module: Professionalism
  • Skill: Problem Solving
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Publication year: 2021
  • Online pub date: November 04, 2021
  • Discipline: Decision Making , Problem-Solving
  • DOI: https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781071859841
  • Keywords: creativity , decision making , escalation of commitment , group decision making , organizations , problem solving , professionalism , prospect theory , publications , task forces Show all Show less
  • Online ISBN: 9781071859841 Copyright: © SAGE Publications, Inc. 2021 More information Less information

Problem solving and decision making are key skills, not just for managers, but for all employees in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. Don’t just take my word for it—listen to Julie Lavington, co-founder and co-CEO of clothing company Sosandar , talk about how important this is for all employees.

Download transcript

Problem-solving skills and judgment and complex decision making ( Indeed, 2020 ; Marr, 2019 ) are among the top skills employers look for. Building these skills will make you a more attractive candidate and a more valuable employee.

Solving a problem or making a decision should consist of several steps, some of which may be overlooked by inexperienced decision makers. The steps in problem solving and decision making include defining the problem (including identifying the causes), generating possible solutions, evaluating those solutions, selecting a solution, recommending or implementing that solution, and evaluating the outcome ( Kinicki, 2021 ). First, you must define the problem or recognize there is a decision to be made. This seems obvious, but it is easy to miss a problem or opportunity arising until it is too late or to define the decision to be made incorrectly, leading to poor solutions. Good problem solvers will foresee a problem and identify the root causes of the problem, so that solutions are not just bandaging symptoms of the true underlying issue. Take time to gather the facts and ask “why” before jumping to possible solutions ( Markovitz, 2020 ).

Once you have accurately defined the problem, it is time to generate feasible solutions. This requires creativity. Often, decision makers jump to the first satisfactory solution (called satisficing). This saves time and can be effective when a “good enough” solution will do, but for really important or challenging problems, you should use the tools at your disposal (including other people in your organization) to come up with a wide and varied list of solutions—your ultimate answer is only going to be as good as the best solution on your list. The shorter the list, the less likely you’ve found a good solution.

Next, you must evaluate those solutions. There are multiple ways to evaluate solutions, but the ethicality, feasibility, and thoroughness of the solution are important things to explore (Kinicki, 2020). Will the solution truly fix the root causes of the problem? Do you have the resources to implement the problem, given other needs at the company?

Now comes the time to select a solution and implement it. Knowing when to stop evaluating and actually move forward with a decision is not always straightforward. Once you have selected the solution, depending on your position, you will either recommend that solution or lead its implementation yourself. Either way, you will have to get people on board with the solution. Unless you work for yourself and have no employees, you won’t be able to come up with and execute your decision on your own (and even if you do, you may have to sell it to your customers or clients!). Nothing in organizations happens in a vacuum—you will either have people working with you to make decisions or implement those decisions, and you will need to build skills toward getting people to both point out flaws in your reasoning and stop arguing and go along with you when it is time to implement the solution.

Finally, you need to evaluate whether the solution actually solved the problem or whether another solution is needed. Along the way, several things can go wrong, from framing the problem the wrong way, to not getting the right people on board, to using mental shortcuts that lead you to the wrong conclusions. In this Skill, you will find real-world examples, scenarios, videos, and more to help you:

  • Understand the importance of how you define a problem
  • Generate and evaluate possible solutions to a problem
  • Decide when to make a decision and how to communicate it
  • Understand why people fail to solve problems and get trapped in bad decisions

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7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager

Discover what problem-solving is, and why it's important for managers. Understand the steps of the process and learn about seven problem-solving skills.

[Featured Image]:  A manager wearing a black suit is talking to a team member, handling an issue  utilizing the process of problem-solving

1Managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a particular department, and sometimes a whole company, using their problem-solving skills regularly. Managers with good problem-solving skills can help ensure companies run smoothly and prosper.

If you're a current manager or are striving to become one, read this guide to discover what problem-solving skills are and why it's important for managers to have them. Learn the steps of the problem-solving process, and explore seven skills that can help make problem-solving easier and more effective.

What is problem-solving?

Problem-solving is both an ability and a process. As an ability, problem-solving can aid in resolving issues faced in different environments like home, school, abroad, and social situations, among others. As a process, problem-solving involves a series of steps for finding solutions to questions or concerns that arise throughout life.

The importance of problem-solving for managers

Managers deal with problems regularly, whether supervising a staff of two or 100. When people solve problems quickly and effectively, workplaces can benefit in a number of ways. These include:

Greater creativity

Higher productivity

Increased job fulfillment

Satisfied clients or customers

Better cooperation and cohesion

Improved environments for employees and customers

7 skills that make problem-solving easier

Companies depend on managers who can solve problems adeptly. Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.

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. Some skills that can help enhance communication at work include active listening, speaking with an even tone and volume, and supporting verbal information with written communication.

3. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in any situation. People with emotional intelligence usually solve problems calmly and systematically, which often yields better results.

4. Resilience

Emotional intelligence and resilience are closely related traits. Resiliency is the ability to cope with and bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Those who possess resilience are often capable of accurately interpreting people and situations, which can be incredibly advantageous when difficulties arise.

5. Creativity 

When brainstorming solutions to problems, creativity can help you to think outside the box. Problem-solving strategies can be enhanced with the application of creative techniques. You can use creativity to:

Approach problems from different angles

Improve your problem-solving process

Spark creativity in your employees and peers

6. Adaptability

Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to change. When a particular solution to an issue doesn't work, an adaptable person can revisit the concern to think up another one without getting frustrated.

7. Teamwork

Finding a solution to a problem regularly involves working in a team. Good teamwork requires being comfortable working with others and collaborating with them, which can result in better problem-solving overall.

Steps of the problem-solving process

Effective problem-solving involves five essential steps. One way to remember them is through the IDEAL model created in 1984 by psychology professors John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein [ 1 ]. The steps to solving problems in this model include: identifying that there is a problem, defining the goals you hope to achieve, exploring potential solutions, choosing a solution and acting on it, and looking at (or evaluating) the outcome.

1. Identify that there is a problem and root out its cause.

To solve a problem, you must first admit that one exists to then find its root cause. Finding the cause of the problem may involve asking questions like:

Can the problem be solved?

How big of a problem is it?

Why do I think the problem is occurring?

What are some things I know about the situation?

What are some things I don't know about the situation?

Are there any people who contributed to the problem?

Are there materials or processes that contributed to the problem?

Are there any patterns I can identify?

2. Define the goals you hope to achieve.

Every problem is different. The goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving depend on the scope of the problem. Some examples of goals you might set include:

Gather as much factual information as possible.

Brainstorm many different strategies to come up with the best one.

Be flexible when considering other viewpoints.

Articulate clearly and encourage questions, so everyone involved is on the same page.

Be open to other strategies if the chosen strategy doesn't work.

Stay positive throughout the process.

3. Explore potential solutions.

Once you've defined the goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving , it's time to start the process. This involves steps that often include fact-finding, brainstorming, prioritizing solutions, and assessing the cost of top solutions in terms of time, labor, and money.

4. Choose a solution and act on it.

Evaluate the pros and cons of each potential solution, and choose the one most likely to solve the problem within your given budget, abilities, and resources. Once you choose a solution, it's important to make a commitment and see it through. Draw up a plan of action for implementation, and share it with all involved parties clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing. Make sure everyone understands their role for a successful conclusion.

5. Look at (or evaluate) the outcome.

Evaluation offers insights into your current situation and future problem-solving. When evaluating the outcome, ask yourself questions like:

Did the solution work?

Will this solution work for other problems?

Were there any changes you would have made?

Would another solution have worked better?

As a current or future manager looking to build your problem-solving skills, it is often helpful to take a professional course. Consider Improving Communication Skills offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. You'll learn how to boost your ability to persuade, ask questions, negotiate, apologize, and more. 

You might also consider taking Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating Immensely Human Interactions , offered by the University of Michigan on Coursera. You'll explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills common to people with emotional intelligence, and you'll learn how emotional intelligence is connected to team success and leadership.

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Article sources

Tennessee Tech. “ The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd ed.) , https://www.tntech.edu/cat/pdf/useful_links/idealproblemsolver.pdf.” Accessed December 6, 2022.

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How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , Simon London speaks with Charles Conn, CEO of venture-capital firm Oxford Sciences Innovation, and McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin about the complexities of different problem-solving strategies.

Podcast transcript

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , with me, Simon London. What’s the number-one skill you need to succeed professionally? Salesmanship, perhaps? Or a facility with statistics? Or maybe the ability to communicate crisply and clearly? Many would argue that at the very top of the list comes problem solving: that is, the ability to think through and come up with an optimal course of action to address any complex challenge—in business, in public policy, or indeed in life.

Looked at this way, it’s no surprise that McKinsey takes problem solving very seriously, testing for it during the recruiting process and then honing it, in McKinsey consultants, through immersion in a structured seven-step method. To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Hugo Sarrazin: Our pleasure.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

Simon London: Problem solving is a really interesting piece of terminology. It could mean so many different things. I have a son who’s a teenage climber. They talk about solving problems. Climbing is problem solving. Charles, when you talk about problem solving, what are you talking about?

Charles Conn: For me, problem solving is the answer to the question “What should I do?” It’s interesting when there’s uncertainty and complexity, and when it’s meaningful because there are consequences. Your son’s climbing is a perfect example. There are consequences, and it’s complicated, and there’s uncertainty—can he make that grab? I think we can apply that same frame almost at any level. You can think about questions like “What town would I like to live in?” or “Should I put solar panels on my roof?”

You might think that’s a funny thing to apply problem solving to, but in my mind it’s not fundamentally different from business problem solving, which answers the question “What should my strategy be?” Or problem solving at the policy level: “How do we combat climate change?” “Should I support the local school bond?” I think these are all part and parcel of the same type of question, “What should I do?”

I’m a big fan of structured problem solving. By following steps, we can more clearly understand what problem it is we’re solving, what are the components of the problem that we’re solving, which components are the most important ones for us to pay attention to, which analytic techniques we should apply to those, and how we can synthesize what we’ve learned back into a compelling story. That’s all it is, at its heart.

I think sometimes when people think about seven steps, they assume that there’s a rigidity to this. That’s not it at all. It’s actually to give you the scope for creativity, which often doesn’t exist when your problem solving is muddled.

Simon London: You were just talking about the seven-step process. That’s what’s written down in the book, but it’s a very McKinsey process as well. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s go through the steps, one by one. You were just talking about problem definition as being a particularly important thing to get right first. That’s the first step. Hugo, tell us about that.

Hugo Sarrazin: It is surprising how often people jump past this step and make a bunch of assumptions. The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are the dependencies?” Let’s make those explicit and really push the thinking and defining. At McKinsey, we spend an enormous amount of time in writing that little statement, and the statement, if you’re a logic purist, is great. You debate. “Is it an ‘or’? Is it an ‘and’? What’s the action verb?” Because all these specific words help you get to the heart of what matters.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah. It’s not like “Can we grow in Japan?” That’s interesting, but it is “What, specifically, are we trying to uncover in the growth of a product in Japan? Or a segment in Japan? Or a channel in Japan?” When you spend an enormous amount of time, in the first meeting of the different stakeholders, debating this and having different people put forward what they think the problem definition is, you realize that people have completely different views of why they’re here. That, to me, is the most important step.

Charles Conn: I would agree with that. For me, the problem context is critical. When we understand “What are the forces acting upon your decision maker? How quickly is the answer needed? With what precision is the answer needed? Are there areas that are off limits or areas where we would particularly like to find our solution? Is the decision maker open to exploring other areas?” then you not only become more efficient, and move toward what we call the critical path in problem solving, but you also make it so much more likely that you’re not going to waste your time or your decision maker’s time.

How often do especially bright young people run off with half of the idea about what the problem is and start collecting data and start building models—only to discover that they’ve really gone off half-cocked.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: OK. So step one—and there is a real art and a structure to it—is define the problem. Step two, Charles?

Charles Conn: My favorite step is step two, which is to use logic trees to disaggregate the problem. Every problem we’re solving has some complexity and some uncertainty in it. The only way that we can really get our team working on the problem is to take the problem apart into logical pieces.

What we find, of course, is that the way to disaggregate the problem often gives you an insight into the answer to the problem quite quickly. I love to do two or three different cuts at it, each one giving a bit of a different insight into what might be going wrong. By doing sensible disaggregations, using logic trees, we can figure out which parts of the problem we should be looking at, and we can assign those different parts to team members.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

Charles Conn: Maybe the easiest one is the classic profit tree. Almost in every business that I would take a look at, I would start with a profit or return-on-assets tree. In its simplest form, you have the components of revenue, which are price and quantity, and the components of cost, which are cost and quantity. Each of those can be broken out. Cost can be broken into variable cost and fixed cost. The components of price can be broken into what your pricing scheme is. That simple tree often provides insight into what’s going on in a business or what the difference is between that business and the competitors.

If we add the leg, which is “What’s the asset base or investment element?”—so profit divided by assets—then we can ask the question “Is the business using its investments sensibly?” whether that’s in stores or in manufacturing or in transportation assets. I hope we can see just how simple this is, even though we’re describing it in words.

When I went to work with Gordon Moore at the Moore Foundation, the problem that he asked us to look at was “How can we save Pacific salmon?” Now, that sounds like an impossible question, but it was amenable to precisely the same type of disaggregation and allowed us to organize what became a 15-year effort to improve the likelihood of good outcomes for Pacific salmon.

Simon London: Now, is there a danger that your logic tree can be impossibly large? This, I think, brings us onto the third step in the process, which is that you have to prioritize.

Charles Conn: Absolutely. The third step, which we also emphasize, along with good problem definition, is rigorous prioritization—we ask the questions “How important is this lever or this branch of the tree in the overall outcome that we seek to achieve? How much can I move that lever?” Obviously, we try and focus our efforts on ones that have a big impact on the problem and the ones that we have the ability to change. With salmon, ocean conditions turned out to be a big lever, but not one that we could adjust. We focused our attention on fish habitats and fish-harvesting practices, which were big levers that we could affect.

People spend a lot of time arguing about branches that are either not important or that none of us can change. We see it in the public square. When we deal with questions at the policy level—“Should you support the death penalty?” “How do we affect climate change?” “How can we uncover the causes and address homelessness?”—it’s even more important that we’re focusing on levers that are big and movable.

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Simon London: Let’s move swiftly on to step four. You’ve defined your problem, you disaggregate it, you prioritize where you want to analyze—what you want to really look at hard. Then you got to the work plan. Now, what does that mean in practice?

Hugo Sarrazin: Depending on what you’ve prioritized, there are many things you could do. It could be breaking the work among the team members so that people have a clear piece of the work to do. It could be defining the specific analyses that need to get done and executed, and being clear on time lines. There’s always a level-one answer, there’s a level-two answer, there’s a level-three answer. Without being too flippant, I can solve any problem during a good dinner with wine. It won’t have a whole lot of backing.

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: No, but it may be useful as a starting point. If the stakes are not that high, that could be OK. If it’s really high stakes, you may need level three and have the whole model validated in three different ways. You need to find a work plan that reflects the level of precision, the time frame you have, and the stakeholders you need to bring along in the exercise.

Charles Conn: I love the way you’ve described that, because, again, some people think of problem solving as a linear thing, but of course what’s critical is that it’s iterative. As you say, you can solve the problem in one day or even one hour.

Charles Conn: We encourage our teams everywhere to do that. We call it the one-day answer or the one-hour answer. In work planning, we’re always iterating. Every time you see a 50-page work plan that stretches out to three months, you know it’s wrong. It will be outmoded very quickly by that learning process that you described. Iterative problem solving is a critical part of this. Sometimes, people think work planning sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s how we know what’s expected of us and when we need to deliver it and how we’re progressing toward the answer. It’s also the place where we can deal with biases. Bias is a feature of every human decision-making process. If we design our team interactions intelligently, we can avoid the worst sort of biases.

Simon London: Here we’re talking about cognitive biases primarily, right? It’s not that I’m biased against you because of your accent or something. These are the cognitive biases that behavioral sciences have shown we all carry around, things like anchoring, overoptimism—these kinds of things.

Both: Yeah.

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.

Simon London: Right. Right.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Charles Conn: And it’s why diversity in our teams is so important. It’s one of the best things about the world that we’re in now. We’re likely to have people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, each of whom sees problems from a slightly different perspective. It is therefore much more likely that the team will uncover a truly creative and clever approach to problem solving.

Simon London: Let’s move on to step five. You’ve done your work plan. Now you’ve actually got to do the analysis. The thing that strikes me here is that the range of tools that we have at our disposal now, of course, is just huge, particularly with advances in computation, advanced analytics. There’s so many things that you can apply here. Just talk about the analysis stage. How do you pick the right tools?

Charles Conn: For me, the most important thing is that we start with simple heuristics and explanatory statistics before we go off and use the big-gun tools. We need to understand the shape and scope of our problem before we start applying these massive and complex analytical approaches.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: I agree. I think there are so many wonderful heuristics. You need to start there before you go deep into the modeling exercise. There’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, though. In some cases, for some types of problems, it is even better to set yourself up to maximize your learning. Your problem-solving methodology is test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and iterate. That is a heuristic in itself, the A/B testing that is used in many parts of the world. So that’s a problem-solving methodology. It’s nothing different. It just uses technology and feedback loops in a fast way. The other one is exploratory data analysis. When you’re dealing with a large-scale problem, and there’s so much data, I can get to the heuristics that Charles was talking about through very clever visualization of data.

You test with your data. You need to set up an environment to do so, but don’t get caught up in neural-network modeling immediately. You’re testing, you’re checking—“Is the data right? Is it sound? Does it make sense?”—before you launch too far.

Simon London: You do hear these ideas—that if you have a big enough data set and enough algorithms, they’re going to find things that you just wouldn’t have spotted, find solutions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of. Does machine learning sort of revolutionize the problem-solving process? Or are these actually just other tools in the toolbox for structured problem solving?

Charles Conn: It can be revolutionary. There are some areas in which the pattern recognition of large data sets and good algorithms can help us see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. But I do think it’s terribly important we don’t think that this particular technique is a substitute for superb problem solving, starting with good problem definition. Many people use machine learning without understanding algorithms that themselves can have biases built into them. Just as 20 years ago, when we were doing statistical analysis, we knew that we needed good model definition, we still need a good understanding of our algorithms and really good problem definition before we launch off into big data sets and unknown algorithms.

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Charles Conn: I take six and seven together, and this is the place where young problem solvers often make a mistake. They’ve got their analysis, and they assume that’s the answer, and of course it isn’t the answer. The ability to synthesize the pieces that came out of the analysis and begin to weave those into a story that helps people answer the question “What should I do?” This is back to where we started. If we can’t synthesize, and we can’t tell a story, then our decision maker can’t find the answer to “What should I do?”

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Charles Conn: Yeah.

Simon London: I am slightly torn about the nomenclature of problem solving because it’s on paper, right? Until you motivate people to action, you actually haven’t solved anything.

Charles Conn: I love this question because I think decision-making theory, without a bias to action, is a waste of time. Everything in how I approach this is to help people take action that makes the world better.

Simon London: Hence, these are absolutely critical steps. If you don’t do this well, you’ve just got a bunch of analysis.

Charles Conn: We end up in exactly the same place where we started, which is people speaking across each other, past each other in the public square, rather than actually working together, shoulder to shoulder, to crack these important problems.

Simon London: In the real world, we have a lot of uncertainty—arguably, increasing uncertainty. How do good problem solvers deal with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: At every step of the process. In the problem definition, when you’re defining the context, you need to understand those sources of uncertainty and whether they’re important or not important. It becomes important in the definition of the tree.

You need to think carefully about the branches of the tree that are more certain and less certain as you define them. They don’t have equal weight just because they’ve got equal space on the page. Then, when you’re prioritizing, your prioritization approach may put more emphasis on things that have low probability but huge impact—or, vice versa, may put a lot of priority on things that are very likely and, hopefully, have a reasonable impact. You can introduce that along the way. When you come back to the synthesis, you just need to be nuanced about what you’re understanding, the likelihood.

Often, people lack humility in the way they make their recommendations: “This is the answer.” They’re very precise, and I think we would all be well-served to say, “This is a likely answer under the following sets of conditions” and then make the level of uncertainty clearer, if that is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always in the gray zone; it doesn’t mean you don’t have a point of view. It just means that you can be explicit about the certainty of your answer when you make that recommendation.

Simon London: So it sounds like there is an underlying principle: “Acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty. Don’t pretend that it isn’t there. Be very clear about what the uncertainties are up front, and then build that into every step of the process.”

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Yeah. We have just walked through a particular structured methodology for problem solving. But, of course, this is not the only structured methodology for problem solving. One that is also very well-known is design thinking, which comes at things very differently. So, Hugo, I know you have worked with a lot of designers. Just give us a very quick summary. Design thinking—what is it, and how does it relate?

Hugo Sarrazin: It starts with an incredible amount of empathy for the user and uses that to define the problem. It does pause and go out in the wild and spend an enormous amount of time seeing how people interact with objects, seeing the experience they’re getting, seeing the pain points or joy—and uses that to infer and define the problem.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Hugo Sarrazin: With an enormous amount of empathy. There’s a huge emphasis on empathy. Traditional, more classic problem solving is you define the problem based on an understanding of the situation. This one almost presupposes that we don’t know the problem until we go see it. The second thing is you need to come up with multiple scenarios or answers or ideas or concepts, and there’s a lot of divergent thinking initially. That’s slightly different, versus the prioritization, but not for long. Eventually, you need to kind of say, “OK, I’m going to converge again.” Then you go and you bring things back to the customer and get feedback and iterate. Then you rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. There’s a lot of tactile building, along the way, of prototypes and things like that. It’s very iterative.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

Charles Conn: I think they’re entirely complementary, and I think Hugo’s description is perfect. When we do problem definition well in classic problem solving, we are demonstrating the kind of empathy, at the very beginning of our problem, that design thinking asks us to approach. When we ideate—and that’s very similar to the disaggregation, prioritization, and work-planning steps—we do precisely the same thing, and often we use contrasting teams, so that we do have divergent thinking. The best teams allow divergent thinking to bump them off whatever their initial biases in problem solving are. For me, design thinking gives us a constant reminder of creativity, empathy, and the tactile nature of problem solving, but it’s absolutely complementary, not alternative.

Simon London: I think, in a world of cross-functional teams, an interesting question is do people with design-thinking backgrounds really work well together with classical problem solvers? How do you make that chemistry happen?

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah, it is not easy when people have spent an enormous amount of time seeped in design thinking or user-centric design, whichever word you want to use. If the person who’s applying classic problem-solving methodology is very rigid and mechanical in the way they’re doing it, there could be an enormous amount of tension. If there’s not clarity in the role and not clarity in the process, I think having the two together can be, sometimes, problematic.

The second thing that happens often is that the artifacts the two methodologies try to gravitate toward can be different. Classic problem solving often gravitates toward a model; design thinking migrates toward a prototype. Rather than writing a big deck with all my supporting evidence, they’ll bring an example, a thing, and that feels different. Then you spend your time differently to achieve those two end products, so that’s another source of friction.

Now, I still think it can be an incredibly powerful thing to have the two—if there are the right people with the right mind-set, if there is a team that is explicit about the roles, if we’re clear about the kind of outcomes we are attempting to bring forward. There’s an enormous amount of collaborativeness and respect.

Simon London: But they have to respect each other’s methodology and be prepared to flex, maybe, a little bit, in how this process is going to work.

Hugo Sarrazin: Absolutely.

Simon London: The other area where, it strikes me, there could be a little bit of a different sort of friction is this whole concept of the day-one answer, which is what we were just talking about in classical problem solving. Now, you know that this is probably not going to be your final answer, but that’s how you begin to structure the problem. Whereas I would imagine your design thinkers—no, they’re going off to do their ethnographic research and get out into the field, potentially for a long time, before they come back with at least an initial hypothesis.

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Hugo Sarrazin: That is a great callout, and that’s another difference. Designers typically will like to soak into the situation and avoid converging too quickly. There’s optionality and exploring different options. There’s a strong belief that keeps the solution space wide enough that you can come up with more radical ideas. If there’s a large design team or many designers on the team, and you come on Friday and say, “What’s our week-one answer?” they’re going to struggle. They’re not going to be comfortable, naturally, to give that answer. It doesn’t mean they don’t have an answer; it’s just not where they are in their thinking process.

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Simon London: And thanks, as always, to you, our listeners, for tuning into this episode of the McKinsey Podcast . If you want to learn more about problem solving, you can find the book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything , online or order it through your local bookstore. To learn more about McKinsey, you can of course find us at McKinsey.com.

Charles Conn is CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office. Hugo Sarrazin is a senior partner in the Silicon Valley office, where Simon London, a member of McKinsey Publishing, is also based.

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

problem solving in business

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

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

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

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.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

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.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

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.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

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.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

problem solving in business

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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How do Great Leaders Solve Problems in Business?

How-Great-Leaders-Solve-Problems

Category: Behavioral Economics .

Companies today are expected to adapt and respond quickly to challenges in a rapidly changing business environment. Notwithstanding sound planning and flawless strategy execution, businesses can still face problems. While they foresee some of those problems, others can pop up unexpectedly. These unforeseeable problems make it essential for businesses to be agile enough to respond to those challenges quickly and have excellent problem-solving skills to navigate them successfully. Problem-solving is an indispensable part of business management.

In this article, we will examine the following in detail

Introduction

  • Understanding the Importance of Problem-Solving in Business
  • Types of Business Problems
  • Challenges in Problem-solving
  • Skills Required for Effective Problem-solving in Business
  • A Step-by-step Process to Problem-solving in Business

TL;DR Version

Problem-solving is integral to business success, dealing with diverse issues ranging from operational hiccups to strategic challenges. Identifying and understanding these problems is vital, but navigating potential obstacles during problem-solving, such as cognitive biases, resource constraints, and lack of information, is crucial.

Effective problem-solving skills include research and analytical abilities, creativity, decision-making, communication , time management, and leadership. These skills allow business leaders to dissect complex issues, ideate innovative solutions, make informed decisions, communicate effectively, manage time, and lead teams toward resolution.

The problem-solving process involves defining the problem, understanding its root cause, collecting relevant information, brainstorming potential solutions, evaluating these solutions, choosing the best one, developing and implementing an action plan, monitoring progress, evaluating results, and reflecting on the process for continuous improvement. This iterative process ensures that businesses are resolving immediate issues and refining their problem-solving mechanism for future challenges.

Unmanaged and unmitigated problems can cause severe consequences to businesses. They can lead to project delays, missed deadlines, and financial losses. Moreover, they may negatively impact employee morale and customer satisfaction and even damage the reputation of the company. So businesses must have strong problem-solving abilities.

When businesses have strong problem-solving abilities, they can quickly and proactively rise to the occasion and address the problems, minimizing their impact, preventing them from escalating into bigger problems, and capitalizing on opportunities that arise from those challenges. Ultimately, the problem-solving ability of a company can help them gain a competitive advantage.

To solve problems and fix issues, companies require leaders who can handle complex issues with ease and guide and motivate their teams to identify problems and develop creative solutions to overcome them. They can leverage the collective expertise and experience of the employees to make well-informed decisions that align with the business goals and objectives. Leaders also work with employees to foster a culture of problem-solving to help the company build a resilient business that can thrive in today’s dynamic business environment.

What is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving involves identifying, analyzing, and resolving issues or challenges arising during various business operations to achieve the desired outcomes and business goals. It involves a systematic approach to defining the problem, gathering relevant information, generating possible solutions, evaluating them, and implementing the best course of action.

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we Cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

Why is Problem-Solving Important?

Problem-solving in business is important because of the following reasons.

1. Efficiency

Problems not only hinder progress but also reduce the efficiency of your operations by bringing everything to a halt/slowing you down, causing downtime, and costing you precious productivity. When left unchecked at the initial stages, these problems may also demand additional resources and budget to solve them, leading to cost overruns, losses, and inefficiency. So addressing the problems on time can help achieve efficiency.

2. Profitability

Profitability is one of the topmost priorities of an organization. So any impact on profitability is seen as a problem that requires immediate attention. Effective problem-solving helps businesses identify and address cost inefficiencies, optimize processes, and capitalize on new opportunities, thus improving the bottom line.

3. Leadership

Great leaders emerge during testing times. They can lead the employees, leverage collective effort and give a sense of direction toward finding solutions and workarounds. Problem-solving helps companies identify the right leaders.

4. Teamwork

Problem-solving requires team effort and participation. It calls for collaboration and communication between various departments, teams, and individuals. When companies manage to weather challenges and solve problems effectively, it brings the employees together to work towards a common cause, build stronger teams and create a habit of continuous improvement.

teamwork

5. Innovation

Problem-solving requires creativity and innovation to find solutions and workarounds. When a company fosters problem-solving culture, it automatically imbibes creative thinking and innovation. It gets reflected in developing new products, services, processes, and best practices.

6. Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction helps businesses retain and find new customers. Problems with the products/services and customer support can lead to poor customer experience. Effective problem-solving helps businesses resolve customer complaints and issues quickly and satisfactorily, thus increasing customer loyalty and retention.

The Problems that Businesses Face Today and how they Solve Them

There are several different kinds of problems that businesses face, including

1. Strategic problems

Strategic problems are related to the long-term direction of a business. They typically involve decisions about resource allocation, product strategy, choosing the market, pricing strategy, product positioning, etc. Solving strategic problems requires a long-term vision, able leadership, and the ability to forecast market trends.

solution-concept

Business problem examples

Selecting the markets.

Businesses need to decide their focus on specific geographic markets, target customer segments, and product categories. They must make these decisions and select the focus areas by analyzing the data and insights into factors, including market size, competition, and the company’s core competencies.

Product development

Developing new products enables companies to remain relevant and achieve leadership in a highly competitive market scenario. They have to meet the customer requirements and provide a compelling reason for customers to purchase them. Solving the problem of new product development requires creativity and innovation and allocating resources for R&D. New products should be developed based on sound market analyses of customer requirements and pain points.

For instance, the need to learn and upskill anytime without compromising work hours pushed the companies to create e-learning platforms.

Positioning the company

Differentiating your business from the competition involves developing a strong brand identity, focusing on a specific niche or segment of the market, or offering unique value propositions. Setting the company apart by gaining a competitive advantage attracts customers. You can solve the problem of positioning your company by doing a SWOT analysis, finding your strengths and unique qualities that enable you to meet the customers’ requirements and address their pain points. You can base your brand identity, USP, and niche on your stand-out qualities that benefit customers. For instance, Volvo positions itself as the company that makes the safest cars in the world.

2. Operational problems

Operational problems are daily issues that hinder companies from efficiently delivering products or services to customers, affecting their ability to meet deadlines and targets. These problems arise from bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and system flaws. Addressing them involves identifying issues, providing employee training, upgrading technology, ensuring product testing and quality control, and implementing contingency planning, deadline management, and risk mitigation.

Operational-problems

Business problem-solving examples

Supply chain disruptions.

Supply chain disruptions happen when businesses face challenges in sourcing raw materials or components, leading to production delays or quality issues. For instance, during the pandemic, companies faced chip shortages, which led to losses and the inability to deliver products to customers on time. It also caused a rise in demand and an increase in prices.

Quality control issues

Quality control issues occur when design flaws or manufacturing issues impact the products. Businesses may need to identify and address quality issues to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty. For instance, it is not uncommon to recall new automobile models, sometimes the ones from specific batches, to replace faulty components with redesigned parts before they might fail.

Managing staffing levels

Fluctuating staffing needs are part of operational issues. At any given time, if a company is understaffed, it can lead to operational inefficiency; if it is over-staffed, the company will suffer from cost infficiency. So, it requires careful planning. You can address the problem by either recruiting or downsizing and restructuring. For instance, the tech companies that designed software solutions for remote and hybrid work environments hired many employees during the pandemic. After the pandemic, when the need for these software solutions decreased, they had to downsize their workforce in light of the impending recession.

3. Financial problems

Financial problems are issues involving managing cash flow, revenue growth, and expenses. They are related to the financial health of a business. Businesses can fix them by managing costs effectively through process improvement and cost-cutting measures.

iterate_faster

Managing cash flow

Businesses must ensure that they have enough financial resources on hand to meet their obligations, such as payroll, vendor payments, logistics, managing retail channels, etc. For instance, many start-ups stall despite successful product development and prototyping, as they fail to secure adequate funding to bring the products to the market.

Identifying new revenue streams:

Businesses that focus on a particular niche are always vulnerable to competition and changing market conditions. They need to diversify their revenue streams to maintain growth and profitability. They may have to focus on research and product development to identify new revenue streams. For instance, some of the most successful and established DSLR camera manufacturers faced a major crisis when mirrorless cameras started eating into their market share. They had to revise the product strategy, downsize their manpower, and invest vast resources into developing competitive mirrorless systems to mitigate the company. On the contrary, DSLR manufacturers with diversified businesses remained more resilient.

Managing costs

Businesses must control expenses to maintain profitability. It may involve identifying areas where costs can be cut or negotiating better deals with vendors. For instance, Google is known to initiate moonshot projects. At the same time, they kill non-profitable projects quickly. It has helped the company retain leadership while managing costs judiciously.

4. Human resource problems

HR problems are issues related to recruiting, retaining, and developing talent. They are issues about the management of employees. Managing these problems requires assessing staffing needs, recruiting, restructuring, identifying training and upskilling needs, and retaining top talent through employee engagement initiatives, welfare measures, and career development opportunities.

Human-resource-problems

Retaining top talent

Retaining top talent can be a determining factor for the success of a company. Businesses must build an environment that attracts top talent by creating opportunities for career advancement and offering competitive compensation packages. For instance, highly specialized jobs with business-critical responsibilities, such as chief aero designers in motor racing teams, are hard to find and recruit. So retaining them is crucial for the success of the company.

Addressing employee morale and motivation issues

Lack of motivation, stagnant career, unfavorable team dynamics, etc., are some factors that cause a dip in employee morale. These factors can affect productivity and quality of work. Businesses must address these issues through employee engagement initiatives, career planning, team building, welfare measures, training, upskilling, etc.

Managing a diverse workforce

In an increasingly globalized work scenario, businesses must ensure that they create a work environment that is inclusive and welcoming to employees from different backgrounds and with diverse skill sets. They should also manage hybrid and remote work to address ambiguities and ensure clarity and synergy among teams and individuals based in various locations. For instance, many companies reserve certain positions for people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or genders to meet their diversity goals. They also put policies and systems in place to prevent/address discrimination in the workplace.

Marketing problems

Marketing problems are related to promoting and selling a company’s products or services. Problems usually arise in understanding customer behavior and preferences and developing marketing strategies that appeal to those customers. Solving marketing problems requires revisiting the marketing strategy, understanding customer needs and behaviors by analyzing data, positioning the products more appealingly, and branding them better to reflect the strengths of the company and its product offerings.

Understanding customer needs and behavior

Customer needs to dictate the direction of product development and positioning. To design and deliver successful products, businesses must gain a deep understanding of customer needs, preferences, and pain points. For instance, the Japanese car makers capitalized on the high gas prices during the oil crisis and managed to capture the market in the US with their more efficient and reliable cars. The sudden loss in interest in the large, thirsty cars caused a considerable shift in the market, allowing Japanese car manufacturers to position their products in line with the customers’ preferences and succeed.

Developing a strong brand identity

Businesses must create a brand identity that resonates with the customers and sets them apart from competitors. For instance, it is common for companies to change their logo and brand identity in line with the changing trends, customer preferences, and product strategy.

Identifying new marketing channels and tactics

Businesses must be able to identify and adapt to changing customer preferences and identify new channels and tactics for reaching those customers. For instance, many retail businesses have adopted an eCommerce strategy to cater to mobile-savvy customers and to reach new markets.

Skills-Required-by-Business-Leaders

What Skills do Business Leaders Require for Effective Problem-Solving?

Following are some of the skills required for effective problem-solving in business.

1. Research and analytical skills

Problems have various potential implications. Trying to solve them straight away without doing proper research can cause further problems. Business leaders should study the problem to gain a deeper understanding, assess the solutions thoroughly, and test them before deploying them. They also need good analytical skills to review the performance metrics that indicate the problem areas and analyze information and data to understand the problem. Analytical skills help business leaders break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts, identify their root causes, avoid bounded rationality in decision making , and develop effective solutions and creative workarounds.

2. Creativity

When the problems are complex and multi-dimensional, they may require unique solutions that never existed before. Finding solutions for these problems requires creativity and a culture of innovation in the company. Business leaders must think creatively and tread unconventional paths to create innovative solutions. For instance, during the pandemic, when customers did not want to take the risk of going to retail stores to buy things but were reluctant to pay for the high shipping costs involved in e-commerce, retail businesses offered solutions such as BOPIS that let customers order online and collect their purchases safely from collection booth/kiosk at a convenient time. It helped them meet customer needs by offering the best of both worlds

3. Decision-making

Effective problem-solving in business requires sound decision-making skills. Problem-solving often involves making choices and tough decisions. For instance, the decision to axe a product line that has performed well in the past but has no future potential is a tough one to make. But retaining it will cost resources and yield decreasing returns. Great business leaders evaluate multiple options/solutions and make decisions in the company’s best interest. Being decisive or having decision clarity also means making the right decisions at the right time. Delays in decision-making can cause severe consequences even if you ultimately make the right decision. So business leaders must analyze everything and make the right decision when it matters the most.

4. Communication

Business leaders cannot single-handedly solve problems. Problem-solving requires a team effort. Good business leaders harness the potential of every employee with their communication skills and excellent coordination. They communicate effectively with colleagues, customers, and stakeholders to identify problems and develop solutions. For instance, in a crowded restaurant, the chef needs to coordinate the kitchen staff continuously, check if they are doing their part efficiently, control food quality, and make sure that food is served at the right table as quickly as possible. Lack of communication from the chef can escalate into a full-fledged nightmare, where customers keep waiting for their orders, kitchen staff make mistakes and deliver poor quality food, and the waiters get the flak for not serving food on time. Such situations can ruin the reputation of the restaurant and lead to the loss of customer trust. So good business leaders must communicate and build synergy among the individuals within and among other teams to get work done effectively.

5. Marketing problems

Marketing-problems

6. Leadership

Problem-solving is about working with many individuals and bringing the best out of them. So business leaders need great leadership qualities to motivate and inspire their teams to work together and solve problems. For example, innovations come from the R&D department; they get incorporated into products by the product development team, and the products are positioned and promoted in the market by the marketing team. Great business leaders lead product development and deployment by coordinating with all these teams, getting their insights, considering their views, and making important decisions regarding product strategy, product positioning, and branding. Situational Leadership is essential to deal with shifting priorities. Leaders motivate the teams and guide them in the right direction. Without good leadership, a company cannot solve problems effectively.

A Step-by-Step Process to Problem-Solving in Business

Problem-solving in business is often an iterative process. So the steps involved may need to be repeated or revised as new information becomes available. Problem-solving usually involves the following steps:

  • Define the problem; include any present symptoms or effects.
  • Understand the root cause of the problem and find out how it impacts the business.
  • Collect all the necessary information related to the problem by analyzing data, conducting interviews, researching, and seeking input from others.
  • Brainstorm with the stakeholders and generate potential solutions to the problem. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and participation among team members.
  • Weigh the pros and cons, evaluate all the potential solutions, analyze the risks, and consider the feasibility of each.
  • Choose the best solution from the evaluated solutions and consider how it will impact the stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders.
  • Develop an action plan to implement the chosen solution, detailing specific steps, timelines, and responsibilities.
  • Implement the solution, monitor progress closely, adjust the plan, make changes as required, and communicate those changes to the stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the results, determine if the solution addressed the problem, assess its effectiveness, and identify any areas for improvement.
  • Reflect on the problem-solving process, and identify and document the lessons learned.
  • Consider how you can improve the process for future problem-solving efforts.

10 Steps-Guide-to-Business-Problem-Solving

Problem Solving Key Takeaways

Problem-solving is a critical skill for business success. It involves identifying, understanding, and resolving issues in various facets of business operations and strategy. Common obstacles during problem-solving can include cognitive biases, resource constraints, and lack of information. Business leaders must navigate these potential pitfalls to ensure effective resolution of issues.

Essential skills for effective problem-solving include research and analytical abilities, creativity, decision-making, communication, time management, and leadership. These skills enable business leaders to dissect complex issues, devise innovative solutions, make informed decisions, effectively communicate, manage time, and guide teams toward resolution.

Problem-solving is an iterative process that involves multiple stages, from defining the problem and understanding its root cause to brainstorming and evaluating potential solutions, choosing the best one, and developing and implementing an action plan. This process also includes monitoring progress, evaluating results, and reflecting on the process for continuous improvement. An effective problem-solving method is the root cause analysis method. Ultimately, successful problem-solving in business is not just about resolving immediate issues but also about refining and improving the problem-solving process to tackle future challenges more effectively.

Problem Solving in Business FAQs

Answer: The four types of problem-solving strategies typically include:

Trial and Error: Involves trying different solutions until the problem is solved. It’s often used when there are limited possibilities that can be explored quickly.

Algorithm: A step-by-step procedure that, if followed correctly, will always lead to the solution of the problem. It is highly logical and often used in mathematical problems.

Heuristic: A general problem-solving strategy that involves using rules-of-thumb or shortcuts. Heuristics may not always yield the perfect solution but can often lead to a satisfactory one in a reasonable time frame.

Insight: Sometimes also referred to as creative problem-solving. It involves sudden realization, a flash of inspiration, or an ‘Aha!’ moment that provides a solution.

  • What is an example of problem-solving in business?

Answer: A common example of problem-solving in business is addressing a sudden drop in sales. The problem-solving process would begin with identifying and defining the problem (drop in sales). The next step would involve researching and analyzing the issue to understand its root cause, such as market conditions, competition, or internal factors. Brainstorming for potential solutions could include improving the product, adjusting pricing, or enhancing marketing efforts. After evaluating and selecting the best solution, an action plan would be developed and implemented. Progress would be monitored, results evaluated, and the process reflected upon for future problem-solving efforts.

  • Why is problem-solving important in business?

Answer: Problem-solving is vital in business as it enables organizations to navigate challenges and obstacles that could hamper their growth and success. It allows businesses to identify issues, understand their implications, and devise effective solutions. This process not only resolves the immediate issue at hand but also helps prevent similar problems in the future. Moreover, effective problem-solving can lead to improved business processes, innovation, and a competitive advantage. It also plays a crucial role in customer satisfaction, profitability, and overall sustainability of the business.

  • What is the most important problem-solving tool for business?

Answer: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem-solving tool for all businesses, as the most effective tool often depends on the specific problem and the business context. However, one universally important tool is effective communication. Clear, open, and honest communication fosters better understanding of problems, facilitates brainstorming of solutions, and aids in the implementation of action plans. Other essential tools include data analysis tools (for understanding and diagnosing problems), brainstorming techniques (for generating solutions), and project management tools (for implementing solutions).

Great leaders possess a unique problem-solving mindset that enables them to navigate complex challenges in the business world. By following this step-by-step guide, you can cultivate these essential skills and unlock your potential for success. Remember, problem-solving is not just about finding solutions but also about fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement. Embrace the challenges, seize the opportunities, and lead confidently as you embark on your journey towards becoming an exceptional problem solver and a remarkable leader in the business realm.

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Problem Solving in Business: CASE STUDIES

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Why problem-solving Is Important in Business

Problem-solving is a critical skill in business.

It involves the ability to identify and solve problems efficiently and effectively to move a company forward.

Whether it’s resolving a technical issue, finding a new solution to an age-old problem, or simply making a difficult decision, strong problem-solving skills are essential for the success of any business.

In this blog post, we’ll explore why problem-solving is so important in the business world and how it can help organizations thrive.

The Importance of Problem-Solving in Business

As mentioned in the introduction, problem-solving is a crucial skill in the business world. It allows organizations to identify and address challenges in a timely and effective manner, which is essential for driving progress and growth.

Without strong problem-solving abilities, businesses may struggle to adapt to change and overcome obstacles, ultimately hindering their success.

But the importance of problem-solving goes beyond just overcoming challenges.

It can also help businesses to identify and seize new opportunities, allowing them to stay ahead of the competition and remain innovative.

Whether it’s finding a new market to tap into or developing a more efficient production process, problem-solving skills are key to driving innovation and staying ahead of the curve.

In short, strong problem-solving skills are essential for businesses of all sizes and industries.

They help organizations to overcome challenges, stay adaptable, and identify and seize new opportunities.

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the various ways that problem-solving can benefit businesses and the different techniques and strategies that can be used to tackle problems effectively.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Developing strong problem-solving skills is essential for the success of any business, and there are several ways that organizations can help their employees to hone these skills. Some strategies for developing problem-solving skills include:

Providing training and development opportunities

Many organizations offer training programs or workshops specifically designed to help employees develop problem-solving skills. These programs may include simulations, case studies, or hands-on exercises that allow employees to practice and apply their skills.

Encouraging a growth mindset

A growth mindset is a belief that abilities can be developed through effort and learning. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and encouraging employees to embrace challenges and failures as opportunities to grow and improve, businesses can help to develop problem-solving skills.

Encouraging collaboration and open communication

Collaboration and open communication can be key to solving problems effectively. By creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and seeking help, businesses can foster a culture of problem-solving and continuous improvement.

Providing resources and support

Organizations can also support the development of problem-solving skills by providing employees with the resources and support they need to tackle problems. This may include access to data and analytics tools, training materials, or guidance from experienced colleagues.

By implementing these strategies and providing opportunities for employees to practice and develop their problem-solving skills, businesses can build a strong problem-solving culture and equip their teams with the skills they need to drive success.

The Role of Leadership in Problem-Solving

Effective leadership is crucial for driving problem-solving within an organization. Leaders play a key role in setting the tone and culture of a business, and by fostering a culture of problem-solving and continuous improvement, they can help to develop strong problem-solving skills throughout the organization.

Some specific ways that leaders can support problem-solving within their organization include:

Modeling good problem-solving behavior

Leaders can set a good example by demonstrating strong problem-solving skills themselves. This can include taking a proactive approach to identifying and addressing challenges, seeking out new opportunities, and continuously learning and improving.

Encouraging a culture of continuous improvement

Leaders can create an environment that supports problem-solving by encouraging employees to embrace challenges, think creatively, and seek out new opportunities for improvement.

Leaders can also support problem-solving by providing employees with the resources and support they need to tackle problems effectively. This may include access to data and analytics tools, training materials, or guidance from experienced colleagues.

Recognizing and rewarding problem-solving efforts

By recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate strong problem-solving skills, leaders can encourage a culture of problem-solving and continuous improvement within the organization.

By taking an active role in fostering a problem-solving culture and providing the resources and support needed to tackle challenges, leaders can help their organizations to thrive and succeed.

The Benefits of Problem-Solving in Business

In addition to helping businesses to overcome challenges and seize opportunities, strong problem-solving skills can bring a range of other benefits to an organization. Some of the key advantages of problem-solving in business include:

Improved decision-making

Problem-solving skills help organizations to make informed and effective decisions. By using structured approaches and analyzing data, businesses can develop a clear understanding of the issues they face and identify the best course of action.

Enhanced adaptability

Problem-solving skills help businesses to stay adaptable and responsive to change. By being able to identify and address challenges quickly and effectively, organizations can better navigate the constantly-evolving business landscape.

Increased productivity

By resolving issues and identifying efficiencies, problem-solving can help businesses to increase productivity and reduce waste. This can lead to cost savings and improved profitability.

Improved customer satisfaction

Strong problem-solving skills can also help businesses to better serve their customers. By being able to identify and address issues promptly and effectively, organizations can improve customer satisfaction and build stronger relationships with their clients.

Enhanced innovation

Problem-solving skills can also drive innovation within an organization. By encouraging employees to think creatively and critically , businesses can identify and seize new opportunities, leading to new products, services, or processes that set them apart from the competition.

Problem-solving is a critical skill in business, with the potential to drive progress, increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, and drive innovation. By developing strong problem-solving skills and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, organizations can set themselves up for success.

Conclusion: The Vital Role of Problem-Solving in Business

Problem-solving is a vital skill in the business world. It allows organizations to identify and address challenges efficiently and effectively, helping them to overcome obstacles and seize new opportunities.

Strong problem-solving skills also drive innovation and improve decision-making, leading to increased productivity and customer satisfaction.

Developing and fostering a culture of problem-solving is essential for the success of any business.

By providing training and development opportunities, encouraging a growth mindset, and recognizing and rewarding problem-solving efforts, organizations can help their employees to hone their skills and drive progress.

Effective leadership also plays a key role in fostering a culture of problem-solving, providing the resources and support needed to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.

In short, problem-solving is a critical skill for businesses of all sizes and industries. By developing and fostering strong problem-solving abilities, organizations can set themselves up for success and thrive in today’s fast-paced business environment.

Are you good at problem-solving? Find out with our self-assessment!

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  • Main content

As Tesla's fight with Sweden escalates, the EV firm is hiring a 'hands-on' Nordic expert with a knack for problem-solving

  • Tesla is looking for a Nordic expert amid escalating strikes in the region.
  • Tesla seeks someone with a "record of getting regulatory changes made in the Nordics."
  • The EV company has been reckoning with a wave of sympathy strikes supporting Swedish mechanics. 

Insider Today

Tesla is hiring an expert in Nordic legal and government affairs as its problems in the region continue to escalate.

The EV maker has been facing a wave of sympathy strikes across countries including Finland, Norway, and Denmark in solidarity with striking Swedish Tesla workers.

The company seeks a candidate with "a proven track record of getting regulatory changes made in the Nordics," a post on its careers site shows . The role is based in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, and requires language skills in at least Norwegian, Swedish, and English.

The successful candidate will help ensure that "political, regulatory, and fiscal frameworks" in the region support Tesla's mission, per the job description. The role also requires a "hands-on attitude" and "strong problem-solving."

An October strike by Swedish mechanics has been causing headaches for Tesla in the region. The EV company denied the workers' demands for collective bargaining, covering wages and other conditions. Collective bargaining is the norm in Sweden and Tesla's refusal to yield has led to several sympathy strikes.

Last week, the country's Transport Workers' Union joined the wave of action from labor groups and said it would stop collecting waste at Tesla's workshops in Sweden . Some workers in neighboring countries have blocked Tesla's Swedish operations to support the striking workers.

The Swedish postal service also halted deliveries of new license plates for the EVs, while Danish dockworkers refused to unload the Tesla vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk previously called the strikes "insane" in a post on X and later said he disagreed "with the idea of unions."

Nordic governments have also been dragged into the tensions. Last week, Norway's government summoned the EV company to answer questions about the strikes, the FT reported .

Representatives for Tesla did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment, made outside normal working hours.

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    problem solving in business

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  1. Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders

    What Is Problem-Solving in Business? Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals. Your business removes obstacles in customers' lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals. Design Thinking

  2. What Is Problem Solving in Business?

    Learn how to identify, prioritize, root-cause, brainstorm, evaluate, and implement solutions to business problems with a consistent system and problem-solving skills. Problem-solving in business is a valuable skill that helps you resolve challenges, conflicts, and opportunities in the workplace.

  3. Business problem solving

    Six mutually reinforcing approaches underly their success: (1) being ever-curious about every element of a problem; (2) being imperfectionists, with a high tolerance for ambiguity; (3) having a "dragonfly eye" view of the world, to see through multiple lenses; (4) pursuing occurrent behavior and experimenting relentlessly; (5) tapping into the c...

  4. 10 Step Process for Effective Business Problem Solving

    1. Define the problem When a problem arises, it can be very easy to jump right into creating a solution. However, if you don't thoroughly examine what led to the problem in the first place, you may create a strategy that doesn't actually solve it. You may just be treating the symptoms.

  5. How to Solve Problems

    October 29, 2021 HBR Staff/EschCollection/Getty Images Teams today aren't just asked to execute tasks: They're called upon to solve problems. You'd think that many brains working together would...

  6. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    The Problem-Solving Process In order to effectively manage and run a successful organization, leadership must guide their employees and develop problem-solving techniques. Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. 1. Define the problem

  7. To Solve a Tough Problem, Reframe It

    When business leaders confront complex problems, there's a powerful impulse to dive right into "solving" mode: You gather a team and then identify potential solutions. That's fine for ...

  8. Effective Problem-Solving Techniques in Business

    Purdue Online Problem solving is an increasingly important soft skill for those in business. The Future of Jobs Survey by the World Economic Forum drives this point home.

  9. Adopting the right problem-solving approach

    May 4, 2023 You've defined your problem, ensured stakeholders are aligned, and are ready to bring the right problem-solving approach and focus to the situation to find an optimal solution. But what is the right problem-solving approach? And what if there is no single ideal course of action? In our 2013 classic from the Quarterly, senior partner Olivier Leclerc highlights the value of taking ...

  10. Business Skills

    The steps in problem solving and decision making include defining the problem (including identifying the causes), generating possible solutions, evaluating those solutions, selecting a solution, recommending or implementing that solution, and evaluating the outcome ( Kinicki, 2021 ). First, you must define the problem or recognize there is a ...

  11. 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More ...

    Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork. 1. Analysis. As a manager, you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first.

  12. How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

    To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

  13. 14 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies

    A problem-solving strategy is a plan used to find a solution or overcome a challenge. Each problem-solving strategy includes multiple steps to provide you with helpful guidelines on how to resolve a business problem or industry challenge.

  14. How To Identify And Solve Problems In Your Business

    How Effective Problem Solving Can Boost Your Business Efficiency This is always the most obvious benefit. By optimizing your business process, you'll be able to offer more quality and...

  15. 35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

    Share All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues. You may face challenges around growth, design, user engagement, and even team culture and happiness.

  16. Why Good Businesses Solve Problems—And How To Position Your ...

    The Problem. It's one thing to find a problem that needs solving. It's another to find one that's worth solving. There have been many enthusiastic small-business owners who believed their product ...

  17. Problem Solving in Business: PROBLEM SOLVING DEFINED AND WHY IT IS

    This guide is designed to help you approach your business problem solving process in a systematic way through information sources that can help you understand your situation more clearly and provide a distinct direction towards the appropriate solution. ABOUT THIS LIBGUIDE SKILLS AND QUALIFICATIONS NEEDED IN PROBLEM SOLVING PROBLEM SOLVING STEPS

  18. 11 Common Business Problems and How You Can Solve Them

    1. Uncertain purpose Some companies experience a loss of purpose or uncertainty. This can happen if an organization participates in multiple different industries or frequently changes its mission statement. Having an uncertain purpose can affect sales, employee motivation or other processes in a business.

  19. 9 Keys to Solving Problems in Business Quickly and Effectively

    1. Take the time to define the problem clearly. Many business leaders like to jump into solution mode immediately, even before they understand the issue. In some cases, a small problem can...

  20. 7 Steps to Effective Business Problem Solving

    Problem-solving refers to the process to remove or mitigate obstacles that prevent a business from reaching its strategic goals. These can be issues that widen the gap between results and desired outcomes that do not have an obvious or immediate solution. They can be present in operational processes, teams or throughout an organization.

  21. Problem Solving in Business: PROBLEM SOLVING STEPS

    Problem Solving in Business: PROBLEM SOLVING STEPS This guide is designed to help you approach your business problem solving process in a systematic way through information sources that can help you understand your situation more clearly and provide a distinct direction towards the appropriate solution. ABOUT THIS LIBGUIDE

  22. A guide to problems-solving in business

    Problem-solving is a critical skill for business success. It involves identifying, understanding, and resolving issues in various facets of business operations and strategy. Common obstacles during problem-solving can include cognitive biases, resource constraints, and lack of information.

  23. Problem Solving in Business: CASE STUDIES

    Problem Solving in Business: CASE STUDIES. This guide is designed to help you approach your business problem solving process in a systematic way through information sources that can help you understand your situation more clearly and provide a distinct direction towards the appropriate solution.

  24. Why Problem-Solving Is Important in Business

    Encouraging collaboration and open communication Collaboration and open communication can be key to solving problems effectively. By creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and seeking help, businesses can foster a culture of problem-solving and continuous improvement. Providing resources and support

  25. Five Problems Leaders Create When Solving Problems

    While problem-solving is a fast way to deepen one's influence on a team, it depends on how one addresses the problem.I have identified five common problems leaders create when facing challenges in ...

  26. Watch: Tesla's biggest problem is one nobody saw coming

    As Tesla's fight with Sweden escalates, the EV firm is hiring a 'hands-on' Nordic expert with a knack for problem-solving. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is facing difficulties in Sweden. Tesla is looking ...