6 Steps of Effective Problem Solving

Apr 27, 2022

Sometimes, when a group is working on a problem (and especially when the challenge they’re trying to resolve is a complicated one), different perspectives and opposing suggestions can give way to heated discussion, which in turn can lead to an impasse. Such roadblocks aren’t inevitable, though: disagreements are common, but how participants approach problem solving is the key to a meaningful outcome. By implementing certain best practices in a six-step process, teams can be better positioned to tackle their problems straight on and therefore achieve solutions that all team members can live with.

1. Define the True Problem

To end up with the most effective solution to a problem, the team must clearly identify the real issue at hand. (This sounds like common sense, but unfortunately people often fail to do this.) For example, if a team starts with the assumption that the problem with a deliverable is due to a delay in the work being shared, but the problem is actually due to the process being used, then the solution it comes up with will never resolve the issue.

Questions that can help get to the real problem might include:

  • Why is this a problem?
  • Whom does this problem affect?
  • What isn’t the problem?
  • What are the different elements of the problem?

2. Brainstorm a List of Possible Solutions

Once the true problem is clearly defined, the team can then attempt to identify possible solutions to it. The most effective way to start this process is brainstorming — that is, throwing out as many ideas as possible without making snap judgments about them or discounting any of them right off the bat. (For some team members, brainstorming can be difficult if they are unable to refrain from sharing their comments.) This step is all about quantity, not quality.

3. Include All Stakeholders

The brainstorming process must include all team members so that everyone feels buy-in with the end result. When people see themselves as part of the problem-solving process, they will keep sharing their important ideas. To ensure that all team members are included:

  • Ask each person how they would go about resolving the issue. (Encourage them to keep their emotions at bay and to focus on actions.)
  • Validate all the suggestions and opinions being shared.

Also, think about stakeholders who may not be part of the team but may be helpful in resolving the issue. Ask for their input, too: their insights may lead to a more inclusive solution.

4. Weigh the Pros and Cons of the Solutions

When all the solutions are on the table and all the stakeholders have been consulted, it’s time to analyze the options. At this point, a back-and-forth discussion of the positives and negatives of each solution should take place (keeping in mind that some of the possible solutions could lead to further challenges). Ask participants to be honest with one another and open-minded to different alternatives as they take the time to look at all sides of each possibility.

5. Clearly Identify the Best Outcome

When the evaluation of all the proposed solutions is complete, choose the best one and go with it. That means being clear about the decision and what it might entail for the rest of the team and the organization. A professional report should be generated that includes:

  • The clearly defined problem
  • The stakeholders involved in the solution reached
  • The process undertaken to arrive at the decision
  • A concise and purposeful statement of the solution

6. Present the Solution Clearly and Confidently

Finally, determine which stakeholders should share the results of this process. Those team members should carefully prepare an impactful presentation that maps out how the problem was resolved and why that particular solution was selected. Presenting the solution with conviction and clarity will help the team gain more support for it.

Written by: Terri Klaas

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