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Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

March 8, 2022 - 17 min read

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving?

10 effective problem-solving strategies

What skills do efficient problem solvers have?

How to improve your problem-solving skills

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

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

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

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

What is an example of problem-solving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving?

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

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

1. Identify the problem

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

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

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

2. Break the problem down 

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

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

3. Generate potential solutions

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

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

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

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

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

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

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

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

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

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

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

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

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

10 effective problem-solving strategies

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

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

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

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

2. Brainstorming

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

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

3. Work backward

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

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

4. Use the Kipling method

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

They are:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why is the problem important?
  3. When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  4. How did the problem happen?
  5. Where is the problem occurring?
  6. Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

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

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

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

6. Use trial-and-error

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

7. Sleep on it

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

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

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

8. Get advice from your peers

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

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

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

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

9. Use the Pareto principle

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

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

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

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

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

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

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

What skills do efficient problem solvers have?

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

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills

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

How to improve your problem-solving skills

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

1. Build your problem-solving skills

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

2. Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Ask for feedback

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

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

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

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

6. Experiment

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

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

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

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

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

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

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

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

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

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

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

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

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Published March 8, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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