How to improve problem solving skills within your business

10 Mins

Learn how to improve problem-solving skills for more efficient work and better outcomes. This article explores stages, importance, and benefits for all employees.

Developing problem solving skills is essential across the workforce, from recent graduate scheme hires to long-serving executive professionals. Learning how to improve problem solving skills can help all employees work more efficiently and produce better outcomes—but how is it done?

While it might seem like some people are just naturally gifted at solving problems, it’s often not the case that they’ve always been so adept. Developing these skills involves investing time and energy into improving them through lifelong learning and having the courage to seek out more challenges. The best problem-solvers know how to approach a dilemma and always look to improve processes.

This article will explore these skills and how distinct sectors utilise them differently. Following this, we’ll discuss the importance of these skills in the modern business environment, how to improve them, and how organisations can take advantage of the benefits of problem solving skills.

What are problem solving skills?

First, it’s a good idea for us to establish what these skills are. Identifying these means your organisation can develop a specific approach when a challenge arises in the workplace. The time spent developing earlier solutions can be paid forward to address future issues. 

Problem solving skills can be broken down into three categories or stages. Each stage has specific skills associated with it. However, the process will often require your employees to go back and forth as you attempt to solve complex issues within your organisation. 

1. Noticing issues and identifying causes

The first stage of an employee learning how to improve problem solving skills involves noticing an issue or business challenge. Instead of charging in headfirst and trying to address this problem immediately, taking a measured approach means that they can lessen or prevent its impact entirely. 

After a problem has arisen, the following step is identifying its root causes. This requires a blend of hard and soft skills to address correctly: 

  • Communicating with and listening to all involved parties
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork
  • Analysis and evaluation of data
  • Pattern recognition

There are many ways to identify the root causes of a problem. For example, there might be an issue which has arisen as a result of a team failing to deliver something to a customer on time, which would require listening to the team regarding why the deadline was missed, as well as connecting with the client to discuss how this failure has impacted them and their business. 

Empathy can go a long way in emotionally-charged situations like this. Still, it will take the technical analysis and evaluation of productivity data to see the deeper root cause behind the problem—such as the team not having enough resources to complete their tasks on time at busy times of the year, causing a pattern of similar issues to have occurred in the past.

2. Designing and implementing solutions

Once they’ve gone beyond the symptoms and discovered the root causes behind a problem, your team needs to begin designing solutions that will lessen their impact on your organisation, whose outcome will please all involved parties. 

An innovative solution to a problem is considered to be elegant. This elegance is no mistake—the best problem-solvers will ensure their fixes are systematic. Breaking the problem into its constituent parts is the first step in designing its solution. By defining the main elements of the problem, the team can tailor their solution to address each part of the issue and recognise whether their proposed solution will address all concerns.

Once your team has several propositions, judging which one will be best is essential. This is where the skills built in the first part of the problem solving exercise come into play: people will need to predict the outcome of implementing this solution, analyse and put it to the test to ensure its feasibility, and corroborate their results with others before they charge ahead to implement it fully. 

The most effective solutions will require the organisational skills of managers and leaders to create a process allowing everyone in the business to play their part. If this activity has been successful, it can be replicated, meaning that further or similar problems can be avoided. 

3. Evaluating outcomes

Once the solution is in place, the exercise hasn’t ended: your organisation needs to evaluate this strategy and its impact. This may require the skills that have been enhanced by focusing on the other stages, such as data analysis, communication, and listening to feedback. 

The evaluative step is an integral part of the process, as it allows businesses to recognise and be flexible in situations where their solutions have been unsuccessful. For example, pivoting to another suggestion from the design phase may be beneficial, or it might require your team to return to the drawing board and re-address any other causes identified as a result of the first problem solving exercise. 

Even if the solution has been successful and addressed all aspects of the problem, it’s still essential to evaluate why this was the case, as it will aid your organisation in producing processes and guidelines which can head off any chance of the problem arising again in the future.

Evaluating solutions, even to issues which may have passed, means that your organisation can discover inefficiencies in current practices and engineer new solutions that can improve productivity or reduce cost. In addition, organisations that carry out in-depth problem solving exercises such as this will find that their employees can anticipate and head off problems as their experience and confidence develops.

What is the importance of problem solving?

Learning how to improve problem solving skills is incredibly important for employees in all sectors. Regardless of what kind of work you do and what field you’re in, the expertise developed through this activity is vital to addressing issues that arise. 

Problem solving experience allows individual workers and teams to deal with complex issues within ever-tighter deadlines. The pace of work in performance-driven sectors such as sales means it’s essential to quickly and effectively address issues. Sales teams should understand that they need to:

  • Discover a roadblock and recognise how it’s affecting business
  • Understand its underlying causes
  • Iterate on several solutions
  • Evaluate the impact of those solutions once they’ve been implemented  

Similarly, developing these skills helps workers within a company to organise their time efficiently. Planning and prioritising tasks according to their importance reduces the likelihood of issues arising.

High-pressure environments such as sales can help people thrive by investing in their problem solving skills, allowing them to administrate their workload effectively and encouraging them to give their best performance. Giving your   sales team   the tools to remove the roadblocks between their team and success is a powerful way of enhancing their well-being.

Staying competitive in the modern business environment requires flexibility, the ability to embrace change and an understanding of how an organisation can creatively identify ways to achieve its operational goals. The back-and-forth processes of identification, evaluation and refinement mean businesses that learn to improve problem solving skills can understand what success looks like and have productive relationships across their workforce and with their clients.

How to improve problem solving skills

Improving your organisation’s problem solving skills can be accomplished in several ways. Of course, there’s no substitute for experience, but that experience can be gained through various techniques. 

Internal culture and values can be a strong start for enhancing a worker’s dexterity when facing hurdles. For example, businesses that encourage employees to question their decisions and outcomes are already guiding them on improving their problem solving skills. Similarly, asking employees to use their other senses to solve problems—such as proofreading a written text aloud before editing it—can help devise innovative or creative solutions.

These cultural and value-based aspects of business can empower workers to discover more problems to solve in the workplace or their private lives, giving them an amplified ability to solve issues in the future. 

Other techniques, like keeping an idea journal, spending some free time before a shift working out logic puzzles, or playing games such as Sudoku or chess, can set an employee up to face their other daily challenges. Not only do they encourage their players to learn from their mistakes, but they have also   been shown   to make people want to look for further problems to solve.

Creating psychological distance—looking at a problem from the client’s side, for instance—can make a situation feel less pressured and encourage the people solving the problem not to be guided by their emotions into a rash course of action. Likewise, resolving a work-based conflict is easier if you can empathise with the other party's position, allowing you to understand why they’re angry or upset. 

These techniques and skills mean little without practice and guidance, so engaging with a creative thinking and problem solving course can help your workforce contextualise the activities this article has discussed within the conditions surrounding your business. 

Five benefits of problem solving skills

There are several benefits to developing your workforce’s skills in the ways we’ve discussed. Having employees build up their toolkit of skills and techniques will enable them to respond more quickly to challenges in the business environment, lifting your organisation above the competition and enabling you to achieve maximum productivity and profitability. 

Whilst this list of the benefits of problem solving skills could be non-exhaustive, there are five that immediately come to mind:

  1. Reduce risk to your business

    • With the pace of change in the present and future business environment constantly increasing, remaining adaptable via quick and effective problem solving could make the difference between reaching your goals and losing ground to your competitors.
  1. Employees that can demonstrate their problem solving skills can help you replicate their success

    • Using a method like STAR—Situation, Task, Action, Result—empowers your employees to contextualise their issues and collaborate on tasks across the organisation, even if they’re working with a team with an unfamiliar specialism.
  1. Problem solving improves time management skills

    • Through the experience of solving problems quickly, your workforce will be able to recognise the importance of addressing issues before they are raised to the management level, which will improve their organisational and communication skills in other areas of work.
  1. Customer requirements become easier to assess

    • When your employees have encountered the same problem over time, they will have developed the ability to understand the pattern and uncover the root cause. If this is a failure in ascertaining customers’ needs or an inability to manage expectations, they can put processes in place to solve this issue.
  1. A creative workforce is a dynamic one

    • Problem solving skills and creativity go hand-in-hand. If your workforce develops the ability to think on their feet and develop novel solutions to the issues they face, they will be able to innovate in other areas.

By facilitating and fostering a culture of open-mindedness, analysis and evaluation in your workplace, you can reap the benefits of your workforce learning how to improve problem solving skills, enhancing your organisation’s resiliency and giving your clients the confidence they’ll be led toward success in your hands.

Realise your workforce’s potential with a problem solving course

    At Pareto, our expert   training   providers offer bespoke   creative thinking and problem solving   courses tailored to address your business’s urgent and anticipated challenges. Investing in your top talent via one of these courses is an excellent way to increase your productivity while enabling you to improve your customers’ perception of your organisation.   Contact us   to learn more about these courses and their entry requirements.     

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