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6 More Ways to Help Your Team Learn to Problem-Solve

One of the major goals of every leader should be teaching team members to solve problems. Last week’s post, Isn’t It Time to Stop Solving Your Team’s Problems for Them?, reviews the basics. Depending on the particular problem confronting your team, you may need other techniques. Here are some approaches you can tailor to your circumstances.

  1. Listen for anchoring comments. Initial ideas can hold a discussion in place too tightly, tamping down any possibility of others sharing their divergent ideas. If a leader (or another strong-minded or strong-voiced individual) takes the first pass at the problem, it can be too hard for the team to move past the proposed approach — even if it’s never worked well before — and think in a more effective, creative way. The leader should serve as a facilitator, not a decision-maker, drawing out other voices and encouraging other views.
  2. “Uncategorize” the problem. If the problem is identified as being like previous problems, some people may only be able to think about it in patterned ways, and dismiss the problem as “just another” marketing or ops problem. The point is to generate a concrete, relevant discussion, so if this type of problem has been resolved well in the past, focus on the upside; otherwise, focus on the specific impacts and possible courses of action.
  3. Identify all the players and their needs explicitly. Before trying to solve the problem, determine who will implement the resolution, who will benefit, and who may lose status, resources, etc. to be sure you’ve included everyone. Take all constituents’ needs into account, rather than assuming they’ll adapt easily to your solution. Try drafting and considering scenarios that are 80 percent effective, in which at least 80 percent of what’s wrong gets fixed, and at least 80 percent of each constituent’s interests gets satisfied.
  4. Watch for organizational implications. Be sure to address the problem at the right level of work, hierarchy, and influence. Will the resolution hold, both upstream and downstream, based on authority as well as workflow? Look for any connections and overlaps between and within problems to find underlying common causes, structures, or belief systems. Sometimes you need to solve two problems at once to solve one at all.
  5. Break it down. Try breaking the overall problem down to see if parts of it can be solved independently, without shortchanging other aspects. Fixing several small problems sometimes produces more progress, alleviates more stress, and encourages more engagement than trying to handle a complex problem all at once.
  6. Take a completely fresh perspective. Reframing the problem lets everyone see it in a new light so they can generate additional options and alternatives. Intentionally flip your assumptions and see what their opposites suggest. Look for every possible opportunity without any initial concern for any downside, and only then qualify those opportunities to incorporate past learning and minimize future risk.

For Future Reference

Keep track of which techniques work for your group as they discuss the problem, propose alternatives, and choose how to take action. Be sure to take detailed notes of your process as well as of the specifics of the solution. The success of the techniques depends on the people involved and the nature of the problem itself, both of which can add nuance, practicality, or comprehensiveness to the mix.

Onward and upward,


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