Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life are critical in your professional life. In the current fast changing global economy, employers often identify common problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions and to show independence and initiative to employers.

Effective problem solving skills enable employees to analyze problems, identify problem severity and assess the impact of alternative solutions. Workplace training designed to develop problem solving skills helps employees to work more efficiently with co-workers, customers, partners and suppliers. Trained participants learn to use available resources to resolve issues in a constructive manner. Additionally, they practice reaching consensus by seeing a problem from a professional, not personal, perspective. Training games, including brainstorming activities and online business simulations, prepare participants for workplace situations.

Below I have highlighted a few critical problem solving skills and ways they benefit the organization. The examples below illustrate the importance of problem solving skills in the workplace.

  • Let’s look at all the viable options before settling for a solution. This is the desired problem solving approach which opens up for evaluating several solutions. This way the organization benefit from a solution that potentially is at a lower cost and reduced risk compared to the quick fix.
  • If you want to be successful, you have to ensure that your solutions offer a long tern rather than a short term fix. By taking the time to determine the root causes of the problem, the organization benefit from not constantly having to deal with repeat issues.
  • The fact that you always develop a step by step action plan when solving problems means that you don’t overlook any critical steps. The organization benefit from not implementing a solution that won’t solve the issue.

When you use this method to talk to employees about solving problems, you don’t just tell them to improve; you give them some suggestions on “how” to improve. This increases the likelihood that you will get the behaviour you want. It might also stimulate your employees to think of some new positive behaviour as well.

Below is a systematic and simplified way you can identify and solve problems. The steps below are simple to use by most employees and can be used to address the importance of problem solving skills in the workplace.

Identifying the Problem

Professional skill training programs designed to help employees develop better problem solving skills usually start with a lecture or presentation on how to identify a problem. In a workshop setting, a facilitator typically divides the group into pairs and describes a relevant situation for them to solve. The couples discuss the situation, such as a customer complaint, poor communication between co-workers or a misunderstanding between a supplier and a manager. Using root cause analysis techniques, participants try to identify at least five possible triggers for the current situation. This exercise helps participants isolate the facts. By determining the origin of the problem, members determine what happened, why it happened and figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Proposing Solutions

After listing all the relevant details about a problem, people have knowledge required to offer possible solutions, based on their experience. Training workshops provide opportunities for less seasoned employees to learn from their more experienced colleagues. To encourage innovative thinking, facilitators typically ask participants to think about creative ways to handle traditional problems. Participants list potential problem resolution strategies along with the risk and benefits associated with each one. They learn to use techniques such as Six Thinking Hats, developed by management consultant Edward de Bono, to develop innovative approaches.

Evaluating Options

Problem solving skills training instructors usually teach participants to evaluate options carefully. By learning how to make decisions effectively, participants work more effectively as a team. To evaluate options, participants read case studies, interview experts and play online business simulation games.

Implementing a Solution

Before implementing a solution, employees need to learn how to access the impact. By remembering how they solved previous problems, participants resolve current situations more efficiently. During training workshops, participants learn how to improve their abilities to recall details by dividing information into categories, relying on mnemonic devices to trigger recollection and visualizing an environment to remember and organize data. Participants also recognize the value of evaluating the success of options chosen, sometime in the future, before choosing that strategy again.

Understanding your problem solving style also helps with team communication. Why? Because one of the major activities teams engages in is problem solving. Once team members understand their individual strengths, the entire team can get some insight into its overall strength and weaknesses. This allows team members to capitalize on their differences, instead of being frustrated by them. If for example, one of the team members is great at gathering information, the other team members can begin to look toward this person to see what he or she thinks is missing in the problem solving process. Or, say one team member is always rushing to implement an idea. Once the team understands that this person performs naturally, they can gently encourage him or her to be patient until it comes to time for implementation, at which point the team will rely on this persons abilities.