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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills

problem solving skills use

  • Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.

Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.

Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the  key skills that employers  seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.

Problem-solving is considered a  soft skill  (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.

How Problem-Solving Skills Work

Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.

To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.

Theresa Chiechi / The Balance

There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.

1. Analyze Contributing Factors

To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.

To do this, you'll use skills like :

  • Data gathering
  • Data analysis
  • Fact-finding
  • Historical analysis

2. Generate Interventions

Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.

This involves skills like :

  • Brainstorming
  • Creative thinking
  • Forecasting
  • Project design
  • Project planning

3. Evaluate Solutions

Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.

This requires several skills, including:

  • Corroboration
  • Test development
  • Prioritizing

4. Implement a Plan

Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.

This requires skills like:

  • Project management
  • Project implementation
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Benchmark development

5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness

Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.

This requires:

  • Communication
  • Customer feedback
  • Follow-through
  • Troubleshooting

Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.

When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.

Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:

When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.

Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills

  • Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.

If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your  cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.

During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a  coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .

Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.

Key Takeaways

  • It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
  • Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. 

problem solving skills use

How to Nail your next Technical Interview

You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).

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How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

" We've been stuck at it for a week now, " thought Frank to himself. His team came across a simple bin-packing problem surrounding consecutive character strings that were seemingly impossible to solve, and had been running into the same error message every time someone hit the ‘Compile’ button.

The new guy on his team ( his first day ), who had been quiet the whole day, walked to the whiteboard and started jotting down something. When he was done, five minutes later, a solution pattern popped right out the whiteboard.

" Gosh! How did he do that? "

Well, we'll find out. Here's what we'll be covering in this article:

- What exactly is problem-solving?

- What will be the employer or manager looking for in you?

- How to approach a workplace problem?

- Problem-solving techniques in the workplace

Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem

Step 2: Define the problem

Step 3: Strategize a solution

Step 4: Find alternate solutions

Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything

Step 6: Choose a solution

Step 7: Implement

Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly

- What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for during the interview?

- How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?

What exactly is problem-solving?

Problems are a massive part of what we do in our day-to-day lives, be it at your home or workplace.

Problem-solving is the complete process of understanding and defining the problem, brainstorming a solution, finding alternatives, implementing the best solution, and making adjustments based on the outcome.

What do hiring managers look for?

One's problem-solving ability is a harmonious accord between instinct and immense practice. As your technical skills age with experience, so does your ability to identify patterns and solve problems effectively.

Almost each and every employer looks for effective problem-solving skills in a candidate when making a hiring decision. They look for an aspirant's natural talent to dig up patterns, look at the problem with a fresh perspective, and be realistic while providing solutions.

How to approach a workplace problem?

During computer science classes, you will find two types of students.

The first batch has a mindset that algorithms and data structures are only useful for passing the finals and getting an edge over others in interviews.

The second batch loves programming and aspires to write codes from scratch for each new project that they come across.While both mindsets may be partially correct, they do not hold up much.

In real-life situations and as part of an organization, your job drastically changes to one objective only: ' write the right amount of good code. '

For most projects, you will need to write quick, efficient codes to overcome difficult roadblocks. And the only way to achieve that skill is by getting acquainted with as many problems as possible.

Solve as many problems as possible. Learn as many Data Structures and Algorithms as you can. Get acquainted with the basics of reusing a chunk of code. Make StackOverflow your default homepage.

Does that seem too groundbreaking? Let us simplify it for you.

Problem-solving techniques in the workplace

See, a lot of people understand the problem at hand and the syntax or logic that might explain the issue. The primary thing you need to learn is how to convert your thoughts into code to all the creative geniuses out there.

If you need a comprehensive set of instructions, here are the problem-solving steps that you can adopt in your day-to-day lifestyle. This procedure applies not only to coding problems but also to other general hiccups.

While some have the mental affluence to solve problems on the go, keep practicing these daily, and you too will develop critical thinking skills.

The first and most crucial step in solving a problem is to comprehend the standing concepts behind it. Believe us when we say this, a lot of employees jump to providing suggestions before actually understanding what the problem is.

A quick way to gauge your understanding is verifying if you can explain the problem to someone else. This also ties into your communication skills, and employers will gauge your ability to converse issues and solutions effectively. It is, thus, also one of the essential interview preparation tips for you.

Hiring managers have a behavioral question that they like asking, which revolves around the following:

" How will you be explaining a complex technical concept to a person who is not very sound technically? "

Ask yourself these questions and make a note of the solutions as you go.

  • What exactly is the end goal?
  • What are the variables?
  • Do you understand every concept revolving the problem?
  • Are you familiar with the provided measurement units?
  • What information is missing?
  • Is there any unnecessary information?
  • Can you verify the information from a bona fide source?

The next step in this process is accumulating every bit of necessary information so that you can start assembling a solution. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds, and you can effortlessly mess up things during proceedings.

Strangely, at this time, do not focus on the solution. Instead, focus on defining the question.

Therefore, instead of saying ' the sale numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, ' say ' the sale numbers are inconsistent. '

Based on the information you collected in step 1, start separating the facts from estimations. Analyze the procedures that have been used previously and make precise adjustments based on the company policies.

Now that you have understood the problem and defined it, start strategizing a solution for it based on your findings. Workplace solutions can be majorly categorized into two different kinds, i.e. tactical solutions and strategic solutions .

A tactical solution is a short-term fix for a standing obstacle, more like a workaround for an issue. Imagine reusing a piece of code from your last project to get around that pesky error message in your new one.

A strategic solution, on the other hand, is a long-term fix for an issue. Strategic solutions involve using a comprehensive series of steps to find the overall architecture of a problem.

Usually, workplaces adopt the following problem-solving strategies into their policies.

  • Use logical reasoning
  • Recognize patterns
  • Reverse engineer the problem
  • Try a different point of view
  • Consider worst-case scenarios
  • Relate to a more straightforward real-life problem
  • Data organization
  • Prepare a visual representation
  • Take all possibilities into account
  • Intelligent guessing and testing

Your goal as an employee should be to become as fluent in these strategies as possible. Once you can naturally zoom into the problem, you will be able to form a strategy within minutes, without having to write anything down.

Are you starting to understand how the new guy deduced a solution that quickly?

Keeping the goals and objectives in mind, understand that there's always more than one way to skin a cat . Invite your team members and other experienced guys to brainstorm ideas alongside you.

For each problem, you should be able to find at least THREE different points of view or solutions, each with a unique USP.

Here's a neat little trick you may find useful someday in your career. Invite everyone associated with the project to this brainstorming session. Making sure that everybody gets equal participation is one of the ways you can exhibit your leadership skills while forging strong workplace relationships.

Now that you have found alternate solutions as well, it's time to evaluate these solutions. You will need to assess each solution based on various factors and list down all the pros and cons of each alternative you found in solution 4.

Create a document or spreadsheet listing down the USPs of each alternative and the positive and negative consequences thereby. You can go on adding other columns such as budget constraints, time allocation, resource requirements, workforce, and other relevant data.

The ability to quickly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. A manager will be able to evaluate and implement solutions based on such factors quickly. Train yourself to find as many parameters as you can find to analyze solutions effectively.

Basically, your main objective is to find one effective solution out of all the ones provided on the list. The solution you choose depends on various parameters, which can be one or all of the following:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Practicality
  • Company policies and procedures

You can promote strong work ethics by running the chosen solution by everyone in your team or involved in the project before implementing it. Also, select the employees who will be actively implementing it, and ask for their feedback.

Implementing a solution does not merely mean diving headfirst with anything that you do. After you have collected the feedback and communicated the solution to everybody involved, here's what you will need to do next.

First, redefine the objectives , in brief, to help get a better idea of the end goal. Develop a simple action plan with defined timelines for the solution that you agreed upon in the step above.

Implement the chosen solution according to the action plan. Then, identify the measurable parameters to track success and failure rates.

Finally, set up communication channels for regular feedback and a contingency plan in case of a failure.

The last problem-solving step involves actively monitoring how the solution performs in real life and if it meets the end goal for which it was adopted in the first place.

Tally how the solution functions compared to how you expected it to perform and document all changes. Check the feedback channel for any discrepancy or issues that arise during the process.

If you feel that any modification will further optimize the process, implement it after running it with your team.

Improving problem-solving skills for programmers

  • Understand the question and classify it as Corner-case or Edge-case
  • Simplify and optimize your steps
  • Write line-by-line pseudo code, focusing on the logic and steps rather than the syntax
  • Translate it into a code
  • Debug and remove repetitions
  • Write comments to help you understand
  • Get feedback regularly
  • Practice again

What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for in interviews?

Problem-solving in the workplace is one of the most sought-after skills in any organization. During the interview, if you can highlight your ability to find creative solutions quickly along with your technical skills , you definitely have a better chance of making it to the next round.

Hiring managers tend to leave specific questions open-ended; the notion being that without a trail for the candidate to follow, they'll be able to understand better how the candidate thinks.

Some of the crucial problem-solving skills that employers look for in the candidate include the following:

" Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. " – Helen Keller

Effective problem-solving encompasses teamwork. As a problem-solver ( and a leader ), you need to show empathy towards your teammates, develop effective feedback channels, and use their input to solve the problem at hand.

problem solving skills use

Listening skills

A good listener in the workplace will be able to gather more valuable information and then use them to find unique solutions in the least possible time. Additionally, an active listener encourages every team member to get involved in the problem-solving steps , listens to their feedback, and comes up with a profitable solution.

However, ' saying ' that you have good listening skills outright defeats the purpose.

During the interview , maintain your composure and LISTEN quietly to the problem at hand. Understand the problem and its root cause; only then provide a solution.

Communication

Irrespective of the nature of a problem, you need to be able to communicate the issue and any possible solution effectively to everybody else involved in the project. You need to brush up your delivery skills and learn which points to communicate first and last.

Interviewers may either ask your proficiency with various communication channels such as e-mail, phone, and text or give you a behavioral task and test your ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.

Creativity and critical thinking

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou

Employers in this day and age are always on the lookout for an innovative thinker, one who can see the problem with a new set of eyes and bring a unique perspective to the team. You need to be able to establish the balance between cause and effect quickly, anticipate long-term effects of a solution that you implement, and lead your team to a new direction when stuck.

Decision-making

More often than not, decision-making is closely tied to an employee's problem-solving ability . Besides implementing solutions that your team comes up with, you should also be able to foresee the long-term effects and prevent catastrophes.

With quality technical interview preparation courses , you can further understand the importance of this step.  

How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?

Your resume is the first document that a hiring manager sees. The experience and skills you mention in your resume can help you secure an interview if it catches the recruiter's attention.

The first approach you can adopt is highlighting your analysis and problem-solving skills right under the hard skills. This approach shows that you are confident in your technical skills and can find and implement work-based solutions efficiently.

For a full-stack web developer, the following problem-solving skills can be mentioned.

Critical and creative thinking and proficient in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, NPM, Database Storage, Ruby on Rails. Good at problem-solving and working in teams.

Secondly, you can list your problem-solving ability under the work experience section. This is an excellent way to highlight your job experience and emphasizes that you learn and implement these skills in your work.

  • Analyzed customer service feedback to predict interest in a sales campaign to attract a target audience group.
  • Documented the standard processes and scripts using specialized software solutions which led to customer satisfaction increased by 45% in a quarter.
  • Researched and launched a mobile app that reduced the school pickup time by 21 minutes.
  • Altered the inventory safeguard protocols during hurricane season, saving $1 million in wastage.

Apart from using problem-solving skills in your workplace , a quick way to develop your skills is to ask many questions. Only by asking questions and analyzing the information at hand can you build a workplace reputation as someone who handles challenging situations wisely.

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Vartika Rai

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

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

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

Problem solving strategies

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

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

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

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

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

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

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

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

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

2. Problem analysis 

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

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

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

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

3. Solution generation

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

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

4. Solution development

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

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

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

5. Decision making 

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

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

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

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

6. Solution implementation 

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

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

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

7. Solution evaluation 

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

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

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

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

Problem solving workshops made easy

problem solving skills use

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.

Collaboration

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.

Communication  

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

Dependability

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!

Facilitation

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.

Flexibility 

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.

Initiative 

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.

Impartiality

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.

Planning 

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.

Prioritization

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.

Team-building 

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

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

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

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

Time management 

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

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

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

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

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

Share best practices

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

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

Ask for help and attend training

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

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

Learn a process 

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

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

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

Create a feedback loop

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

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

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

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

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

Use expert exercises and methods

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

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

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to design better group processes?

problem solving skills use

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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Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

What is problem solving and why is it important.

Defining problem solving skills

The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.

Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.

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

Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.

What Does Problem Solving Look Like?

IDEAL heuristic strategy for problem solving

The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.

Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.

But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :

  • I dentify the problem
  • D efine the context of the problem
  • E xplore possible strategies
  • A ct on best solution

IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.

Watch the video

What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].

[PDF transcript]

Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

Developing Problem Solving Processes

Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.

What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .

Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.

The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.

Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.

Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!

  • [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.

“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM

Voices From the Field: Solving Problems

In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.

In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.

Meet the Partners:

  • Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
  • Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
  • H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
  • Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.

Making Decisions

Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.

Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.

Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.

What problems did you observe in the video?

  • [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
  • What do you do next?
  • Try to fix it yourself.
  • Ask your trainer for help.

As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.

You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.

screenshot of cnc problem

  • Check the dowel pins.
  • Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.

ask help from a more experienced person

  • Run the single step/single block function.
  • Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.

You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.

Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.

You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.

  • Look at the G-code.

After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.

You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.

idea at cnc machine

After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.

software or hardware problem

As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.

It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.

  • You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
  • You leave a note on the machine, just in case.

You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.

While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.

  • You decide to talk with your supervisor.
  • You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.

As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?

Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.

From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.

Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.

Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.

Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.

It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.

You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.

In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.

You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.

At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.

In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.

The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.

Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.

You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.

Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.

It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.

How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?

In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.

You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.

You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.

You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.

When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.

You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.

Root Cause Analysis

flower root cause of a problem

Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

  • Determine what happened.
  • Determine why it happened.
  • Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.

RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:

  • Root Cause Analysis Tools
  • 5 Whys Analysis
  • Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
  • Pareto Analysis

5 whys diagram root cause

How Huddles Work

group huddle discussion meeting

Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.

One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.

Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:

  • Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
  • Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
  • Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .

Brainstorming

brainstorming small lightbulbs combined become a big idea

One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.

  • Define a clear objective.
  • Have an agreed a time limit.
  • During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
  • If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
  • Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
  • Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.

When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.

  • Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
  • Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .

Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description

talking too much when describing a problem

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.

Tips for clear communication of an issue:

  • Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
  • Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
  • Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
  • If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
  • Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.

Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.

Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .

Methods of Communication

different ways to communicate

Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.

Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.

Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

  • [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

Summary of Strategies

In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.

When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.

There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.

If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.

One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.

Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.

In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.

  • View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.

  • Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma

Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill

Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.

The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.

In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.

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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And How To List On A Resume)

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Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation.

Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That’s why employers value problem-solving skills in job candidates for just about every role.

We’ll cover problem-solving methods, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and examples of showcasing your problem-solving skills during your job search .

Key Takeaways:

If you can show off your problem-solving skills on your resume , in your cover letter , and during a job interview, you’ll be one step closer to landing a job.

Companies rely on employees who can handle unexpected challenges, identify persistent issues, and offer workable solutions in a positive way.

It is important to improve problem solving skill because this is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.

What are problem solving skills (definition, examples, and how to list on a resume)

Types of Problem-Solving Skills

How to improve your problem-solving skills, example answers to problem-solving interview questions, how to show off problem-solving skills on a resume, example resume and cover letter with problem-solving skills, more about problem-solving skills, problem solving skills faqs.

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Problem-solving skills are skills that help you identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently . Your ability to solve problems is one of the main ways that hiring managers and recruiters assess candidates, as those with excellent problem-solving skills are more likely to autonomously carry out their responsibilities.

A true problem solver can look at a situation, find the cause of the problem (or causes, because there are often many issues at play), and then come up with a reasonable solution that effectively fixes the problem or at least remedies most of it.

The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill , meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on the job, or through technical training.

That being said, your proficiency with various hard skills will have a direct bearing on your ability to solve problems. For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a great problem-solver; if you have no experience with astrophysics, you probably won’t be hired as a space station technician .

Problem-solving is considered a skill on its own, but it’s supported by many other skills that can help you be a better problem solver. These skills fall into a few different categories of problem-solving skills.

Problem recognition and analysis. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and discover what it is or what the root cause of it is.

You can’t begin to solve a problem unless you’re aware of it. Sometimes you’ll see the problem yourself and other times you’ll be told about the problem. Both methods of discovery are very important, but they can require some different skills. The following can be an important part of the process:

Active listening

Data analysis

Historical analysis

Communication

Create possible solutions. You know what the problem is, and you might even know the why of it, but then what? Your next step is the come up with some solutions.

Most of the time, the first solution you come up with won’t be the right one. Don’t fall victim to knee-jerk reactions; try some of the following methods to give you solution options.

Brainstorming

Forecasting

Decision-making

Topic knowledge/understanding

Process flow

Evaluation of solution options. Now that you have a lot of solution options, it’s time to weed through them and start casting some aside. There might be some ridiculous ones, bad ones, and ones you know could never be implemented. Throw them away and focus on the potentially winning ideas.

This step is probably the one where a true, natural problem solver will shine. They intuitively can put together mental scenarios and try out solutions to see their plusses and minuses. If you’re still working on your skill set — try listing the pros and cons on a sheet of paper.

Prioritizing

Evaluating and weighing

Solution implementation. This is your “take action” step. Once you’ve decided which way to go, it’s time to head down that path and see if you were right. This step takes a lot of people and management skills to make it work for you.

Dependability

Teambuilding

Troubleshooting

Follow-Through

Believability

Trustworthiness

Project management

Evaluation of the solution. Was it a good solution? Did your plan work or did it fail miserably? Sometimes the evaluation step takes a lot of work and review to accurately determine effectiveness. The following skills might be essential for a thorough evaluation.

Customer service

Feedback responses

Flexibility

You now have a ton of skills in front of you. Some of them you have naturally and some — not so much. If you want to solve a problem, and you want to be known for doing that well and consistently, then it’s time to sharpen those skills.

Develop industry knowledge. Whether it’s broad-based industry knowledge, on-the-job training , or very specific knowledge about a small sector — knowing all that you can and feeling very confident in your knowledge goes a long way to learning how to solve problems.

Be a part of a solution. Step up and become involved in the problem-solving process. Don’t lead — but follow. Watch an expert solve the problem and, if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to solve a problem, too. Pay attention to the steps and the skills that a person uses.

Practice solving problems. Do some role-playing with a mentor , a professor , co-workers, other students — just start throwing problems out there and coming up with solutions and then detail how those solutions may play out.

Go a step further, find some real-world problems and create your solutions, then find out what they did to solve the problem in actuality.

Identify your weaknesses. If you could easily point out a few of your weaknesses in the list of skills above, then those are the areas you need to focus on improving. How you do it is incredibly varied, so find a method that works for you.

Solve some problems — for real. If the opportunity arises, step in and use your problem-solving skills. You’ll never really know how good (or bad) you are at it until you fail.

That’s right, failing will teach you so much more than succeeding will. You’ll learn how to go back and readdress the problem, find out where you went wrong, learn more from listening even better. Failure will be your best teacher ; it might not make you feel good, but it’ll make you a better problem-solver in the long run.

Once you’ve impressed a hiring manager with top-notch problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter , you’ll need to continue selling yourself as a problem-solver in the job interview.

There are three main ways that employers can assess your problem-solving skills during an interview:

By asking questions that relate to your past experiences solving problems

Posing hypothetical problems for you to solve

By administering problem-solving tests and exercises

The third method varies wildly depending on what job you’re applying for, so we won’t attempt to cover all the possible problem-solving tests and exercises that may be a part of your application process.

Luckily, interview questions focused on problem-solving are pretty well-known, and most can be answered using the STAR method . STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and it’s a great way to organize your answers to behavioral interview questions .

Let’s take a look at how to answer some common interview questions built to assess your problem-solving capabilities:

At my current job as an operations analyst at XYZ Inc., my boss set a quarterly goal to cut contractor spending by 25% while maintaining the same level of production and moving more processes in-house. It turned out that achieving this goal required hiring an additional 6 full-time employees, which got stalled due to the pandemic. I suggested that we widen our net and hire remote employees after our initial applicant pool had no solid candidates. I ran the analysis on overhead costs and found that if even 4 of the 6 employees were remote, we’d save 16% annually compared to the contractors’ rates. In the end, all 6 employees we hired were fully remote, and we cut costs by 26% while production rose by a modest amount.
I try to step back and gather research as my first step. For instance, I had a client who needed a graphic designer to work with Crello, which I had never seen before, let alone used. After getting the project details straight, I began meticulously studying the program the YouTube tutorials, and the quick course Crello provides. I also reached out to coworkers who had worked on projects for this same client in the past. Once I felt comfortable with the software, I started work immediately. It was a slower process because I had to be more methodical in my approach, but by putting in some extra hours, I turned in the project ahead of schedule. The client was thrilled with my work and was shocked to hear me joke afterward that it was my first time using Crello.
As a digital marketer , website traffic and conversion rates are my ultimate metrics. However, I also track less visible metrics that can illuminate the story behind the results. For instance, using Google Analytics, I found that 78% of our referral traffic was coming from one affiliate, but that these referrals were only accounting for 5% of our conversions. Another affiliate, who only accounted for about 10% of our referral traffic, was responsible for upwards of 30% of our conversions. I investigated further and found that the second, more effective affiliate was essentially qualifying our leads for us before sending them our way, which made it easier for us to close. I figured out exactly how they were sending us better customers, and reached out to the first, more prolific but less effective affiliate with my understanding of the results. They were able to change their pages that were referring us traffic, and our conversions from that source tripled in just a month. It showed me the importance of digging below the “big picture” metrics to see the mechanics of how revenue was really being generated through digital marketing.

You can bring up your problem-solving skills in your resume summary statement , in your work experience , and under your education section , if you’re a recent graduate. The key is to include items on your resume that speak direclty to your ability to solve problems and generate results.

If you can, quantify your problem-solving accomplishments on your your resume . Hiring managers and recruiters are always more impressed with results that include numbers because they provide much-needed context.

This sample resume for a Customer Service Representative will give you an idea of how you can work problem solving into your resume.

Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Professional Summary Qualified Customer Services Representative with 3 years in a high-pressure customer service environment. Professional, personable, and a true problem solver. Work History ABC Store — Customer Service Representative 01/2015 — 12/2017 Managed in-person and phone relations with customers coming in to pick up purchases, return purchased products, helped find and order items not on store shelves, and explained details and care of merchandise. Became a key player in the customer service department and was promoted to team lead. XYZ Store — Customer Service Representative/Night Manager 01/2018 — 03/2020, released due to Covid-19 layoffs Worked as the night manager of the customer service department and filled in daytime hours when needed. Streamlined a process of moving customers to the right department through an app to ease the burden on the phone lines and reduce customer wait time by 50%. Was working on additional wait time problems when the Covid-19 pandemic caused our stores to close permanently. Education Chicago Tech 2014-2016 Earned an Associate’s Degree in Principles of Customer Care Skills Strong customer service skills Excellent customer complaint resolution Stock record management Order fulfillment New product information Cash register skills and proficiency Leader in problem solving initiatives

You can see how the resume gives you a chance to point out your problem-solving skills and to show where you used them a few times. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and list a few things that make you stand out from the crowd.

Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Dear Mary McDonald, I am writing in response to your ad on Zippia for a Customer Service Representative . Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this position. Many people believe that a job in customer service is simply listening to people complain all day. I see the job as much more than that. It’s an opportunity to help people solve problems, make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and turn them into life-long advocates of your brand. Through my years of experience and my educational background at Chicago Tech, where I earned an Associate’s Degree in the Principles of Customer Care, I have learned that the customers are the lifeline of the business and without good customer service representatives, a business will falter. I see it as my mission to make each and every customer I come in contact with a fan. I have more than five years of experience in the Customer Services industry and had advanced my role at my last job to Night Manager. I am eager to again prove myself as a hard worker, a dedicated people person, and a problem solver that can be relied upon. I have built a professional reputation as an employee that respects all other employees and customers, as a manager who gets the job done and finds solutions when necessary, and a worker who dives in to learn all she can about the business. Most of my customers have been very satisfied with my resolution ideas and have returned to do business with us again. I believe my expertise would make me a great match for LMNO Store. I have enclosed my resume for your review, and I would appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications. Thank you again for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Michelle Beattle

You’ve no doubt noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities or talents is so important to the entire course of getting a problem solved.

In fact, they’re worthy of a little more attention. Many of them are similar, so we’ll pull them together and discuss how they’re important and how they work together.

Communication, active listening, and customer service skills. No matter where you are in the process of problem-solving, you need to be able to show that you’re listening and engaged and really hearing what the problem is or what a solution may be.

Obviously, the other part of this is being able to communicate effectively so people understand what you’re saying without confusion. Rolled into this are customer service skills , which really are all about listening and responding appropriately — it’s the ultimate in interpersonal communications.

Analysis (data and historical), research, and topic knowledge/understanding. This is how you intellectually grasp the issue and approach it. This can come from studying the topic and the process or it can come from knowledge you’ve gained after years in the business. But the best solutions come from people who thoroughly understand the problem.

Creativity, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and flexibility. All of you creative thinkers will like this area because it’s when your brain is at its best.

Coming up with ideas, collaborating with others, leaping over hurdles, and then being able to change courses immediately, if need be, are all essential. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of diverse thinkers can help you in this area.

Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through. Think about it, these are all traits a person needs to have to make change happen and to make you comfortable taking that next step with them. Someone who is shifty and shady and never follows through, well, you’re simply not going to do what they ask, are you?

Leadership, teambuilding, decision-making, and project management. These are the skills that someone who is in charge is brimming with. These are the leaders you enjoy working for because you know they’re doing what they can to keep everything in working order. These skills can be learned but they’re often innate.

Prioritizing, prediction, forecasting, evaluating and weighing, and process flow. If you love flow charts, data analysis, prediction modeling, and all of that part of the equation, then you might have some great problem-solving abilities.

These are all great skills because they can help you weed out bad ideas, see flaws, and save massive amounts of time in trial and error.

What is a good example of problem-solving skills?

Good examples of porblem-solving skills include research, analysis, creativity, communciation, and decision-making. Each of these skills build off one another to contribute to the problem solving process. Research and analysis allow you to identify a problem.

Creativity and analysis help you consider different solutions. Meanwhile, communication and decision-making are key to working with others to solve a problem on a large scale.

What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver?

3 key attributes of a good problem solver are persistence, intellegince, and empathy. Persistence is crucial to remain motivated to work through challenges. Inellegince is needed to make smart, informed choices. Empathy is crucial to maintain positive relationships with others as well as yourself.

What can I say instead of problem-solving skills?

Instead of saying problem-solving skills, you can say the following:

Critical thinker

Solutions-oriented

Engineering

Using different words is helpful, especially when writing your resume and cover letter.

What is problem-solving in the workplace?

Problem-solving in the workplace is the ability to work through any sort of challenge, conflict, or unexpected situation and still achieve business goals. Though it varies by profession, roblem-solving in the workplace is very important for almost any job, because probelms are inevitable. You need to have the appropriate level of problem-solving skills if you want to succeed in your career, whatever it may be.

Department of Labor – Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

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Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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Self-Assessment • 20 min read

How Good Is Your Problem Solving?

Use a systematic approach..

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving skills use

Good problem solving skills are fundamentally important if you're going to be successful in your career.

But problems are something that we don't particularly like.

They're time-consuming.

They muscle their way into already packed schedules.

They force us to think about an uncertain future.

And they never seem to go away!

That's why, when faced with problems, most of us try to eliminate them as quickly as possible. But have you ever chosen the easiest or most obvious solution – and then realized that you have entirely missed a much better solution? Or have you found yourself fixing just the symptoms of a problem, only for the situation to get much worse?

To be an effective problem-solver, you need to be systematic and logical in your approach. This quiz helps you assess your current approach to problem solving. By improving this, you'll make better overall decisions. And as you increase your confidence with solving problems, you'll be less likely to rush to the first solution – which may not necessarily be the best one.

Once you've completed the quiz, we'll direct you to tools and resources that can help you make the most of your problem-solving skills.

How Good Are You at Solving Problems?

Instructions.

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

Answering these questions should have helped you recognize the key steps associated with effective problem solving.

This quiz is based on Dr Min Basadur's Simplexity Thinking problem-solving model. This eight-step process follows the circular pattern shown below, within which current problems are solved and new problems are identified on an ongoing basis. This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only.

Below, we outline the tools and strategies you can use for each stage of the problem-solving process. Enjoy exploring these stages!

Step 1: Find the Problem (Questions 7, 12)

Some problems are very obvious, however others are not so easily identified. As part of an effective problem-solving process, you need to look actively for problems – even when things seem to be running fine. Proactive problem solving helps you avoid emergencies and allows you to be calm and in control when issues arise.

These techniques can help you do this:

PEST Analysis helps you pick up changes to your environment that you should be paying attention to. Make sure too that you're watching changes in customer needs and market dynamics, and that you're monitoring trends that are relevant to your industry.

Risk Analysis helps you identify significant business risks.

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis helps you identify possible points of failure in your business process, so that you can fix these before problems arise.

After Action Reviews help you scan recent performance to identify things that can be done better in the future.

Where you have several problems to solve, our articles on Prioritization and Pareto Analysis help you think about which ones you should focus on first.

Step 2: Find the Facts (Questions 10, 14)

After identifying a potential problem, you need information. What factors contribute to the problem? Who is involved with it? What solutions have been tried before? What do others think about the problem?

If you move forward to find a solution too quickly, you risk relying on imperfect information that's based on assumptions and limited perspectives, so make sure that you research the problem thoroughly.

Step 3: Define the Problem (Questions 3, 9)

Now that you understand the problem, define it clearly and completely. Writing a clear problem definition forces you to establish specific boundaries for the problem. This keeps the scope from growing too large, and it helps you stay focused on the main issues.

A great tool to use at this stage is CATWOE . With this process, you analyze potential problems by looking at them from six perspectives, those of its Customers; Actors (people within the organization); the Transformation, or business process; the World-view, or top-down view of what's going on; the Owner; and the wider organizational Environment. By looking at a situation from these perspectives, you can open your mind and come to a much sharper and more comprehensive definition of the problem.

Cause and Effect Analysis is another good tool to use here, as it helps you think about the many different factors that can contribute to a problem. This helps you separate the symptoms of a problem from its fundamental causes.

Step 4: Find Ideas (Questions 4, 13)

With a clear problem definition, start generating ideas for a solution. The key here is to be flexible in the way you approach a problem. You want to be able to see it from as many perspectives as possible. Looking for patterns or common elements in different parts of the problem can sometimes help. You can also use metaphors and analogies to help analyze the problem, discover similarities to other issues, and think of solutions based on those similarities.

Traditional brainstorming and reverse brainstorming are very useful here. By taking the time to generate a range of creative solutions to the problem, you'll significantly increase the likelihood that you'll find the best possible solution, not just a semi-adequate one. Where appropriate, involve people with different viewpoints to expand the volume of ideas generated.

Tip: Don't evaluate your ideas until step 5. If you do, this will limit your creativity at too early a stage.

Step 5: Select and Evaluate (Questions 6, 15)

After finding ideas, you'll have many options that must be evaluated. It's tempting at this stage to charge in and start discarding ideas immediately. However, if you do this without first determining the criteria for a good solution, you risk rejecting an alternative that has real potential.

Decide what elements are needed for a realistic and practical solution, and think about the criteria you'll use to choose between potential solutions.

Paired Comparison Analysis , Decision Matrix Analysis and Risk Analysis are useful techniques here, as are many of the specialist resources available within our Decision-Making section . Enjoy exploring these!

Step 6: Plan (Questions 1, 16)

You might think that choosing a solution is the end of a problem-solving process. In fact, it's simply the start of the next phase in problem solving: implementation. This involves lots of planning and preparation. If you haven't already developed a full Risk Analysis in the evaluation phase, do so now. It's important to know what to be prepared for as you begin to roll out your proposed solution.

The type of planning that you need to do depends on the size of the implementation project that you need to set up. For small projects, all you'll often need are Action Plans that outline who will do what, when, and how. Larger projects need more sophisticated approaches – you'll find out more about these in the article What is Project Management? And for projects that affect many other people, you'll need to think about Change Management as well.

Here, it can be useful to conduct an Impact Analysis to help you identify potential resistance as well as alert you to problems you may not have anticipated. Force Field Analysis will also help you uncover the various pressures for and against your proposed solution. Once you've done the detailed planning, it can also be useful at this stage to make a final Go/No-Go Decision , making sure that it's actually worth going ahead with the selected option.

Step 7: Sell the Idea (Questions 5, 8)

As part of the planning process, you must convince other stakeholders that your solution is the best one. You'll likely meet with resistance, so before you try to “sell” your idea, make sure you've considered all the consequences.

As you begin communicating your plan, listen to what people say, and make changes as necessary. The better the overall solution meets everyone's needs, the greater its positive impact will be! For more tips on selling your idea, read our article on Creating a Value Proposition and use our Sell Your Idea Skillbook.

Step 8: Act (Questions 2, 11)

Finally, once you've convinced your key stakeholders that your proposed solution is worth running with, you can move on to the implementation stage. This is the exciting and rewarding part of problem solving, which makes the whole process seem worthwhile.

This action stage is an end, but it's also a beginning: once you've completed your implementation, it's time to move into the next cycle of problem solving by returning to the scanning stage. By doing this, you'll continue improving your organization as you move into the future.

Problem solving is an exceptionally important workplace skill.

Being a competent and confident problem solver will create many opportunities for you. By using a well-developed model like Simplexity Thinking for solving problems, you can approach the process systematically, and be comfortable that the decisions you make are solid.

Given the unpredictable nature of problems, it's very reassuring to know that, by following a structured plan, you've done everything you can to resolve the problem to the best of your ability.

This assessment has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only. It is just one of many Mind Tool quizzes that can help you to evaluate your abilities in a wide range of important career skills.

If you want to reproduce this quiz, you can purchase downloadable copies in our Store .

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😇 This tool is very useful for me.

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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 .

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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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How to List Problem-Solving Skills on a Resume [List Included]

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Problem-solving skills are more in-demand than ever. 

Employers love candidates with problem-solving skills because, in 99% of cases, they guarantee you're also logical, creative, clear-headed, and a great decision-maker. 

But claiming you have organizational skills on your resume is not enough. 

To impress recruiters, you've got to prove that you possess them. 

This includes understanding which problem-solving skills you possess and adding them to your resume (the right way), among other things.

This is where this article comes in! We put together everything you need to know about problem-solving skills, including: 

  • 8 Essential Problem-Solving Skills for Your Resume

How to Add Problem-Solving Skills to Your Resume

  • Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Important
  • 6 Problem-Solving Steps

Let's dive right in! 

8 Problem-Solving Skills for Your Resume

Research shows that problem-solving skills consist of several facets : 

  • Identifying and analyzing a problem
  • Taking effective actions
  • Understanding the effect of the decisions
  • Coming up with creative and novel solutions
  • Transferring knowledge from one situation to another
  • Thinking abstractly about problems

As such, there is no single problem-solving skill. Problem-solving includes a set of skills, all of which are equally important in helping your personal and professional life. 

Below, we’ll cover the eight most important problem-solving skills that you can also list on your resume to impress recruiters: 

#1. Research skills

To properly identify and understand a problem, you need excellent research skills. 

Research skills involve being able to gather information from the right sources, reviewing that information in detail to extract the data you need, analyzing the data according to the context, and being able to apply the data to your situation. 

#2. Analytical skills

Analytical skills are required throughout the entire process of solving a problem. 

In a nutshell, analytical skills refer to being able to analyze a situation in depth and from different perspectives . Specifically, you need analytical skills to achieve all of the following while solving a problem:

  • Detect patterns
  • Interpret data
  • Analyze new information
  • Reach conclusions based on several factors

#3. Creativity

Being creative means being able to think outside of the box and look at situations and problems inventively. 

For most people, creativity is mainly associated with creative industries such as arts and crafts, architecture, design, etc. 

In reality, however, creativity is an essential success factor for every job and the data is here to support that. According to this Adobe study , problem-solving (51%) and creativity (47%) have gained the most value in driving salary increases in the last five years. 

When it comes to the process of solving a problem, creativity can help you consider more perspectives, think abstractly about problems, and come up with novel solutions that others haven’t thought of before.

#4. Critical thinking skills

Being able to think critically means that you’re good at rationalizing, understanding the connections between ideas or situations, and logically analyzing any given situation. 

As such, strong critical thinking skills can help you see beyond what’s at face value, make more informed decisions, and anticipate the outcomes of said decisions. 

People who have critical thinking skills share traits such as open-mindedness , cognitive flexibility , skepticism , clarity , and precision . 

#5. Decision-making skills

Before coming up with a single action plan to solve a problem, you’ll need to first brainstorm several possible solutions. 

After that, you need good decision-making skills to choose the best possible solution. Without decision-making skills, you risk prolonging finding a proper solution or aggravating a problem even more. 

#6. Communication skills

With strong communication skills , you’re able to successfully explain the problem to others and propose your solutions. In turn, you can be sure that everyone’s on the same page and that you’re carrying out the action plan accordingly. 

Some communication skills required for problem-solving include: 

  • Active listening
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Giving and receiving feedback

#7. Collaboration

Problem-solving is rarely a process you carry out alone. More often than not, you need to consult relevant stakeholders, give and receive feedback, and work with a team towards a common goal (i.e. solving the problem).

Well, collaboration entails exactly that - working well with others, cooperatively addressing problems, and putting a group’s goal ahead of personal goals. 

Some important collaboration skills that help with problem-solving include: 

  • Conflict resolution
  • Emotional intelligence 

#8. Attention to Detail 

Have you ever heard of the expression “the devil’s in the details?”

It means that something may seem simple on the surface, but in fact, the details make it complicated and are likely to cause problems.

Well, if you’re someone who shows great attention to detail, you’re not likely to let details keep you from solving a problem effectively. 

Not to mention, being able to spot and understand even the smallest details that make up a problem means you’ll be able to grasp the issue in its entire complexity and come up with even more inventive and workable solutions. 

Now that we covered the most important problem-solving skills, we’ll show you how to add them to your resume so that you can stand out from other candidates. 

Let us walk you through the process, step-by-step: 

#1. Mention Your Problem-Solving Skills on Your Resume Summary

The resume summary is a three or four-sentence paragraph positioned at the top of your resume that includes: 

  • Your profession and years of experience 
  • Your top skills (i.e. hard skills or soft skills)
  • One or two noteworthy achievements 

problem solving skills resume summary

The goal of the resume summary is to catch the hiring manager’s attention, show them you’re a relevant candidate and get them to go through the rest of your resume in detail. 

As such, it’s your first chance to highlight your problem-solving skills effectively. You can either do that by mentioning them among your top skills or by mentioning an achievement that proves you possess a given skill.

In the best-case scenario, you can even do both. 

Here is an example of how you can include problem-solving skills in your resume summary: 

  • Behavioral psychologist with 7+ years of experience in the field. Great research, analytical, and communication skills. Over the last eight years, I’ve worked closely with more than 100 patients with different behavioral disorders, helping them improve their personal and professional lives through different treatment methods. 

#2. Add the RIGHT Problem-Solving Skills Under Your Soft Skills

Secondly, you should list your problem-solving skills under your resume’s soft skills section . 

The listing part is pretty easy - simply create a section titled Skills and write down your problem-solving skills.

There is, however, one caveat: 

You don’t want to overkill your skills section by listing every problem-solving skill we covered in this article.

Not only will the hiring manager have trouble believing you possess each and every skill, but there’s also a high chance you don’t even need all those skills to begin with. 

To make your skills section as relevant as possile, do the following: 

  • Check the job description. The job description can show you exactly what skills you need for the job. If you’re applying for, say, a software engineering position, you’ll probably be required to have the following problem-solving skills: analytical skills, creativity, attention to detail, and cognitive flexibility. 
  • Identify the skills you possess. Think about which skills you can back up with actual experience from your previous jobs. Only list problem-solving skills that you actually possess and that you can prove you possess on your resume. 
  • Add those skills under your soft skills. Then, add the problem-solving skills that you have and that are required in the job under your resume’s “Soft Skills” section. 

#3. Prove Your Problem-Solving Skills In Your Work Experience Section

Finally, you should use the work experience section to prove that you’ve got the problem-solving skills you’ve mentioned throughout your resume. 

Anyone can just claim that they’ve got problem-solving skills on their resume - not everyone can back them up with experience.

Here’s what you can do to convey that you possess problem-solving skills and also make your work experience section as impactful as possible: 

  • Tailor your work experience to the job. Only add past jobs that are relevant to the position you are applying for now. If you’re applying for, say, a software engineering position, the hiring manager will be interested in your previous jobs in the field, but probably not too interested in the time you worked as a server at a restaurant. 
  • Focus on your achievements instead of your responsibilities. More often than not, hiring managers know exactly what your responsibilities consisted of in previous jobs. What they want to know is how you made a positive impact with your achievements. 
  • Make your achievements quantifiable. Speaking of achievements, you want to make them as quantifiable as possible. After all “treated ten patients in the course of a year using positive reinforcement” sounds much better than “treated ten patients.”
  • Use the Laszlo Bock formula . If you’re having trouble phrasing your achievements, the following formula will probably be of help: “Accomplished X as measured by Y doing X.” 
  • Leverage action verbs and keywords. There are hundreds of words and verbs you can use instead of “did,” “accomplished,” etc. The more descriptive you are of your achievements, the more impressive they can sound.

And here’s an example of a project manager describing their problem-solving skills in their work experience section:

  • Fixed company communication issues by implementing a new project management solution. 
  • Improved team productivity by implementing time-tracking software and doing daily stand-up calls.
  • Managed to meet all client deliverable deadlines in 2022.

Why Are Problem-Solving Skills Important?

Are you wondering what exactly is it that makes problem-solving skills so important? 

After all, there are hundreds of soft skills out there that you can master, improve, or learn how to add to your resume. So it’s normal to wonder “why should I focus on problem-solving?” 

Here is why problem-solving skills matter:

  • They can improve your employability. Problem-solving skills are among the most important skills to employers across a range of occupations. In short, employers are always looking for proactive thinkers who can address professional challenges.
  • They can help you grow in your career more easily. You’ll be more likely to get promoted if you can come up with creative solutions to the different problems that you’ll face throughout your career.
  • They can become an essential part of your personal brand . Your current employer, coworkers, and future employers alike will see you as someone creative, reliable, and helpful.
  • They are related to a range of other valuable skills. When you prove you’re a problem solver, you’re effectively saying you’re attentive to detail, logical, creative, analytical, curious, and other things employers are looking for in their employees.

10 Jobs That Require Problem-Solving Skills

As we’ve already mentioned, problem-solving skills come in handy for practically every job. 

Whether you’re a teacher who needs to solve a dispute between peers in your class or a customer representative who needs to help a client, knowing how to go about solving issues is definitely an asset. 

That said, some jobs are all about solving problems. In such cases, problem-solving skills are not just a nice addition to have on your resume - they’re crucial to getting hired. 

Here are the top 10 jobs requiring problem-solving skills in 2024: 

  • Software engineer
  • Air-traffic controller
  • Police officer
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist
  • UX designer

35 Action Verbs You Can Use to Highlight Your Problem-Solving Skills

The language you use to describe your problem-solving skills matters.  

Sure, you can use “ solved” to describe how you dealt with a problem throughout your entire resume and risk coming off as repetitive and unimaginative. 

Or , you can use any of the following action verbs and keywords and make your problem-solving skills pop out in the eyes of recruiters: 

  • Calculate  
  • Critically think 
  • Draw conclusions
  • Experiment 
  • Listen/Listen actively 

The Problem-Solving Process in 6 Steps

Problem-solving is a methodical process. It consists of certain steps that you always need to take if you want to find a good solution. 

The more you understand and practice this process, the better you can get at solving problems. 

Below, we cover the six main steps of problem-solving in detail:

#1. Identify the problem 

The first step to solving a problem is identifying exactly what’s causing it. 

After all, if you’re not focusing on the real underlying issue, you might come up with solutions that don’t fit the problem itself. 

Say, for example, that you’re a teacher that’s facing poor class performance. Identifying whether the problem comes from the students’ not studying enough or from your own teaching methods can make a big difference in the solutions you come up with. 

It typically happens that the faster you find the root cause of the problem, the easier it is to find a proper solution. 

#2. Understand the problem

Once you identify the problem, you’ve got to understand it completely. Here are some questions you can ask to make sure you properly understand a problem: 

  • What is the scale of the problem? 
  • What are its short and long-term effects? 
  • Have you faced something like this before?
  • Can the problem be solved by dividing it into smaller parts?

The better you understand the problem in its complexity, the more likely you are to come up with effective solutions. 

#3. Research the systems that make up the problem 

In many cases, solving a problem will be a complex undertaking. See, complex problems are often the result of several different underlying systems that you need to understand to find a dynamic solution. 

Let’s take the teacher example from above. 

If a certain student is not doing too well and keeps getting poor grades, you might be tempted to go the easy route and simply chastise them and tell them to study more.

This, in a lot of cases, might simply not work because you’re not addressing the root cause of the problem.

The student might, for example, be burned out , unmotivated by the curriculum, or simply struggling with specific topics.

A problem-solving solution that’s more likely to work would be to talk to the student (or their parents), try to understand the reason for their poor grades, and address the root cause behind the problem itself.

#4. Visualize the problem 

This may not apply to all situations, but it can definitely come in handy for most. 

Drawing a diagram to visualize the situation or your solution to the problem can help you grasp its complexity better - especially if the problem is multi-faceted. Anything from PowerPoint to a piece of white paper can be a good tool to visualize your problem, highlight the problem area, and tackle it more effectively.

#5. Brainstorm solutions 

After you’ve done all the above, it’s time to start thinking about solutions. 

This is another step of the problem-solving process that’s based on collaboration and effective communication. In the brainstorming phase, you should sit with team members or relevant stakeholders and come up with as many creative ideas and solutions as possible. 

This is not where you come up with your most refined, well-thought-out ideas. Instead, it’s where you discuss freely and combine diverse knowledge and analysis of the problem to come up with diverse solutions. 

Brainstorming is an essential part of problem-solving that can help you break out of boring or predictable ideas and thinking patterns. 

#6. Choose the best answer(s)

This is where decision-making skills come in. With a list of different potential solutions, you can narrow down your options to finally choose the best one. 

To reach a solution more easily, take the following into consideration:

  • Your company’s/organization’s objectives
  • The budget and the timeframe at your disposal
  • The success outcomes
  • Potential risks linked to the solution 

Finally, discuss your solutions with relevant stakeholders and team members to gather all the possible feedback that can help you make the best possible decision. 

And remember - once you’ve chosen the best possible solution to a problem, your work is far from over. Being a problem solver also includes the following: 

  • Develop and implement an action plan
  • Monitor the progress of your plan 
  • Make necessary adjustments during the process
  • Evaluate the outcomes of your solution 

Problem-Solving Skills Resume Example

Problem-Solving Skills Resume Example

Want a resume that makes your problem-solving skills pop like the above example? 

Use one of our tried-and-tested resume templates . 

They’re free, modern, and created in collaboration with some of the best HR professionals from around the globe!

Key Takeaways 

And that's a wrap on problem-solving skills. By now, you should know everything there is to know on the topic. 

Before you go, here are the main points we covered in this article: 

  • Problem-solving skills are a set of soft skills that help you solve problems effectively. They involve critical thinking, analytical skills, creativity, communication skills, and attention to detail. 
  • Problem-solving skills can improve your employability, work performance, and personal brand. 
  • Add your problem-solving skills to your resume summary, under the soft skills section, and in your work history section. 
  • When you’re creating your work history section, make sure to tailor it to the job, focus on your achievements and make them quantifiable, and use action verbs and keywords from the job description. 
  • To get better at solving problems, follow these steps: identify and understand the problem, research the systems that make up the problem, visualize the problem, brainstorm, and choose the best possible solution. 
  • Once that’s done, create an action plan and make sure to monitor its progress as you’re implementing it. 

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Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)

What’s life without its challenges? All of us will at some point encounter professional and personal hurdles. That might mean resolving a conflict with coworkers or making a big life decision. With effective problem solving skills, you’ll find tricky situations easier to navigate, and welcome challenges as opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. 

In this guide, we dive into the importance of problem solving skills and look at examples that show how relevant they are to different areas of your life. We cover how to find creative solutions and implement them, as well as ways to refine your skills in communication and critical thinking. Ready to start solving problems? Read on.

What is problem solving? 

Before we cover strategies for improving problem solving skills, it's important to first have a clear understanding of the problem solving process. Here are the steps in solving a problem:

  • Recognise the issue you are facing 
  • Take a look at all the information to gain insights
  • Come up with solutions
  • Look at the pros and cons of each solution and how it might play out
  • Plan, organise and implement your solution
  • Continuously assess the effectiveness of the solution and make adjustments as needed

Problem solving skills

There’s more to problem solving than coming up with a quick fix. Effective problem solving requires wide range of skills and abilities, such as:

  • Critical thinking: the ability to think logically, analyse information and look at situations from different perspectives.
  • Creativity: being able to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.
  • Decision-making: making informed choices by considering all the available information.
  • Communication: being able to express ideas clearly and effectively.
  • Analytical skills: breaking down complex problems into smaller parts and examining each one.
  • Time management: allocating time and resources effectively to address problems.
  • Adaptability: being open to change and willing to adjust strategies.
  • Conflict resolution: skillfully managing conflicts and finding solutions that work for all.

Examples of problem solving skills

Problem solving skills in the workplace are invaluable, whether you need them for managing a team, dealing with clients or juggling deadlines. To get a better understanding of how you might use these skills in real-life scenarios, here are some problem solving examples that are common in the workplace.

  • Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking is something that comes naturally to some, while others have to work a little harder. It involves being able to look at problem solving from a logical perspective, breaking down the issues into manageable parts. 

Example scenarios of analytical thinking

Quality control: in a manufacturing facility, analytical thinking helps identify the causes of product defects in order to pinpoint solutions.

Market research: marketing teams rely on analytical thinking to examine consumer data, identify market trends and make informed decisions on ad campaigns.

  • Critical thinking

Critical thinkers are able to approach problems objectively, looking at different viewpoints without rushing to a decision. Critical thinking is an important aspect of problem solving, helping to uncover biases and assumptions and weigh up the quality of the information before making any decisions. 

Example scenarios of critical thinking

  • Strategic planning: in the boardroom, critical thinking is important for assessing economic trends, competitor threats and more. It guides leaders in making informed decisions about long-term company goals and growth strategies.
  • Conflict resolution: HR professionals often use critical thinking when dealing with workplace conflicts. They objectively analyse the issues at hand and find an appropriate solution.

Decision-making

Making decisions is often the hardest part of problem solving. How do you know which solution is the right one? It involves evaluating information, considering potential outcomes and choosing the most suitable option. Effective problem solving relies on making well-informed decisions.

Example scenarios of decision-making

  • Budget allocation: financial managers must decide how to allocate resources to various projects or departments. 
  • Negotiation: salespeople and procurement professionals negotiate terms, pricing and agreements with clients, suppliers and partners.

Research skills

Research skills are pivotal when it comes to problem solving, to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. These skills involve searching for relevant data, critically evaluating information sources, and drawing meaningful conclusions. 

Example scenarios of research skills

  • Product development: a tech startup uses research skills to conduct market research to identify gaps and opportunities in the market. 
  • Employee engagement: an HR manager uses research skills to conduct employee surveys and focus groups.

A little creative flair goes a long way. By thinking outside the box, you can approach problems from different angles. Creative thinking involves combining existing knowledge, experiences and perspectives in new and innovative ways to come up with inventive solutions. 

Example scenarios of creativity

  • Cost reduction: creative problem solvers within a manufacturing company might look at new ways to reduce production costs by using waste materials.
  • Customer experience: a retail chain might look at implementing interactive displays and engaging store layouts to increase customer satisfaction and sales.

Collaboration

It’s not always easy to work with other people, but collaboration is a key element in problem solving, allowing you to make use of different perspectives and areas of expertise to find solutions.

Example scenarios

  • Healthcare diagnosis: in a hospital setting, medical professionals collaborate to diagnose complex medical cases.
  • Project management: project managers coordinate efforts, allocate resources and address issues that may arise during a project's lifecycle.

Conflict Resolution

Being able to mediate conflicts is a great skill to have. It involves facilitating open communication, understanding different perspectives and finding solutions that work for everyone. Conflict resolution is essential for managing any differences in opinion that arise.

Example scenarios of conflict resolution

  • Client dispute: a customer might be dissatisfied with a product or service and demand a refund. The customer service representative addresses the issue through active listening  and negotiation to reach a solution.
  • Project delay: a project manager might face resistance from team members about a change in project scope and will need to find a middle ground before the project can continue.

Risk management

Risk management is essential across many workplaces. It involves analysing potential threats and opportunities, evaluating their impact and implementing strategies to minimise negative consequences. Risk management is closely tied to problem solving, as it addresses potential obstacles and challenges that may arise during the problem solving process.

Example scenarios of risk management

  • Project risk management: in a construction project, risk management involves identifying potential delays, cost overruns and safety hazards. Risk mitigation strategies are developed, such as scheduling buffers and establishing safety protocols. 
  • Financial risk management: in financial institutions, risk management assesses and manages risks associated with investments and lending.

Communication

Effective communication is a skill that will get you far in all areas of life. When it comes to problem solving, communication plays an important role in facilitating collaboration, sharing insights and ensuring that all stakeholders have the same expectations. 

Example scenarios of communication

  • Customer service improvement: in a retail environment, open communication channels result in higher customer satisfaction scores.
  • Safety enhancement: in a manufacturing facility, a robust communication strategy that includes safety briefings, incident reporting and employee training helps minimise accidents and injuries.

How to improve problem solving skills 

Ready to improve your problem solving skills? In this section we explore strategies and techniques that will give you a head start in developing better problem solving skills. 

Adopt the problem solving mindset

Developing a problem solving mindset will help you tackle challenges effectively . Start by accepting problems as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than as obstacles or setbacks. This will allow you to approach every challenge with a can-do attitude.

Patience is also essential, because it will allow you to work through the problem and its various solutions mindfully. Persistence is also important, so you can keep adapting your approach until you find the right solution.

Finally, don’t forget to ask questions. What do you need to know? What assumptions are you making? What can you learn from previous attempts? Approach problem solving as an opportunity to  acquire new skills . Stay curious, seek out solutions, explore new possibilities and remain open to different problem solving approaches.

Understand the problem

There’s no point trying to solve a problem you don’t understand. To analyse a problem effectively, you need to be able to define it. This allows you to break it down into smaller parts, making it easier to find causes and potential solutions. Start with a well-defined problem statement that is precise and specific. This will help you focus your efforts on the core issue, so you don’t waste time and resources on the wrong concerns.

Strategies for problem analysis

  • Start with the problem statement and ask ‘Why?’ multiple times to dig deeper.
  • Gather relevant data and information related to the problem. 
  • Include those affected by the problem in the analysis process.
  • Compare the current problem with similar situations or cases to gain valuable insights.
  • Use simulations to explore potential outcomes of different solutions.
  • Continuously gather feedback during the problem solving process. 

Develop critical thinking and creativity skills

Critical thinking and creativity are both important when it comes to looking at the problem objectively and thinking outside the box. Critical thinking encourages you to question assumptions, recognise biases and seek evidence to support your conclusions. Creative thinking allows you to look at the problem from different angles to reveal new insights and opportunities.

Enhance research and decision-making skills

Research and decision-making skills are pivotal in problem solving as they enable you to gather relevant information, analyse options and choose the best course of action. Research provides the information and data needed, and ensures that you have a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its context. Effective decision-making is about selecting the solution that best addresses the problem.

Strategies to improve research and decision-making skills

  • Clearly define what you want to achieve through research.
  • Use a variety of sources, including books, articles, research papers, interviews, surveys and online databases.
  • Evaluate the credibility and reliability of your information sources.
  • Incorporate risk assessment into your decision-making process. 
  • Seek input from experts, colleagues and mentors when making important decisions. 
  • After making decisions, reflect on the outcomes and lessons learned. Use this to improve your decision-making skills over time.

Strengthen collaboration skills

Being able to work with others is one of the most important skills to have at work. Collaboration skills enable everyone to work effectively as a team, share their perspectives and collectively find solutions. 

Tips for improving teamwork and collaboration

  • Define people’s roles and responsibilities within the team. 
  • Encourage an environment of open communication where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas.
  • Practise active listening by giving full attention to others when they speak. 
  • Hold regular check-in sessions to monitor progress, discuss challenges and make adjustments as needed.
  • Use collaboration tools and platforms to facilitate communication and document progress. 
  • Acknowledge and celebrate team achievements and milestones. 

Learn from past experiences

Once you’ve overcome a challenge, take the time to look back with a critical eye. How effective was the outcome? Could you have tweaked anything in your process? Learning from past experiences is important when it comes to problem solving. It involves reflecting on both successes and failures to gain insights, refine strategies and make more informed decisions in the future. 

Strategies for learning from past mistakes

  • After completing a problem solving effort, gather your team for a debriefing session. Discuss what went well and what could have been better.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of resolved problems. 
  • Evaluate the outcomes of past solutions. Did they achieve the desired results? 
  • Commit to continuous learning and improvement. 

Leverage problem solving tools and resources

Problem-solving tools and resources are a great help when it comes to navigating complex challenges. These tools offer structured approaches, methodologies and resources that can streamline the process. 

Tools and resources for problem solving

  • Mind mapping: mind maps visually organise ideas, concepts and their relationships. 
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis: helps in strategic planning and decision-making.
  • Fishbone diagram (Ishikawa Diagram): this tool visually represents the potential root causes of a problem, helping you identify underlying factors contributing to an issue.
  • Decision matrices:  these assist in evaluating options by assigning weights and scores to criteria and alternatives.
  • Process flowcharts: these allow you to see the steps of a process in sequence, helping identify where the problem is occuring.
  • Decision support software: software applications and tools, such as data analytics platforms, can help in data-driven decision-making and problem solving.
  • Online courses and training: allow you to acquire new skills and knowledge.

Regular practice

Practice makes perfect! Using your skills in real life allows you to refine them, adapt to new challenges and build confidence in your problem solving capabilities. Make sure to try out these skills whenever you can.

Practical problem solving exercises 

  • Do puzzles, riddles and brainteasers regularly. 
  • Identify real-life challenges or dilemmas you encounter and practice applying problem solving techniques to these situations.
  • Analyse case studies or scenarios relevant to your field or industry. 
  • Regularly review past problem solving experiences and consider what you learned from them. 
  • Attend workshops, webinars or training sessions focused on problem solving. 

How to highlight problem solving skills on a resumé

Effectively showcasing your problem solving skills on your resumé  is a great way to demonstrate your ability to address challenges and add value to a workplace. We'll explore how to demonstrate problem solving skills on your resumé, so you stand out from the crowd.

Incorporating problem solving skills in the resumé summary

A resumé summary is your introduction to potential employers and provides an opportunity to succinctly showcase your skills. The resumé summary is often the first section employers read. It offers a snapshot of your qualifications and sets the tone for the rest of your resumé.

Your resumé summary should be customised for different job applications, ensuring that you highlight the specific problem solving skills relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Example 1: Project manager with a proven track record of solving complex operational challenges. Skilled in identifying root causes, developing innovative solutions and leading teams to successful project completion.

Example 2: Detail-oriented data analyst with strong problem solving skills. Proficient in data-driven decision-making, quantitative analysis and using statistical tools to solve business problems.

Highlighting problem solving skills in the experience section

The experience section of your resumé presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your problem solving skills in action. 

  • Start with action verbs: begin each bullet point in your job descriptions with strong action verbs such as, analysed, implemented, resolved and optimised.
  • Quantify achievements: use numbers and percentages to illustrate the impact of your solutions. For example: Increased efficiency by 25% by implementing a new workflow process.
  • Emphasise challenges: describe the specific challenges or problems you faced in your roles. 
  • Solution-oriented language: mention the steps you took to find solutions and the outcomes achieved.

Including problem solving skills in the skills section

The skills section of your resumé should showcase your top abilities, including problem solving skills. Here are some tips for including these skills.

  • Use a subsection: within your skills section, you could create a subsection specifically dedicated to problem solving skills – especially if the role calls for these skills.
  • Be specific: when listing problem solving skills, be specific about the types of role-related problems you can address. 
  • Prioritise relevant skills: tailor the list of problem solving skills to match the requirements of the job you're applying for. 

Examples of problem solving skills to include:

  • Creative problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Root cause analysis
  • Strategic problem solving
  • Data-driven problem solving
  • Interpersonal conflict resolution
  • Adaptability
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving tools
  • Negotiation skills

Demonstrating problem solving skills in project sections or case studies

Including a dedicated section for projects or case studies in your resumé allows you to provide specific examples of your problem solving skills in action. It goes beyond simply listing skills, to demonstrate how you are able to apply those skills to real-world challenges.

Example – Data Analysis

Case Study: Market Expansion Strategy

  • Challenge: the company was looking to expand into new markets but lacked data on consumer preferences and market dynamics.
  • Solution: conducted comprehensive market research, including surveys and competitor analysis. Applied this research to identify target customer segments and developed a data-driven market-entry strategy.
  • Result: successfully launched in two new markets, reaching our target of 30% market share within the first year.

Using problem solving skills in cover letters

A well-crafted cover letter is your first impression on any potential employer. Integrating problem solving skills can support your job application by showcasing your ability to address challenges and contribute effectively to their team. Here’s a quick run-down on what to include:

  • Begin your cover letter by briefly mentioning the position you're applying for and your enthusiasm for it.
  • Identify a specific challenge or issue that the company may be facing, to demonstrate your research and understanding of their needs.
  • Include a brief story or scenario from your past experiences where you successfully applied problem solving skills to address a similar challenge. 
  • Highlight the positive outcomes or results achieved through your problem solving efforts. 
  • Explain how your skills make you the ideal person to address their specific challenges.

Problem solving skills are essential in all areas of life, enabling you to overcome challenges, make informed decisions, settle conflicts and drive innovation. We've explored the significance of problem solving skills and how to improve, demonstrate and leverage them effectively. It’s an ever-evolving skill set that can be refined over time. 

By actively incorporating problem solving skills into your day-to-day, you can become a more effective problem solver at work and in your personal life as well.

What are some common problem solving techniques?

Common problem solving techniques include brainstorming, root cause analysis, SWOT analysis, decision matrices, the scientific method and the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. These techniques offer structured approaches to identify, analyse and address problems effectively.

How can I improve my critical thinking skills?

Improving critical thinking involves practising skills such as analysis, evaluation and problem solving. It helps to engage in activities like reading, solving puzzles, debating and self-reflection.

What are some common obstacles to problem solving?

Common obstacles to problem solving include biases, lack of information or resources, and resistance to change. Recognising and addressing these obstacles is essential for effective problem solving.

How can I overcome resistance to change when implementing a solution?

To overcome resistance to change, it's essential to communicate the benefits of the proposed solution clearly, involve stakeholders in the decision-making process, address concerns and monitor the implementation's progress to demonstrate its effectiveness.

How can problem solving skills benefit my career?

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What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

problem solving skills use

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

problem solving skills use

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Problem-Solving Therapy Techniques

How effective is problem-solving therapy, things to consider, how to get started.

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

Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression , among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches.

At a Glance

Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions. Let's take a closer look at how problem-solving therapy can help people be more resilient and adaptive in the face of stress.

Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past.

This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth . Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. 

Key Components

There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework:

  • Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life
  • Using problem-solving skills

A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy , and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  • Knowing how to identify a problem
  • Defining the problem in a helpful way
  • Trying to understand the problem more deeply
  • Setting goals related to the problem
  • Generating alternative, creative solutions to the problem
  • Choosing the best course of action
  • Implementing the choice you have made
  • Evaluating the outcome to determine next steps

Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques.

Planful Problem-Solving

One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation : This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions : This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered.
  • Decision-making strategies : This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification : This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem.

Other Techniques

Other techniques your therapist may go over include:

  • Problem-solving multitasking , which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress
  • Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA) , which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict
  • Healthy thinking and imagery , which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving

What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With

Problem-solving therapy addresses life stress issues and focuses on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with various psychological and physiological symptoms.

Mental Health Issues

Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like:

  • Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues
  • Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

Specific Life Challenges

This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Everyday life stressors
  • Family problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship conflicts

Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include:

  • Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger)
  • Confidence that you can handle problems that you face
  • Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems
  • Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the issues you face
  • Increased confidence to find creative solutions
  • Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress
  • Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking
  • The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix")

Problem-solving therapy can help people feel more empowered to deal with the problems they face in their lives. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when stressors begin to take a toll, this therapy introduces new coping skills that can boost self-efficacy and resilience .

Other Types of Therapy

Other similar types of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) . While these therapies work to change thinking and behaviors, they work a bit differently. Both CBT and SFBT are less structured than problem-solving therapy and may focus on broader issues. CBT focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts, and SFBT works to help people look for solutions and build self-efficacy based on strengths.

This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to address clinical depression specifically. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: 

  • Older adults
  • People coping with serious illnesses like cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression.

Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns .

In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia , you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern.

Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed.

For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life.

Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology .

If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own.

During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy .

Keep In Mind

Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option.

Get Help Now

We've tried, tested, and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, BetterHelp, and ReGain. Find out which option is the best for you.

Shang P, Cao X, You S, Feng X, Li N, Jia Y. Problem-solving therapy for major depressive disorders in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials .  Aging Clin Exp Res . 2021;33(6):1465-1475. doi:10.1007/s40520-020-01672-3

Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006

Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual . New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001

Owens D, Wright-Hughes A, Graham L, et al. Problem-solving therapy rather than treatment as usual for adults after self-harm: a pragmatic, feasibility, randomised controlled trial (the MIDSHIPS trial) .  Pilot Feasibility Stud . 2020;6:119. doi:10.1186/s40814-020-00668-0

Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial . Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy . 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1

Margolis SA, Osborne P, Gonzalez JS. Problem solving . In: Gellman MD, ed. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine . Springer International Publishing; 2020:1745-1747. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_208

Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults . Int J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358

Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial . Am J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007

Noyes K, Zapf AL, Depner RM, et al. Problem-solving skills training in adult cancer survivors: Bright IDEAS-AC pilot study .  Cancer Treat Res Commun . 2022;31:100552. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100552

Albert SM, King J, Anderson S, et al. Depression agency-based collaborative: effect of problem-solving therapy on risk of common mental disorders in older adults with home care needs . The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry . 2019;27(6):619-624. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.01.002

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

Problem solving therapy

Cognitive science tells us that we regularly face not only well-defined problems but, importantly, many that are ill defined (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to overcome our daily problems or the inevitable (though hopefully infrequent) life traumas we face.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by helping clients face life’s difficulties (Dobson, 2011).

This article introduces Problem-Solving Therapy and offers techniques, activities, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use with clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free . These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

What is problem-solving therapy, 14 steps for problem-solving therapy, 3 best interventions and techniques, 7 activities and worksheets for your session, fascinating books on the topic, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Problem-Solving Therapy assumes that mental disorders arise in response to ineffective or maladaptive coping. By adopting a more realistic and optimistic view of coping, individuals can understand the role of emotions and develop actions to reduce distress and maintain mental wellbeing (Nezu & Nezu, 2009).

“Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella” (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). It aims to encourage the client to cope better with day-to-day problems and traumatic events and reduce their impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

Clinical research, counseling, and health psychology have shown PST to be highly effective in clients of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly, across multiple clinical settings, including schizophrenia, stress, and anxiety disorders (Dobson, 2011).

Can it help with depression?

PST appears particularly helpful in treating clients with depression. A recent analysis of 30 studies found that PST was an effective treatment with a similar degree of success as other successful therapies targeting depression (Cuijpers, Wit, Kleiboer, Karyotaki, & Ebert, 2020).

Other studies confirm the value of PST and its effectiveness at treating depression in multiple age groups and its capacity to combine with other therapies, including drug treatments (Dobson, 2011).

The major concepts

Effective coping varies depending on the situation, and treatment typically focuses on improving the environment and reducing emotional distress (Dobson, 2011).

PST is based on two overlapping models:

Social problem-solving model

This model focuses on solving the problem “as it occurs in the natural social environment,” combined with a general coping strategy and a method of self-control (Dobson, 2011, p. 198).

The model includes three central concepts:

  • Social problem-solving
  • The problem
  • The solution

The model is a “self-directed cognitive-behavioral process by which an individual, couple, or group attempts to identify or discover effective solutions for specific problems encountered in everyday living” (Dobson, 2011, p. 199).

Relational problem-solving model

The theory of PST is underpinned by a relational problem-solving model, whereby stress is viewed in terms of the relationships between three factors:

  • Stressful life events
  • Emotional distress and wellbeing
  • Problem-solving coping

Therefore, when a significant adverse life event occurs, it may require “sweeping readjustments in a person’s life” (Dobson, 2011, p. 202).

problem solving skills use

  • Enhance positive problem orientation
  • Decrease negative orientation
  • Foster ability to apply rational problem-solving skills
  • Reduce the tendency to avoid problem-solving
  • Minimize the tendency to be careless and impulsive

D’Zurilla’s and Nezu’s model includes (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • Initial structuring Establish a positive therapeutic relationship that encourages optimism and explains the PST approach.
  • Assessment Formally and informally assess areas of stress in the client’s life and their problem-solving strengths and weaknesses.
  • Obstacles to effective problem-solving Explore typically human challenges to problem-solving, such as multitasking and the negative impact of stress. Introduce tools that can help, such as making lists, visualization, and breaking complex problems down.
  • Problem orientation – fostering self-efficacy Introduce the importance of a positive problem orientation, adopting tools, such as visualization, to promote self-efficacy.
  • Problem orientation – recognizing problems Help clients recognize issues as they occur and use problem checklists to ‘normalize’ the experience.
  • Problem orientation – seeing problems as challenges Encourage clients to break free of harmful and restricted ways of thinking while learning how to argue from another point of view.
  • Problem orientation – use and control emotions Help clients understand the role of emotions in problem-solving, including using feelings to inform the process and managing disruptive emotions (such as cognitive reframing and relaxation exercises).
  • Problem orientation – stop and think Teach clients how to reduce impulsive and avoidance tendencies (visualizing a stop sign or traffic light).
  • Problem definition and formulation Encourage an understanding of the nature of problems and set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Generation of alternatives Work with clients to help them recognize the wide range of potential solutions to each problem (for example, brainstorming).
  • Decision-making Encourage better decision-making through an improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and the value and likelihood of different outcomes.
  • Solution implementation and verification Foster the client’s ability to carry out a solution plan, monitor its outcome, evaluate its effectiveness, and use self-reinforcement to increase the chance of success.
  • Guided practice Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems.
  • Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation.

Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

Problem-solving therapy – Baycrest

The following interventions and techniques are helpful when implementing more effective problem-solving approaches in client’s lives.

First, it is essential to consider if PST is the best approach for the client, based on the problems they present.

Is PPT appropriate?

It is vital to consider whether PST is appropriate for the client’s situation. Therapists new to the approach may require additional guidance (Nezu et al., 2013).

Therapists should consider the following questions before beginning PST with a client (modified from Nezu et al., 2013):

  • Has PST proven effective in the past for the problem? For example, research has shown success with depression, generalized anxiety, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and supporting caregivers (Nezu et al., 2013).
  • Is PST acceptable to the client?
  • Is the individual experiencing a significant mental or physical health problem?

All affirmative answers suggest that PST would be a helpful technique to apply in this instance.

Five problem-solving steps

The following five steps are valuable when working with clients to help them cope with and manage their environment (modified from Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to consider the following points (forming the acronym ADAPT) when confronted by a problem:

  • Attitude Aim to adopt a positive, optimistic attitude to the problem and problem-solving process.
  • Define Obtain all required facts and details of potential obstacles to define the problem.
  • Alternatives Identify various alternative solutions and actions to overcome the obstacle and achieve the problem-solving goal.
  • Predict Predict each alternative’s positive and negative outcomes and choose the one most likely to achieve the goal and maximize the benefits.
  • Try out Once selected, try out the solution and monitor its effectiveness while engaging in self-reinforcement.

If the client is not satisfied with their solution, they can return to step ‘A’ and find a more appropriate solution.

Positive self-statements

When dealing with clients facing negative self-beliefs, it can be helpful for them to use positive self-statements.

Use the following (or add new) self-statements to replace harmful, negative thinking (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • I can solve this problem; I’ve tackled similar ones before.
  • I can cope with this.
  • I just need to take a breath and relax.
  • Once I start, it will be easier.
  • It’s okay to look out for myself.
  • I can get help if needed.
  • Other people feel the same way I do.
  • I’ll take one piece of the problem at a time.
  • I can keep my fears in check.
  • I don’t need to please everyone.

Worksheets for problem solving therapy

5 Worksheets and workbooks

Problem-solving self-monitoring form.

Answering the questions in the Problem-Solving Self-Monitoring Form provides the therapist with necessary information regarding the client’s overall and specific problem-solving approaches and reactions (Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to complete the following:

  • Describe the problem you are facing.
  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried so far to solve the problem?
  • What was the outcome?

Reactions to Stress

It can be helpful for the client to recognize their own experiences of stress. Do they react angrily, withdraw, or give up (Dobson, 2011)?

The Reactions to Stress worksheet can be given to the client as homework to capture stressful events and their reactions. By recording how they felt, behaved, and thought, they can recognize repeating patterns.

What Are Your Unique Triggers?

Helping clients capture triggers for their stressful reactions can encourage emotional regulation.

When clients can identify triggers that may lead to a negative response, they can stop the experience or slow down their emotional reaction (Dobson, 2011).

The What Are Your Unique Triggers ? worksheet helps the client identify their triggers (e.g., conflict, relationships, physical environment, etc.).

Problem-Solving worksheet

Imagining an existing or potential problem and working through how to resolve it can be a powerful exercise for the client.

Use the Problem-Solving worksheet to state a problem and goal and consider the obstacles in the way. Then explore options for achieving the goal, along with their pros and cons, to assess the best action plan.

Getting the Facts

Clients can become better equipped to tackle problems and choose the right course of action by recognizing facts versus assumptions and gathering all the necessary information (Dobson, 2011).

Use the Getting the Facts worksheet to answer the following questions clearly and unambiguously:

  • Who is involved?
  • What did or did not happen, and how did it bother you?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did you respond?

2 Helpful Group Activities

While therapists can use the worksheets above in group situations, the following two interventions work particularly well with more than one person.

Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making

A group setting can provide an ideal opportunity to share a problem and identify potential solutions arising from multiple perspectives.

Use the Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making worksheet and ask the client to explain the situation or problem to the group and the obstacles in the way.

Once the approaches are captured and reviewed, the individual can share their decision-making process with the group if they want further feedback.

Visualization

Visualization can be performed with individuals or in a group setting to help clients solve problems in multiple ways, including (Dobson, 2011):

  • Clarifying the problem by looking at it from multiple perspectives
  • Rehearsing a solution in the mind to improve and get more practice
  • Visualizing a ‘safe place’ for relaxation, slowing down, and stress management

Guided imagery is particularly valuable for encouraging the group to take a ‘mental vacation’ and let go of stress.

Ask the group to begin with slow, deep breathing that fills the entire diaphragm. Then ask them to visualize a favorite scene (real or imagined) that makes them feel relaxed, perhaps beside a gently flowing river, a summer meadow, or at the beach.

The more the senses are engaged, the more real the experience. Ask the group to think about what they can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste.

Encourage them to experience the situation as fully as possible, immersing themselves and enjoying their place of safety.

Such feelings of relaxation may be able to help clients fall asleep, relieve stress, and become more ready to solve problems.

We have included three of our favorite books on the subject of Problem-Solving Therapy below.

1. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual – Arthur Nezu, Christine Maguth Nezu, and Thomas D’Zurilla

Problem-Solving Therapy

This is an incredibly valuable book for anyone wishing to understand the principles and practice behind PST.

Written by the co-developers of PST, the manual provides powerful toolkits to overcome cognitive overload, emotional dysregulation, and the barriers to practical problem-solving.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: Treatment Guidelines – Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu

Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy

Another, more recent, book from the creators of PST, this text includes important advances in neuroscience underpinning the role of emotion in behavioral treatment.

Along with clinical examples, the book also includes crucial toolkits that form part of a stepped model for the application of PST.

3. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies – Keith Dobson and David Dozois

Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

This is the fourth edition of a hugely popular guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and includes a valuable and insightful section on Problem-Solving Therapy.

This is an important book for students and more experienced therapists wishing to form a high-level and in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques available to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

For even more tools to help strengthen your clients’ problem-solving skills, check out the following free worksheets from our blog.

  • Case Formulation Worksheet This worksheet presents a four-step framework to help therapists and their clients come to a shared understanding of the client’s presenting problem.
  • Understanding Your Default Problem-Solving Approach This worksheet poses a series of questions helping clients reflect on their typical cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to problems.
  • Social Problem Solving: Step by Step This worksheet presents a streamlined template to help clients define a problem, generate possible courses of action, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented solution.
  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners . Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

While we are born problem-solvers, facing an incredibly diverse set of challenges daily, we sometimes need support.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce stress and associated mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by improving our ability to cope. PST is valuable in diverse clinical settings, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, with research suggesting it as a highly effective treatment for teaching coping strategies and reducing emotional distress.

Many PST techniques are available to help improve clients’ positive outlook on obstacles while reducing avoidance of problem situations and the tendency to be careless and impulsive.

The PST model typically assesses the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and coping strategies when facing problems before encouraging a healthy experience of and relationship with problem-solving.

Why not use this article to explore the theory behind PST and try out some of our powerful tools and interventions with your clients to help them with their decision-making, coping, and problem-solving?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

  • Cuijpers, P., Wit, L., Kleiboer, A., Karyotaki, E., & Ebert, D. (2020). Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. European P sychiatry ,  48 (1), 27–37.
  • Dobson, K. S. (2011). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2021). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies  (4th ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook . Psychology Press.
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2009). Problem-solving therapy DVD . Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310852
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2018). Emotion-centered problem-solving therapy: Treatment guidelines. Springer.
  • Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2013). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual . Springer.

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Problem Solving Techniques Companies Should Use

employees

Companies are faced with challenges every day. As technology continue to evolve at the speed of light, companies are forced to keep up or get left behind. Inflation rates, employee burnout, competitors, customer services are all examples of issues companies face.

Some of these issues can be managed through Problem Solving Techniques. Depending on the issue and situation, you’ll need to use different types of problem-solving strategies:

Identify the Problem

First step is ALWAYS to, is identify the core of the problem. You must gather data that will accurately define the problem for example; knowing what are your company’s short term and long term goals? Is the company meeting their target goals?

Try to Come Up with Possible Solutions

Brainstorm possible solutions with team members (write them on a piece of paper). To get more information, brainstorm with colleagues that have experienced the issue.

Review Solutions

Compare alternative solutions and make a decision; you need to consider the resources required to implement it. Finally, make a firm decision on a solution that will undoubtedly address the root cause of the problem.

Implement the Solution

Plan how you implement the solution, make sure you carefully apply the correct steps. To be on the safe side, rather ask for approval from stakeholders before implementation.

Evaluate the Results

Did you meet the company goals? Were there any unexpected concerns? If the issue is not solved, identify weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

If the issue has been resolved, eliminate all the causes of the problems in the first place and ensure it does not affect the company flow again.

Seek Opportunities to Improve

Look for more ways to resolve the issue so that you have more than one solution. Consider it a lesson learned, and make sure the problem will not occur again in the future. Repeat steps.

Remember, having excellent Problem Solving Skills takes time and effort. Just keep practicing. Where you make mistakes, learn from it; with time, you will have superior problem solving skills.

One more thing, communication is key… always ask and listen to your team members for advice to solve problems.

Interested in upskilling yourself and your employees? You should check out Academy Training Group.

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Suggested Article:

How problems can boost jobs creation.

Job creation

South Africa’s alarming unemployment rate shows one in every three people are not employed. Experts say that unemployed individuals should acquire skills that would increase their chances of employability.

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Don’t Let Gen AI Limit Your Team’s Creativity

problem solving skills use

Treat it as a partner in a structured conversation.

No one doubts ChatGPT’s ability to generate lots of ideas. But are those ideas any good? A recent real-world experiment showed that teams engaged in a creative problem-solving task saw only modest gains from AI assistance for the most part—and some underperformed. Surveys conducted before and after the exercise showed that the teams using AI gained far more confidence in their problem-solving abilities than the others did, but that much of their confidence was misplaced.

But don’t blame the technology, says Kian Gohar, CEO of the leadership-development firm GeoLab and one of the study’s authors. “Brainstorming with generative AI requires rethinking your ideation workflow and learning new skills,” Gohar says. This article offers guidance for approaching the exercise as a structured, ongoing conversation, opening up a staggering capacity to develop better and more-creative ideas faster.

No one doubts ChatGPT’s ability to generate lots of ideas. But are those ideas any good? In a recent real-world experiment, teams engaged in a creative problem-solving task saw modest gains from AI assistance for the most part—and some underperformed. Don’t blame the technology, says Kian Gohar, CEO of the leadership-development firm GeoLab and one of the study’s authors. Common misconceptions about generative AI, problem-solving, and the creative process are causing workers and their managers to use the tools improperly, sometimes leaving them worse off than if they’d proceeded without AI input.

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  1. 8 Important Problem Solving Skills

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  1. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definitions and Examples

    Here are a few examples of skills you may use when solving a problem: Research Researching is an essential skill related to problem-solving. As a problem solver, you need to be able to identify the cause of the issue and understand it fully.

  2. 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More ...

    Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork. 1. Analysis As a manager, you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first.

  3. Problem Solving Skills: What Are They?

    1. Analyze Contributing Factors To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution. To do this, you'll use skills like: Data gathering Data analysis Fact-finding Historical analysis 2.

  4. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definition and Examples

    Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions.

  5. How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

    Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem Step 2: Define the problem Step 3: Strategize a solution Step 4: Find alternate solutions Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything Step 6: Choose a solution Step 7: Implement Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly

  6. 35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

    Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges, ideating possible solutions, and then evaluating the most suitable.

  7. How to Develop Problem Solving Skills: 4 Tips

    1. Identify the problem. Whether you're dealing with a complex problem or a relatively simple one, it's vital that you have a clear understanding of what it is that you're hoping to solve. If you're trying to tackle a number of problems (even if they're relatively simple problems) the task becomes much harder.

  8. Problem-Solving Skills: What They Are and How to Improve Yours

    Problem-Solving Skills: What They Are and How to Improve Yours - Glassdoor US Problem-solving skills are a valuable trait that most employers seek in candidates. Learn what the most important problem-solving skills are.

  9. Your Guide to Problem-Solving Skills at Work

    Problem-solving skills are critical for any career path—no matter where you work or what job you have, you'll face problems big and small all the time. If you want to succeed in your career, being able to effectively navigate (and solve!) those problems is a must.

  10. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    1. Problem identification The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first.

  11. Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 What is Problem Solving and Why is it Important? The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it's raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do?

  12. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And ...

    Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation. Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively.

  13. How Good Is Your Problem Solving?

    Problem solving is an exceptionally important workplace skill. Being a competent and confident problem solver will create many opportunities for you. By using a well-developed model like Simplexity Thinking for solving problems, you can approach the process systematically, and be comfortable that the decisions you make are solid.

  14. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (for a Resume & Career)

    You can list problem-solving skills on a resume in a separate section to make them even more visible. But don't put any random soft skills there. Take another look at your job description, extract the essence, and use some problem-solving skills synonyms to introduce a bit of variety to your resume: Examples of Problem-Solving Skills for a Resume

  15. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? How to Master This Soft Skill at Work

    Soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving, are essential to succeed and progress in the workplace. Unlike hard skills—things like computer programming, finance, or web design—soft skills are a little harder to define. Loosely put, soft skills are typically centered around people skills. This certain set of skills informs, among ...

  16. Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders

    4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need. 1. Problem Framing. One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you're trying to solve.

  17. The Top 5 Problem-Solving Skills Employers Want In 2024

    Here are a few things you can do to make your problem-solving skills stand out more: 1. Use action verbs. When describing your skills on a resume, try to use catchy, memorable language that packs a punch. In particular, try to use action verbs. These are words that describe "doing" - like "riding" a bike or "walking" to school.

  18. Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

    Problem-solving skills are skills that enable people to handle unexpected situations or difficult challenges at work. Organisations need people who can accurately assess problems and come up with effective solutions. In this article, we explain what problem-solving skills are, provide some examples of these skills and outline how to improve them.

  19. 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

    Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills. Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it.

  20. How to List Problem-Solving Skills on a Resume [List Included]

    35 Action Verbs You Can Use to Highlight Your Problem-Solving Skills. The language you use to describe your problem-solving skills matters. Sure, you can use "solved" to describe how you dealt with a problem throughout your entire resume and risk coming off as repetitive and unimaginative.

  21. Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)

    Use a subsection: within your skills section, you could create a subsection specifically dedicated to problem solving skills - especially if the role calls for these skills. Be specific: when listing problem solving skills, be specific about the types of role-related problems you can address.

  22. How to Use Problem Solving Skills for Customer Complaints

    1 Identify the problem. The first step in solving any problem is to understand it clearly. Listen to your customer's complaint with empathy and respect, and ask open-ended questions to get more ...

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

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

  24. 10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

    Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems. Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation. Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

  25. Problem Solving Techniques Companies Should Use

    Repeat steps. Remember, having excellent Problem Solving Skills takes time and effort. Just keep practicing. Where you make mistakes, learn from it; with time, you will have superior problem solving skills. One more thing, communication is key… always ask and listen to your team members for advice to solve problems.

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

    Read more: 7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager. 6. Collaboration and teamwork. With many employees working remotely or keeping hybrid schedules, applying collaboration and teamwork skills can be tricky, but they're more important than ever. Creating teams of individuals with unique backgrounds may help your ...

  27. Don't Let Gen AI Limit Your Team's Creativity

    Common misconceptions about generative AI, problem-solving, and the creative process are causing workers and their managers to use the tools improperly, sometimes leaving them worse off than if ...