What is problem solving and why is it important

problem solving training benefits

By Wayne Stottler , Kepner-Tregoe

  • Problem Solving & Decision Making Over time, developing and refining problem solving skills provides the ability to solve increasingly complex problems Learn More

For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has been helping companies across industries and geographies to develop and mature their problem-solving capabilities through KT’s industry leading approach to training and the implementation of best practice processes. Considering that problem solving is a part of almost every person’s daily life (both at home and in the workplace), it is surprising how often we are asked to explain what problem solving is and why it is important.

Problem solving is at the core of human evolution. It is the methods we use to understand what is happening in our environment, identify things we want to change and then figure out the things that need to be done to create the desired outcome. Problem solving is the source of all new inventions, social and cultural evolution, and the basis for market based economies. It is the basis for continuous improvement, communication and learning.

If this problem-solving thing is so important to daily life, what is it?

Problem-solving is the process of observing what is going on in your environment; identifying things that could be changed or improved; diagnosing why the current state is the way it is and the factors and forces that influence it; developing approaches and alternatives to influence change; making decisions about which alternative to select; taking action to implement the changes; and observing impact of those actions in the environment.

Each step in the problem-solving process employs skills and methods that contribute to the overall effectiveness of influencing change and determine the level of problem complexity that can be addressed. Humans learn how to solve simple problems from a very early age (learning to eat, make coordinated movements and communicate) – and as a person goes through life problem-solving skills are refined, matured and become more sophisticated (enabling them to solve more difficult problems).

Problem-solving is important both to individuals and organizations because it enables us to exert control over our environment.

Fixing things that are broken

Some things wear out and break over time, others are flawed from day-1. Personal and business environments are full of things, activities, interactions and processes that are broken or not operating in the way they are desired to work. Problem-solving gives us a mechanism for identifying these things, figuring out why they are broken and determining a course of action to fix them.

Addressing risk

Humans have learned to identify trends and developed an awareness of cause-and-effect relationships in their environment. These skills not only enable us to fix things when they break but also anticipate what may happen in the future (based on past-experience and current events). Problem-solving can be applied to the anticipated future events and used to enable action in the present to influence the likelihood of the event occurring and/or alter the impact if the event does occur.

Improving performance

Individuals and organizations do not exist in isolation in the environment. There is a complex and ever-changing web of relationships that exist and as a result, the actions of one person will often have either a direct impact on others or an indirect impact by changing the environment dynamics. These interdependencies enable humans to work together to solve more complex problems but they also create a force that requires everyone to continuously improve performance to adapt to improvements by others. Problem-solving helps us understand relationships and implement the changes and improvements needed to compete and survive in a continually changing environment.

Seizing opportunity

Problem solving isn’t just about responding to (and fixing) the environment that exists today. It is also about innovating, creating new things and changing the environment to be more desirable. Problem-solving enables us to identify and exploit opportunities in the environment and exert (some level of) control over the future.

Problem solving skills and the problem-solving process are a critical part of daily life both as individuals and organizations. Developing and refining these skills through training, practice and learning can provide the ability to solve problems more effectively and over time address problems with a greater degree of complexity and difficulty. View KT’s Problem Solving workshop known to be the gold standard for over 60 years.

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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 training benefits

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problem solving training benefits

6 Steps To Effective Problem-Solving Training For Managers

What is problem-solving training, why is it essential for managers to learn problem-solving skills, how can managers train for problem-solving skills, how can managers test their problem-solving skills, frequently asked questions.

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  • Increased efficiency:  Managers skilled at problem-solving can identify and address issues before they become major problems, which can help increase efficiency and reduce downtime.
  • Better decision-making:  Effective problem-solving skills can also help managers make better decisions. By analyzing a problem and considering all available options, managers can make informed decisions more likely to lead to positive outcomes.
  • Improved communication:  Problem-solving skills can also improve communication between managers and employees. When managers can identify and solve problems , they can provide clear guidance and direction to their team, which can help improve overall communication and collaboration.
  • Innovation:  Managers skilled at problem-solving can also drive innovation within their teams. By identifying opportunities for improvement and implementing new solutions, managers can help their teams stay ahead of the competition.
  • Identify the skills needed:  The first step in training for problem-solving skills is to identify the specific skills and knowledge that managers need to develop. This could include critical thinking , data analysis, decision-making, creativity, and communication skills.
  • Training and resources:  Once the necessary skills have been identified, managers can enroll in training courses to develop these skills. This could include in-house training sessions, online courses, or workshops.
  • Collaborate:  Problem-solving often requires collaboration and teamwork. Managers can encourage collaboration by creating a culture that values open communication, encourages feedback, and rewards teamwork.
  • Provide practice opportunities:  To develop problem-solving skills, managers need opportunities to practice. Managers can provide employees with real-world scenarios to work through, or they can create simulations that simulate real-world challenges.
  • Feedback:  Finally, managers should take employee feedback as they develop their problem-solving skills. This can include constructive feedback on their performance and coaching on specific skills.
  • Case studies:  Case studies are a great way to test problem-solving skills. Managers can challenge and test themselves by taking up real-world scenarios, analyzing the situation, identifying the problem, and proposing a solution.
  • Simulations:  Simulations are another effective way to test problem-solving skills. Managers can create simulations that simulate real-world challenges, work through the scenario, and propose solutions.
  • Role-playing:  Role-playing is another effective way to test problem-solving skills. Employees can be customers or colleagues and present managers with a problem to solve.
  • Brainstorming sessions:   Brainstorming sessions can also be used to test problem-solving skills. Managers can present themselves with a problem and brainstorm potential solutions. This can help to identify how skilled they are at generating creative solutions.
  • Group projects:  Group projects are a great way to test problem-solving skills, as they require managers to work together to identify and solve problems. Managers can observe how employees work together and identify important problem-solving skills.

Start improving your problem solving skills today with a free assessment!

The free problem-solving skill assessment enables managers and team leaders to achieve growth at speed.

Can you improve your problem-solving skills?

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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

problem solving training benefits

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

problem solving training benefits

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.


Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.


Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

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.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

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


Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!


As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.


Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

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.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.


The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

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.


A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.


Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.


As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

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.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.


No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

problem solving training benefits

Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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cycle of workshop planning steps

Going from a mere idea to a workshop that delivers results for your clients can feel like a daunting task. In this piece, we will shine a light on all the work behind the scenes and help you learn how to plan a workshop from start to finish. On a good day, facilitation can feel like effortless magic, but that is mostly the result of backstage work, foresight, and a lot of careful planning. Read on to learn a step-by-step approach to breaking the process of planning a workshop into small, manageable chunks.  The flow starts with the first meeting with a client to define the purposes of a workshop.…

problem solving training benefits

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Learn Problem Solving to Eliminate the Causes for Failures and Overload

Problem solving training for result-driven managers and functional specialists to effectively eliminate the root causes of variability, gaps, defects, frustrations, and stress., cases, when to use:.

  • Frustration from never-ending fire-fighting
  • Excessive defects, uncontrolled variability
  • Stress from unhappy boss, customer, spouse
  • Working too hard, too late, risking burnout

Clients, for whom:

  • Department managers and team leaders
  • Functional specialists, engineers, controllers
  • Consultants and improvement champions
  • Anyone struggling with too many problems

Process, how it works:

  • Online training course with personal coaching
  • Apply 5 shifts to successfully address any problem
  • Eliminate causes at physical, human, system root
  • Learn proven strategies; practical templates included

Benefits, what to gain:

  • Status and recognition as expert problem solver
  • Become indispensable to the organization
  • Free time to spend with family, friends, hobby
  • Strategy for better pay and career advancement

Course Content - What You Will Learn

  • Systematically solve safety, quality, reliability issues
  • Define issue statements based on data, observations
  • Learn proven tools and techniques to tackle deviations
  • Use basic PDCA and 5-Why analysis for simple issues
  • Use Causal Factor Analysis (CFA) for disasters, accidents
  • Use Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) for rule-based problems
  • Identify cause-effect relationships between factors
  • Provide evidence to confirm or reject assumptions
  • Drill down causes at the physical, human, latent root
  • Develop actions to remove, reduce, control causes

Why Did the Titanic Sink?

Titanic root-cause analysis poster for problem-solving training.

The 13 Reasons for Formal Problem Solving

  • Undesirable condition
  • Deviation, defect, failure
  • Safety accident, incident, major risk
  • Product failure due to strength, performance, reliability
  • Line stop event
  • Regulatory non-compliance
  • Customer dissatisfaction or request
  • Cost overrun
  • Equipment breakdown
  • Process failure
  • Behavioral issue, noncompliant, disengaged
  • Repetitive or transferable problem
  • Detection failure

Ineffective Trouble Shooting

Ineffective Problem Solving

  • Fire fighting
  • Going from crisis to crisis
  • Stagnant or declining performance
  • No time for deeper analysis
  • Look for the guilty party: ”Who did that?”
  • Jumping from problem into actions
  • Generate laundry list of actions to firefight symptoms
  • Sub-optimizing one area, spot scope
  • Focus on lagging metrics (yield, sales, profits) and hope processes will improve as a result

Effective Problem Solving

Effective Problem Solving

  • Systems thinking
  • Continuous improvement
  • Systematic root cause elimination
  • Better performance after each problem
  • Allocate time to analyze, dialogue, conclude
  • Seek deep understanding: “How did that happen?”
  • Acting after understanding cause-effect relationships
  • Addressing all factors of the failure tree
  • Optimizing the value stream, enterprise scope
  • Focus on improving processes (capability) that effect actual performance metrics

The Problem Solving Training Gets You Certified

The  Beginner Problem Solving Training helps anyone to get started with systematic problem solving. Within a few days, you will learn the basic methods and tools, and apply them to solve a difficult situation in five steps: (1) Describe Gap, (2) Analyze Issues, (3) Identify Causes, (4) Address Causes, (5) Evaluate Results. Quizzes and self-evaluation forms help you to test your skills and evaluate solution the effectiveness of your solutions. 

The Advanced Problem Solving Training is for managers, supervisors, and functional specialists to build their their problem-solving skills. The course focuses on systematic root-cause analysis and developing countermeasures to effectively contain, correct, and prevent failures from reoccurring. The advanced course is supported by a coach, helping students through the process, while providing feedback to get the analysis right.

The Expert Problem Solving Training is for engineers, managers, and quality professionals to build expert skills in systematic problem solving. The course covers the deep analysis of event-based problems, rule-based problems and human failures. The expert toolkit allows you tackling deviations and defects at the system level by eliminating, reducing, and controlling the entire set of causes, identified on the logic tree – assisted by an experienced coach.

Problem Solving Training Certificate for Beginner Level

Problem Solver | Basic Skills

Online course for beginners to build foundational skills to identify, describe, contain, correct, and prevent simple problems from reoccurring.

Problem Solving Training Certificate for Advanced Level

Problem Solver | Advanced Skills

Coaching-supported advanced course to strengthen problem-solving skills, to deeply analyze and effectively address identified root causes.

Problem Solving Training Certificate for Expert Level

Problem Solver | Expert Skills

Coaching-supported expert course to solve complex problems by systematically reducing, eliminating, or controlling direct causes and root causes.

Basic Problem Solver

  • 100% online and self-certified, without coaching
  • Build basic skills in systematic problem solving
  • Ideal for beginners from any function, any level
  • Formally analyze and solve a basic problem
  • Takes 2-5 days effort during a 1-month period
  • Get access to basic videos, templates, toolkit
  • Apply multi-5-why to identify root causes
  • Formally implement a solution using PDCA
  • Create financial benefits; typ. $3k or more
  • Get your certificate "Problem Solver"

Advanced Problem Solver

  • Coaching sessions for business case and impact
  • Build advanced skills in problem-solving
  • Ideal for managers, supervisors, specialists
  • Solve an advanced problem and get feedback
  • Takes 5-10 days effort during a 2-month period
  • Get access to advanced videos, templates, tools
  • Perform root cause analysis and test robustness
  • Formally implement solutions, test effectiveness
  • Create financial benefits; typ. $30k or more
  • Get your certificate "Advanced Problem Solver"

Expert Problem Solver

  • Coaching sessions, expert validation, live support
  • Build expert skills in systematic problem solving
  • For engineers. managers, quality professionals
  • Solve a major problem, supported by a coach
  • Takes 10-20 days effort during a 3-month period
  • Get access to expert videos, templates, toolkit
  • Identify physical, human, and latent causes
  • Formally eliminate, reduce, control causes
  • Create financial benefits; typ. $60k or more
  • Get your certificate "Expert Problem Solver"

problem solving training benefits

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.

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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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Why are problem solving skills in the workplace so important? Subskills, benefits, scenarios

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problem solving skills in the workplace

The importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace can’t be overstated. Every business and job role has its problems. From entry-level hires to senior staffers, every one of your employees will face challenges that don’t can’t be answered by doing a quick Google search – or asking ChatGPT to come up with solutions.

That’s why employers must hire people with excellent problem-solving skills, especially for roles that require dealing with complex business challenges, tight deadlines, and changing variables – for example, when recruiting leaders .

But what are problem-solving skills? What role do they play in the workplace? 

And, most importantly, how can you evaluate candidates’ skills before you hire them?

Table of contents

What are problem solving skills, the benefits of problem solving skills: why are problem solving skills important , examples of problems at the workplace – and how problem solving skills can help, how to assess problem solving skills, evaluate problem solving skills and hire candidates who can think for themselves.

To fully understand the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace, it’s important first to understand the broad skill set that we commonly refer to as “problem solving skills”. 

Generally, problem-solving refers to a person’s ability to successfully manage and find solutions for complex and unexpected situations. 

Candidates with great problem-solving skills have a combination of analytical and creative thinking. They’re comfortable with making decisions and confident enough to rise to challenges in the workplace.

These candidates possess a combination of analytical, creative, and critical-thinking skills – and a high level of attention to detail . As a result, they will quickly identify problems when they arise and identify the most effective solutions. 

They’ll also identify the factors and forces that might have caused the problem and instigate changes to mitigate future challenges.

There are six key problem-solving skills that you should look for when assessing job candidates: 

key problem solving skills to look for when hiring

1. Listening skills

Active listeners are generally great problem solvers. 

They can listen to those around them to gather the information needed to solve the problem at hand. They also recognize the importance of valuing others’ opinions and experiences to help understand why the problem occurred and define the best course of action to remedy it. 

2. Analytical thinking skills 

Analytical thinkers can identify the logical reasons why a problem occurred, what the long-term effects of the issue could be, and identify how effective different solutions might be to select the most practical one. 

That’s why it’s essential to assess analytical thinking skills during recruitment.

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3. Creative thinking skills

Creative thinkers can balance their analytical skills with creative approaches to challenges. Creative thinking skills enable individuals to uncover innovative and progressive solutions to problems. 

In this way, they’re able to provide new perspectives and provide imaginative and experimental solutions to all kinds of problems. 

4. Communication skills 

Problem solvers should also possess great communication skills . The ability to effectively relay complex information thoroughly yet succinctly is a huge benefit for employers working in fast-paced environments. 

5. Decision-making skills 

Those with problem-solving skills will also possess the ability to make decisions and be confident in them. This is important, because most problem-solving involves making firm decisions to reach a successful outcome. 

6. Teamwork

Although problem-solvers need to be independent thinkers, it’s also vital for them to work well as part of a team . 

Determining the best solution often requires collaboration, so it’s important that candidates can demonstrate how they can motivate others to come up with the best solutions and work with them to help develop and implement solutions. 

Problem-solving skills enable you to find candidates who are cognitively equipped to handle anything their jobs throw at them.

Problem solvers can observe, judge, and act quickly when difficulties arise when they inevitably do. Moreover, they are not afraid of the unknown, which is invaluable to employers who rely on their employees to identify and solve problems. 

Why are problem solving skills important?

There are several important benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. Below, we’ll go through five of the most significant ones that all problem solvers can bring to their roles and workplaces: 

1. Ability to organize their time intelligently 

Time management skills can often be underlooked as one of the benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. 

However, those with problem-solving abilities also typically possess stellar time-management skills. The ability to manage their time wisely and laser-focus on what’s important to the business will lead to better decision-making and business impact. 

2. Ability to prioritize, plan, and execute strategies

Problem solvers have no issue with carefully assessing customer and business needs and deciding how to prioritize, plan, and execute strategies to meet them. They can manage all moving parts and strategize to meet multiple unique demands.

3. Ability to think outside the box

Problem solvers can often identify hidden opportunities in problems. Thinking outside of the box is an important problem-solving skill in the workplace, because it can often lead to better outcomes than the originally expected ones. 

4. Ability to work under pressure

This is often one of the most important benefits of problem-solving skills in the workplace. Problem solvers often work well under pressure, for example when dealing with short deadlines and changing project requirements.

Depending on your workplace culture, you might prefer someone who can deliver quick solutions or someone who takes their time to identify the next steps. Both are valid and important problem solving qualities. 

5. Ability to address risk

Planning is an important problem-solving skill. Problem solvers are not just equipped to deal with the problem at hand but are also able to anticipate problems that will arise in the future based on trends, patterns, experience, and current events.

Let’s now look at some specific examples of problems that could arise at the workplace – at any workplace, really – and how employees’ problem solving skills can help address each issue. 

Below, you’ll find five typical scenarios where problem solving skills are essential.

Conflict between team members

Poor team dynamics or lack of a collaborative spirit might result in frequent workplace conflicts – especially within larger teams.

For example, members of cross-functional teams might disagree on the way they should address a particular issue or even on the priority they should give to it. 

How problem solving skills can help: 

Teamwork is essential when solving conflict – and a cornerstone of effective cross-functional team leadership .

For this, coworkers need to share a common understanding of the team’s goals and also be willing to work towards achieving them, even when they disagree on the specific approaches to each goal.  The ability to understand others’ perspectives, analyze information critically, and come up with a few different solutions is key to finding a common ground and making progress on the team’s objectives.

Inefficient processes

Outdated, inefficient processes can reduce productivity and frustrate employees.

Multi-step approval processes are a typical example of this. Having multiple layers of approval for routine decisions can significantly slow down team progress and lead to missed opportunities.

Analytical thinking skills are key in identifying inefficiencies and building better procedures. Employees or team leads can build flowcharts that speed up decision making without having to ask a supervisor’s permission at every step of the process. 

Communication challenges

Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and lack of clarity and direction – which, in turn, can be detrimental to team performance. 

For example, if you’re a remote-first company, maintaining clear and effective remote communication can be challenging. 

The over-reliance on emails and messaging apps might make it feel like teams are communicating effectively and are always connected. However, the lack of non-verbal cues and face-to-face interactions might make it more difficult to build rapport and a positive workplace culture .

Listening skills are essential to solving communication issues – and good listeners are often excellent at solving problems by recognizing, understanding, and acknowledging others’ points of view. 

One-on-one meetings enable people to communicate more freely and effectively and solve challenges together, so consider encouraging team members to hop on a call each time they encounter a difficult challenge.

Additionally, you can help employees bond with each other with some remote team building activities to improve team cohesion. Plus, problem solving challenges can be excellent team building exercises.

Technological disruptions 

New technologies often disrupt the usual ways of doing things – and sometimes, this can be disruptive for entire teams’ work. 

For example, generative AI and automation technologies have revolutionized numerous types of work, including data analysis, marketing, customer service, and even content creation.

Creative thinking and cognitive flexibility are among the top 10 most important skills of the future , according to the World Economic Forum. Both are essential for adopting new technologies successfully – and finding ways to make the most out of each new tool to improve productivity. 

Insufficient onboarding resources 

Team members may struggle to do their best work if they haven't received proper training or resources.

For example, start-ups that experience rapid growth might hire a few employees at once – or even entire teams. 

If they fail to allocate sufficient time and resources to onboarding new hires, this might lead to lost productivity, a lacking sense of belonging, or increased turnover. That’s true not only for junior employees but also for newly hired senior leaders , as the Harvard Business Review points out.

Your leadership team’s analytical and decision-making skills are crucial in enabling them to distribute limited resources in a way that would give their teams the best chances of success. 

To build a solid onboarding process , you need leaders who are able to take ownership of it – and who have the right problem-solving skills.

Many organizations use problem-solving interview questions to identify the right candidates for their job openings. However, the most effective way to assess problem-solving skills is with pre-employment skills assessments . 

That’s because skills tests provide an objective way to quantify a candidate’s problem-solving skills in a way that isn’t possible during an interview.

How problem solving skills tests work

Tests like TestGorilla’s problem-solving skills test assist organizations in finding candidates who are able to quickly identify the key elements of the problem and work through the problem at speed without making mistakes. 

By presenting candidates with a wide range of questions related to typical problem-solving scenarios, hiring teams can rank their candidates based on an intensive assessment of each candidate’s skill level.

screenshot of a sample question in TestGorilla’s pre-employment problem-solving test

The test specifically evaluates whether a candidate can perform problem-solving tasks like:

Creating and adjust schedules

Prioritizing items based on a given set of rules

Interpreting data and applying logic to make decisions

Analyzing textual and numerical information to draw conclusions

As you can see, even the best interviewer would have trouble assessing each of these skill areas while still covering all the other questions that they need to ask. 

If you’re convinced of the importance of problem-solving skills in the workplace and want to build a team of employees that can think independently and solve their own problems without constant supervision, assess problem-solving skills during the hiring process. 

Problem-solving skills tests like ours are an excellent way to achieve this – especially if you combine them with other skills tests. Check out our extensive test library for other tests you can use in your talent assessment process to hire the best talent. 

Sign up for our free plan to start building your first assessment – or schedule a demo with one of our experts to see how to evaluate applicants’ problem solving skills quickly, efficiently, and without bias. 

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Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills

We face problems every day . Whether it's a complex problem at work or a personal issue that needs solving, having good problem-solving skills is essential for success in both your personal and professional life. 

If you’re feeling a little rusty in the problem-solving department, there are many ways to enhance your problem-solving abilities, like cognitive training techniques and brain games. That’s right: Games can help improve your cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory , which are essential for effective problem-solving. 

So if you’re ready to learn how to improve your problem-solving skills with some of our recommended cognitive training techniques and tips, keep reading. And you’ll be making quicker, more confident decisions in no time. 

What is Problem Solving, and Why is it Important?

Problem-solving is, well, the process of identifying, defining, and finding a solution to challenges or difficulties. It involves several steps, including recognizing the existence of a problem, understanding its nature, generating potential solutions, evaluating those solutions, and then implementing the best one. 

Problem-solving is an essential skill that enables you to navigate various aspects of your personal and professional lives effectively. In your workplace, for example, you can quickly identify issues and implement appropriate solutions, contributing to increased productivity and efficiency. In your personal life, good problem-solving skills can help you navigate relationships, make informed decisions, and cope with unexpected situations.

Good problem-solving skills not only help you make better decisions but also improve your critical thinking abilities, allowing you to find effective solutions to complex problems. And by developing and honing your problem-solving skills through cognitive training, you can become more adaptable and resourceful, capable of tackling a wide range of challenges that life throws your way. 

The Science Behind Cognitive Training for Problem Solving

So, what is cognitive training? And what does science have to say about it? 

Cognitive training involves a range of activities and exercises that target different cognitive functions. These may include puzzles, memory exercises, or brain games that require strategic thinking. The goal is to stimulate your brain and enhance its ability to process information, reason effectively, and retain information. By engaging in cognitive training , you can boost your mental capabilities and improve your overall problem-solving skills.

As you engage in cognitive training exercises, you’ll experience improvements in processing speed (the ability to absorb and process information quickly), reasoning (logical thinking and decision-making), and working memory (the capacity to hold and manipulate information over short periods). These enhanced cognitive abilities directly contribute to more effective problem-solving skills.

By understanding the principles behind cognitive training and consistently practicing these types of exercises, you can enhance your problem-solving abilities and apply these skills in various aspects of your lives. But not before you learn how to identify problems, which is a key first step to finding effective solutions. 

The Problem-Solving Process

Effective problem identification is a crucial first step in the problem-solving process. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Define the Problem: Clearly articulating the issue at hand is essential for understanding its scope and complexity. So take time to describe the problem in detail, considering the context, constraints, and possible repercussions.
  • Gather Information: Collect relevant data and information about the problem. This may involve research, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Having accurate and comprehensive information is critical for informed decision-making during the problem-solving process.
  • Involve Others: Collaborate with your team or other people to ensure diverse perspectives and insights are considered. A good idea can come from everywhere, and a collective approach can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
  • Identify Root Causes: Once the problem is defined, delve deeper to identify its underlying causes. Use techniques such as the "5 Whys" method or cause-and-effect analysis to pinpoint the factors contributing to the issue. Addressing these root causes is crucial for developing long-term, sustainable solutions.
  • Select a Problem-Solving Strategy: Employ various problem-solving methods to devise a solution that tackles the root causes effectively. These may include brainstorming, evaluating pros and cons, or implementing a trial-and-error approach. The strategy you ultimately choose should be adaptable and considerate of potential challenges or obstacles.

By following these tips for problem identification and employing problem-solving techniques, you can increase your chances of finding effective and lasting solutions to the issues you face.

6 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Here’s the truth: You can’t effectively solve a problem without using your critical thinking skills. 

Critical thinking is the process of objectively analyzing information, evaluating the credibility of arguments, and making informed decisions based on logic and reasoning. It involves things like questioning assumptions, considering multiple perspectives, and weighing evidence before reaching a conclusion.

Think about it: Having the ability to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and make reasoned decisions allows you to approach problems logically —and we have a few tips to help you improve your ability to do just that: 

  • Break Down Information: To sharpen your critical thinking abilities, practice breaking down complex information into smaller components. Identify patterns, relationships, and underlying principles that can help you better understand the situation.
  • Evaluate Arguments: Develop the habit of assessing the credibility and relevance of arguments presented to you. Consider the source of the information, identify any potential biases, and scrutinize the validity of the evidence provided.
  • Make Reasoned Decisions: When faced with a decision, take time to gather all relevant information and consider possible outcomes. Weigh the pros and cons before arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion that takes into account both short-term and long-term consequences. (We love a good pros and cons list.) 
  • Play Brain Games: Regularly engaging in brain games such as Sudoku, crosswords, chess, or logic puzzles can be an effective way to enhance critical thinking skills. These games require you to analyze information, evaluate potential moves or solutions, and make strategic decisions based on reasoning. We’ll go into more detail about this later, so hang tight. 
  • Try Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness can enhance attention, concentration, and emotional regulation, all of which are critical for effective problem-solving. And if you're interested, you can try it for free for an entire year with the Balance app .
  • Consider Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychotherapy technique that helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By learning to recognize unproductive thinking habits, you can develop more constructive approaches to problem-solving.

By exploring these various cognitive training techniques and consistently incorporating them into your daily life, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing your problem-solving skills and tackling life's challenges more logically and effectively.

How to Approach Problems with a Critical Mindset

Approaching problems with a critical mindset is a great way to turn critical thinking into a habit. But what does that mean, and how do you do it? Let’s break it down:  

  • Embrace Critical Thinking: Develop the habit of questioning assumptions and challenging conventional wisdom when faced with a problem. This will help to uncover hidden biases or overlooked factors that may influence the issue at hand.
  • Consider Multiple Perspectives: Explore different viewpoints and perspectives when assessing a problem. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the situation and can lead to innovative solutions that might not have been apparent from a single viewpoint.
  • Evaluate Evidence: Gather relevant information and carefully evaluate its credibility and reliability. Assess the strength of the evidence supporting various arguments or positions before making a decision.

By following these tips, you can develop a critical mindset that habitually enables you to approach problems more effectively, leading to well-informed decisions and lasting solutions.

Problem Solving Methods & Techniques

Now that you know a bit about how to approach a problem, here’s how you can implement these problem-solving techniques in your daily life:

  • Understand the Context: When applying problem-solving techniques in different settings, it's essential to consider the unique context and constraints of each situation. The approach that works well in a professional environment may not be suitable for a personal issue, so tailor your strategies accordingly.
  • Adapt and Be Flexible: Effective problem-solving requires adaptability and flexibility. Be open to changing your approach if circumstances shift or new information emerges. This willingness to adapt will help you find solutions that are relevant and sustainable in the long term.
  • Communicate and Collaborate: In both workplace and personal settings, communication and collaboration are key to successful problem-solving. Share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with team members or stakeholders, and actively seek their input. A diverse array of perspectives can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
  • Learn from Experience: Reflect on past problem-solving experiences and learn from both successes and failures. Apply these lessons to future situations to continuously improve your problem-solving skills.
  • Practice Regularly: To develop strong problem-solving abilities, practice regularly by tackling problems in various aspects of your life. The more you practice, the more adept you'll become at identifying problems, generating solutions, and making well-informed decisions.

How to Practice Effective Decision-Making

By now, you know how to approach a problem. But how do you solve one? 

Effective decision-making skills are closely related to problem-solving skills, and the two can work together to help you achieve better results. So the next time you have to make a decision, give these steps a try: 

  • Gather Information: Just as you need to gather information to understand a problem, you also need to gather information to make informed decisions. This may involve conducting research into various options, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Comprehensive and accurate information is crucial for evaluating potential solutions.
  • Evaluate Options: Once you have gathered enough information, carefully assess the different options available to address the problem. Consider factors such as feasibility, impact, costs, and potential risks when weighing the pros and cons of each alternative.
  • Make a Decision: After evaluating the options, select a solution based on the available information and your assessment of its effectiveness in addressing the root causes of the problem. Ensure that your chosen solution is sustainable in the long term and takes into account any potential challenges or obstacles that may arise.
  • Monitor Outcomes: Track the outcomes of your decision to gauge its effectiveness and learn from the results. Be prepared to reassess and adjust your approach if necessary, based on feedback or changing circumstances.
  • Refine Your Decision-Making Skills: Continuously work on improving your decision-making abilities by reflecting on past decisions, learning from both successes and failures, and seeking opportunities to practice these skills in various aspects of your life.

The result of putting this into action? Better outcomes and greater success. That’s a win-win if we ever saw one. 

Benefits of Brain Games for Improving Problem-Solving Skills

One fun way to improve all of these problem-solving and decision-making skills we’ve discussed is by playing brain games. 

Brain games stimulate your mind and foster the development of various cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory, which are all essential for effective problem-solving. 

These games challenge you to think critically and make decisions based on logic and strategy. And as a result, they help cultivate a more agile and adaptable mindset that is valuable for tackling real-life problems. (Did we mention they’re also fun?) 

One popular brain training app that incorporates a wide variety of games is Elevate. 

With more than 40 games spread across math , reading , writing , speaking , and memory skills , the Elevate app offers personalized training programs based on your goals, and it adapts to your skill level and performance over time. 

By incorporating brain games into daily routines or cognitive training programs, you’ll be able to make big improvements in your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, making it easier to tackle challenges in both personal and professional aspects of your life. Oh, and did we mention they’re also fun to play?

Start Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills Today

By knowing how to identify a problem, approach it with a critical mindset, and implement a few key problem-solving techniques, you’ll be able to tackle your next challenge with ease. 

And if you’re ready to up-level your overall problem-solving skills with the help of brain training games, download the Elevate app on iOS or Android today and discover 40+ brain training games, personalized training programs, and expert guidance to help you optimize your cognitive abilities and improve your overall performance in daily life. 

With the Elevate app, you can take control of your cognitive function and become a more effective problem solver. It’s what we like to call a no-brainer decision! 

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Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

problem solving training benefits

Sean is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology, field research, and data analytics.

problem solving training benefits

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

  • Application
  • Improvement

From deciding what to eat for dinner to considering whether it's the right time to buy a house, problem-solving is a large part of our daily lives. Learn some of the problem-solving strategies that exist and how to use them in real life, along with ways to overcome obstacles that are making it harder to resolve the issues you face.

What Is Problem-Solving?

In cognitive psychology , the term 'problem-solving' refers to the mental process that people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems.

A problem exists when there is a goal that we want to achieve but the process by which we will achieve it is not obvious to us. Put another way, there is something that we want to occur in our life, yet we are not immediately certain how to make it happen.

Maybe you want a better relationship with your spouse or another family member but you're not sure how to improve it. Or you want to start a business but are unsure what steps to take. Problem-solving helps you figure out how to achieve these desires.

The problem-solving process involves:

  • Discovery of the problem
  • Deciding to tackle the issue
  • Seeking to understand the problem more fully
  • Researching available options or solutions
  • Taking action to resolve the issue

Before problem-solving can occur, it is important to first understand the exact nature of the problem itself. If your understanding of the issue is faulty, your attempts to resolve it will also be incorrect or flawed.

Problem-Solving Mental Processes

Several mental processes are at work during problem-solving. Among them are:

  • Perceptually recognizing the problem
  • Representing the problem in memory
  • Considering relevant information that applies to the problem
  • Identifying different aspects of the problem
  • Labeling and describing the problem

Problem-Solving Strategies

There are many ways to go about solving a problem. Some of these strategies might be used on their own, or you may decide to employ multiple approaches when working to figure out and fix a problem.

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that, by following certain "rules" produces a solution. Algorithms are commonly used in mathematics to solve division or multiplication problems. But they can be used in other fields as well.

In psychology, algorithms can be used to help identify individuals with a greater risk of mental health issues. For instance, research suggests that certain algorithms might help us recognize children with an elevated risk of suicide or self-harm.

One benefit of algorithms is that they guarantee an accurate answer. However, they aren't always the best approach to problem-solving, in part because detecting patterns can be incredibly time-consuming.

There are also concerns when machine learning is involved—also known as artificial intelligence (AI)—such as whether they can accurately predict human behaviors.

Heuristics are shortcut strategies that people can use to solve a problem at hand. These "rule of thumb" approaches allow you to simplify complex problems, reducing the total number of possible solutions to a more manageable set.

If you find yourself sitting in a traffic jam, for example, you may quickly consider other routes, taking one to get moving once again. When shopping for a new car, you might think back to a prior experience when negotiating got you a lower price, then employ the same tactics.

While heuristics may be helpful when facing smaller issues, major decisions shouldn't necessarily be made using a shortcut approach. Heuristics also don't guarantee an effective solution, such as when trying to drive around a traffic jam only to find yourself on an equally crowded route.

Trial and Error

A trial-and-error approach to problem-solving involves trying a number of potential solutions to a particular issue, then ruling out those that do not work. If you're not sure whether to buy a shirt in blue or green, for instance, you may try on each before deciding which one to purchase.

This can be a good strategy to use if you have a limited number of solutions available. But if there are many different choices available, narrowing down the possible options using another problem-solving technique can be helpful before attempting trial and error.

In some cases, the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight. You are facing an issue in a relationship or your career when, out of nowhere, the solution appears in your mind and you know exactly what to do.

Insight can occur when the problem in front of you is similar to an issue that you've dealt with in the past. Although, you may not recognize what is occurring since the underlying mental processes that lead to insight often happen outside of conscious awareness .

Research indicates that insight is most likely to occur during times when you are alone—such as when going on a walk by yourself, when you're in the shower, or when lying in bed after waking up.

How to Apply Problem-Solving Strategies in Real Life

If you're facing a problem, you can implement one or more of these strategies to find a potential solution. Here's how to use them in real life:

  • Create a flow chart . If you have time, you can take advantage of the algorithm approach to problem-solving by sitting down and making a flow chart of each potential solution, its consequences, and what happens next.
  • Recall your past experiences . When a problem needs to be solved fairly quickly, heuristics may be a better approach. Think back to when you faced a similar issue, then use your knowledge and experience to choose the best option possible.
  • Start trying potential solutions . If your options are limited, start trying them one by one to see which solution is best for achieving your desired goal. If a particular solution doesn't work, move on to the next.
  • Take some time alone . Since insight is often achieved when you're alone, carve out time to be by yourself for a while. The answer to your problem may come to you, seemingly out of the blue, if you spend some time away from others.

Obstacles to Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is not a flawless process as there are a number of obstacles that can interfere with our ability to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. These obstacles include:

  • Assumptions: When dealing with a problem, people can make assumptions about the constraints and obstacles that prevent certain solutions. Thus, they may not even try some potential options.
  • Functional fixedness : This term refers to the tendency to view problems only in their customary manner. Functional fixedness prevents people from fully seeing all of the different options that might be available to find a solution.
  • Irrelevant or misleading information: When trying to solve a problem, it's important to distinguish between information that is relevant to the issue and irrelevant data that can lead to faulty solutions. The more complex the problem, the easier it is to focus on misleading or irrelevant information.
  • Mental set: A mental set is a tendency to only use solutions that have worked in the past rather than looking for alternative ideas. A mental set can work as a heuristic, making it a useful problem-solving tool. However, mental sets can also lead to inflexibility, making it more difficult to find effective solutions.

How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

In the end, if your goal is to become a better problem-solver, it's helpful to remember that this is a process. Thus, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills, following these steps can help lead you to your solution:

  • Recognize that a problem exists . If you are facing a problem, there are generally signs. For instance, if you have a mental illness , you may experience excessive fear or sadness, mood changes, and changes in sleeping or eating habits. Recognizing these signs can help you realize that an issue exists.
  • Decide to solve the problem . Make a conscious decision to solve the issue at hand. Commit to yourself that you will go through the steps necessary to find a solution.
  • Seek to fully understand the issue . Analyze the problem you face, looking at it from all sides. If your problem is relationship-related, for instance, ask yourself how the other person may be interpreting the issue. You might also consider how your actions might be contributing to the situation.
  • Research potential options . Using the problem-solving strategies mentioned, research potential solutions. Make a list of options, then consider each one individually. What are some pros and cons of taking the available routes? What would you need to do to make them happen?
  • Take action . Select the best solution possible and take action. Action is one of the steps required for change . So, go through the motions needed to resolve the issue.
  • Try another option, if needed . If the solution you chose didn't work, don't give up. Either go through the problem-solving process again or simply try another option.

You can find a way to solve your problems as long as you keep working toward this goal—even if the best solution is simply to let go because no other good solution exists.

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

Dunbar K. Problem solving . A Companion to Cognitive Science . 2017. doi:10.1002/9781405164535.ch20

Stewart SL, Celebre A, Hirdes JP, Poss JW. Risk of suicide and self-harm in kids: The development of an algorithm to identify high-risk individuals within the children's mental health system . Child Psychiat Human Develop . 2020;51:913-924. doi:10.1007/s10578-020-00968-9

Rosenbusch H, Soldner F, Evans AM, Zeelenberg M. Supervised machine learning methods in psychology: A practical introduction with annotated R code . Soc Personal Psychol Compass . 2021;15(2):e12579. doi:10.1111/spc3.12579

Mishra S. Decision-making under risk: Integrating perspectives from biology, economics, and psychology . Personal Soc Psychol Rev . 2014;18(3):280-307. doi:10.1177/1088868314530517

Csikszentmihalyi M, Sawyer K. Creative insight: The social dimension of a solitary moment . In: The Systems Model of Creativity . 2015:73-98. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9085-7_7

Chrysikou EG, Motyka K, Nigro C, Yang SI, Thompson-Schill SL. Functional fixedness in creative thinking tasks depends on stimulus modality .  Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts . 2016;10(4):425‐435. doi:10.1037/aca0000050

Huang F, Tang S, Hu Z. Unconditional perseveration of the short-term mental set in chunk decomposition .  Front Psychol . 2018;9:2568. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02568

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Warning signs and symptoms .

Mayer RE. Thinking, problem solving, cognition, 2nd ed .

Schooler JW, Ohlsson S, Brooks K. Thoughts beyond words: When language overshadows insight. J Experiment Psychol: General . 1993;122:166-183. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.2.166

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace

problem solving skills in the workplace

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.

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Collaboration training for more productive teams: A guide for leaders and people managers

Collaboration training for more productive teams: A guide for leaders and people managers

Want to teach your team how to work together better? Learn about five collaboration training techniques for a more productive and cohesive team.

Table of Contents

If you’ve ever been to an improv show, it can be hard to believe the skits aren’t rehearsed. The scenes change in an instant and the actors never seem to miss a beat—it’s hard to believe they’re coming up with everything on the fly. 

Well, yes and no. 

They may not rehearse lines, but improv actors get plenty of practice with exercises that help them become better listeners and communicators—and work as a team. They know that collaboration is a skill that can be taught. And if you want your team to work together more effectively and productively, you need to be running collaboration training for your people too.

While you probably already invest in ongoing learning and development, you may be overlooking the training that most directly impacts day-to-day work: the ability to work together. Here are five collaboration skills training techniques for a team that works better together and keeps hitting goals.

Want your team to collaborate? Give them the right platform.  Switchboard provides an interactive, multiplayer experience that lets your whole team get involved and get more done together.   Learn more

Training activity comparison table 

Before we dive in, here’s a quick overview of the collaboration skills training activities we recommend, as well as how much time you need to plan and run them.

Training activity comparison table

5 collaboration skills training techniques   

Just like improv performers practice with focused exercises, collaboration is a skill you can train your employees on. Here are five collaboration skills training techniques to get your team working and communicating together better. 

1. Group problem-solving activities 

Problem-solving on your own is like a stand-up monologue that doesn’t require any interactions. But problem-solving in a group requires you to communicate really well with your team members, just like improv theater. 

Group problem-solving training helps co-workers build the skills they need to tackle issues in the workplace together. However, running group problem-solving activities shouldn’t feel like a chore. Here are a couple of fun problem-solving activities that can help your team collaborate with the ease an improv group would have.

Virtual Code Break 

Type: Real-time 

Time: 30 minutes to two hours

Prep: <10 minutes

Participants: 4+

Virtual Code Break is an online team-building event that runs groups through a series of activities that require participants to use problem-solving skills. Teams are split into smaller groups that race against each other to complete challenges packed with puzzles, riddles, and trivia. 

By motivating your team to draw on each other’s strengths to solve these tasks, you help them build mutual trust and improve the communication skills that are so important for working together. 

You can choose between a self-hosted format, which costs between $12 and $33 per person depending on group size, or choose to hire a designated virtual event host and dedicated event manager. This brings the cost up to $13 to $55 per person depending on group size. 

Time: 30-60 minutes

Participants: 3-600

Loumee offers a bunch of online team-building activities that can help your employees better communicate, negotiate, and solve problems. The activities are fit for remote, hybrid, and in-person teams, meaning just about any group can use them. 

Some of their activities include: 

  • The Chat : Team members solve a series of problems and try to detect which answers were most likely generated by AI. 
  • The Hunt : Your team works together to solve puzzles, riddles, and image and word problems, all under a pressing time crunch. 
  • The Riddle : Players must solve a series of ten individual puzzles, including word games, visual problems, number games, and reasoning. Then, they put them all together to unlock the master riddle. 

Loumee lets you pick from a hosted or on-demand option, so you can be completely hands-off in planning these team-building activities if you want. Hosted-event pricing depends on the size of your group, and there are pricing plans available for on-demand game packages. 

2. Think-Pair-Share (TPS)

Time: 10-20 minutes

Participants: 8+

Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part. Improv teaches you how important it is to make a choice and get the ball rolling—if you don’t, the scene will never get started. The same goes for collaboration in the workplace. 

Think-pair-share (TPS) is a great strategy for helping employees get past a decision-making block. But for team members to have this exercise in their toolkit for meetings, first let them practice it in a relaxed setting. 

You can organize TPS in person or as an online training, and it’s incredibly easy to set up. Just choose a prompt and select the teams you’ll divide your employees into. Present an open-ended question or challenge to your group, like “What should we do for our holiday party this year?” Instead of holding this discussion in a large group, follow these steps: 

  • Think: Give each team member a few minutes to write down their own ideas. 
  • Pair: Combine employees into pairs or small groups and give them 5 to 10 minutes to discuss their ideas. 
  • Share: After they’ve discussed their ideas in their small groups, employees discuss what ideas they thought of with the rest of the team. 

You’ll find that when people have time to discuss ideas in a smaller group and bring these insights back to the larger group, the dialogue is much more collaborative. Rather than two or three of the usual suspects dominating the conversation, less outspoken team members feel more comfortable piping up, meaning everyone’s opinions are heard and considered. 

This exercise reinforces the value of collaborating in small groups before meeting to discuss things as a team. To help everyone feel comfortable sharing their opinions, encourage your employees (and especially team leads) to implement this method in real-life meetings, whether they’re completing a design review or brainstorming a new product layout. 

Pro tip: Use an online collaboration platform like Switchboard to set up persistent breakout rooms that you can send your employees into in small groups. Then bring them all back to the permanent main room so they can discuss what they talked about in their breakout sessions. 

Online meeting room in Switchboard with people taking notes

 3. Jigsaw technique 

Type: Real-time

Time: Depends on the complexity of the topic

Participants: 3-5 people per group

In improv, you depend on the rest of your group for a successful show — your performance as a “dentist” won’t make any sense if your fellow actor doesn’t have a convincing toothache. 

For successful collaboration, team members also depend on each other in the workplace. The jigsaw technique demonstrates this idea by showing employees how each person’s knowledge and hard and soft skills contribute to a larger project or whole.  

With this method, you split your team into groups and assign each of them a sub-topic to become an expert on. Then, members of each group get together to produce an in-depth overview of the whole subject matter. 

Here’s a practical example of the jigsaw technique in use: Imagine you’re a software development agency taking on a new client and you want to learn all about their product and market. Break this task down into sub-topics for each of your team members to research, such as: 

  • The client’s industry
  • The client’s target audience
  • The client’s unique selling point 
  • The client’s main competitors

Let’s say you have 12 people on your team. Since there are four sub-topics, you would break your team up into groups of three. On their own, each team member would research the sub-topic assigned to them. Then, they would meet in their sub-topic small group to discuss and consolidate their findings. 

Finally, create three new groups consisting of one expert from each group. In these groups, each team member presents their research and explains their sub-topic, helping everyone on the team get a clear understanding of every aspect of the client, from the nuances of their industry to their main competitors. 

The jigsaw technique is easy to set up and helps you create a more collaborative learning experience in which employees rely on each other to get every piece of the puzzle. 

4. Peer training  

Type: Real-time or async 

Prep: Depends on the complexity of the topic

Participants: 2+

The jigsaw technique isn’t the only way employees can share their expertise on topics. Organizing peer training sessions is another effective way to reinforce the importance of teamwork, especially when it comes to learning new skills and running employee training. 

Peer training is great for onboarding new employees, but it doesn’t have to be reserved for the most recent hires on your team. Your employees all have unique strengths and areas of expertise, so give each member of your team the opportunity to train their peers. 

Say one of your employees did extensive work on user experience (UX) research at their old company. They can give a training session to their team outlining UX research best practices and industry trends to get everyone up to speed on the topic. 

You can even have them use visual collaboration tools to present their expertise in a way that’s more accessible for visual learners. 

Peer training helps collaboration because when your employees see each other not only as peers but also as sources of knowledge and expertise, you can build a more collaborative culture where they aren’t afraid to ask each other for help. This then enables them to feel more supported and like they have each other’s backs, which leads to better teamwork. 

You obviously want to make sure your employees feel comfortable with leading a peer training session before giving them this task, so you may want to make it voluntary. For those who want to get involved, be sure to help them carve out time in their schedule to prepare the materials and presentation. 

5. Communication exercises 

Improv doesn’t work if actors lack communication skills. Similarly, successful collaboration relies on employees knowing how to effectively talk to each other and convey their ideas. That’s where communication exercises can help. 

You can run exercises with your team to help foster skills like active listening, negotiation, and open-mindedness. Here are some exercises you can run to help your team thrive at one of the key principles of collaboration : communication. 

  • Labeling: Split your employees into pairs and have them take turns talking about an issue. For example, Maria wants to spend the training budget on an in-person seminar, while Lashan wants to buy online course materials. First, Lashan lays out his case. To encourage participants to actively listen and try to imagine how the speaker feels, Maria responds by starting all her sentences with “It seems like” or “It sounds like” as she summarizes what she’s hearing from Lashan. Then, the employees swap roles. This helps practice a critical active listening technique that helps participants empathize with and better understand colleagues and clients. 
  • Mirroring: Split your employees into pairs and have one of them be the speaker and the other the listener. For example, Lashan (the listener) would be tasked with mirroring everything Maria (the speaker) says. If Lashan asks Maria why she likes in-person training courses, Maria may respond, “I like them because I can focus better.” Lashan could then repeat the last few words with a questioning intonation: “You can focus better?” This makes Maria feel listened to and encourages her to keep talking and expand on her points. Mirroring helps build empathy and active listening among team members and clients as it centers around emphasizing the last part of what a speaker said.
  • Mind melt: This one comes right from the world of improv. The goal of mind melt is for two people to simultaneously say a word until they eventually say the same word. To begin, Lashan and Maria each say a word on the count of three. Suppose they say “cherry” and “flower.” Again, they both say another word that those two words have in common, perhaps “red” and “plant.” This exercise continues until Lashan and Maria simultaneously say the same word, which in this case could be “poppy.” This exercise helps participants learn open-mindedness, active listening, and alignment. 
  • Yes, and: Improv centers around the “yes, and'' approach to communication. Participants must respond to each other with “yes, and” (no buts allowed). So if Lashan says an in-person seminar is the best way to spend the training budget, Maria can respond with “Yes, and we could organize a series of these for ongoing learning,” and so on. This exercise helps participants learn to negotiate and stay open-minded to other opinions. 

These communication exercises take no time to set up, and they can be run with just about any number of participants, though you’ll want to split your team members up into pairs.

How the right environment helps collaboration 

No matter how well your team understands teamwork, the theory won’t do them much good if they’re stuck in an environment that keeps them siloed. That’s why finding the right online platform is essential to creating a team that works together effectively. 

Switchboard is a collaborative digital workspace that lets you and your team work together on documents and browser-based apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen . It’s designed to foster team connection, collaboration, and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms. 

Switchboard lets you communicate in real time with video, audio, and chat. You can also work side-by-side allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time. 

That way, your team can put the collaboration skills they learn to good use in meetings and project work sessions. Because when they use a platform that makes everyone an active participant and not just a passive listener, your employees always have the chance to be a part of the discussion and contribute their ideas.

Switchboard design room

Collaboration training: Set your people up for better teamwork 

Improv actors may not memorize their lines but, contrary to how it might look, they don’t pull a great show out of thin air. These actors are trained in communication and collaboration techniques that allow them to adapt to any situation, overcome any obstacle, and even make it funny. The same is true for your people: You can’t expect them to work well together if you never give them training on how to do so. 

Use the collaboration training activities we discussed in this post to foster teamwork and communication among employees and create a positive work culture . For example, group problem-solving, think-pair-share, peer training, the jigsaw technique, and communication exercises. 

Most important of all, give your people a digital workspace like Switchboard where they can put their training to good use and get more done together. With Switchboard, everyone can work side-by-side as if they’re in the same room, making them active, productive participants in meetings and project work sessions.  

Want your team to collaborate? Give them the right platform.  Switchboard provides an interactive, multiplayer experience that lets your whole team get involved and get more done together.   ‍ Learn more

Frequently asked questions about collaboration training 

What is collaboration training.

Collaboration training helps employees learn the skills they need to better work together, communicate, and negotiate. To teach collaboration, you can use various problem-solving activities, peer training methods, and communication exercises. 

What are the benefits of collaboration training?

The biggest benefit of collaboration training is clear: a more collaborative team. But, on top of that, collaboration training also helps you achieve:

  • Improved communication among team members
  • More cooperative decision making
  • More effective and efficient meetings
  • Greater trust among employees
  • Better innovation and problem solving 

Why is collaboration important?

Effective collaboration is important for businesses that rely on teamwork, group problem solving, and effective communication. That’s because it helps teams better work together and solve problems, which leads to improved productivity, innovation, and decision making.

problem solving training benefits

Keep reading

Musings on remote work and the future of collaboration

How to create a status meeting agenda for more productive meetings–plus free template

How to create a status meeting agenda for more productive meetings–plus free template

7 strategies to run status meetings your team will want to attend

7 strategies to run status meetings your team will want to attend

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5 Benefits and Power of A3 Problem Solving. Designed by Toyota

  • 6 mins to read
  • June 23, 2023
  • By Reagan Pannell

A3 problem solving provides a structured approach to identifying, analysing, and resolving issues, promoting continuous improvement and efficient decision-making within an organisation.

After receiving valuable feedback from you and conducting a successful training session with one of our clients, we’re excited to share our latest newsletter on the  A3 Problem Solving  tool. This powerful approach can take your organization’s problem-solving skills to the next level and lead to transformative results. Here’s why the A3 Problem Solving tool is a game-changer for your career and organisation:

problem solving training benefits

1. Logical Thinking Process

Problem-solving is an incredibly valuable approach that enables teams to evaluate problems and their potential solutions effectively. The structured process involved in problem-solving ensures that no important aspects are overlooked, leading to a more thorough and successful outcome. By combining discipline and scientific investigation, teams can confidently address their challenges.

The A3 methodology, part of Toyota’s PDCA management system, is a proven method for developing individuals’ ability to recognise critical business problems and commit the necessary resources to solve them, often based on the 80/20 rule. Effective problem-solving is more crucial than ever before in today’s fast-paced world, where time and resources are limited.

problem solving training benefits

2. Objectivity

Everyone perceives the world through their unique lens, and as humans, we tend to have biases and preferences that shape our perspective. However, the A3 document reconciles these differences by representing a team perspective that is not limited to a single viewpoint. This document fosters a consistent and unified understanding of the problem and its implications among team members.

The A3 also helps to drive objectivity in decision-making by focusing on data. This process encourages teams to look beyond their opinions and desires to make decisions based on measurable results. By taking an organised approach to problem-solving, teams can save time by outlining key objectives at the outset and avoiding unnecessary conversations or meetings.

The A3 also encourages efficiency because it allows teams to focus on addressing only the most important problems that have already been identified as having a significant impact on the organisation’s goals.

problem solving training benefits

3: Results and Process

It’s essential to prioritise process-oriented thinking, but having a results-oriented mindset is equally crucial. At Toyota, achieving results while following the appropriate methods is paramount, as articulated by John Shook.

“Its important to obtain results in Toyota but also to obtain them following the correct way”.

The A3 thinking approach emphasises both process and results. It motivates teams to track their progress continually and adapt their strategies as required. This approach ensures that the problem-solving team always strives towards the desired outcome, whether it’s enhancing customer satisfaction or cutting operational expenses.

It is important also to realise that the process includes developing the people, the mentors and the culture that create long-term value for the company. If the results do not follow, the A3 is interactive, so we continue to apply until we have the acceptable results. Both process and results are critical for effective organisation improvement and personnel development.

problem solving training benefits

4: Synthesis, Distillation and Visualisation

The A3 Problem Solving tool is a powerful approach to help organisations take their problem-solving skills to the next level. It helps teams break down problems logically and systematically, build objectivity in decision-making, and focus on processes and results. One of its most invaluable features is its ability to synthesise information, distil it for clarity, and visualise data for better understanding.

Synthesising Information: The A3 Problem Solving tool encourages teams to look at all available information about a particular issue or challenge before making decisions. This includes gathering relevant facts from primary sources such as existing reports or customer feedback surveys, secondary sources like industry publications or news articles, and other input that could be valuable in developing an informed point of view. By taking this comprehensive approach to analyse data points, teams can ensure they have the full perspective when considering potential solutions.

Distilling Information: Once all relevant information has been gathered through synthesis, it must be distilled into key points for further analysis. The A3 Problem Solving tool offers a structure for doing this by allowing team members to identify areas where more research may need to be done and distil the main points that should be included in their analysis. This approach helps make the data more manageable while ensuring it is properly evaluated.

Visualising Data: The A3 Problem Solving tool then helps teams further analyse the distilled information by visualising it. This can be done in several ways, such as using charts or graphs to show changes over time or mapping out customer journeys to understand user experience better. Visualising data allows teams to identify patterns, uncover potential opportunities, and gain insights they may not have seen before.

problem solving training benefits

5: Alignment

Change only happens through alignment and consensus from all parties involved. With consensus, parties pull together, solutions are implemented quickly, obstacles are removed, and change can happen.

A3 Thinking places a high value on developing agreements with all key stakeholders throughout the project. It is a tool that must be shared, including being communicated both across the team and up the organisation. When consensus is not reached, everyone should understand why and team members learn why some sacrifice was required to deliver a solution that might not be ideal.

A3s allow teams to break down complex problems and visually identify the most important elements. This is done by creating an A3 document that outlines the problem, its context, potential solutions and metrics for evaluating those solutions. The document is then placed on a wall so everyone in the team can see it and easily refer to it during discussions.

By having the document visible, teams can stay organized and focused on their objectives without getting sidetracked or overwhelmed by details. Additionally, having the document out in the open encourages communication among team members as they can easily discuss ideas or share feedback. Furthermore, displaying an A3 document allows for more effective dissemination of information between different departments or sites that may be involved in a project.

problem solving training benefits

Want to learn more? Sign up for our webinar. https://go.leanscape.io/the-art-of-problem-solving-a3-thinking/

The A3 approach also enables teams to use their data better by providing a framework for synthesising, distilling and visualising it. This allows them to uncover patterns or opportunities that may not have been noticed otherwise, which helps inform better decision-making when choosing a solution or action plan. Additionally, visualisation of data also aids in gaining buy-in from stakeholders who may be unfamiliar with complex concepts or difficult-to-understand numbers; thus making it easier to provide leadership with an accurate picture of what’s happening and why certain decisions need to be made.

To ensure the successful implementation of the A3 process, teams must ensure all key stakeholders are aligned in understanding what needs to be done and why. They need to use various communication techniques such as presentations, case studies, discussion groups and surveys to ensure everyone is on board with the goals and understands how they will help achieve positive results. It is also important that teams strive for consensus throughout the project as this will help ensure commitment from all sides, thus enabling smoother execution of ideas into reality.

The A3 Problem Solving tool is an invaluable resource for teams looking to solve complex problems. It encourages a comprehensive approach to data gathering and analysis, enabling teams to synthesise information, distil it into key points and visualize the data to uncover patterns or opportunities that may not have been noticed otherwise. Furthermore, ensuring alignment among all stakeholders involved in the process allows for smoother implementation of solutions with everyone on board and committed to achieving positive results.

The A3 Problem Solving tool can be a powerful guide when tackling challenging issues, helping organisations and you take their problem-solving skills to the next level!

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Redesigning Retirement

  • Ken Dychtwald,
  • Robert Morison,
  • Katy Terveer

problem solving training benefits

Businesses today face serious talent gaps. The share of companies reporting staffing shortages is at an all-time high: 77%. Last fall the United States had 9.5 million unfilled jobs but only 6.5 million unemployed workers. Many open positions demand sophisticated know-how that cannot be supplied by AI or by training new hires.

Every day 10,000 Americans reach the traditional retirement age of 65, which exacerbates the problem. Critical skills, experience, and connections can walk out the door with each retirement. The good news is that many older employees want to keep working; in fact, nearly 60% say they’re receptive to the idea of working during retirement.

It’s time for companies to stop overlooking this large, valuable labor pool. Employers need to shed their misconceptions about older workers and take measures to make the most of their experience, creating phased retirement programs, offering refresher courses, and recruiting through retiree networks, among other strategies. Older employees’ knowledge can be leveraged through coaching roles, on multigenerational teams, and in institutional systems. But companies will have to work to engage their seasoned staffers, offering them flexibility, the right benefits, and opportunities for connection.

It’s time for a new deal between employers and older workers.

Idea in Brief

The problem.

Labor-force participation is down, and job creation is up. Globally, the share of companies reporting talent shortages rose from 35% in 2013 to 77% in 2023. Meanwhile, roughly 10,000 Americans a day reach age 65.

The Good News

Many older workers want to keep working. In fact, they already are. Employees 65 or older now represent the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. One study projects that 150 million jobs worldwide will shift to workers over 55 by 2030.

The Way Forward

Older and retired workers represent a significantly undervalued and underutilized labor pool. If employers can get better at hiring, retaining, and engaging them, they’ll discover countless opportunities for mutually productive employment matches.

Today’s workforce and workplace are in unprecedented flux. Organizations have serious talent gaps to fill, for all sorts of reasons: high employee turnover, low employee engagement, the dramatic shift to remote and hybrid work, the continuing Baby Boomer retirement wave, rapid advances in technology. Many of the most critical positions require sophisticated skills, experience, and social acumen. Those needs can’t all be met simply by hiring and training inexperienced workers or leveraging AI.

  • KD Ken Dychtwald is the founder and CEO of Age Wave. A psychologist and gerontologist, he is the author of 19 books on the social, economic, and workforce implications of an aging population.
  • RM Robert Morison is a business researcher, writer, speaker, and consultant who serves as the senior adviser at Age Wave. He is a coauthor, with Ken Dychtwald, of What Retirees Want .
  • KT Katy Terveer is the senior vice president of research at Age Wave.

problem solving training benefits

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  1. 15 Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace

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  2. Infographic: How Good Are Your Problem Solving Skills?

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  3. Master Your Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills

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  4. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

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  5. Problem Solving Cycle

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  6. Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

    problem solving training benefits


  1. 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More ...

    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.

  2. What is problem solving and why is it important

    Seizing opportunity Problem solving isn't just about responding to (and fixing) the environment that exists today. It is also about innovating, creating new things and changing the environment to be more desirable. Problem-solving enables us to identify and exploit opportunities in the environment and exert (some level of) control over the future.

  3. Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders

    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.


    20 DECEMBER, 2022 WHY PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS MATTER IN THE WORKPLACE Whether you're an artist, a software developer or a CEO of a multinational conglomerate, problem solving skills are a critical asset in any professional setting.

  5. Problem-Solving Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Efficacy

    Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness. Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression ...

  6. 6 Steps To Effective Problem-Solving Training For Managers

    Managers can train for problem-solving skills by following these steps. Identify the skills needed: The first step in training for problem-solving skills is to identify the specific skills and knowledge that managers need to develop. This could include critical thinking, data analysis, decision-making, creativity, and communication skills.

  7. Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

    Articulate how both good and bad team decisions can benefit your professional growth Skills you'll gain Critical Thinking Decision Theory Decision-Making Problem Solving analysis Details to know Shareable certificate Add to your LinkedIn profile Assessments 4 quizzes Course

  8. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    Project management and communication skills are key here - your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way. 7. Solution evaluation. So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved.

  9. Problem Solving Training to Eliminate Root Causes

    Problem solving training for result-driven managers and functional specialists to effectively eliminate the root causes of variability, gaps, defects, frustrations, and stress. Systematic problem solving is a foundational sill, and by working as a professional, you are required to address performance and behavioral issues to boost safety ...

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

    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 ...

  11. The Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace

    The benefits of problem solving skills: Why are problem solving skills important? Examples of problems at the workplace - and how problem solving skills can help How to assess problem solving skills Evaluate problem solving skills and hire candidates who can think for themselves What are problem solving skills?

  12. Improving Problem-Solving Skills with Cognitive Training

    Benefits of Brain Games for Improving Problem-Solving Skills One fun way to improve all of these problem-solving and decision-making skills we've discussed is by playing brain games. Brain games stimulate your mind and foster the development of various cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory, which are all ...

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

    Steps, Process & Techniques | ASQ / Quality Resources / Problem Solving What is Problem Solving?. Quality Glossary Definition: Problem solving Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.

  14. Train your brain

    February 15, 2021 Practicing a new and challenging activity is a good bet for building and maintaining cognitive skills. Your brain has the ability to learn and grow as you age — a process called brain plasticity — but for it to do so, you have to train it on a regular basis.

  15. Introduction to Problem Solving

    Foundation. This course provides understanding of the fundamental tools, techniques and structured methodologies for problem solving and the capability to participate as a member of a problem-solving team in the application of the key tools to support the development of robust and sustainable solutions.

  16. The Problem-Solving Process

    Allocate Resources. Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off ...

  17. Employee Training: What It Is and Why It's Important

    Employee training benefits employees and the organizations that hire them. Learn why you need it and how you can implement it into your business. ... This type of training involves enhancing or teaching workplace skills or human skills, like communication, problem-solving, ...

  18. Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles

    Problem-Solving Strategies and Obstacles. By. Kendra Cherry, MSEd. Kendra Cherry, MSEd. Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book." Learn about our editorial process. Updated on January 03, 2023.

  19. 15 Problem-Solving Games and Activities for the Workplace

    Here are 15 problem-solving games and activities for the workplace: 1. The great egg drop. Teams of three to four per group get an egg, masking tape and straws. The challenge is to build a structure that protects the egg from being broken when dropped from a designated area or height.

  20. Importance of Problem Solving Training in IT Industry

    Training for problem solving skills has numerous benefits. It enhances decision making, promotes creativity, improves communication, and boosts overall productivity. In addition, it allows IT professionals to handle pressure situations with ease and confidence. Critical thinking and problem solving training is vital in today's IT industry.

  21. Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace

    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.

  22. Collaboration training for more productive teams: A guide for leaders

    Group problem-solving training helps co-workers build the skills they need to tackle issues in the workplace together. However, running group problem-solving activities shouldn't feel like a chore. Here are a couple of fun problem-solving activities that can help your team collaborate with the ease an improv group would have. Virtual Code ...

  23. What Is Employee Training? Definition, Types & Best Practices

    Soft skills, such as communication, teamwork and problem-solving, are vital for workplace success. Training in these areas enhances interpersonal interactions and overall workplace efficiency.

  24. The Hidden Benefits of A3 Thinking

    It helps us follow a thinking process, facilitates communication, and builds consensus. It stimulates learning, forces us to focus on what is a priority, and supports both mentoring and leadership. It helps us solve all kinds of operational and organizational problems, and it helps us plan.

  25. 5 Benefits and Power of A3 Problem Solving. Designed by Toyota

    4: Synthesis, Distillation and Visualisation. The A3 Problem Solving tool is a powerful approach to help organisations take their problem-solving skills to the next level. It helps teams break down problems logically and systematically, build objectivity in decision-making, and focus on processes and results. One of its most invaluable features ...

  26. 7 Power Skills That Are in Demand in 2024 and How You Can ...

    5. Problem-solving and critical thinking. Being a good problem solver usually means knowing how to identify a problem and going through a series of steps to develop a solution. From entry-level employees up to your executives, those who can solve problems independently often become more critical thinkers, leading to better overall job performance.

  27. Redesigning Retirement

    The Problem. Labor-force participation is down, and job creation is up. Globally, the share of companies reporting talent shortages rose from 35% in 2013 to 77% in 2023.