• Risk management and governance

Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing and controlling threats to an organization's capital, earnings and operations. These risks stem from a variety of sources, including financial uncertainties, legal liabilities, technology issues, strategic management errors, accidents and natural disasters. This comprehensive guide explains why risk management is more important than ever and leads readers through how to establish a risk management plan, with hyperlinked articles with additional, essential information.

Top 12 risk management skills and why you need them, effective risk management is necessary in all parts of a business. here are a dozen skills that risk managers need to be successful in their jobs..

Andy Patrizio

  • Andy Patrizio

Risk management skills are a must for anyone who aspires to be a business leader or, especially, a risk manager. There are risks to be addressed at all business levels , and if business leaders and risk management professionals are unable to manage the risks effectively, their upward mobility in organizational charts likely will grind to a halt.

The best risk managers are often unknown to many of the employees in their organization because they either mitigate risks before business problems result or prevent risks from becoming an issue in the first place. People often only notice when things go wrong, not when they go right. A business could have 364 days of trouble-free operations in a year. But, on the one day a mission-critical server crashes, there's a data breach, an executive's laptop is stolen or another risk-related event occurs, all eyes are on the risk management team in an organization .

Being a capable risk manager requires awareness and knowledge to uncover potential business risks and present them to the people who are best suited to decide if the risks are acceptable or resolve ones that are problematic. Risk managers don't necessarily have to make required fixes themselves -- they just need to bring the situation to someone who can.

What is risk management?

Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing and managing potential issues that could have a negative impact on an organization's business operations and financial performance. It involves being mindful of potential risks and what could go wrong -- both the expected and the unexpected. Risk managers must be aware of all forms of risk in their area of responsibility -- and beyond, if possible. They should know how those risks would affect the business and what steps to take or what contingency plans to activate to reduce risks and avoid business problems .

This article is part of

What is risk management and why is it important?

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Is risk management a soft skill?

Risk management is a complex and comprehensive process . It's definitely not a soft skill -- or, at least, not just one. There are many types of risk, including compliance, security, operational, financial and reputational risks. Risk managers require a combination of both hard and soft skills to successfully address all the various risks.

For example, compliance is a key risk factor. There are few greater risks than running afoul of government regulatory agencies -- compliance issues often can do far more damage to an organization than a hacker or out-of-date software. Risk managers need to constantly study, evaluate and implement new regulations as they come -- and they do keep coming.

In addition, proactivity is the hallmark of effective risk management. A reactive approach means addressing problems after they become problems, which can result in flawed risk management initiatives . Risk managers need to stay ahead of the risk curve.

Risk management skills graphic

How do you become a good risk manager?

Good risk managers need a variety of skills. The following are 12 important ones they should possess.

1. Analytical skills

Risk managers need analytical skills to collect data, analyze risks and make sound decisions based on the results. They also need to be able to spot holes and weaknesses that others may have missed in IT systems and infrastructure, business processes, financial practices and other areas.

2. Problem-solving skills

Risk managers also need to be able to solve problems. While some risks might require passing the issue on to someone above a risk manager's pay grade, others often will be left to the risk manager to solve. As a result, they need to like getting their hands dirty from a problem-solving standpoint.

3. People management and leadership skills

All the problem-solving skills in the world are useless if managers can't rouse the troops. Risk managers need good people management and leadership skills to inspire and incentivize staff members. In some cases, risk management might require upsetting the apple cart, and managers need the respect of their team through the inevitable challenges.

4. Relationship-building skills

This goes hand in hand with the leadership skills. Risk managers must be able to build relationships -- and not just with their immediate subordinates. They should also be able to do so with their superiors, as well as other corporate executives and department heads.

5. Financial knowledge

Risk managers need to know the potential cost of network outages and security breaches, as well as the likely financial impact of other business risks. Ultimately, financial risk will get everyone's attention in the C-suite and individual departments. The costs of lost productivity, lost income and financial penalties can be crippling to a business if risks aren't managed properly.

6. Regulatory knowledge

If there's one thing governments do well, it's regulating things. Regulations are constantly being added and updated. Risk managers must invest some of their time to stay up to date on all the changes and understand new and evolving regulatory requirements.

7. Business understanding

To identify and estimate risks to a company, risk managers need to understand how the business works. They can't say finance doesn't matter because they're in IT, or vice versa. Business understanding is a must -- especially if the risk manager aspires to join the C-suite in the future.

8. Ability to quantify risks

After assembling a list of potential business risks, risk managers need to be able to do a risk assessment and then rank the likelihood and severity of each risk. They should create and regularly update a list that notes the most likely to least likely risks, as well as the most severe to least severe ones. This helps determine the risk management program's focus on an ongoing basis.

9. Ability to plan risk management approaches

After preparing the ranked list of risks, a risk manager then needs to lead the process of planning how to manage them. That could include accepting risks that are deemed reasonable based on an organization's agreed-upon risk appetite and risk tolerance or adopting strategies to mitigate risks so they pose less of a business threat. In other cases, the organization might transfer risks to a third party or seek to eliminate them through risk avoidance measures.

10. Strategic thinking

No sports team ever wins by only playing defense -- and that applies here, too. If risk managers look at how things affect the business as a whole, they might come up with a better way for their organization to operate. Part of a risk manager's job is to see the big picture -- and maybe notice something others have missed.

11. Adaptability

Risk management requires constant education and keeping up with relevant news, trends and issues. Not so long ago, no one had heard of ransomware . Now, it's one of the greatest cybersecurity threats that companies face. News sites and industry journals should be regular reading material for risk managers.

12. Mathematics skills

Because risk management involves a lot of data analysis, risk managers must be comfortable with numbers and calculations. There are many analytics tools available -- from Microsoft Excel to business intelligence software -- that can help with cost estimates and other math work. But solid math skills are a prerequisite for using such tools effectively.

Create a culture of psychological safety to help manage risk

People often throw around the phrase, "Don't shoot the messenger." But, all too often, corporate management does shoot the messenger. This creates a climate where many workers are afraid to speak up about problems that can create business risks.

For example, after all Boeing 737 MAX airplanes were grounded due to two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, it was revealed that engineers knew the planes had defects but were afraid to go to management.

To avoid such situations, a new way of thinking has emerged that applies the concept of psychological safety to work teams. Team psychological safety is about creating a climate where people in an organization aren't afraid of being punished for making a mistake or being the bearer of bad news. It's meant to ensure that employees aren't reluctant to raise issues -- especially ones that involve serious business risks. As a result, risk managers should learn about it and incorporate it into their processes.

Traditional vs. enterprise risk management: How do they differ?

Implementing an enterprise risk management framework

Top enterprise risk management certifications to consider

ISO 31000 vs. COSO: Comparing risk management standards

12 top enterprise risk management trends

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Risk Management in Executive Levels of Healthcare Organizations: Insights from a Scoping Review (2018)

Masoud ferdosi.

1 Health Management and Economics Research Center, Department of Health Services Management, School of Management and Medical Information Sciences, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Reza Rezayatmand

2 Health Management and Economics Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Yasamin Molavi Taleghani

3 Department of Health Services Management, School of Management and Medical Information Sciences, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

This study attempted to present a framework and appropriate techniques for implementing risk management (RM) in executive levels of healthcare organizations (HCOs) and grasping new future research opportunities in this field.

A scoping review was conducted of all English language studies, from January 2000 to October 2018 in the main bibliographic databases. Review selection and characterization were performed by two independent reviewers using pretested forms.

Following a keyword search and an assessment of fit for this review, 37 studies were analyzed. Based on the findings and considering the ISO31000 model, a comprehensive yet simple framework of risk management is developed for the executive levels of HCOs. It includes five main phases: establishing the context, risk assessment, risk treatment, monitoring and review, and communication and consultation. A set of tools and techniques were also suggested for use at each phase. Also, the status of risk management in the executive levels of HCOs was determined based on the proposed framework.

The framework can be used as a training tool to guide in effective risk assessment as well as a tool to assess non-clinical risks of healthcare organizations. Managers of healthcare organizations who seek to ensure high quality should use a range of risk management methods and tools in their organizations, based on their need, and not assume that each tool is comprehensive.


Given the World Health Report (2000), the significance of healthcare organizations(HCOs) has grown in global health discourse. 1 However, in the last decade, HCOs have faced two contradictions: first, healthcare costs have increased due to population aging, the introduction of advanced technologies, and increased medical errors. 2 , 3 On the other hand, HCOs have become more complicated due to such factors as efficient customers, biomedical developments, the complexity of services and an increasing number of healthcare users. 2 , 3 Therefore, demand for healthcare is significantly higher than the human capacity and resources available in healthcare departments. 4 Corresponding to these limits, three interventional approaches have been developed at various levels of the HCOs: (i) quality management, (ii) risk management, and (iii) patient safety. 5

In particular, risk management (RM) is a process-oriented method providing a structured framework for identifying, assessing, and reducing risk at appropriate times for HCOs. 6 RM approach protects healthcare providers against unfavorable incidents. 7 This way, RM plays a major role in shrinking uncertainties and enhancing rich opportunities for different areas of the health system. 8 Development of RM helps HCOs and providers to reduce damage due to the probable occurrence of defective processes through identifying error, rooting, and strategy development. 9 Implementing RM in HCOs improves allocation of health resources, 10 process management, decision-making, reduced organizational losses, 11 patient safety, 11 continuous quality improvement, 2 customer satisfaction, 2 organizational performance, 12 hospital reputation, 11 and better community creation. 2

A general framework for RM needs to be identified before implementing the risk process. This framework determines the strategy of organization for identifying risk, risk assessment, and risk reduction. 13 This strategy outlines how the RM process should be implemented in the organization. It determines the resources that are needed, the key roles and responsibilities for that, the ways risk needs to be identified. It shows how the decision-making process looks like while using those strategies. 13 The available evidence suggests that despite the existence of a large number of RM techniques, a few of them have been employed so far in the HCOs. 14 – 16

Risk management is one of the emerging areas in management systems; there are several reports that have provided an overview of risk management inHCOs; however, it is difficult to find studies that have systematically synthesized risk management models at the executive levels of healthcare organizations. 17 – 19 This sector is far behind the rest of the industry in terms of using these techniques. Nowadays, there is a consensus in the healthcare sectors that the knowledge, experience, and expertise of other industries in RM can improve the quality of services provided in the healthcare sectors. 3 Therefore, reviewing the selection of RM techniques seems indispensable. These instruments need to be tailored to the complexities of the healthcare system and the causes affecting incidents in this sector. 20 , 21

The organizational structure of the healthcare system has been classified into executive, administrative and operational, each of which is exposed to some risks. 22 This limited study aims to identify those risks that happen in executive levels. The study would not consider those risks that may happen in the operational levels of healthcare organizations and can be considered as a clinical risk. Mention should be made that the executive levels of healthcare organizations are the headquarters and deputies of the HCOs that provides counseling and control over healthcare delivery units. 22 Therefore, the aim of this review is to scope published different organizational RM models, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each model, and this way, propose a framework for implementing RM in the executive levels of HCOs.

The applied purpose of this study was to integrate existing research on the various areas of RM cycle (risk identification, risk assessment, & risk management) and ultimately provide a centralized knowledge base for future research in the executive levels of HCOs. It is of note that the executive levels of HCOs are the headquarters and deputies of the HCOs that provides counseling and control over healthcare delivery units.

The methodological framework of the scope review described below was guided by such methodologies, which have been published elsewhere. 23 , 24

Scoping Review Question

The first phase was represented by the definition of the scope of the study in compliance with the objectives and the underlying research hypotheses.

Based on preliminary studies, the research questions developed for scoping review are as follows:

  • RQ1: How are organizational risks identified and categorized within the executive levels of HCOs?
  • RQ2: What is the proposed framework for organizational risk management in the executive levels of HCOs? Also, what is the status of risk management in the executive levels of HCOs based on the proposed framework?
  • RQ3: What techniques and tools are available for implementing organizational risk management in the executive levels of HCOs?

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

To obtain and include relevant and important documents to concentrate on, a series of inclusion and exclusion criteria should be defined. The selection of the studies was done according to the following inclusion criteria:

(i) Studies on organizational RM and assessment techniques and framework in healthcare organizations or related organizations appropriate for imitation in the healthcare organization; (ii) articles in English; (iii) 2000 to October 2018.

The following studies were excluded: (i) in the format of letters, editorials, news, professional commentaries, and reviews; (ii) without available abstracts or full text or references; (v) Models that cannot be imitated in healthcare organizations; (vi) Published in languages other than English.

Identifying Locating Sources and Relevant Articles

This study was conducted in October 2018 through consulting such databases as Pub Med, ISI, Emerald, Scopus, IEEE, Springer, ProQuest, Cochrane, and Wiley from 2000 to May 2018. The search strategy was the same for all the databases.

The identification of the keywords related to the subjects and the objectives of the study are as follows: initially, keywords were identified by the authors through a brainstorming process. The identified keywords were refined and validated by a team composed of two university academic members and two healthcare managers. The search strategy was formulated using Boolean operators. The formula was searched in the field of title and abstract in online databases. The search strings used are shown in Table 1 , a search for each research question was performed. Also, the search was repeated two times with the following search string. In addition, the references were retrieved from the studies included in the first iteration. The keywords of references that matched with the search keywords were chosen.

Search Strings for Research Questions and Studies

CodeSearch StringsOnline DatabasesFieldQuantity
RQ1(risk OR failure* OR error* OR event*) AND (source* OR classification* OR identify* OR category* OR epidemiology) AND (organization* OR system* OR administration*) NOT clinical*PubMedTitle, Mesh, and Abstract164
ISITitle, Topic, and Abstract495
ScopusTitle, Abstract, keywords284
EmeraldTitle, Abstract, keywords114
ProQuestTitle, Abstract, keywords102
CochraneTitle, Abstract, keywords28
WileyTitle, Abstract, keywords49
SpringerTitle, Abstract, keywords30
IEEETitle, Mesh, and Abstract21
And RQ3
(“risk management*” OR “risk assessment*” OR “management risk*” OR “assessment risk” OR “ risk analysis*”) AND (model* OR approach* OR technique* OR method* OR structure* OR tool* OR process* OR framework*) AND (organization* OR system* OR administration*)PubMedTitle, Mesh and Abstract387
ISITitle, topic, and Abstract273
ScopusTitle, Abstract, keywords838
EmeraldTitle, Abstract, keywords235
ProQuestTitle, Abstract, keywords61
CochraneTitle, Abstract, keywords24
WileyTitle, Abstract, keywords215
SpringerTitle, Abstract, keywords63
IEEETitle, Abstract, keywords191

Study Selection and Data Abstraction

The two authors (YMT and MF) independently performed level 1 (titles and abstracts) and level 2 (full article texts) screening forms. All screening and extraction were completed in duplicate. Disagreements were discussed between the two reviewers and a third-party reviewer (R R) was contacted if disagreements could not be resolved. After independent reading of the full texts, the content analyzed and selected the articles that answer the respective research questions. Study quality was not assessed during the scoping review as the objective of a scoping review is to identify gaps in the literature and highlight future areas for systematic review. 23 , 24 The required information extracted based on the research questions and placed in the designed templates.

Three thousand five hundred and seventy-four studies were screened, excluded 761 duplicates, 1556 on title review, 1081 on abstract review and 144 in a full-text review. In total, leaving 37 papers (32 papers first iteration on the database and five studies from hand searching) search for critical appraisal. Table 2 shows the flowchart for the study selection.

Paper Selection Process

PhaseNumber of ImportedNumber of ExcludedExclusion Criteria
IdentificationFirst iteration on data base
Question 1: 1287 (36.1%)
Question 2, 3: 2287 (63.9%)
3574R0: Disproportionate to the goals and research questions
R1: letters, editorials, news, professional commentaries, and reviews
R2: No outcome reported
R3: Poor study design
R4: No abstract or full text available
R5: Unclear description
R6: Not applicable for healthcare organizations.
R7: No systematic approach to error
ScreeningDuplicate citations761
Title screening
Reason excluding papers on the basis of titles:
R0: 998 (64.1%) R1: 198(12.7%)
R6: 286(18.3%) R8:74(4.7%)
Abstract screening
Reason excluding papers on the basis of abstract:
R0: 450 (41.6%) R1: 127 (11.7%)
R2: 42 (3.9%) R3: 39 (3.6%)
R4: 36 (3.3%) R5: 25 (2.3%)
R6: 309 (28.6%) R8: 53 (4.9%)
EligibilityFull-text eligibility
(Agreement rate: 85%).
Reason excluding papers on the basis of full text:
R0: 39(27.4%) R1: 8(5.6%) R2: 10(6.94%) R3: 18(12.5%) R4: 7(4.9%) R5: 6 (4.2%)
R6: 27(19%) R7: 29(20.4%)
IncludedRelevant papers found from the search on database
Responsiveness rate of studied divided by each research question:
Question 1: 10(14.7%) Question 2: 27(39.7%)
Question 3: 31(45.6%)
Relevant references on references of relevant papers
Responsiveness rate of studied divided by each research question:
Question 1: 1(20%) Question 2: 3 (30%)
Question 3: 5 (50%)
Achieving the relevant papers
Responsiveness rate of studied divided by each research question:
Question 1: 11(14.3%) Question 2: 30(38.9%)
Question 3: 36(46.8%)

Note: Each study may answer several research questions.

Characteristics of Articles Reviewed

Bibliographical information about the 36 articles included in this review can be obtained from Table 3 .

Bibliographical Sources of the Studies Included in the Literature Review

1Molavi Taleghani 201641,2,3,4,5IranEmergency surgery ward in hospital2,3
2Gervais 201232,4,5IrelandPharmaceutical manufacturing environment2,3
3Bernardini 201332ItalyComplex and mission-critical systems2,3
4Cagliano 201136ItalyPharmacy department in a large hospital2,3,1
5Parand 201741,4,5England+ ItalyMedication administration within homecare1,2,3
6Sendlhofer 201532,6AustriaLarge university hospital2,3
7Lopez 201042,3USAClinical cell therapy in regenerative medicine2,3
8Emblemsvag 200236,2NorwayManufacturing environment1,2,3
9Jaberidoost 201541,2,3,5IranPharmaceutical industry2,3
10Wierenga 200935,3NetherlandsTwo hospital2,3
11Niel-Laine 201122,5FranceA central sterile supply department2,3,1
12Trucco 200621,2,4,3ItalyDrug therapy management process2,3
13Emre Simsekler 201841,2,6EnglandGastroenterology Unit in Hospitals1,3
14Bonnabry 200545SwitzerlandPediatric parenteral nutrition process2,3
15Rezaei 201842,5,1,3IRANSurgery ward in hospital2,3
16Domanski 201631,2,3PolandNonprofit Organizations1,2,3
17Ramkumar 201642,5,6IndiaE-procurement systems1,2,3
18Beauchamp-Akatova 201332,3,6NetherlandsAir transport systems2,3
19Faiella 201742,3,6UkAdministration of medication in the home setting2,3
20Usman Tariq 201336,2Saudi ArabiaIodine development industry1,2,3
21Famiyeh 201543,1,5,4GhanaMining organization2,3
22Choo 201546,1,3,4,5USABusiness unit within a large high-tech organization1,2,3
201643,5,6UKVarious industries1,2,3
24Delcea 201612,6RomaniaClinical Emergency County Hospital1,3
25Abdi 201646,4,3,5IranIntensive care unit2,3
26Chu 201445,6TaiwanE-healthcare architecture and syndrome test2,3
27Prijatelj 201235,3SloveniaSelected clinical departments2,3
28Kerckhoffs 201321,5NetherlandsIntensive Care Unit of in hospital2,3
29Vahidnia 201721,3,6,2,4TurkeySmall software company in a University2,3
30Leung 200831,2,3,5CanadaPublic sector research2,3
31Zeng 201332USAEnterprise resource planning (ERP) systems2,3
32MC Emre Simsekl 201541,2,4UKUniversity Hospitals Foundation Trust1,3
33M. C. Emre Simsekler 201823,1UKHealth-care Foundation Trust3
34Jun 201042,6,3,1UKHealth service3
35Card 201415,1USAHealthcare organization3
36Potts 201441,5,3,2,4UKCommunity-based anticoagulation clinic2,3
37Kessels-Habraken 200941,2,4,5NetherlandsGeneral hospital2,3

Notes: *Type of study included 1) Empirical quantitative; 2) Empirical qualitative 3) Conceptual/theoretical 4) mixed method. Data collection methods included 1) Survey (questionnaires or checklists); 2) Database, Documents & Records; 3) Interviews; 4) observation; 5) Focus Groups; 6) Ethnographies, Oral History, & Case Studies.

According to Table 3 , 11 articles (14.3%) were used to answer the first research question, 30 articles (38.9%) were used to answer questions 2, and finally, 36 articles (46.8%) were used to answer research question 3. (Total papers >36 because each paper may be classified into two or more study types, or may address two or more review questions.) Also, it could be recognized that all but four articles were published in 2009 or later, this is due to the complexity of environment and type of services provided by organizations and, consequently, use of the RM and risk assessment process as a tool for reducing errors and incidents in recent years.

As can be seen in Table 3 , based on the setting of the studies, Europe had the most study with (59.5%) of the authors affiliated with European universities and institutions. Asia was the next one with (21.6%) of the studies, followed by America (13.5%), Oceania (2.7%), and Africa with 2.7%. Also, most of the studies examined in developed countries. Thus, at this point, we can already identify a need for more research into risk management in developing countries.

As for design, 2(5.4%) studies were empirical quantitative, 5 (13.5%) empirical qualitative, 12 (32.4%) conceptual/theoretical and 18 (48.7%) mix method.

How are Organizational Risks Identified and Categorized Within Executive Levels of Healthcare Organizations?

Risk identification is usually a necessary condition for later risk management. 25 Given dynamic and complex healthcare organizations, different risk sources can trigger hazardous situations, potentially harming the organization. 36 It is therefore essential to consider as many risk sources as possible within a classification to help participants familiarize themselves with the given system and potential risk sources. 36 Although the study strategy did not focus on risk types of healthcare organizations (see methods), the reviewed studies placed significant emphasis on identifying and discussing a variety of typical risks in similar organizations with healthcare organizations.

According to the results of Simsekler et al, risk identification Framework (RID Framework) used to identify risks of the health organizations. 36 The risk identification framework includes a spectrum of inputs (System familiarization), processes (Identification of risks), and outputs (Presentation of the risks) in its structure. 36

Results of the studies, a functional framework for identifying and classifying risks in executive levels of HCOs are presented in Table 4 .

Identification and Classification of Risks in Executive Levels of Healthcare Organization

Customers and stakeholders demands (patients, providers, suppliers, and buyers) All organizational processes (clinical and non-clinical processes, technology processes, etc.) Customer perceptions, costs, functions and health status
Source of risk Intra-organizationalRisk
1- Internal:
1–1 Organization or Operational: Organization structure, process, organization culture , , , ,
1–2 Physical structure and technological supports:
Used by resources to perform their activities and all the tools necessary to support processes within a healthcare delivery system. (information system, information security, Technology selection and implementation related) , , , , ,
1–3 Communication/information: As the basis of the relationships among resources and between them and technological supports. (Information exchanges, communicating variations and decisions). , , , , ,
1–4 Human or personnel resource , , ,
1–5 Financial: Form of financing, evaluation, return. , ,
1–6 Organization conditions or location ,
1–7 Customer
1–8 Administrative or task ,
1–9 Knowledge and skill
1–10 Material and equipment: displays/integrity/positioning/usability ,
1–11 Collaboration and team
2- External:
2–1 Supplying , ,
2–2 Financing ,
2–3 Environment and ecological
2–4 Regulation and Legal ,
2–5 Logistics: Manufacturing, disruption and transportation, inventory, storage , ,
2–6 Commercial
2–7 Revenue: demand, toll/tariff, development ,
2–8 Capacity
2–9 Social
2–10 Volunteers
2–11 Political and government
A: Expert opinion(focus groups-brainstorming- Delphi technique) , , , , , ,
B: Results of examination of documents, reports and other records of visits , ,
C: Observation
Hazard: what can go wrong?
Cause: why/how it could go wrong?
Effect: who/what is at risk?
A: Literature , ,
B: Stakeholder analysis
C: Results of reports of higher organizations
D: External audit ,
A: Expert opinion , ,
B: Interviews , ,
C: Risk Breakdown Structure(RBS) ,
D: Survey results , , ,
E: Critical incident
F: Reporting system
G: Historical and Previous data ,
H: Quality function deployment(QFD)
I: Triangle method
J: Cause and effect analysis (CEA)
K: Event or fault tree analysis , ,
L: Checklists or check sheet
M: SWOT analysis
N: PESTEL analysis
O: Direct observation
Nature of hazards , Prospective
A: Obvious hazard: Is apparent to the senses
B: Concealed hazard: Is not apparent to the senses
C: Developing hazard: Cannot be recognized immediately, and develops over time
4: Transient hazard: An intermittent or temporary hazard
A: Level of probability
B: Failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA)
C: Imagery
D: Modeling
E: Grey systems theory
F: Hierarchical holographic modeling (HHM)
Time ,
A: Past: what has gone wrong the past?
B: Present: what could go wrong currently?
C: Future: what can go wrong due to change?

According to Table 4 , risk sources are classified into two categories (internal and external), and risk identification tools classified into two categories (retrospective-prospective and intra-organizational – inter-organizational).

Which Organization RM Framework and Techniques are Used in Executive Levels of Healthcare Organizations?

A stringent risk management process may enable executive levels of HCOs to cope with the risks presented in the previous section. Once risks have been identified, a number of techniques and actions can be selected to address them.

Various models have been used by organizations to assess and manage risk, the results are which are shown in Table 5 . Based on the findings in Table 5 , the risk management framework that are applicable to the executive levels of HCOs are classified into basic models and combined models. In addition, risk management models are divided by cost, time, and complexity. The approaches of risk management models are also divided into qualitative or quantitative, systemic or individual, retrospective or retrospective, and holistic or partial.

Characteristics of Organization RM and Risk Analysis Techniques

Model NameStepsCharacteristicsOutput and InformationAttitude to the RiskApplicable Type of EnvironmentCostTimeComplexity
Establish the ContextRisk IdentificationRisk AnalysisRisk EvaluationRisk TreatmentMonitoring
1- Risk Analysis Phases
1-1- Base models
Strategic risk analysis approach (SRA)1 - Define objectives, 2 -Brainstorm risk, and characteristics according to the SWOT axis; 3 - Calculate possibilities and consequence of the risks; 4 - Combine risks with characteristics. Weakness: It does not express the relationship between risks and its nature.
Strength: It interrelates the organization strategic risks and organizational characteristics.
Particularly risks associated with the mission and objectives of the organizationLow-mediumLow-mediumLow-medium
Preliminary Risk Analysis method (PRA)1. PRA team; 2. Elaborating hazardous situations mapping and priority; 3. Elaboration of potential risks scenario. Strength: An effective tool for identifying high-risk dangers
Weakness: Error details are not mentioned
All, especially the early stages of a projectLow-mediumLow-mediumLow-medium
Healthcare Failure Mode and Effect Analysis1. Selection of a high-risk process; 2. Assembling the team; 3. Graphically describing the processes; 4. Conducting hazard analysis; 5. Actions and outcome measures. Weakness: 1. Use qualitative and subjective approaches to calculate error.
2. Interaction between errors is ignored.
3. Effectiveness of measures is not estimated.
*Narrow *Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems
Criticality analysis (FMECA)1. Team formation, 2. Process mapping, 3. Risk identification, 4. Determination of error roots, 5. Criticality, 6. Analysis, 7. Determine corrective actions. Weakness: 1. Use qualitative and subjective approaches to calculate error.
2. Interaction between errors is ignored.
3. Effectiveness of measures is not estimated.
*Narrow *Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems
Change Risk Assessment Model (CRAMS)1. Risk Identification; 2. Risk Assessment; 3. Risk Monitoring & Control CRAM’s Node Hierarchy. Weakness: Depend on the expert judgment.
Strength: A method for analyzing system changes
All, especially for the analysis of recent changes in systemsLow-mediumLow-mediumLow-medium
Using a GRPN-Based FMEA Model1. Select a procedure/sub procedure for study; 2. Assemble a team; 3. Make a diagram of the procedure/subprocedure; 4. Identify the failure modes; 5. Use historical data of risk factors 6-Give α and risk weights; 6. Suggest threshold; 7.  Create an FMEA worksheet; 8. Sort the failure modes; 9. Take corrective action. Strength: Using quantitative parameters to estimate and prioritize errors
Weakness: The effectiveness of measurable is not estimated.
2-Variables values are homogeneous for calculating SOD.
*Narrow *Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems and critical parameters
Bow-Tie Model1. Selection of hazards; 2. Description of the team formation; 3. Identify hazard; 4-Identify critical event; 5. Identify treat; 6. Identify consequence ;7-Identify barrier; 8. Identify escalation factor; 9. Determining recommendation and implemented. , , Weaknesses:
1. Uses qualitative and subjective approaches in calculating errors.
2. Team members should have high knowledge of their system details.
3. The effectiveness of measures cannot be estimated.
All, especially for
project in a larger safety improvement plan
1-2 Combined Models
Analytic hierarchy process and simple additive weighting (SAW) methods1. Risk identification; 2. Risk analysis included 2-1. Scoring hazards; 2-2. Scoring probability; 2. 3Prioritize function; 2-4. Pilot study; 2–5. Risk analysis matrix; 3. Risk evaluation included 3-1. Risk calculation; 3-2. Risk ranking. Strength: 1. Use of quantitative approaches to risk estimationYSYYNN*Qualitative-quantitative
Evidence-based methodologyBe used by three methods:
A - (HFMEA): 1. Topic definition; 2.  Assemble the team; 3. Graphical process; 4. Failure mode identification; 5. Failure moderating; 6. Identification of critical factor; 7. Cause analysis; 8. Identify actions and outcome measures
B - Systematic Human Error Reduction and Prediction Analysis (SHERPA):1-HTA diagram; 2- Human error identification;3Consequence analysis and check of severity scores; 4-Recovery analysis; 5-Remedy analysis
C- Systems-Theoretic Accident Model and Processes (STAMP)
1-Control structure; 2-Controls and communication problem examination.
Combined model Weakness: uses qualitative and subjective approaches to calculate error
All, specially system accidentsMedium-highHighHigh
Human Reliability Assessment
(HRA) and FMEA
1. Context analysis; 2. Process mapping; 3. Risk identification and assessment; 4. Failure modes and waste analysis; 5. Suggested improvement actions and degree of success of already taken measures. Strength: Combined model
Weakness: The validity of results depends on the collected data.
*Narrow *Qualitative-quantitative
(FMEA/FMECA)1. Selection of the process to be studied; 2. Establishment of the team; 3. Training; 4. Process modeling flowchart; 5. Identification of potential failure mode; 6. Identification of possible consequences; 7. Identification of possible causes; 8. Estimation S, O, D; 9. Calculation of risk priority; 10. Decision; 11. Approval. Strength: Combined model
Weakness: 1-Evaluation of external effects is limited.2. Interaction between errors is ignored
*Narrow *Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems and critical parameters
CREA (Clinical Risk and Error Analysis method)1. Activities Identification; 2. Activities; 3. Identification of error modes based HUMAN HAZOP; 4. Risk Evaluation based risk diagram; 5. Organizational Causes Analysis based VINCENT’S FRAMEWORK. Strength: The decision support tool is for process reengineering
Weakness: 1. Is based on personal judgment.
2. requires strong documentation
(Emphasis on work procedures)
*Systemic- humanistic
All, especially Identify possible deviations and sequential operations or proceduresHighHighHigh
Multiple modelsBe used by three methods:
A - FMEA: 1. Identify failure modes; 2. Identify severity, likelihood, and detection;3. Define failure causes
B - Hierarchical holographic modeling (HHM): 1. Define the key risk issue; 2. Decompose the risk issue into different, appropriate perspectives; 3. Further decompose the head topics into a hierarchy of subtopics; 4. Crosscheck; 5. Walkthrough each topic and sub-topic to identify risk scenarios for further analysis.
C- Technique for human error rate prediction (THERP): 1. Definition; 2. Screening; 3. Qualitative analysis; 4. Representation; 5. Impact assessment; 6. Quantification; 7. Documentation.
Strength: Combined model
Weakness: It analyzes all failures equally, regardless of their importance, and has
difficulty dealing with data redundancies,2- expensive,3- time-consuming for complex systems,4-failure modes are
considered one-at-a-time, meaning it is unable to detect common cause failures and design failures.
integrating FMEA and RCA1. Initial framework development; 2. Forming FDG group; 3. Selecting a process; 4. Mapping of selected process; 5. Implementation of the FMEA
6. RCA model included 6-1. Determine AE resulted from failures after 3 months of RPN calculation; 6-2. Benchmark ability of improved RPN to prioritize failure mode.
Strength: Combined model
Weakness: 1. Is based on personal judgment.
*Retrospective- Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems and critical parameters
Modified ANP and Fuzzy Inference System risk assessment1. Construction of risk assessment group; 2. Determine risk factors; 3. Measurement of Factor index; 4. Measurement of Ringer-saline (RS) or Ringer-lactate (RL); 5. Fuzzy inference phase; 6. Defused phase; 7. Output phase. Strength: 1-Combined model
2. Integration of possible risk factors for more accurate decision making
YSYYSN*Retrospective- Prospective
a fuzzy method based tool the risk assessment analysis1. Risk Factors, Scales and Data; 2. Identify Risk score; 3. Risk evaluation included 3-1. Risk matrix; 3-2. A decision matrix; 3-3. Obtained values as a vector of fuzzy numbers. Strength: is suitable for small business organizations with limited resources.
2- Combined model
*Prospective *Systemic
All, specially at project bid, initiation
phases and acceptance decisions
HFMEA and Structured What If Technique (SWIFT)Be used by two methods:
SWIFT method:
1. determine a hierarchical task analysis diagram; 2. a series of questions was asked at each step of the task analysis designed; 3. Identify severity
1. Assembling the team; 2. Graphically describing the processes; 3. Conducting hazard analysis; 4. Actions and outcome measures.
Strength: 1-Combined modelYYYYYN*Narrow
* Prospective
All, especially for
well-defined systems
Prospective risk analyses and
retrospective incident reporting and analysis
Prospective risk analyses:
1. Assembling the team; 2. constructed flowcharts of the selected processes; 3. identified and assessed possible risks for each process step
retrospective incident reporting:
1. define occurrence of reported incidents; 2. report any deviation from normal; 3. analyzed the reported incidents
Strength: 1. Combined model
2. Integration of possible risk factors for more accurate decision making
*Retrospective- Prospective
2- Risk Management Phases
2-1- Base models
Systemic Risk Management’ (SYRMA)1. defining and managing event and recording threats and vulnerabilities; 2. tracking identified risks in a risk register; 3. performing risk assessment and risk evaluation; 4. providing the capability of registering statistical or benchmark data; 5. setting risk priorities; 6. defining and tracking risk treatment activities. Strength:1-address both managerial and operative staff support requirements.2-Allows users to personalize their view of the
All, especially for healthcare sector and case of complex and mission critical systemsMedium-highMedium-highMedium-high
Clinical risk management
1. Identify risks; 2. Analysis risks; 3. Assess risks; 4. Manage risks. Weakness: is based on subjective and intrinsic judgmentSSYNSY*Qualitative *Prospective
All, specially for healthcareMedium-highMedium-highMedium-high
Strategic Risk Management
1. Defining the context; 2. Risk assessment; 3. Making and Communicating the decision and Action; 4. Monitoring and course correcting. Weakness: is based on subjective and intrinsic judgmentYSYYSY*Qualitative *Prospective
All, specially for project managementMedium-highMedium-highMedium-high
System risk evaluation and management1. Define the objectives and performance measures; 2. Workshop together; 3. Evaluate and priorities consequences for each alternative; 4. Evaluate system consequences and choose the best risk treatment; 5. Implement; 6. Monitor. Strength:
1 - Can understand new risks and their consequences.
2. Establish interaction between different stakeholders.
(Emphasis on problem solving variables)
All, specially for dynamic and changing organizationMedium-highMedium-highMedium-high
ISO 310001. Establish the context; 2. Identify risk; 3. Analysis risk; 4. Evaluate risks; 5. Treat risks; 6. Monitor and review; 7. Communication and consult. Weakness: is based on subjective and intrinsic judgmentYYYYYY*Qualitative *Prospective
*Holistic *Systemic
ERM(enterprise risk management)1. Establish the context; 2. -Identify risks within this context; 3. Assess risks included: 3-1. analyze risks; 3-2. Evaluate risks; 4. Develop risk treatment included 4-1. Risk mitigation; 4-2. Implement mitigation strategies. Weakness: The relative risk assessment matrix is used instead of a precise measurement for risk rating.YYYYYN*Qualitative *Prospective
ERP by fault tree analysis1. Context analysis; 2-Risk identification; 3. Risk analysis; 4. Risk evaluation included 4-1. Enterprise resource planning
decomposition and specification; 4-2. Fault tree analysis; 5. Risk Response & Treatment; 6. Risk Review, monitoring & controlling.
Weakness: 1-We can only check one event at a specific timeYYY*Qualitative-quantitative
2-2: Combined models
The combined approach(HFMEA, SHERPA) and (STAMP-STPA)1. Graphical process included 1-1. Box and arrow diagram; 1–2. HTA Diagram; 1–3. Representation of the control loop; 2. Hazard analysis included 2–1. Failures identification; 2–2. Human error classification; 2–3. Failure scoring; 2–4. Consequence Analysis; 2–5. Check the coherence of severity scores; 2–6. Hazard score calculation; 2–7. Recovery Analysis; 2–8. Selection of the critical failures; 2–9. List of the existing control measures; 3. Cause analysis;4-Identification of prevention measures and controls. Weakness: The validity and reliability of the combined model have not been measured.
Strength: 1-Combined model
SYYYSY*Qualitative *Prospective
*Holistic with emphasis on duties
All, specially for health careMedium-highHighHigh
Problem-solving strategy with embedded Six Sigma methodology1. Trained RM team; 2. The define phase; 3.  Identify, classify and prioritize risk; 4. RCA; 5-Measures process capability; 6. Prioritize, implement, control and monitor. Strength: The validity of the model is proven.YSYYYY*Qualitative-quantitative
Adaptation of the ISO 31000:2009: Six Sigma DMAIC approach to enterprise RM (ERM)1. Define phase(Mandate and commitment); 2. Measure phase included identify risk; 3. Analyze phase included risk analysis; 4. Improve phase including risk mitigation; 5.  Control phase including 5-1. The recommended improvement action plan be documented; 5–2. Monitor and review; 6. Communicate and consult. Strength:
1. Provides a more accurate decision for the organization.
2. Creates value for the stakeholders of the organization.
Error prevention methods:
(HFMEA- RCA- Structured Analysis-Dynamic systems development method (DSDM)
 Defining a Topic; 2. Assembling a Team; 3. Describing a process; 4.  Analyzing hazards included 4-1. To identify and assess potential vulnerabilities; 4-2. The HFMEA Decision Tree; 4-3. Identified causes of errors; 5. Identifying Actions and Expected Outcomes; 6. Build Iteration; and Implementation; 7. Renovating process.
Strength: Is an effective way to prevent errors in organizations.YYYYYY*Qualitative-quantitative
All, special for health careHighHighHigh

Notes: In output and information item, the status of risk management in organization was determined based on each of the phases of proposed framework. (Y: Fully performed, S: Somewhat performed, N: Not implemented).

According to the studies’ results, a simple and comprehensive framework for RM in executive levels of HCOs was suggested. The proposed framework of the present study consists of five phases that its main phases are adapted from the ISO13000 framework. The following is a suggested framework and techniques that can be used to implement risk management processes in executive levels of HCOs. Finally, in Table 5 examines the extent to which risk management based on the key phases of the proposed framework is established in healthcare organizations.

  • Establishing the context,
  • Risk assessment (risk identification, risk analysis, and risk evaluation),
  • Risk treatment (strategy determination, designing measures and decision-making, planning, and implementation),
  • Communication and consultation, and
  • Monitoring and reviews.

In the following, RM framework and techniques in executive levels of HCOs for each organization were mentioned.

Establishing the Context (Initiation and Preparations)

The first phase in the risk management process is establishing the context. The context establishment primarily paves the way for the organizational nature of the company such as the project objective and management style or organization culture. In this step, issues such as healthcare organization background, who should conduct the RM process, Identify interested parties, formulate problems, set the objective(s) of RM and Select appropriate methods for RM are reviewed. 43 , 59

The organizational RM team should be multidisciplinary and comprised of various specializations, in particular, managers, process owner experts, and RM experts (consultants and facilitators). 25 , 33 Also, the number of team members depends on the complexity of organizational issues. 33 , 40 , 43

Risk Assessment

The second phase in the risk management process is risk assessment, which involves measuring or estimating the potential frequency of losses and the potential impact of a risk on the organizations' health care. Subsequently, the risks can be ranked according to its importance for the HCOs. In general, the following three steps (risk identification, risk analysis, and risk evaluation) proposed for risk assessment in executive levels of HCOs:

Risk Identification

Describing the process and system definition.

According to the results, there were several methods for outlining risky processes that executive levels of HCOs can use depending on their needs: Textual system description, 8 , 41 , 53 , 59 activity breakdown structure (ABS), 8 radar charts, 34 flow charts, 3 , 25 , 28 , 30 , 38 , 45 , 50 , 56 , 62 process diagrams, 34 , 38 , 45 , 56 , 58 system diagram, 8 , 34 , 62 integration definition (IDEF), 35 and hierarchical task analysis Diagram (HTA) or task diagram, 26 , 28 , 35 , 42 , 57 , 62 communication diagram, 56 , 62 information diagram, 35 , 56 , 62 , 63 organizational diagram, 35 , 56 , 62 , 63 stakeholder diagrams, 56 swim lane activity diagram, 56 state transition diagram, 56 sequence diagram, 56 and data flow diagram. 56

In general, process description tools are divided into two categories of descriptive tools and process tools. Radar charts, also called Kiviat diagrams, were built in order to visualize initial and residual risks for each kind process. 34 ABS is process-oriented instead of being product-oriented, moreover, this method lacks time dimension. 8 Also, a task diagram is used for describing the hierarchy of operations and plans, system mapping for how data is transmitted through activities, Information diagrams for describing information hierarchies, organizational diagrams for describing organizational roles hierarchy and Communication diagrams for displaying information flows between individuals and Business processes and IDEF for linking between inputs and outputs in organizational activities and resources, and Sequence diagrams for interacting information between stakeholders.

According to Cagliano et al, the flow chart included the name or code of both process phase and activity at issue, actors performing the activity; inputs (information, materials, preliminary actions, orders, etc.); a detailed description of operations required by the activity; duration and frequency; controls to monitor activity progress; tools necessary to perform both the activity and related controls and outputs (other activities, information, and data). 8 Moreover, in Parand et al’s study, activities in flow chart classified based on action, retrieval, checking, selection and information, and communication. 28 In general, as the describing the process be stronger, the results of the risk assessment can be more effective.

According to Simsekler et al 36 and Jun et al. 56 Studies, specific types of diagrams were selected by stakeholders as more useful than others in identifying different sources of risks within the given system. In general, employees’ perception, the ease of use and usefulness are the main variables for choosing the most optimal system modeling tool.

After drawing the process flowchart, at this stage, organizational risks or organizational process risks are determined. The applied frameworks for identifying risks in executive levels of HCOs presented in Table 4 .

Cause Identification

Based on some risk assessment models, the effective causes and the root causes of the errors are identified at this stage. Based on the Eindhoven model, the classes of causes error classified into two main categories of latent errors (technical and organizational) and active errors (human errors and other factors). 25 Furthermore, based on the results of some studies, the causes of errors classified in the Institutional context factors, organizational and management factors, work environment factors, team factors, communication factors, individual (staff) factors, training and education factors, equipment factors, task factors, and patient factors. 35 , 36 In addition, based on the results of some studies, the Ishikawa cause-effect diagram can be used to determine the sources of errors. 37 , 45 , 48

Risk Analysis

At this stage, it is possible to estimate the risk, qualitatively, semi-qualitatively or quantitatively according to the probability of the risk. The following steps considered for risk analysis in executive levels of HCOs.

Risk Estimation (Severity and Consequences and Likelihood Estimation)

At this stage, it is possible to risk estimation according to the probability and severity of risk. There are numerous qualitative, semi-quantitative and quantitative methods that try to estimate individual components of risk for a result to better reflect the reality.

Using verbal descriptors (low, medium, or high), 26 risk weights, 25 , 34 , 38 , 49 , 59 , 61 encoding, 30 , 40 , 52 , 60 , 61 scoring tables, 25 – 27 , 30 , 32 , 37 Bayesian methods, 46 Monte Carlo method, 46 , 60 and historical data, 49 suggested for estimating the severity and probability of risk in executive levels of HCOs.

In quantitative risk estimation methods (Monte Carlo and Bayesian), activities find a probabilistic form and a distribution function is specified for them. 46 , 60 In qualitative risk estimation methods, risks are prioritized based on their potential impacts on project objectives based on qualitative variables. Qualitative methods of risk estimation can either lead to further analysis in quantitative risk estimation or directly to risk response planning. 30 , 60

Interview with experts, 32 , 53 questionnaire design, 32 , 61 Delphi method or expert, 60 and focus group, 38 , 44 , 46 , 49 - 51 , 53 identified an applied method for risk estimation in executive levels of HCOs.

Risk Presentation

Present-estimated risks based on risk presentation formats, included a single number index (e.g. 1/100,000), 27 , 37 use failure space vs success space, 54 fuzzy numbers scales, 30 , 32 , 40 , 41 , 52 , 61 tables (e.g. sizes or bands of fatalities are 1–10, 11–100, and 101–1000), 30 , 40 risk matrix, 25 , 33 , 43 , 52 , 53 , 57 graphs or diagrams (e.g. Frequency-Number (F-N) curve), 35 , 46 and maps (e.g. risk contour plot). 45

In sensitivity analysis, the management index (Risk Index x Sensitivity) provided further ranking for those risks that have equivalent Risk Indexes. Given its scope, this analysis may not necessarily constitute an integrated step of risk analysis. 49

Synthesize information about the main risk elements included risks and their causes and contributing causes, frequency or probability, consequences due to risk, and estimated risks. 49

Risk Evaluation

Risk evaluation is the process of comparing the results of the risk analysis with the risk evaluation criteria defined during the context establishment to determine whether the cyber-risks are acceptable. In this step, the following steps considered for risk evaluation in executive levels of HCOs.

Select Risk Evaluation Criteria

There was a wide range of qualitative and quantitative risk criteria or standards for evaluation of various types of errors in executive levels of HCOs. Selection of risk criteria may also depend on the results of the risk analysis and how risks are estimated. 60

Compare Estimated Risks Against the Risk Criteria and Prioritize or Rank Risks

This step concerned with making decisions about prioritization and comparison of risks to be managed, based on the outcomes of risk analysis. 27

A simple method for risk filtering was a Pareto analysis. 26 , 30 , 58 , 60 Moreover, in some studies, decision tree, 25 , 28 , 49 , 57 priority matrix, 25 , 30 , 35 criticality matrix, 34 , 44 Criticality scale, 34 , 38 , 49 , 60 and risk prioritization grid used to determine acceptable and unacceptable risks. 27 Furthermore, simple additive weighting (SAW), 32 and hazard totem pole (HTP) 60 methods can be used as practical and quantitative methods for risk evaluation. SAW was a simple and most applicable multi-attribute decision method which is known as a weighted linear combination or scoring technique. 32

Risk Treatment

This phase involved defining and implementing actions for mitigating the determined risk level and verifying that the residual risk level is acceptable. 27

Determine Organization RM Strategies

The four common organization RM strategies options:

  • Avoid: elimination involves elimination of risks at the source.
  • Reduce: The strategy of risk reduction involves reduction, but not a complete elimination, of the frequency of occurrence of undesirable risks and/or the severity of their consequences. 53 , 60

These comprise two fundamental approaches to risk reduction, which were:

  • SHARE (spread or transfers): sharing the risk to another entity and/or function. Risk sharing is carried out in different ways, including risk sharing by insurance and contract, risk transfer and physical transfer.
  • Accept: Risk can be retained in cases where it cannot be avoided or transferred. 25 , 44 , 45 , 53 , 60

Moreover, theory of problem-solving by an inventive method, 25 Generating Options for Active Risk Control (GO-ARC) Technique 64 and dynamic systems development method (DSDM) 50 used to redesign the process and improve strategies.

In the GO-ARC Technique, risk control options are divided into 5 categories (elimination, design controls, administrative controls, detection/situational awareness, and preparedness). The first three consist of the 3-tiered hierarchy of risk controls. The remaining two, detection/situational awareness and preparedness help users consider risk controls to reduce the severity of harm or prevent harm in the midst of an on-going systems breakdown; they are aimed at promoting resilience, as opposed to focusing solely on preventing systems breakdowns in the first place. In general, GO-ARC improves the trend of producing risk control options. Use of the Generating Options for Active Risk Control (GO-ARC) Technique can lead to more robust risk control options.

On the other hand, the DSDM framework is complicated to become a general framework for solving task problems. At DSDM, the primary effort is to provide software that is good enough to meet the needs of the business and that it can progress to the next iteration. 50

Additionally, the SWOT matrix with four strategy areas, SO (maxi-maxi) and ST (maxi-mini) and WO (mini-maxi) and WT (mini-mini), was used to determine strategies and corrective actions. 31

RM Measures and Decision-Making

RM strategies and measures were often difficult to compare and evaluate executive levels of HCOs. The best decision is the one that yields the greatest expected value. The interventions prioritized according to two criteria of their ability to reduce the root causes (interventional power) and perception of their implementation based on what is anticipated (reliability of intervention). 26 , 30

The best performance measures can be selected based on criteria such as safety, profitability, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, time, cost, available resources, performance, environmental conditions, and satisfaction. 41 , 42 , 45 , 46 , 59 In one study, AHP/ANP and BOCR (benefits, opportunities, costs, and risks) used to select the best RM strategies. 41

Planning and Implementation

Finally, a plan also defined risk ownership, roles and responsibilities, and time frames to implement mitigation strategies. 45 Risk governance structure was a useful tool for risk assessment planning. In this method, the roles and responsibilities of each employee determined in the RM plans. 39 , 40 , 45 Moreover, using the pilot study method 43 , 59 and simulation, 41 , 49 suggested before the implementation in a wide range.

These steps are typically performed as iterative cycles that controlled and triggered by two continuously running activities: risk review and monitoring, communication, and consultation.

Communication and Consultation

Communication and consultation with internal and external stakeholders needed to keep them informed of process outputs and let them provide inputs. 27

Risk-related information should be shared based on appropriate access levels in the exchange organization or between decision-makers and other stakeholders. These should address the issues related to risk itself, its causes, its consequences (if there is information about them), and the measures taken to deal with it.

Communication and consulting with project stakeholders can be a key factor in a favorable execution of risk management and in achieving better results. In practice, regular reporting is of important components of communication that helps senior managers identify the risks they are faced with. Summary reports prepared from risks, in fact reflect the status of the responding guidelines and the trend index of risk occurrence. 59

Work sessions, 29 , 59 intranet-based calendars, 59 reports and gatherings, 59 wiki page, 45 and PMBOOK software, 46 are suggested as tools for information exchange in executive levels of HCOs.

Monitoring and Review: (Re-Assessment – a Continuous and Cyclic Process)

Effective risk management requires a reporting and reviewing structure in order to ensure that risks are effectively identified and evaluated and responses and controls are in a timely manner. In this phase, policies and following of standards should be regularly verified and the performance of standards should be reviewed to identify improvement opportunities. 27

Various methods such as risk compliance readiness template, 45 risk project update template, 45 data management system, 60 variance analysis, 46 risk reassessment, 46 Wiki page as collaborative workspace, 45 control chart, 43 trend analysis, 46 risk auditing, 39 , 46 visual process control, 43 and communication plan 43 recognized to monitor and evaluate the effective and efficient RM cycle in executive levels of HCOs.

By conducting continuous monitoring and reviewing of risk, it is ensured that new risks are being identified and managed, and executive programs are effectively implemented and developed. 46

Given different and dynamic nature of organizations, various frameworks and techniques are used in managing and accessing organization risks. Therefore, recognizing organization RM framework is an important step in RM in executive levels of HCOs. In this study, based on a review of studies, frameworks and tools that can be used to implement organizational risk management in the executive level of HCOs are proposed.

According to the first question of this study, healthcare organizations may be faced with risks that may prevent the mission and achievement of the organization’s objectives, so at the first step of risk management, risk resources should be identified with optimal tools. 17 In the present study, using an innovative approach, a framework for identifying and classifying risks in the executive levels of HCOs was proposed. The proposed framework included three steps of input, process, and output.

Input phases considered a spectrum of inputs to help increase understanding of the system, and awareness of potential organization risks that can occur in complex and changeable healthcare systems. 36 Input phases consist of (Risk Sources, 8 , 36 Nature of Hazards, 36 and Time). 36 At the process stage, the tools that can be used as intra- or inter-organization and retrospective-prospective in the executive levels of healthcare organizations are determined. 55 Finally, in the presence of the risk stage (output stage), the identified risks were clearly registered in executive levels of HCOs. 8

Using this framework is a helpful guide for managers to identify potential error in the executive levels of HCOs. Based on the results of the study by Pott et al 57 and Similker et al, 17 different approaches should be used to identify risks in organizations, and data from different resources should be integrated to gain a general view into the risks of a system.

We have no standard answer as to which one of the risk identification tools is a more optimal tool. Each tool is used to identify a range of risks, so the best approach to identify all risks is to integrate retrospective and prospective analysis to understand a broader scope of the risks.

Based on the results of the studies, organizational risks, 8 , 26 , 31 , 45 , 59 technological supports, 8 , 31 , 34 , 40 , 45 , 60 and information and communication, 8 , 31 , 34 , 40 , 55 , 59 were identified as the most important resources of risk in most studies, so treatment of these risks is of high importance in the executive levels of HCOs.

In today’s world, when being faced with healthcare organization risks, managers have realized the need to develop a risk management framework at the organization level. According to the second and third questions of this study provides a state of the art based on the review of studies and it tried to propose a framework for risk management and techniques applicable to each of the stages of risk management and risk assessment in executive levels of HCOs. The term “framework” has a broader scope than the term “technique.” The risk management framework includes guidelines for analyzing, assessing, and managing risks in healthcare organizations. In contrast, management, and risk assessment techniques considered as analytical tools for analyzing data and risk information.

In general, the risk management framework has required stability, but there is no strong and complete risk assessment and risk management techniques that can be applied completely for risk management in organizations, and managers of healthcare organizations must make the decisions necessary to determine the optimal tool for risk management and assessment at each time and based on specific conditions and position of the organization. Therefore, Table 5 presents limitations, strengths and weaknesses and factors influencing the selection of each of the models for risk management and risk assessment in executive levels of HCOs. Therefore, the content of this table can help risk analysts, healthcare managers and other stakeholders to make rational decisions about identifying risk management and risk assessment models in executive levels of HCOs.

According to the results of the studies, there was a wide range of well-known and successful tools for single and combined risk assessment and a hierarchy of risk analysis models suggested for executive levels of HCOs.

Hierarchy of risk analysis and risk assessment models divided:

High-level tools: At this level, risk assessment tools cover a wide range of risk scenarios and provide various information for the organization based on risk scenarios. However, such tools should not be used when the details need to be emphasized in risk assessment. Some risk assessment tools employed at this level are All the combined models presented in Table 5 for analysis and risk assessment, 30 , 35 , 38 , 40 , 42 , 43 , 45 , 50 , 52 Six Sigma, 43 , 45 IRMAS, 59 CREA (Clinical Risk and Error Analysis). 35

Mid-level tools: Implementing risk assessment tools at this level makes it possible to provide the modest information and details for the organization considering risk scenarios. Some risk assessment tools employed at this level are Health failure mode and effect analysis (HFMEA), 25 , 42 , 50 HFMEA/FMEA/FMECA, 8 , 25 , 26 , 28 , 30 , 37 , 38 , 49 root cause analysis (RCA), 38 , 43 , 50 bow-tie model, 48 , 51 hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP). 35

Low-level tools: At this level, risk assessment tools evaluate the limited range of risk scenarios, but with more details for the organization. Some risk assessment tools employed at this level are: Preliminary risk analysis method (PRA), 34 fault tree analysis (FTA), 54 change risk assessment model (CRAMS), 46 change analysis (CHA), 46 human reliability assessment (HRA), 8 Pareto analysis (PA), 26 , 30 relative ranking/risk indexing (RI), 32 , 60 5 whys technique, 8 , 36 hazard checklists (HCl), 35 change analysis (CA), 28 strategic risk analysis (SRA). 31

Optimal implementation of the risk management process is nothing but the adoption of the most appropriate techniques and tools available in each phase. However, there is no strong and complete risk assessment and risk management techniques that can be applied completely for risk management in organizations, and managers of healthcare organizations must make the decisions necessary to determine the optimal tool for risk management and assessment at each time and based on scope of risk analysis, legal requirements, results/information needed data, resources and time available, complexity and size of risk analysis and type of activity or system and concerning issues. As a general rule, the best risk management tool is to overcome the participants’ mental judgment.

Most of the models extracted from the results of the study were somewhat similar and presented the same components. The three main factors that were found in all risk management models included measurement, management, and monitoring. Therefore, based on the results of the studies and the nature of healthcare organizations, the risk management process had one primary phase and four main phases. In the primary phase, the objectives and prerequisites for risk management are set out for execution. The main phases are as follows: Risk assessment (identifying potential risks, determining the likelihood and consequence of the identified risk and determining the level of the risk), risk treatment (how to reduce the impact of unacceptable risks and selecting appropriate responses to them), monitoring and reviewing (effectiveness of measures) and the latest activity of the process of communication and consultation with the stakeholders on the trend have been carried out.

The proposed framework of this study is very similar to the iso13000 framework, with the difference that more details are provided in the framework of the present study. The ISO13000 approach describes the organization’s risk management in a comprehensive, strategic, and holistic way. 45

Also, the model developed in the present study has several specific features compared with the previous models: 1) In the present research it was tried that the research literature be integrated in the field of risk management and provide a framework that is more comprehensive; 2) According to the search strategy, all risk management frameworks of healthcare organizations and organizations adaptable with healthcare organizations were examined and there was no particular dependence on the specific industry and from this perspective, they have more advantages compared to some frameworks that were established regarding a specific industry; 3) The proposed framework is provided based on the internal and external flows dominant on healthcare organization. Managers of healthcare organizations today need a structured and coherent approach to identify, analyze, and manage risk across a range of intra- and inter-organizational activities; 4) With the establishment of the proposed model in the organization, the basic assumptions dominant on healthcare organizations are examined in specific time periods and, if necessary, continuous improvement in healthcare organizations is done in a dynamic cycle.

Regarding the status of healthcare organizations in establishing each of the main phases of the proposed risk management framework, studies have identified and evaluated the risk, and the treatment phase and risk monitoring were neglected in most studies. However, risk management should be done throughout the life of the organization. New risks need to be identified and managed at every stage of the organization’s life. Also, based on Table 5 , most studies were not done at the phase of risk assessment, process mapping, and cause identification. While many system mapping approaches have been widely used in various industries, healthcare organizations have only used a limited number of them to process mapping. 62 Each process mapping tool has a specific application, and managers and professionals should use the most useful of them to identify sources of risk in healthcare organizations. The most important phase, guiding the risk management process, and determines the main policies in risk management is the phase of planning and setting objectives, which is done incompletely in most studies. Risk managers should pay great attention to risk planning; obviously, if this is not done in a fully transparent manner, the execution of risk management will be subject to some uncertainty. 43 , 46

Based on the results of Table 5, in most studies (89.6% of studies), risk management attitude was prospective and in few studies, each of prospective and retrospective risk management approaches was emphasized. Whereas, based on the results of the Kessele-Habraken et al study, the integration of prospective and retrospective analysis is important in improving the safety and optimization of organizational processes. 58

As we proposed, information about incidents and their retrospectively reported frequencies could be used as a reference point in the prospective analyses, which might facilitate frontline staff in the risk assessment. Conversely, prospectively developed failure scenarios could be used as guideline for retrospective.

Further Research Avenues and Limits

In this study, a framework for the execution of risk management in the executive levels of HCOs was proposed. Like any other management framework, successful implementation of the organization RM framework in executive levels of HCOs necessitate organizational commitment, establishing a stimulating culture, accurate planning, stakeholder engagement, strong and effective management, and use of available resources to implement the stages. Based on the results, it can be suggested that studies of risk management are increasing over time; however, there are still new cases that need further investigation and researches, some of which are mentioned below.

  • Studies evaluating the effectiveness of risk management frameworks were very scarce and the effectiveness of risk management models should be examined in the future.
  • The amount of outcome studies was not significant with respect to the investigated period (2000–2018). The outcome of most studies was also partial and lacks the necessary comprehensiveness. In most studies, the identification and assessment of risk were dealt with, and the phases of risk treatment and monitoring was neglected. Future studies, therefore, need to be implemented with a holistic view of the risk management process in healthcare organizations.
  • In most studies, the sample size was very small, and risk management was performed at a micro level in the healthcare organization and organizations adaptable with the terms of healthcare. Therefore, the risk management needs to become dominant in a more comprehensive way and in larger-scales in the healthcare organization.
  • Based on the results, various tools have been identified to achieve the risk management framework at different phases. The variety of the materials collected, together with the limited evidence for each topic, make it difficult to come to general conclusions, so it is necessary to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of risk assessment techniques.
  • In this study, risk sources have been identified theoretically and for staff areas of healthcare organizations and some risks may not have been identified, although maybe a significant threat to the health system. Therefore, we cannot claim that this framework can be extended to other organizations in the health system.
  • The volumes of the most studies of risk management in healthcare organizations are related to risk assessment, so it is recommended that all future phases of risk management in healthcare organizations be established.
  • For some phases of organization risk management, there were only conceptual studies; therefore, a feasibility study is needed to effectively implement various phases of RM in organizations.
  • Development of the organization RM framework for other areas of healthcare, development of advanced technological solutions to facilitate risk assessment, development of tools or criteria for effective and efficient implementation of organization RM frameworks, managers’ perceptions of organization RM frameworks are factors which should be considered for further research.

One limitation of this study was that the number of findings in the systemic review was dependent on the selection of keywords and input/output criteria. Therefore, more models can be extracted for organizational risk management. Also, non-English studies were not included and there may, therefore, be a bias towards inclusion of studies performed in English-speaking countries. In addition, articles were exclusively selected from journals, hence, other parts of literature, such as books, book sections, and gray literature were excluded from the process as journal articles are readily available in journal databases and are usually used as a mean of scientific communication.

Despite these limitations, this study has several strengths. First, all models of risk management and evaluation in healthcare organizations and organizations that could be modeled for the executive levels of the HCOs were examined in this study. Second, this paper contributes to the field of risk management research in healthcare. Third, the tools and techniques for risk assessment and management that are applicable to staff areas of healthcare organizations are mentioned.

Based on the findings and considering the ISO31000 model, a comprehensive yet simple framework for risk management is developed for the executive levels of HCOs. It includes five main phases: establishing the context, risk assessment (risk identification, risk analysis, and risk evaluation), risk treatment (strategy determination, designing corrective actions, planning, and implementation), Monitoring, and review, and communication and consultation.

Tools and techniques were also suggested for use at each phase of the proposed risk management framework. These techniques have been selected to best apply to non-clinical risks in healthcare organizations. Managers of healthcare organizations who seek to ensure high quality should use a range of risk management methods and tools in their organizations, based on their need, and not assume that each tool are comprehensive.


We would like to thank all the staff members who assisted with our research.

The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.

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

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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 forst 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! 

Problem solving strategies

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

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?

research risk management and problem solving skills

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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research risk management and problem solving skills

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They turned problems into possibilities.


are our ability to find an answer to a question to a solution to a problem. Research skills include the ability to gather information about your topic, review that information, and analyze and interpret the information in a manner that brings us to a solution.



1. Start broad then dive into the specifics

2. Learn how to recognize a quality source

3. Verify information from several sources

4. Be open to surprising answers

5. Stay organized

6. Take advantage of library resources




ISBN: 9780226239736

Publication Date: 2016-10-18

With more than three-quarters of a million copies sold since its first publication, The Craft of Research has helped generations of researchers at every level--from first-year undergraduates to advanced graduate students to research reporters in business and government--learn how to conduct effective and meaningful research. 


ISBN: 1137453656

Publication Date: 2015-10-19

This timely book inspires researchers to deploy relevant, effective, innovative digital methods. It explores the relationship of such methods to 'mainstream' social science; interdisciplinarity; innovations in digital research tools; the opportunities (and challenges) of digital methods in researching social life; and digital research ethics.

ISBN: 9781446295410

Publication Date: 2016-01-05

Qualitative researchers can now connect with participants online to collect deep, rich data and generate new understandings of contemporary research phenomena. Doing Qualitative Research Online gives students and researchers the practical and scholarly foundations needed to gain digital research literacies essential for designing and conducting studies based on qualitative data collected online.


ISBN: 0262042878

Publication Date: 2019-08-01

In The Joy of Search, Daniel Russell shows us how to be great online researchers. We don't have to be computer geeks or a scholar searching out obscure facts; we just need to know some basic methods. Russell explains how to frame search queries so they will yield information and describes the best ways to use such resources as Google Earth, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, and Wikimedia. He shows when to put search terms in double quotes, how to use the operator (*), why metadata is important, and how to triangulate information from multiple sources. 

or EI is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they're feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.

For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success. After all, who is more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at his team when he's under stress, or a leader who stays in control, and calmly assesses the situation?



involves being sensitive to and perceptive of other people's emotions, and having the ability to intuitively facilitate improved performance based on this knowledge. The modern workplace is characterized by open communication, teamwork, and a mutual respect among employees and their supervisors. Possessing emotional intelligence allows managers to better understand and   people they supervise.




It’s knowing what your actions and reactions are going to be and how they are going to affect other people, especially when making decisions. People who can give themselves an honest self assessment are going to be better prepared to handle whatever is thrown at them. They understand not only why they make a decision, but the fallout it may have for other people.


The next component is self regulation which is the ability to control disruptive impulses, especially in high-stress situations. Controlling those impulsive, emotional reactions is what allows professionals to formulate a constructive and appropriate response. Think of it as the bumpers on a bowling lane. They help the ball stay on track.


The third key aspect of emotional intelligence is motivation. Someone who is motivated is committed to the work itself. He/she is driven to achieve, and committed to the organization. A motivated employee is going to stand out.


Empathy is the fourth component and is incredibly important when thinking about emotional intelligence. It’s a driving force in every conversation and interaction, and it can make or break a relationship. Whether it’s a prospect, client, colleague, or manager, empathy is the ability to understand what someone is going through. It’s what allows the other person to feel understood, which is incredibly important when building any type of relationship.


The fifth and final component is social skill, which is the culmination of all of the above. It’s taking the other components and organizing them so they can be put into practice.




ISBN: 9780190698959

Publication Date: Cary Cherniss and Cornelia W. Roche [2020]

"This book describes how 25 outstanding leaders used emotional intelligence to deal with critical challenges and opportunities.. The book distills the leaders' experiences into nine strategies that can help any leader or potential leader to be more effective. Each chapter concludes with activities that help readers to apply immediately each of those strategies."

ISBN: 1633697339

Publication Date: 2019-08-06

Become a Better Leader by Improving Your Emotional Intelligence Bestselling author DANIEL GOLEMAN first brought the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) to the forefront of business through his articles in Harvard Business Review, establishing EI as an indispensable trait for leaders. The Emotionally Intelligent Leader brings together three of Goleman's bestselling HBR articles. 

ISBN: 9781633696679

Publication Date: 2019-03-26

Become a mindful listener at work. Listening is a critical skill that leaders and managers often take for granted. By learning to listen mindfully, you can keep your employees more engaged, foster the discovery of new ideas, and hear what you need to hear in a discussion rather than what you expect to hear. 


ISBN: 9781599186351

Publication Date: 2018-10-30

Improve Your EQ Success as an entrepreneur takes a lot more than big ideas and dedication. With threats of burnout and rejection at nearly every turn, the entrepreneurial journey is riddled with obstacles--but the staff, experts, and voices of Entrepreneur want you to know you're not alone. 

is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterized by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing.



in business is a way of thinking that inspires, challenges, and helps people to find innovative solutions and create opportunities out of problems. It’s the reason some companies wow us with new, amazing ideas, whilst others merely follow the beaten path. It’s the source of innovation and inspiration.


Creativity is characterized by novelty, and there are two broad processes that produce effective novelty:  . Divergent thinking can be described as generating ideas. Convergent thinking occurs when people evaluate their ideas to reach appropriate conclusions. In this sense, convergent thinking judges the ideas that arise during divergent thinking to determine their suitability.

What’s happening in the brain. Before we jump into our tips for improving divergent thinking to maximize your creative potential, let’s take a look at what’s happening in the brain during 

That is, think about what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid.

One of the easiest ways to help your brain defocus and become more associative in order to bolster your divergent thinking skills is to simply take a break from what you’re doing.

In general, the best way to get better at something is to practice. There are a wide variety of methods people can use to practice divergent thinking, such as brainstorming, free writing, and playing games.




ISBN: 9781523088256

Publication Date: 2020-06-23

Creativity is the engine for innovation, but too many people associate creativity solely with the arts, even though to be an incredible scientist, engineer, or entrepreneur requires immense creativity. The process of creativity combines wonder (inspiration, awe, audacity, and asking a lot of what-if questions) with rigor (discipline, practice, skill-building, and attention to detail).

ISBN: 9780262358392

Publication Date: 2020-02-25

The definitive book on leadership in the digital era: why digital technologies call for leadership that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and inclusivity. Certain ideas about business leadership are held to be timeless, and certain characteristics of leaders--often including a square jaw, a deep voice, and extroversion--are said to be universal. 

Publication Date: New York : Oxford University Press, 2020.

Trending skills include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning strategies, creativity, reasoning, and complex problem solving.

ISBN: 9781541674042

Publication Date: 2019-09-03

More than three decades after its original publication, Conceptual Blockbusting has never been more relevant, powerful, or fresh. Integrating insights from the worlds of psychology, engineering, management, art, and philosophy, Adams identifies the key blocks (perceptual, emotional, cultural, environmental, intellectual, and expressive) that prevent us from realizing the full potential of our fertile minds. Employing unconventional exercises and other interactive elements, Adams shows individuals, teams, and organizations how to overcome these blocks, embrace alternative ways of thinking about complex problems, and celebrate the joy of creativity. 

ISBN: 9781616893941

Publication Date: 2016-12-06

Long known as the go-to management consultant of the design world, Keith Granet reveals more of his clear-eyed insights about running a creative business in this follow-up to his book The Business of Design. While aimed at creative enterprises, Granet's advice, quickly summarized as "know what you do best and focus on that," applies to any organization, small or large, commercial or nonprofit. 


ISBN: 0071850112

Publication Date: 2015-07-31

Successful strategies must have one key element to produce spectacular results for your business-- originality. However, pure ingenuity can be hard to produce in the noise of derivative ideas and worn out processes drowning out fresh progress--which is why you need Creative Strategy Generation to help guide you through tried-and-true business practices in a fresh, new, and exciting way. 

In a nutshell,   is the ability to think reasonably, detaching yourself from personal bias, emotional responses, and subjective opinions. It involves using the data at hand to make a reasoned choice without falling prey to the temptations of doing things simply because they’ve always been done a certain way.


We live in an age if infinite information.  Everyone in a business environment should scan their business ecosystem through the information gathering from reliable and relevant sources of information.  This includes general news, business news, industry news, and digital sources such as groups, and experts.

“Winging it” is simply not acceptable.  Critical thinking and problem solving starts with aggressive preparation which means thinking about thinking and making sure possibilities are covered and all sources of information have been used appropriately to prepare for a day, week, month, year, and all activities.

Aggressive preparation is the foundation for executing plans through proactive planning and to-do lists that are realistic.  By proactively planning and being in control of information and situations, the focus can be on the tasks at hand which should be the things necessary to  .

Showing up just when the day is starting or when meetings are starting isn’t proactive and doesn’t support critical thinking and problem solving; it probably makes things worse. Being 15 minutes early allows for the ability to see things that others don’t see (or hear) and that information can be used as part of the journey.

First of all, put the smartphone AWAY!  Put it in your pocket. Unless you are in a critical position like sales or customer service where the execution of your strategy relies on your immediate reaction, put it AWAY.  Be present and focus.  Nobody can think critically if half their attention is on a leaderboard on buzzfeed.  It’s ridiculous.  After you put your phone away, then listen and learn. Each experience, each new piece of knowledge builds the ability to think more critically and solve problems of the business.

People think critically and solve problems are able to clearly share their insights without talking too much, over-selling, or blathering on about non-sense.  By clearly sharing insights, you are then able to listen to reactions and fine-tune your approaches.

Even the best critical thinkers don’t know everything; but they do have a process for figuring things out.  Acknowledge when you don’t know something and proactively seek the right information through the right resources.

Nobody likes a smartass-know-it-all.  The best critical thinkers are respectful and build resources though humility and gratitude.  They build a portfolio of knowledge and accumulate approaches and methods of problem solving that rely on other people.  The best critical thinkers understand a little sugar goes a lot further than a lot of vinegar.

One of the most important aspects of good, strong critical thinking and problem solving is doing it right and not cutting any corners.  Cutting corners will inevitably give you the wrong solution and a poor business result.

And finally, the most important rule; take immense pride and ownership in your work.  By seeking to be the best at what you do and seeking to be the best for your company, you will easily find the right paths along the journey.  Pride is the most important ingredient in critical thinking and problem solving because it implicitly drives you to figure things out in ways that you didn’t think were previously possible.



ISBN: 9781984878106

Publication Date: 2021-02-02

The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people's minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there's another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is an expert on opening other people's minds--and our own.

ISBN: 1633885984

Publication Date: 2019-09-27

Using a host of real-world examples, the authors show you how to win an argument, defend a case, recognize a fallacy, see through deception, persuade a skeptic, and turn defeat into victory. Whether you're evaluating a social media rumor or you just want to become more adept at making your points and analyzing others' arguments, The Art of Deception--now with an updated preface--will give you the intellectual tools to become a more effective thinker and speaker. Helpful exercises and discussion questions are also included.

ISBN: 1633699218

Publication Date: 2020-06-16

We've outsourced too much of our thinking. Too often, we've stopped thinking for ourselves.  What we need is a new approach for integrating these information sources more effectively, harnessing the value they provide without undermining our ability to think for ourselves. 

ISBN: 1626568766

Publication Date: 2020-05-12

Smart machines will take over millions of jobs in manufacturing, office work, the service sector, the professions, you name it. We need to excel at critical, creative, and innovative thinking and at genuinely engaging with others--things machines can't do well. The crucial mindset underlying NewSmart is humility--not self-effacement but an accurate self-appraisal: acknowledging you can't have all the answers, remaining open to new ideas, and committing yourself to lifelong learning. Drawing on extensive multidisciplinary research,

The best definition of in business involves a group of individuals working together to complete a task or a large goal. A leader's role in developing and managing the team is critical to team success.


1. Great ideas don't come from lone geniuses

2. Diverse perspectives can help you come up with winning innovations

3. Team work can make you happier

4. When you work in a team, you grow as an individual

5. Sharing the workload eases burnout

6. Dividing the work lets you grow your skills

7. Recognition from other team members can improve your productivity

8. Working in a team helps you take risks that pay off

9. When you work in a team, you'll feel less stressed

10. Good communication boosts your creativity




ISBN: 1401958141

Publication Date: Carlsbad, California : Hay House, Inc., [2020]

In this book, Mike Robbins dives deep into the ways great teams build trust, collaborate, and perform at the highest level. The book's core principles include fostering an environment of psychological safety, honoring diversity and inclusion, addressing and navigating conflict, building trust, and a maintain a balance of healthy expectations and empathy. 


ISBN: 9781119550112

Publication Date: 2020-06-10

Proven methods to push your organization to its maximum potential with responsible leadership Accountable Leaders is the real-world guide to propelling your business to extraordinary levels of performance and achievement. This invaluable guide will provide the tools and knowledge to take you and your organization to incredible levels of performance and achievement. 

ISBN: 9781119551409

Publication Date: 2019-09-24

The book helps the reader assess how his/her team is performing on each of the 5Cs--context, composition, competencies, change, and collaborative leadership, and discusses options concerning how to improve team performance along each of these dimensions. This book provides the next generation of team leaders, team members, and team consultants with the knowledge and skills they need to create effective and high functioning teams.


ISBN: 9781250231581

Publication Date: 2020-03-03

 What does it take to command a team of elite individuals? It requires a commitment to seven key principles: Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency, and Alignment. All of these are present in an elite team which commits to them deeply in order to forge the character worthy of uncommon success.

...Any new venture, whether business or personal, entails unknowns. And unknowns mean there’s risk. Entrepreneurs embrace this risk, not risk in general, but a special kind of risk. Researcher Sally Caird calls it “calculated risk taking” and describes it this way:

“Calculated is operationally defined as the ability to deal with incomplete information and act on a risky option, that requires skill, to actualize challenging but realistic goals.”


1. Risk urges you to   already existing ones

2. Fear of failure gets obliterated once you embrace a risk-taking culture

3. It inspires

4. In “fight or flight” situations you can really 

5. You 

6. The team learns to   when nothing else is left to do

7. It will give your employees a sense of ownership, a sense of exploration, the motivation to take it one step further, to 



ISBN: 9781401961800

Publication Date: 2021-03-16

Every entrepreneur is in search of their next move-that next idea with a sharp edge or fresh angle that inspires and ignites. But how do you know when to trust your gut and when to cut your losses and move on? Victoria uses principles drawn from the performing arts to prove that uncertainty is not the enemy, but a crucial step on the path, and to show that even when your plans and goals aren't clear, you can follow your curiosity, interests, and ideas forward. 

ISBN: 9781426214721

Publication Date: 2016-03-01

Are risk-takers born or made? Why are some more willing to go out on a limb (so to speak) than others? How do we weigh the value of opportunities large or small that may have the potential to change the course of our lives?   These are just a few of the questions that author Kayt Sukel tackles, applying the latest research in neuroscience and psychology to compelling real-world situations.



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Everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all encounter problems on a daily basis. Some of these problems are obviously more severe or complex than others.

It would be wonderful to have the ability to solve all problems efficiently and in a timely fashion without difficulty, unfortunately though there is no one way in which all problems can be solved.

You will discover, as you read through our pages on problem solving, that the subject is complex.

However well prepared we are for problem solving, there is always an element of the unknown. Although planning and structuring will help make the problem solving process more likely to be successful, good judgement and an element of good luck will ultimately determine whether problem solving was a success.

Interpersonal relationships fail and businesses fail because of poor problem solving.

This is often due to either problems not being recognised or being recognised but not being dealt with appropriately.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after by employers as many companies rely on their employees to identify and solve problems.

A lot of the work in problem solving involves understanding what the underlying issues of the problem really are - not the symptoms. Dealing with a customer complaint may be seen as a problem that needs to be solved, and it's almost certainly a good idea to do so. The employee dealing with the complaint should be asking what has caused the customer to complain in the first place, if the cause of the complaint can be eliminated then the problem is solved.

In order to be effective at problem solving you are likely to need some other key skills, which include:

Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed - you know enough to be able to make a quick decision and solve the problem, or you use common sense or experience to solve the problem. More complex problems or problems that you have not experienced before will likely require a more systematic and logical approach to solve, and for these you will need to use creative thinking. See our page on Creative Thinking for more information.

Researching Skills. Defining and solving problems often requires you to do some research: this may be a simple Google search or a more rigorous research project. See our Research Methods section for ideas on how to conduct effective research.

Team Working. Many problems are best defined and solved with the input of other people. Team working may sound like a 'work thing' but it is just as important at home and school as well as in the workplace. See our Team-Working page for more.

Emotional Intelligence. It is worth considering the impact that a problem and/or its solution has on you and other people. Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise the emotions of yourself and others, will help guide you to an appropriate solution. See our Emotional Intelligence pages for more.

Risk Management. Solving a problem involves a certain amount of risk - this risk needs to be weighed up against not solving the problem. You may find our Risk Management page useful.

Decision Making . Problem solving and decision making are closely related skills, and making a decision is an important part of the problem solving process as you will often be faced with various options and alternatives. See Decision Making for more.

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.

John Foster Dulles, Former US Secretary of State.

What is a Problem?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) defines a problem as:

“ A doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution ”
“ Something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.”

It is worth also considering our own view of what a problem is.

We are constantly exposed to opportunities in life, at work, at school and at home. However many opportunities are missed or not taken full advantage of. Often we are unsure how to take advantage of an opportunity and create barriers - reasons why we can't take advantage. These barriers can turn a potentially positive situation into a negative one, a problem.

Are we missing the 'big problem'? It is human nature to notice and focus on small, easy to solve problems but much harder to work on the big problems that may be causing some of the smaller ones.

It's useful to consider the following questions when faced with a problem.

Is the problem real or perceived?

Is this problem really an opportunity?

Does the problem need solving?

All problems have two features in common: goals and barriers.

Problems involve setting out to achieve some objective or desired state of affairs and can include avoiding a situation or event.

Goals can be anything that you wish to achieve, or where you want to be. If you are hungry then your goal is probably to eat something. If you are the head of an organisation (CEO), then your main goal may be to maximise profits and this main goal may need to be split into numerous sub-goals in order to fulfil the ultimate aim of increasing profits.

If there were no barriers in the way of achieving a goal, then there would be no problem. Problem solving involves overcoming the barriers or obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of goals.

Following our examples above, if you feel hungry then your goal is to eat. A barrier to this may be that you have no food available - so you take a trip to the supermarket and buy some food, removing the barrier and thus solving the problem. Of course for the CEO wanting to increase profits there may be many more barriers preventing the goal from being reached. The CEO needs to attempt to recognise these barriers and remove them or find other ways to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Our problem solving pages provide a simple and structured approach to problem solving.

The approach referred to is generally designed for problem solving in an organisation or group context, but can also be easily adapted to work at an individual level at home or in education.

Trying to solve a complex problem alone however can be a mistake. The old adage " A problem shared is a problem halved " is sound advice.

Talking to others about problems is not only therapeutic but can help you see things from a different point of view, opening up more potential solutions.

Stages of Problem Solving

Effective problem solving usually involves working through a number of steps or stages, such as those outlined below.

Problem Identification:

This stage involves: detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem.

The first phase of problem solving may sound obvious but often requires more thought and analysis. Identifying a problem can be a difficult task in itself. Is there a problem at all? What is the nature of the problem, are there in fact numerous problems? How can the problem be best defined? By spending some time defining the problem you will not only understand it more clearly yourself but be able to communicate its nature to others, which leads to the second phase.

Structuring the Problem:

This stage involves: a period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem.

Following on from problem identification, structuring the problem is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing understanding. This phase is all about fact finding and analysis, building a more comprehensive picture of both the goal(s) and the barrier(s). This stage may not be necessary for very simple problems but is essential for problems of a more complex nature.

Looking for Possible Solutions:

During this stage you will generate a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage.

From the information gathered in the first two phases of the problem solving framework it is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem. In a group situation this stage is often carried out as a brain-storming session, letting each person in the group express their views on possible solutions (or part solutions). In organisations different people will have different expertise in different areas and it is useful, therefore, to hear the views of each concerned party.

Making a Decision:

This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation.

This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. Following on from the previous step it is now time to look at each potential solution and carefully analyse it. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other problems like time constraints or budgets. It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem - sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas.

Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take - decision making is an important skill in itself and we recommend that you see our pages on decision making .


This stage involves accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action.

Implementation means acting on the chosen solution. During implementation more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out fully.

Monitoring/Seeking Feedback:

The last stage is about reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution.

The final stage of problem solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful. This can be achieved by monitoring and gaining feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It is good practice to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that occurred.

Continue to: Identifying and Structuring Problems Social Problem Solving

See also: Project Management Risk Management Effective Decision Making

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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 .

research risk management and problem solving skills

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  • Published: 11 January 2023

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature

  • Enwei Xu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6424-8169 1 ,
  • Wei Wang 1 &
  • Qingxia Wang 1  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  10 , Article number:  16 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Collaborative problem-solving has been widely embraced in the classroom instruction of critical thinking, which is regarded as the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education as well as a key competence for learners in the 21st century. However, the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking remains uncertain. This current research presents the major findings of a meta-analysis of 36 pieces of the literature revealed in worldwide educational periodicals during the 21st century to identify the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and to determine, based on evidence, whether and to what extent collaborative problem solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. The findings show that (1) collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster students’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]); (2) in respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem solving can significantly and successfully enhance students’ attitudinal tendencies (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.58, 0.82]); and (3) the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have an impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. On the basis of these results, recommendations are made for further study and instruction to better support students’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

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Although critical thinking has a long history in research, the concept of critical thinking, which is regarded as an essential competence for learners in the 21st century, has recently attracted more attention from researchers and teaching practitioners (National Research Council, 2012 ). Critical thinking should be the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education (Peng and Deng, 2017 ) because students with critical thinking can not only understand the meaning of knowledge but also effectively solve practical problems in real life even after knowledge is forgotten (Kek and Huijser, 2011 ). The definition of critical thinking is not universal (Ennis, 1989 ; Castle, 2009 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). In general, the definition of critical thinking is a self-aware and self-regulated thought process (Facione, 1990 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). It refers to the cognitive skills needed to interpret, analyze, synthesize, reason, and evaluate information as well as the attitudinal tendency to apply these abilities (Halpern, 2001 ). The view that critical thinking can be taught and learned through curriculum teaching has been widely supported by many researchers (e.g., Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), leading to educators’ efforts to foster it among students. In the field of teaching practice, there are three types of courses for teaching critical thinking (Ennis, 1989 ). The first is an independent curriculum in which critical thinking is taught and cultivated without involving the knowledge of specific disciplines; the second is an integrated curriculum in which critical thinking is integrated into the teaching of other disciplines as a clear teaching goal; and the third is a mixed curriculum in which critical thinking is taught in parallel to the teaching of other disciplines for mixed teaching training. Furthermore, numerous measuring tools have been developed by researchers and educators to measure critical thinking in the context of teaching practice. These include standardized measurement tools, such as WGCTA, CCTST, CCTT, and CCTDI, which have been verified by repeated experiments and are considered effective and reliable by international scholars (Facione and Facione, 1992 ). In short, descriptions of critical thinking, including its two dimensions of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, different types of teaching courses, and standardized measurement tools provide a complex normative framework for understanding, teaching, and evaluating critical thinking.

Cultivating critical thinking in curriculum teaching can start with a problem, and one of the most popular critical thinking instructional approaches is problem-based learning (Liu et al., 2020 ). Duch et al. ( 2001 ) noted that problem-based learning in group collaboration is progressive active learning, which can improve students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Collaborative problem-solving is the organic integration of collaborative learning and problem-based learning, which takes learners as the center of the learning process and uses problems with poor structure in real-world situations as the starting point for the learning process (Liang et al., 2017 ). Students learn the knowledge needed to solve problems in a collaborative group, reach a consensus on problems in the field, and form solutions through social cooperation methods, such as dialogue, interpretation, questioning, debate, negotiation, and reflection, thus promoting the development of learners’ domain knowledge and critical thinking (Cindy, 2004 ; Liang et al., 2017 ).

Collaborative problem-solving has been widely used in the teaching practice of critical thinking, and several studies have attempted to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical literature on critical thinking from various perspectives. However, little attention has been paid to the impact of collaborative problem-solving on critical thinking. Therefore, the best approach for developing and enhancing critical thinking throughout collaborative problem-solving is to examine how to implement critical thinking instruction; however, this issue is still unexplored, which means that many teachers are incapable of better instructing critical thinking (Leng and Lu, 2020 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). For example, Huber ( 2016 ) provided the meta-analysis findings of 71 publications on gaining critical thinking over various time frames in college with the aim of determining whether critical thinking was truly teachable. These authors found that learners significantly improve their critical thinking while in college and that critical thinking differs with factors such as teaching strategies, intervention duration, subject area, and teaching type. The usefulness of collaborative problem-solving in fostering students’ critical thinking, however, was not determined by this study, nor did it reveal whether there existed significant variations among the different elements. A meta-analysis of 31 pieces of educational literature was conducted by Liu et al. ( 2020 ) to assess the impact of problem-solving on college students’ critical thinking. These authors found that problem-solving could promote the development of critical thinking among college students and proposed establishing a reasonable group structure for problem-solving in a follow-up study to improve students’ critical thinking. Additionally, previous empirical studies have reached inconclusive and even contradictory conclusions about whether and to what extent collaborative problem-solving increases or decreases critical thinking levels. As an illustration, Yang et al. ( 2008 ) carried out an experiment on the integrated curriculum teaching of college students based on a web bulletin board with the goal of fostering participants’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These authors’ research revealed that through sharing, debating, examining, and reflecting on various experiences and ideas, collaborative problem-solving can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking in real-life problem situations. In contrast, collaborative problem-solving had a positive impact on learners’ interaction and could improve learning interest and motivation but could not significantly improve students’ critical thinking when compared to traditional classroom teaching, according to research by Naber and Wyatt ( 2014 ) and Sendag and Odabasi ( 2009 ) on undergraduate and high school students, respectively.

The above studies show that there is inconsistency regarding the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a thorough and trustworthy review to detect and decide whether and to what degree collaborative problem-solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. Meta-analysis is a quantitative analysis approach that is utilized to examine quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. This approach characterizes the effectiveness of its impact by averaging the effect sizes of numerous qualitative studies in an effort to reduce the uncertainty brought on by independent research and produce more conclusive findings (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ).

This paper used a meta-analytic approach and carried out a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking in order to make a contribution to both research and practice. The following research questions were addressed by this meta-analysis:

What is the overall effect size of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills)?

How are the disparities between the study conclusions impacted by various moderating variables if the impacts of various experimental designs in the included studies are heterogeneous?

This research followed the strict procedures (e.g., database searching, identification, screening, eligibility, merging, duplicate removal, and analysis of included studies) of Cooper’s ( 2010 ) proposed meta-analysis approach for examining quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. The relevant empirical research that appeared in worldwide educational periodicals within the 21st century was subjected to this meta-analysis using Rev-Man 5.4. The consistency of the data extracted separately by two researchers was tested using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, and a publication bias test and a heterogeneity test were run on the sample data to ascertain the quality of this meta-analysis.

Data sources and search strategies

There were three stages to the data collection process for this meta-analysis, as shown in Fig. 1 , which shows the number of articles included and eliminated during the selection process based on the statement and study eligibility criteria.

figure 1

This flowchart shows the number of records identified, included and excluded in the article.

First, the databases used to systematically search for relevant articles were the journal papers of the Web of Science Core Collection and the Chinese Core source journal, as well as the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI) source journal papers included in CNKI. These databases were selected because they are credible platforms that are sources of scholarly and peer-reviewed information with advanced search tools and contain literature relevant to the subject of our topic from reliable researchers and experts. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the Web of Science was “TS = (((“critical thinking” or “ct” and “pretest” or “posttest”) or (“critical thinking” or “ct” and “control group” or “quasi experiment” or “experiment”)) and (“collaboration” or “collaborative learning” or “CSCL”) and (“problem solving” or “problem-based learning” or “PBL”))”. The research area was “Education Educational Research”, and the search period was “January 1, 2000, to December 30, 2021”. A total of 412 papers were obtained. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the CNKI was “SU = (‘critical thinking’*‘collaboration’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘collaborative learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘CSCL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem solving’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem-based learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘PBL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem oriented’) AND FT = (‘experiment’ + ‘quasi experiment’ + ‘pretest’ + ‘posttest’ + ‘empirical study’)” (translated into Chinese when searching). A total of 56 studies were found throughout the search period of “January 2000 to December 2021”. From the databases, all duplicates and retractions were eliminated before exporting the references into Endnote, a program for managing bibliographic references. In all, 466 studies were found.

Second, the studies that matched the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the meta-analysis were chosen by two researchers after they had reviewed the abstracts and titles of the gathered articles, yielding a total of 126 studies.

Third, two researchers thoroughly reviewed each included article’s whole text in accordance with the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Meanwhile, a snowball search was performed using the references and citations of the included articles to ensure complete coverage of the articles. Ultimately, 36 articles were kept.

Two researchers worked together to carry out this entire process, and a consensus rate of almost 94.7% was reached after discussion and negotiation to clarify any emerging differences.

Eligibility criteria

Since not all the retrieved studies matched the criteria for this meta-analysis, eligibility criteria for both inclusion and exclusion were developed as follows:

The publication language of the included studies was limited to English and Chinese, and the full text could be obtained. Articles that did not meet the publication language and articles not published between 2000 and 2021 were excluded.

The research design of the included studies must be empirical and quantitative studies that can assess the effect of collaborative problem-solving on the development of critical thinking. Articles that could not identify the causal mechanisms by which collaborative problem-solving affects critical thinking, such as review articles and theoretical articles, were excluded.

The research method of the included studies must feature a randomized control experiment or a quasi-experiment, or a natural experiment, which have a higher degree of internal validity with strong experimental designs and can all plausibly provide evidence that critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving are causally related. Articles with non-experimental research methods, such as purely correlational or observational studies, were excluded.

The participants of the included studies were only students in school, including K-12 students and college students. Articles in which the participants were non-school students, such as social workers or adult learners, were excluded.

The research results of the included studies must mention definite signs that may be utilized to gauge critical thinking’s impact (e.g., sample size, mean value, or standard deviation). Articles that lacked specific measurement indicators for critical thinking and could not calculate the effect size were excluded.

Data coding design

In order to perform a meta-analysis, it is necessary to collect the most important information from the articles, codify that information’s properties, and convert descriptive data into quantitative data. Therefore, this study designed a data coding template (see Table 1 ). Ultimately, 16 coding fields were retained.

The designed data-coding template consisted of three pieces of information. Basic information about the papers was included in the descriptive information: the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper.

The variable information for the experimental design had three variables: the independent variable (instruction method), the dependent variable (critical thinking), and the moderating variable (learning stage, teaching type, intervention duration, learning scaffold, group size, measuring tool, and subject area). Depending on the topic of this study, the intervention strategy, as the independent variable, was coded into collaborative and non-collaborative problem-solving. The dependent variable, critical thinking, was coded as a cognitive skill and an attitudinal tendency. And seven moderating variables were created by grouping and combining the experimental design variables discovered within the 36 studies (see Table 1 ), where learning stages were encoded as higher education, high school, middle school, and primary school or lower; teaching types were encoded as mixed courses, integrated courses, and independent courses; intervention durations were encoded as 0–1 weeks, 1–4 weeks, 4–12 weeks, and more than 12 weeks; group sizes were encoded as 2–3 persons, 4–6 persons, 7–10 persons, and more than 10 persons; learning scaffolds were encoded as teacher-supported learning scaffold, technique-supported learning scaffold, and resource-supported learning scaffold; measuring tools were encoded as standardized measurement tools (e.g., WGCTA, CCTT, CCTST, and CCTDI) and self-adapting measurement tools (e.g., modified or made by researchers); and subject areas were encoded according to the specific subjects used in the 36 included studies.

The data information contained three metrics for measuring critical thinking: sample size, average value, and standard deviation. It is vital to remember that studies with various experimental designs frequently adopt various formulas to determine the effect size. And this paper used Morris’ proposed standardized mean difference (SMD) calculation formula ( 2008 , p. 369; see Supplementary Table S3 ).

Procedure for extracting and coding data

According to the data coding template (see Table 1 ), the 36 papers’ information was retrieved by two researchers, who then entered them into Excel (see Supplementary Table S1 ). The results of each study were extracted separately in the data extraction procedure if an article contained numerous studies on critical thinking, or if a study assessed different critical thinking dimensions. For instance, Tiwari et al. ( 2010 ) used four time points, which were viewed as numerous different studies, to examine the outcomes of critical thinking, and Chen ( 2013 ) included the two outcome variables of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, which were regarded as two studies. After discussion and negotiation during data extraction, the two researchers’ consistency test coefficients were roughly 93.27%. Supplementary Table S2 details the key characteristics of the 36 included articles with 79 effect quantities, including descriptive information (e.g., the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper), variable information (e.g., independent variables, dependent variables, and moderating variables), and data information (e.g., mean values, standard deviations, and sample size). Following that, testing for publication bias and heterogeneity was done on the sample data using the Rev-Man 5.4 software, and then the test results were used to conduct a meta-analysis.

Publication bias test

When the sample of studies included in a meta-analysis does not accurately reflect the general status of research on the relevant subject, publication bias is said to be exhibited in this research. The reliability and accuracy of the meta-analysis may be impacted by publication bias. Due to this, the meta-analysis needs to check the sample data for publication bias (Stewart et al., 2006 ). A popular method to check for publication bias is the funnel plot; and it is unlikely that there will be publishing bias when the data are equally dispersed on either side of the average effect size and targeted within the higher region. The data are equally dispersed within the higher portion of the efficient zone, consistent with the funnel plot connected with this analysis (see Fig. 2 ), indicating that publication bias is unlikely in this situation.

figure 2

This funnel plot shows the result of publication bias of 79 effect quantities across 36 studies.

Heterogeneity test

To select the appropriate effect models for the meta-analysis, one might use the results of a heterogeneity test on the data effect sizes. In a meta-analysis, it is common practice to gauge the degree of data heterogeneity using the I 2 value, and I 2  ≥ 50% is typically understood to denote medium-high heterogeneity, which calls for the adoption of a random effect model; if not, a fixed effect model ought to be applied (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ). The findings of the heterogeneity test in this paper (see Table 2 ) revealed that I 2 was 86% and displayed significant heterogeneity ( P  < 0.01). To ensure accuracy and reliability, the overall effect size ought to be calculated utilizing the random effect model.

The analysis of the overall effect size

This meta-analysis utilized a random effect model to examine 79 effect quantities from 36 studies after eliminating heterogeneity. In accordance with Cohen’s criterion (Cohen, 1992 ), it is abundantly clear from the analysis results, which are shown in the forest plot of the overall effect (see Fig. 3 ), that the cumulative impact size of cooperative problem-solving is 0.82, which is statistically significant ( z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]), and can encourage learners to practice critical thinking.

figure 3

This forest plot shows the analysis result of the overall effect size across 36 studies.

In addition, this study examined two distinct dimensions of critical thinking to better understand the precise contributions that collaborative problem-solving makes to the growth of critical thinking. The findings (see Table 3 ) indicate that collaborative problem-solving improves cognitive skills (ES = 0.70) and attitudinal tendency (ES = 1.17), with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.95, P  < 0.01). Although collaborative problem-solving improves both dimensions of critical thinking, it is essential to point out that the improvements in students’ attitudinal tendency are much more pronounced and have a significant comprehensive effect (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]), whereas gains in learners’ cognitive skill are slightly improved and are just above average. (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

The analysis of moderator effect size

The whole forest plot’s 79 effect quantities underwent a two-tailed test, which revealed significant heterogeneity ( I 2  = 86%, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01), indicating differences between various effect sizes that may have been influenced by moderating factors other than sampling error. Therefore, exploring possible moderating factors that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis, such as the learning stage, learning scaffold, teaching type, group size, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, in order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking. The findings (see Table 4 ) indicate that various moderating factors have advantageous effects on critical thinking. In this situation, the subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01), and teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05) are all significant moderators that can be applied to support the cultivation of critical thinking. However, since the learning stage and the measuring tools did not significantly differ among intergroup (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05, and chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05), we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These are the precise outcomes, as follows:

Various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively, without significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05). High school was first on the list of effect sizes (ES = 1.36, P  < 0.01), then higher education (ES = 0.78, P  < 0.01), and middle school (ES = 0.73, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the learning stage’s beneficial influence on cultivating learners’ critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is essential for cultivating critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Different teaching types had varying degrees of positive impact on critical thinking, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05). The effect size was ranked as follows: mixed courses (ES = 1.34, P  < 0.01), integrated courses (ES = 0.81, P  < 0.01), and independent courses (ES = 0.27, P  < 0.01). These results indicate that the most effective approach to cultivate critical thinking utilizing collaborative problem solving is through the teaching type of mixed courses.

Various intervention durations significantly improved critical thinking, and there were significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01). The effect sizes related to this variable showed a tendency to increase with longer intervention durations. The improvement in critical thinking reached a significant level (ES = 0.85, P  < 0.01) after more than 12 weeks of training. These findings indicate that the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated, with a longer intervention duration having a greater effect.

Different learning scaffolds influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01). The resource-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.69, P  < 0.01) acquired a medium-to-higher level of impact, the technique-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.63, P  < 0.01) also attained a medium-to-higher level of impact, and the teacher-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.92, P  < 0.01) displayed a high level of significant impact. These results show that the learning scaffold with teacher support has the greatest impact on cultivating critical thinking.

Various group sizes influenced critical thinking positively, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05). Critical thinking showed a general declining trend with increasing group size. The overall effect size of 2–3 people in this situation was the biggest (ES = 0.99, P  < 0.01), and when the group size was greater than 7 people, the improvement in critical thinking was at the lower-middle level (ES < 0.5, P  < 0.01). These results show that the impact on critical thinking is positively connected with group size, and as group size grows, so does the overall impact.

Various measuring tools influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05). In this situation, the self-adapting measurement tools obtained an upper-medium level of effect (ES = 0.78), whereas the complete effect size of the standardized measurement tools was the largest, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 0.84, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the beneficial influence of the measuring tool on cultivating critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Different subject areas had a greater impact on critical thinking, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05). Mathematics had the greatest overall impact, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 1.68, P  < 0.01), followed by science (ES = 1.25, P  < 0.01) and medical science (ES = 0.87, P  < 0.01), both of which also achieved a significant level of effect. Programming technology was the least effective (ES = 0.39, P  < 0.01), only having a medium-low degree of effect compared to education (ES = 0.72, P  < 0.01) and other fields (such as language, art, and social sciences) (ES = 0.58, P  < 0.01). These results suggest that scientific fields (e.g., mathematics, science) may be the most effective subject areas for cultivating critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

According to this meta-analysis, using collaborative problem-solving as an intervention strategy in critical thinking teaching has a considerable amount of impact on cultivating learners’ critical thinking as a whole and has a favorable promotional effect on the two dimensions of critical thinking. According to certain studies, collaborative problem solving, the most frequently used critical thinking teaching strategy in curriculum instruction can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking (e.g., Liang et al., 2017 ; Liu et al., 2020 ; Cindy, 2004 ). This meta-analysis provides convergent data support for the above research views. Thus, the findings of this meta-analysis not only effectively address the first research query regarding the overall effect of cultivating critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills) utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving, but also enhance our confidence in cultivating critical thinking by using collaborative problem-solving intervention approach in the context of classroom teaching.

Furthermore, the associated improvements in attitudinal tendency are much stronger, but the corresponding improvements in cognitive skill are only marginally better. According to certain studies, cognitive skill differs from the attitudinal tendency in classroom instruction; the cultivation and development of the former as a key ability is a process of gradual accumulation, while the latter as an attitude is affected by the context of the teaching situation (e.g., a novel and exciting teaching approach, challenging and rewarding tasks) (Halpern, 2001 ; Wei and Hong, 2022 ). Collaborative problem-solving as a teaching approach is exciting and interesting, as well as rewarding and challenging; because it takes the learners as the focus and examines problems with poor structure in real situations, and it can inspire students to fully realize their potential for problem-solving, which will significantly improve their attitudinal tendency toward solving problems (Liu et al., 2020 ). Similar to how collaborative problem-solving influences attitudinal tendency, attitudinal tendency impacts cognitive skill when attempting to solve a problem (Liu et al., 2020 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ), and stronger attitudinal tendencies are associated with improved learning achievement and cognitive ability in students (Sison, 2008 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ). It can be seen that the two specific dimensions of critical thinking as well as critical thinking as a whole are affected by collaborative problem-solving, and this study illuminates the nuanced links between cognitive skills and attitudinal tendencies with regard to these two dimensions of critical thinking. To fully develop students’ capacity for critical thinking, future empirical research should pay closer attention to cognitive skills.

The moderating effects of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

In order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking, exploring possible moderating effects that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis. The findings show that the moderating factors, such as the teaching type, learning stage, group size, learning scaffold, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, could all support the cultivation of collaborative problem-solving in critical thinking. Among them, the effect size differences between the learning stage and measuring tool are not significant, which does not explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

In terms of the learning stage, various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively without significant intergroup differences, indicating that we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking.

Although high education accounts for 70.89% of all empirical studies performed by researchers, high school may be the appropriate learning stage to foster students’ critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving since it has the largest overall effect size. This phenomenon may be related to student’s cognitive development, which needs to be further studied in follow-up research.

With regard to teaching type, mixed course teaching may be the best teaching method to cultivate students’ critical thinking. Relevant studies have shown that in the actual teaching process if students are trained in thinking methods alone, the methods they learn are isolated and divorced from subject knowledge, which is not conducive to their transfer of thinking methods; therefore, if students’ thinking is trained only in subject teaching without systematic method training, it is challenging to apply to real-world circumstances (Ruggiero, 2012 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Teaching critical thinking as mixed course teaching in parallel to other subject teachings can achieve the best effect on learners’ critical thinking, and explicit critical thinking instruction is more effective than less explicit critical thinking instruction (Bensley and Spero, 2014 ).

In terms of the intervention duration, with longer intervention times, the overall effect size shows an upward tendency. Thus, the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated. Critical thinking, as a key competency for students in the 21st century, is difficult to get a meaningful improvement in a brief intervention duration. Instead, it could be developed over a lengthy period of time through consistent teaching and the progressive accumulation of knowledge (Halpern, 2001 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Therefore, future empirical studies ought to take these restrictions into account throughout a longer period of critical thinking instruction.

With regard to group size, a group size of 2–3 persons has the highest effect size, and the comprehensive effect size decreases with increasing group size in general. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a group composed of two to four members is most appropriate for collaborative learning (Schellens and Valcke, 2006 ). However, the meta-analysis results also indicate that once the group size exceeds 7 people, small groups cannot produce better interaction and performance than large groups. This may be because the learning scaffolds of technique support, resource support, and teacher support improve the frequency and effectiveness of interaction among group members, and a collaborative group with more members may increase the diversity of views, which is helpful to cultivate critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

With regard to the learning scaffold, the three different kinds of learning scaffolds can all enhance critical thinking. Among them, the teacher-supported learning scaffold has the largest overall effect size, demonstrating the interdependence of effective learning scaffolds and collaborative problem-solving. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a successful strategy is to encourage learners to collaborate, come up with solutions, and develop critical thinking skills by using learning scaffolds (Reiser, 2004 ; Xu et al., 2022 ); learning scaffolds can lower task complexity and unpleasant feelings while also enticing students to engage in learning activities (Wood et al., 2006 ); learning scaffolds are designed to assist students in using learning approaches more successfully to adapt the collaborative problem-solving process, and the teacher-supported learning scaffolds have the greatest influence on critical thinking in this process because they are more targeted, informative, and timely (Xu et al., 2022 ).

With respect to the measuring tool, despite the fact that standardized measurement tools (such as the WGCTA, CCTT, and CCTST) have been acknowledged as trustworthy and effective by worldwide experts, only 54.43% of the research included in this meta-analysis adopted them for assessment, and the results indicated no intergroup differences. These results suggest that not all teaching circumstances are appropriate for measuring critical thinking using standardized measurement tools. “The measuring tools for measuring thinking ability have limits in assessing learners in educational situations and should be adapted appropriately to accurately assess the changes in learners’ critical thinking.”, according to Simpson and Courtney ( 2002 , p. 91). As a result, in order to more fully and precisely gauge how learners’ critical thinking has evolved, we must properly modify standardized measuring tools based on collaborative problem-solving learning contexts.

With regard to the subject area, the comprehensive effect size of science departments (e.g., mathematics, science, medical science) is larger than that of language arts and social sciences. Some recent international education reforms have noted that critical thinking is a basic part of scientific literacy. Students with scientific literacy can prove the rationality of their judgment according to accurate evidence and reasonable standards when they face challenges or poorly structured problems (Kyndt et al., 2013 ), which makes critical thinking crucial for developing scientific understanding and applying this understanding to practical problem solving for problems related to science, technology, and society (Yore et al., 2007 ).

Suggestions for critical thinking teaching

Other than those stated in the discussion above, the following suggestions are offered for critical thinking instruction utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

First, teachers should put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, to design real problems based on collaborative situations. This meta-analysis provides evidence to support the view that collaborative problem-solving has a strong synergistic effect on promoting students’ critical thinking. Asking questions about real situations and allowing learners to take part in critical discussions on real problems during class instruction are key ways to teach critical thinking rather than simply reading speculative articles without practice (Mulnix, 2012 ). Furthermore, the improvement of students’ critical thinking is realized through cognitive conflict with other learners in the problem situation (Yang et al., 2008 ). Consequently, it is essential for teachers to put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, and design real problems and encourage students to discuss, negotiate, and argue based on collaborative problem-solving situations.

Second, teachers should design and implement mixed courses to cultivate learners’ critical thinking, utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving. Critical thinking can be taught through curriculum instruction (Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), with the goal of cultivating learners’ critical thinking for flexible transfer and application in real problem-solving situations. This meta-analysis shows that mixed course teaching has a highly substantial impact on the cultivation and promotion of learners’ critical thinking. Therefore, teachers should design and implement mixed course teaching with real collaborative problem-solving situations in combination with the knowledge content of specific disciplines in conventional teaching, teach methods and strategies of critical thinking based on poorly structured problems to help students master critical thinking, and provide practical activities in which students can interact with each other to develop knowledge construction and critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Third, teachers should be more trained in critical thinking, particularly preservice teachers, and they also should be conscious of the ways in which teachers’ support for learning scaffolds can promote critical thinking. The learning scaffold supported by teachers had the greatest impact on learners’ critical thinking, in addition to being more directive, targeted, and timely (Wood et al., 2006 ). Critical thinking can only be effectively taught when teachers recognize the significance of critical thinking for students’ growth and use the proper approaches while designing instructional activities (Forawi, 2016 ). Therefore, with the intention of enabling teachers to create learning scaffolds to cultivate learners’ critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem solving, it is essential to concentrate on the teacher-supported learning scaffolds and enhance the instruction for teaching critical thinking to teachers, especially preservice teachers.

Implications and limitations

There are certain limitations in this meta-analysis, but future research can correct them. First, the search languages were restricted to English and Chinese, so it is possible that pertinent studies that were written in other languages were overlooked, resulting in an inadequate number of articles for review. Second, these data provided by the included studies are partially missing, such as whether teachers were trained in the theory and practice of critical thinking, the average age and gender of learners, and the differences in critical thinking among learners of various ages and genders. Third, as is typical for review articles, more studies were released while this meta-analysis was being done; therefore, it had a time limit. With the development of relevant research, future studies focusing on these issues are highly relevant and needed.


The subject of the magnitude of collaborative problem-solving’s impact on fostering students’ critical thinking, which received scant attention from other studies, was successfully addressed by this study. The question of the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking was addressed in this study, which addressed a topic that had gotten little attention in earlier research. The following conclusions can be made:

Regarding the results obtained, collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster learners’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]). With respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving can significantly and effectively improve students’ attitudinal tendency, and the comprehensive effect is significant (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

As demonstrated by both the results and the discussion, there are varying degrees of beneficial effects on students’ critical thinking from all seven moderating factors, which were found across 36 studies. In this context, the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have a positive impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. Since the learning stage (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05) and measuring tools (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05) did not demonstrate any significant intergroup differences, we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included within the article and its supplementary information files, and the supplementary information files are available in the Dataverse repository: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/IPFJO6 .

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This research was supported by the graduate scientific research and innovation project of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region named “Research on in-depth learning of high school information technology courses for the cultivation of computing thinking” (No. XJ2022G190) and the independent innovation fund project for doctoral students of the College of Educational Science of Xinjiang Normal University named “Research on project-based teaching of high school information technology courses from the perspective of discipline core literacy” (No. XJNUJKYA2003).

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Xu, E., Wang, W. & Wang, Q. The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 10 , 16 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-023-01508-1

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Research shows that 78% of leaders report “collaboration drag” — too many meetings, too much peer feedback, and too much time spent getting buy-in from stakeholders.

Gartner research shows 78% of organizational leaders report experiencing “collaboration drag” — too many meetings, too much peer feedback, unclear decision-making authority, and too much time spent getting buy-in from stakeholders. This problem is compounded by the fact that companies are running as many as five types of complex initiatives at the same time — each of which could involve five to eight corporate functions and 20 to 35 team members. The sheer breadth of resource commitments across such a range of initiatives creates a basic, pervasive background complexity. To better equip teams to meet the demands of this complexity, Gartner recommends the following strategies: 1) Extend executive alignment practices down to tactical levels; 2) Develop employee strategic and interpersonal skills; and 3) Look for collaboration drag within functions or teams.

Corporate growth is the ultimate team sport, relying on multiple functions’ data, technology, and expertise. This is especially true as technology innovation and AI introduce new revenue streams and business models, which require significant cross-functional collaboration to get off the ground.

  • SC Sharon Cantor Ceurvorst is vice president of research in the Gartner marketing practice , finding new ways of solving B2B and B2C strategic marketing challenges. She sets annual research agendas and harnesses the collective expertise of marketing analysts and research methodologists to generate actionable insights.
  • KL Kristina LaRocca-Cerrone is senior director of advisory in the Gartner marketing practice , overseeing Gartner’s coverage of marketing leadership and strategy, cross-functional collaboration, proving the value of marketing, and marketing innovation and transformation.
  • AM Aparajita Mazumdar is senior research principal in the Gartner marketing practice , co-leading the research agenda for marketing technology.  Her research focuses primarily on marketing strategy and technology topics such as cross-functional collaboration and marketing technology utilization.
  • AN Anja Naski is senior research specialist in the Gartner marketing practice . She edits the Gartner CMO Quarterly journal, highlighting the latest insights on critical challenges facing CMOs. Her research covers topics related to marketing operations, CMO leadership, and cross-functional collaboration.

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