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What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)

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

problem solving skills steps

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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 steps

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 steps

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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The Problem-Solving Process

Looking at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Problem-solving is an important part of planning and decision-making. The process has much in common with the decision-making process, and in the case of complex decisions, can form part of the process itself.

We face and solve problems every day, in a variety of guises and of differing complexity. Some, such as the resolution of a serious complaint, require a significant amount of time, thought and investigation. Others, such as a printer running out of paper, are so quickly resolved they barely register as a problem at all.

problem solving skills steps

Despite the everyday occurrence of problems, many people lack confidence when it comes to solving them, and as a result may chose to stay with the status quo rather than tackle the issue. Broken down into steps, however, the problem-solving process is very simple. While there are many tools and techniques available to help us solve problems, the outline process remains the same.

The main stages of problem-solving are outlined below, though not all are required for every problem that needs to be solved.

problem solving skills steps

1. Define the Problem

Clarify the problem before trying to solve it. A common mistake with problem-solving is to react to what the problem appears to be, rather than what it actually is. Write down a simple statement of the problem, and then underline the key words. Be certain there are no hidden assumptions in the key words you have underlined. One way of doing this is to use a synonym to replace the key words. For example, ‘We need to encourage higher productivity ’ might become ‘We need to promote superior output ’ which has a different meaning.

2. Analyze the Problem

Ask yourself, and others, the following questions.

  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • When is it occurring?
  • Why is it happening?

Be careful not to jump to ‘who is causing the problem?’. When stressed and faced with a problem it is all too easy to assign blame. This, however, can cause negative feeling and does not help to solve the problem. As an example, if an employee is underperforming, the root of the problem might lie in a number of areas, such as lack of training, workplace bullying or management style. To assign immediate blame to the employee would not therefore resolve the underlying issue.

Once the answers to the where, when and why have been determined, the following questions should also be asked:

  • Where can further information be found?
  • Is this information correct, up-to-date and unbiased?
  • What does this information mean in terms of the available options?

3. Generate Potential Solutions

When generating potential solutions it can be a good idea to have a mixture of ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ thinkers. In other words, some people who think laterally and some who think logically. This provides a balance in terms of generating the widest possible variety of solutions while also being realistic about what can be achieved. There are many tools and techniques which can help produce solutions, including thinking about the problem from a number of different perspectives, and brainstorming, where a team or individual write as many possibilities as they can think of to encourage lateral thinking and generate a broad range of potential solutions.

4. Select Best Solution

When selecting the best solution, consider:

  • Is this a long-term solution, or a ‘quick fix’?
  • Is the solution achievable in terms of available resources and time?
  • Are there any risks associated with the chosen solution?
  • Could the solution, in itself, lead to other problems?

This stage in particular demonstrates why problem-solving and decision-making are so closely related.

5. Take Action

In order to implement the chosen solution effectively, consider the following:

  • What will the situation look like when the problem is resolved?
  • What needs to be done to implement the solution? Are there systems or processes that need to be adjusted?
  • What will be the success indicators?
  • What are the timescales for the implementation? Does the scale of the problem/implementation require a project plan?
  • Who is responsible?

Once the answers to all the above questions are written down, they can form the basis of an action plan.

6. Monitor and Review

One of the most important factors in successful problem-solving is continual observation and feedback. Use the success indicators in the action plan to monitor progress on a regular basis. Is everything as expected? Is everything on schedule? Keep an eye on priorities and timelines to prevent them from slipping.

If the indicators are not being met, or if timescales are slipping, consider what can be done. Was the plan realistic? If so, are sufficient resources being made available? Are these resources targeting the correct part of the plan? Or does the plan need to be amended? Regular review and discussion of the action plan is important so small adjustments can be made on a regular basis to help keep everything on track.

Once all the indicators have been met and the problem has been resolved, consider what steps can now be taken to prevent this type of problem recurring? It may be that the chosen solution already prevents a recurrence, however if an interim or partial solution has been chosen it is important not to lose momentum.

Problems, by their very nature, will not always fit neatly into a structured problem-solving process. This process, therefore, is designed as a framework which can be adapted to individual needs and nature.

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The 5 steps of the solving problem process

August 17, 2023 by MindManager Blog

Whether you run a business, manage a team, or work in an industry where change is the norm, it may feel like something is always going wrong. Thankfully, becoming proficient in the problem solving process can alleviate a great deal of the stress that business issues can create.

Understanding the right way to solve problems not only takes the guesswork out of how to deal with difficult, unexpected, or complex situations, it can lead to more effective long-term solutions.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the 5 steps of problem solving, and help you explore a few examples of problem solving scenarios where you can see the problem solving process in action before putting it to work.

Understanding the problem solving process

When something isn’t working, it’s important to understand what’s at the root of the problem so you can fix it and prevent it from happening again. That’s why resolving difficult or complex issues works best when you apply proven business problem solving tools and techniques – from soft skills, to software.

The problem solving process typically includes:

  • Pinpointing what’s broken by gathering data and consulting with team members.
  • Figuring out why it’s not working by mapping out and troubleshooting the problem.
  • Deciding on the most effective way to fix it by brainstorming and then implementing a solution.

While skills like active listening, collaboration, and leadership play an important role in problem solving, tools like visual mapping software make it easier to define and share problem solving objectives, play out various solutions, and even put the best fit to work.

Before you can take your first step toward solving a problem, you need to have a clear idea of what the issue is and the outcome you want to achieve by resolving it.

For example, if your company currently manufactures 50 widgets a day, but you’ve started processing orders for 75 widgets a day, you could simply say you have a production deficit.

However, the problem solving process will prove far more valuable if you define the start and end point by clarifying that production is running short by 25 widgets a day, and you need to increase daily production by 50%.

Once you know where you’re at and where you need to end up, these five steps will take you from Point A to Point B:

  • Figure out what’s causing the problem . You may need to gather knowledge and evaluate input from different documents, departments, and personnel to isolate the factors that are contributing to your problem. Knowledge visualization software like MindManager can help.
  • Come up with a few viable solutions . Since hitting on exactly the right solution – right away – can be tough, brainstorming with your team and mapping out various scenarios is the best way to move forward. If your first strategy doesn’t pan out, you’ll have others on tap you can turn to.
  • Choose the best option . Decision-making skills, and software that lets you lay out process relationships, priorities, and criteria, are invaluable for selecting the most promising solution. Whether it’s you or someone higher up making that choice, it should include weighing costs, time commitments, and any implementation hurdles.
  • Put your chosen solution to work . Before implementing your fix of choice, you should make key personnel aware of changes that might affect their daily workflow, and set up benchmarks that will make it easy to see if your solution is working.
  • Evaluate your outcome . Now comes the moment of truth: did the solution you implemented solve your problem? Do your benchmarks show you achieved the outcome you wanted? If so, congratulations! If not, you’ll need to tweak your solution to meet your problem solving goal.

In practice, you might not hit a home-run with every solution you execute. But the beauty of a repeatable process like problem solving is that you can carry out steps 4 and 5 again by drawing from the brainstorm options you documented during step 2.

Examples of problem solving scenarios

The best way to get a sense of how the problem solving process works before you try it for yourself is to work through some simple scenarios.

Here are three examples of how you can apply business problem solving techniques to common workplace challenges.

Scenario #1: Manufacturing

Building on our original manufacturing example, you determine that your company is consistently short producing 25 widgets a day and needs to increase daily production by 50%.

Since you’d like to gather data and input from both your manufacturing and sales order departments, you schedule a brainstorming session to discover the root cause of the shortage.

After examining four key production areas – machines, materials, methods, and management – you determine the cause of the problem: the material used to manufacture your widgets can only be fed into your equipment once the machinery warms up to a specific temperature for the day.

Your team comes up with three possible solutions.

  • Leave your machinery running 24 hours so it’s always at temperature.
  • Invest in equipment that heats up faster.
  • Find an alternate material for your widgets.

After weighing the expense of the first two solutions, and conducting some online research, you decide that switching to a comparable but less expensive material that can be worked at a lower temperature is your best option.

You implement your plan, monitor your widget quality and output over the following week, and declare your solution a success when daily production increases by 100%.

Scenario #2: Service Delivery

Business training is booming and you’ve had to onboard new staff over the past month. Now you learn that several clients have expressed concern about the quality of your recent training sessions.

After speaking with both clients and staff, you discover there are actually two distinct factors contributing to your quality problem:

  • The additional conference room you’ve leased to accommodate your expanding training sessions has terrible acoustics
  • The AV equipment you’ve purchased to accommodate your expanding workforce is on back-order – and your new hires have been making do without

You could look for a new conference room or re-schedule upcoming training sessions until after your new equipment arrives. But your team collaboratively determines that the best way to mitigate both issues at once is by temporarily renting the high-quality sound and visual system they need.

Using benchmarks that include several weeks of feedback from session attendees, and random session spot-checks you conduct personally, you conclude the solution has worked.

Scenario #3: Marketing

You’ve invested heavily in product marketing, but still can’t meet your sales goals. Specifically, you missed your revenue target by 30% last year and would like to meet that same target this year.

After collecting and examining reams of information from your sales and accounting departments, you sit down with your marketing team to figure out what’s hindering your success in the marketplace.

Determining that your product isn’t competitively priced, you map out two viable solutions.

  • Hire a third-party specialist to conduct a detailed market analysis.
  • Drop the price of your product to undercut competitors.

Since you’re in a hurry for results, you decide to immediately reduce the price of your product and market it accordingly.

When revenue figures for the following quarter show sales have declined even further – and marketing surveys show potential customers are doubting the quality of your product – you revert back to your original pricing, revisit your problem solving process, and implement the market analysis solution instead.

With the valuable information you gain, you finally arrive at just the right product price for your target market and sales begin to pick up. Although you miss your revenue target again this year, you meet it by the second quarter of the following year.

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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Last Updated: January 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Erin Conlon, PCC, JD . Erin Conlon is an Executive Life Coach, the Founder of Erin Conlon Coaching, and the host of the podcast "This is Not Advice." She specializes in aiding leaders and executives to thrive in their career and personal lives. In addition to her private coaching practice, she teaches and trains coaches and develops and revises training materials to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. She holds a BA in Communications and History and a JD from The University of Michigan. Erin is a Professional Certified Coach with The International Coaching Federation. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 232,336 times.

The ability to solve problems applies to more than just mathematics homework. Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of many jobs, ranging from accounting and computer programming to detective work and even creative occupations like art, acting, and writing. While individual problems vary, there are certain general approaches to problem-solving like the one first proposed by mathematician George Polya in 1945. [1] X Research source By following his principles of understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back, you can improve your problem-solving and tackle any issue systematically.

Define the problem clearly.

This is an outwardly simple but vital step.

  • Try to formulate questions. Say that as a student you have very little money and want to find an effective solution. What is at issue? Is it one of income – are you not making enough money? Is it one of over-spending? Or perhaps you have run into unexpected expenses or your financial situation has changed?

State your objective.

This is another means to reach the nature of the problem.

  • Say that your problem is still money. What is your goal? Perhaps you never have enough to go out on the weekend and have fun at the movies or a club. You decide that your goal is to have more spending cash. Good! With a clear goal, you have better defined the problem.

Gather information systematically.

Gathering facts helps you get a clear picture of your problem and goal.

  • To solve your money shortage, for example, you would want to get as detailed a picture of your financial situation as possible. Collect data through your latest bank statements and to talk to a bank teller. Track your earnings and spending habits in a notebook, and then create a spreadsheet or chart to show your income alongside your expenditures.

Analyze information.

Looking for links and relationships in your data can help you better understand your situation.

  • Say you have now collected all your bank statements. Look at them. When, how, and from where is your money coming? Where, when, and how are you spending it? What is the overall pattern of your finances? Do you have a net surplus or deficit? Are there any unexplained items?

Generate possible solutions.

This is a great time to consider all of your options.

  • Your problem is a lack of money. Your goal is to have more spending cash. What are your options? Without evaluating them, come up with possible options. Perhaps you can acquire more money by getting a part-time job or by taking out a student loan. On the other hand, you might try to save by cutting your spending or by lowering other costs.
  • Divide and conquer. Break the problem into smaller problems and brainstorm solutions for them separately, one by one.
  • Use analogies and similarities. Try to find a resemblance with a previously solved or common problem. If you can find commonalities between your situation and one you've dealt with before, you may be able to adapt some of the solutions for use now.

Evaluate the solutions and choose.

A thorough analysis helps you make the best possible choice.

  • How can you raise money? Look at expenditures – you aren’t spending much outside of basic needs like tuition, food, and housing. Can you cut costs in other ways like finding a roommate to split rent? Can you afford to take a student loan just to have fun on the weekend? Can you spare time from your studies to work part-time?
  • Each solution will produce its own set of circumstances that need evaluation. Run projections. Your money problem will require you to draw up budgets. But it will also take personal consideration. For example, can you cut back on basic things like food or housing? Are you willing to prioritize money over school or to take on debt?

Implement a solution.

This gives you a chance to see how effective your solution really is.

  • You decide to cut costs, because you were unwilling to take on debt, to divert time away from school, or to live with a roommate. You draw up a detailed budget, cutting a few dollars here and there, and commit to a month-long trial.

Review and evaluate the outcome.

Ask yourself if the solution is working, or if it needs to be adjusted.

  • The results of your trial are mixed. On one hand, you have saved enough during the month for fun weekend activities. But there are new problems. You find that you must choose between spending cash and buying basics like food. You also need a new pair of shoes but can’t afford it, according to your budget. You may need to a different solution.

Adjust if necessary.

It’s okay if your first solution doesn’t work out.

  • After a month, you decide to abandon your first budget and to look for part-time work. You find a work-study job on campus. Making a new budget, you now have extra money without taking too much time away from your studies. You may have an effective solution.

Do regular mental exercises.

Like a muscle in your body, you will need to work on problem solving regularly.

  • Word games work great. In a game like “Split Words,” for example, you have to match word fragments to form words under a given theme like “philosophy.” In the game, “Tower of Babel,” you will need to memorize and then match words in a foreign language to the proper picture.
  • Mathematical games will also put your problem solving to the test. Whether it be number or word problems, you will have to activate the parts of your brain that analyze information. For instance: “James is half as old now as he will be when he is 60 years older than he was six years before he was half as old as he is now. How old will James be when his age is twice what it was 10 years after he was half his current age?”

Play video games.

New research shows that playing video games can improve parts of your thinking.

  • Play something that will force you to think strategically or analytically. Try a puzzle game like Tetris. Or, perhaps you would rather prefer a role-playing or strategy game. In that case, something like “Civilization” or “Sim-City” might suit you better.

Take up a hobby.

A hobby is another way that you can continue to improve your problem solving skills.

  • Web design, software programming, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, and chess are also hobbies that will force you to think strategically and systematically. Any of these will help you improve your overall problem solving.

Expert Q&A

You Might Also Like

Deal With Problems

  • ↑ https://math.berkeley.edu/~gmelvin/polya.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • ↑ https://asq.org/quality-resources/problem-solving
  • ↑ https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/evaluate/evaluate-community-interventions/collect-analyze-data/main
  • ↑ https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_96.htm
  • ↑ https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/problem-solving.html
  • ↑ Erin Conlon, PCC, JD. Executive Life Coach. Expert Interview. 31 August 2021.
  • ↑ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5930973/
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/13/mental-exercises-to-keep-your-brain-sharp
  • ↑ https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/video-game
  • ↑ https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05449-7

About This Article

Erin Conlon, PCC, JD

To improve your problem-solving skills, start by clearly defining the problem and your objective or goal. Next, gather as much information as you can about the problem and organize the data by rewording, condensing, or summarizing it. Then, analyze the information you've gathered, looking for important links, patterns, and relationships in the data. Finally, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate the solutions, and choose one to implement. For tips on implementing solutions successfully, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students

Problem Solving Steps That Will Get You What You Want

Problem-Solving-Steps-That-Will-Get-You-What-You-Want

In every aspect of life, problems are bound to arise. In a workplace, problems can come in the form of client complaints or issues with teams. In a school setting, you may face problems with learning or teaching. And, in personal relationships, problems may take the most complex shapes and forms. Mastering problem solving steps can help you succeed in your career and more.

While every challenge is unique in its nature, there are a few methods to problem solving that are worthwhile to learn.

What is Problem Solving?

The four basic steps to problem solving are:

1. Define the Problem

It’s common to conflate symptoms of a problem with the problem itself. When understanding what the root of the problem is, be sure to ask the right questions. If you’re problem solving in a workplace, get team feedback. If you’re problem solving in school, ask for the help of other students.

2. Create Alternatives

Once you know the problem you’re facing, it’s good to consider possible solutions. Often, there are a variety of solutions to the same problem. Be sure to exhaust all possibilities. This is another step where feedback and teamwork is useful.

3. Choose a Solution

Assess which solution will work best for those involved. If it’s in a business, then you’ll likely have to address the costs and benefits of any given solution. For problem solving in school settings, you may want to ask professors or mentors what they think will be the most effective.

4. Implement the Solution

Once you’ve chosen the best solution to a problem, you can implement it. If more problems arise, you will have to solve the problem again. But don’t give up! Overcoming challenges only makes you stronger.

What are Problem Solving Skills?

While problem solving is a skill in itself, it also intersects with other skills. These skills include:

Active Listening

There’s a difference between hearing and actively listening. Active listening requires the listener to give undivided attention to the speaker. By using active listening, you maximize problem solving skills because you can actually understand the problem when someone explains it.

Analytical skills are crucial for problem solving. Everyone brings a different opinion and understanding of a problem to the table. By critically thinking about what’s actually happening, you can create the best solutions.

In businesses, big data is becoming everything. Using data and research, you can prevent problems before they even arise.

Sometimes, when facing a problem, you will also have constraints. In fact, the constraints could be what’s causing the problem. Utilizing creativity can help to overcome such challenges by thinking outside the box.

Communication

Talking about problems and accurately describing their roots will allow for contributions from your team. In this way, being able to properly communicate can help to hasten problem solving.

Decision-Making

Since challenges can have multiple solutions, you will need to know how to make a decision to implement the proper solution.

Team-Building

There are not many issues in life that require someone to be alone. Because of this, having a team with a strong foundation will help better address issues when they arise.

Photo by  Austin Distel  on  Unsplash

Problem solving process: a 7-step process.

The following problem solving process is especially effective in businesses. When facing a challenge of any kind, leaders can rely on this method to come to a solution.

1. Identify the Issues

Different people may have different views on an issue. To identify the issues, allow everyone affected to share what they think is the problem.

2. Understand Interests

This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Once everyone has shared their views on a situation, it’s useful to analyze why they feel this way about it. In this step, you must be accepting of everyone’s differences. Understanding interests accurately also relies on active listening. By understanding interests, you will be able to better choose a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs.

3. Define the Problem

Defining the problem can easily be conflated by emotion. To efficiently solve problems, you should be objective rather than subjective. No matter if a problem is small like choosing what to eat or large like choosing your major in college , defining a problem accurately is the basis of solving it properly.

The Kipling Method: A well-known method to define a problem comes from Rudyard Kipling, a famous poet. The 6 necessary elements to describe a problem include:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is it important to fix the problem?
  • When did the problem start? What is the deadline to fix it?
  • How did the problem begin? What’s its cause?
  • Where is the problem happening?
  • Who is affected by it?

4. Define the Goals

To solve a problem, you need to know what the goals are. In a team, it’s important that the goal is communicated. This way, everyone can work together to achieve the desired outcome.

5. Generate Solutions

Many times, a problem will have multiple solutions (unless it’s math)! To generate solutions, you can try these various methods:

  • Brainstorm: Allow everyone (even yourself) to share opinions on what they think can be a useful solution. Don’t shut down ideas in this stage. First, let everything come up with and then analyze what is actually feasible or practical.
  • Divide: Sometimes, problems are so big that they feel overwhelming and can lead to the fear of making a decision at all. Try to break down problems into smaller pieces to divide and conquer it in steps.
  • Means-Ends Analysis: To achieve a particular goal, you can work backwards. For example, you may want to become a software engineer. For this goal, you want to earn a degree in Computer Science , but the problem is affordability . With the goal of earning your higher education, you can think of alternative solutions like an online and tuition-free education (the University of the People). In this way, you’ve taken the outcome and worked backwards to find a solution.
  • Trial and Error: Problem solving often includes failure — but trial and error can lead to the best solutions. You have to be open to trying different solutions until you reach the right one through trial and error.

6. Evaluating the Best Solution

When assessing multiple solutions for a given problem, you obviously want to choose the best one. Here are some ways to do so.

  • Eliminate Early: Ineffective solutions should be removed early on. Sometimes, it’s obvious what won’t work. If not, define parameters and budgets. If something is too expensive to implement, then it can quickly be removed as a solution.
  • Develop a Decision Matrix: You can use a decision matrix to see solutions visually. You can create a scale, for example using the ratings 1-10. Then you can assign a percentage of importance to each criteria. Criteria can include: timeliness, cost, risk, manageability, for example. In this way, you can see what solution will be the best by creating this value system.
  • Implement and Follow Up: Trust your analysis and, once you choose a solution, implement it. Be sure to track and measure if it’s helping to achieve your desired goals.

7. Document

In a business setting, there are so many moving parts. It’s good practice to document problems and solutions to gauge their success. It also creates a history that one can refer back to down the line when the next problem comes to light.

Advantages of a Problem Solving Process

Having a problem solving process in place helps to alleviate stress. It also can provide the following benefits:

  • There is consistency across an organization for how to manage problems
  • The process promotes collaboration and teamwork
  • The decision-process is informed, and therefore easier
  • The solutions are rational and objective

Photo by  Wonderlane  on  Unsplash

Activities and games to boost problem solving skills.

While problems themselves aren’t fun, there are fun ways to boost problem solving skills. These skills can be honed through games. Some problem solving games and ideas to practice to boost such skills include:

  • Build a tower
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Escape rooms
  • Human circle

Problem solving is not a one-size-fits-all situation. In different settings and with different people, problems look different. That’s because everyone approaches challenges from a different perspective.

However, there are basic needs in optimizing a problem solving process through problem solving steps. When facing any issue in your life, practice a positive mindset and start by defining the problem. By asking problem solving questions, you can generate solutions alone or alongside a supportive team.

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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

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Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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Step 1: Define the Problem

  • What is the problem?
  • How did you discover the problem?
  • When did the problem start and how long has this problem been going on?
  • Is there enough data available to contain the problem and prevent it from getting passed to the next process step? If yes, contain the problem.

Step 2: Clarify the Problem

  • What data is available or needed to help clarify, or fully understand the problem?
  • Is it a top priority to resolve the problem at this point in time?
  • Are additional resources required to clarify the problem? If yes, elevate the problem to your leader to help locate the right resources and form a team. 
  •  Consider a Lean Event (Do-it, Burst, RPI, Project).
  • ∙Ensure the problem is contained and does not get passed to the next process step.

Step 3: Define the Goals

  • What is your end goal or desired future state?
  • What will you accomplish if you fix this problem?
  • What is the desired timeline for solving this problem?

Step 4: Identify Root Cause of the Problem

  • Identify possible causes of the problem.
  • Prioritize possible root causes of the problem.
  • What information or data is there to validate the root cause?

Step 5: Develop Action Plan

  • Generate a list of actions required to address the root cause and prevent problem from getting to others.
  • Assign an owner and timeline to each action.
  • Status actions to ensure completion.

Step 6: Execute Action Plan

  • Implement action plan to address the root cause.
  • Verify actions are completed.

Step 7: Evaluate the Results

  • Monitor and Collect Data.
  • Did you meet your goals defined in step 3? If not, repeat the 8-Step Process. 
  • Were there any unforeseen consequences?
  • If problem is resolved, remove activities that were added previously to contain the problem.

Step 8: Continuously Improve

  • Look for additional opportunities to implement solution.
  • Ensure problem will not come back and communicate lessons learned.
  • If needed, repeat the 8-Step Problem Solving Process to drive further improvements.

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7 Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Problem Solving Skills

Our lives are full of problems. And the biggest problem is finding an effective solution to any problem. Seems funny, right? But it’s true. Every day, from your personal to professional life, you have to deal with different kinds of problems, and it’s not unnatural that sometimes you struggle to solve them. Though in the end, you find a solution, it takes too much effort and time. Don’t you think it would be better if you could find the solution in the first place? That’s where problem-solving skills would help you a way out. 

Problem-solving skills are vital to have in professional life. Many issues arise in the workplace and giving a quick touch up on them is an unwritten duty for you. In a professional setting, it doesn’t matter that much what solution you find to a problem. Rather it matters how you find that solution and how much time it takes. In this case, another skill which is Problem Solving Skills  merges up with problem-solving skills. Both are important for your regular duties in the workplace and your job growth, especially when you’re in a leadership or management position. 

7 Key Steps to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

However, everyone is by born a problem solver. But the thing that counts is how efficiently the problem is being solved. That’s why you should nurture problem-solving skills to become an ultimate problem solver. In this article, you’re going to explore seven effective steps that will help you improve your problem-solving skills. So, without further ado, let’s dig deeper.

7 Steps of Problem Solving

Step 1: Define The Problem

Defining The Problem

The first thing that comes when solving a problem is identifying and defining the problem. Without knowing the problem, you can’t move further. So, have a clear understanding of the problem for which you’re going to find a solution. Define the problem and make it precise. Since you won’t be working alone, describe the context, and make sure it is understandable by others who are involved in the decision-making process. However, different people have different perspectives on what a problem is, and you should keep it in your mind. 

Step 2: Analyse The Problem

The second step to solving a problem is analysing the problem. It helps you understand the nature of the problem and find the possible ways out. Develop some creative problem-solving questions in this stage, such as why it is a problem, why it is required to solve it, how to find the solution, what barriers and opportunities lie within the problem, what effect it will cause if the problem isn’t resolved, etc. 

Develop these questions and assign answers to them. In the end, you’ll find a clear picture of the whole situation. This will help you prepare your strategy to solve the problem. 

Step 3: Develop Potential Solutions

Once you’re done with analysing the problem, you have to look for potential solutions to the problem. Note that I said solutions, not a solution. It’s essential to come up with multiple viable solutions to a problem. Because you don’t know yet what outcomes the action is going to bring about. That’s why you should have alternatives in all possible ways to solve the problem so that you can compare them and pick the best one. 

In this regard, you have to set a standard with which you will compare the expected outcomes of the potential solutions. However, don’t use the standard to judge the solutions, instead, use it only for coming up with ideas. 

Step 4: Evaluate The Options

After listing down the potential solutions to the problem, your next task is to analyse and evaluate the options. This will help you determine the most effective and suitable solution to the problem. Now it comes how to evaluate the options. Do it almost in the same way you’ve analysed the problem before. This means asking some questions and comparing the answers for different options. So, the creative problem-solving questions that you’ll make to evaluate the problem may look like the followings:

  • Is the solution easily achievable?
  • How much effort and resources it will take?
  • Does it fit the organizational processes and cultures?
  • What are the pros and cons of the solution?
  • What is the possible outcome of this solution?
  • Is it well suited to the time and budget?

Prepare the answers for each of the options and compare them. Then eliminate those which don’t pass the criteria and tailor the list for further action.

Step 5: Select The Best Option

Select The Best Option

After evaluating all the possible solutions and tailoring the list, you have a concise list of solutions to the problem. Now you have to choose the best solution among these options. Select the solution that is best fitted to the organizational cultures and goals, and meets all the criteria that you set for evaluating the options. In this case, your experience, courage, and decision-making skills will help you to determine the option.  

However, you may consult your peers as it would give you different insights into the situation. After selecting the best-suited solution, make the necessary documentation, and submit to the authority for approval.

Step 6: Implement The Solution

You’ve selected the solution to the problem and got it approved by the higher authority. Now it’s time to go for action and showcase your problem-solving skills. So, at first, you have to prepare a detailed work plan putting all the necessary things into it. You have to ensure that every one of your team understands the plan and what are their responsibilities to make the plan fruitful. So, you should communicate well with everyone involved in the plan. 

Also, your plan should include actions to be taken if something goes wrong or doesn’t go just like as you thought it would. This is important to make a concrete plan. After setting the plan, arrange everything you require and put your solution into action, and wait for the results. 

Step 7: Measure The Results

Your duty isn’t finished with the implementation of your solution. You have to keep track to measure the results and make sure the plan is performing well to solve the problem. Great leaders always keep follow-ups and proper documentation of their actions. It’s helpful in their future challenges and acts as a guideline for their successors. Moreover, it will help you show a scalable and notable outcome of your plan to the authority. 

Now it’s time to wrap up. Following these seven simple steps will strengthen your problem-solving skills and make you an efficient problem solver in your organization. However, problem-solving is a vast topic, and there are even more things to explore about it which aren’t possible to include in a single article. If you want to explore more and develop your problem-solving skills, it will be better to take training on this. 

But how can you attend formal training when you’ve lots of duties to do? In this case, you can consider taking online training where you can learn anytime from anywhere, and most importantly, without juggling your regular schedule. To help you in this regard, Training Express is offering an online course on problem-solving skills where you’ll be learning from experts. So what are you waiting for? Have a look at this. 

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Problem-Solving Skills & Steps

All of us face problems at work. And life in general. The trick is to learn how to solve them….

Problem Solving Skills & Steps

All of us face problems at work. And life in general.

The trick is to learn how to solve them. Quickly. And efficiently.

Problem-solving is the first responsibility of all professionals. Problem-solving skills are essential for professionals in any industry.

Every invention and product is the result of market demand. The key, then, is realizing that all market demand is based on human needs.

To solve a problem, looking at every individual user of the service or product you are providing and finding creative ways to come up with answers to unique problems is essential.

Whether the problem is as simple as a fall in sales or as complex as the political landscape of global superpowers, it requires a viable and long-term solution.

The following key problem-solving steps can help you find solutions to even the most seemingly intractable problems.

Analyzing the problem.

Problem-solving steps begin with the analysis of a problem. The best place to start is identifying the pain points for end-users and working backward towards finding a solution. To get to the root of a problem and find the best possible solution, research is one of the best problem-solving skills.

Data collection and categorization of data provides clarity about the bigger picture. At times, complex issues masquerade as simple everyday issues. By asking ‘why’ constantly and relentlessly, one can dig through ambiguity and get to the root of the problem.

You can use many frameworks for effective problem-solving. All have different steps and take a different approach.

Many problem-solving models rely largely on data collection, unbiased evaluation of the data, and finding a robust, perfect solution for the issue. One of them is the AQR framework.

Under the AQR framework, you ask the following three key questions:

A or Is the data Available?

What kind of data is available for the sample? Background research is essential for effective inquiry. One needs to define the problem clearly and derive clear questions. Sorting through the relevant data, one needs to highlight positive and negative factors affecting the issue.

Q or Is the data Qualitative (text, images, emotions, expressions, relatable) or Quantitative (numbers, stats, graphs, and absolute values)?

Quantitative data such as sales figures and profits are easier to sort, analyze and translate through graphs or charts. Statistical analysis of quantitative data can provide information on the quantitative impact of the problem. This also helps understand what factor needs to change in what percentage or degree.

Qualitative data, on the other hand, deals with what people feel about certain things. Being highly personal, it is difficult to compare it with qualitative data for a solution.

R or What kind of Research would be needed here?

Research can be of different kinds but it depends on the context and nature of the problem. The kind of research could also depend on the nature of data collected. If the data is subjective & non-numerical, then you implement qualitative research methods . On the other hand, when the data is objective and numerical, you use quantitative methods to conduct the research.

Finding the best possible solutions

After the research, you move to finding a solution. This problem-solving step is also known as brainstorming . Many big world problems were solved with this method that generates a truckload of ideas that may or may not fix the problems. No matter how far-fetched these ideas may seem during the discussions, it is important to discuss them as one irrelevant idea can also be transformed into a fitting solution with tweaks.

Don’t hesitate to seek help when you’re problem-solving. Different perspectives always generate more ideas and solutions. Different people possess different problem-solving skills. One never knows what might click!

Evaluating all the acquired solutions

To solve a problem, you need a perfect solution. For that, you need to understand where compromising is okay and where it is not. Evaluate all ideas generated during the brainstorming phase to find the perfect fit. Don’t forget to consider important factors such as cost, process, availability, sustainability, manpower, and resources, before proceeding with any of the solutions.

Problem-solving also means prioritizing the problems and suggested solutions. At times, you can combine two or more suggestions to generate a better and bolder solution. Problem-solving skills such as research, data collection, analysis and prototyping help in this step.

Implementing a plan

One of the last steps of problem-solving is implementing the plan. Once you have a viable and affordable solution, you need to execute it realistically. Be prepared for glitches. The key is to be persistent and not give up. Develop a process to hone your problem-solving skills at this stage.

Assessing the intervention for effectiveness

The process of problem-solving does not end after a plan is implemented. You have to evaluate it for functionality, sustainability, and of course, effectiveness. To solve a problem, you need to be certain that the intervention designed to solve a problem is working. Market research, customer reviews, fact-checking and gathering periodic evidence can help at this stage. If the plan doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board and start the problem-solving steps again.

Harappa Education’s insightful Creating Solutions  course can help you learn problem-solving skills, how to solve a problem effectively and how to implement the problem-solving steps from world-renowned trainers and educators. Sign up to hone your problem-solving abilities at work.

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about the topic related to the Solve habit such as Importance of Decision Making & Ethical Decision Making in order to develop your problem solving and decision making skills.

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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.

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

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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.

How to Think Differently: 7 Easy Steps to Master Mental Models, Critical Thinking, Decision Making & Problem Solving

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11 Best Administrative Skills for Your Resume (With Examples)

11 min read · Updated on February 15, 2024

Ronda Suder

Discover the top administrative skills to make your resume stand out

Having strong administrative skills means you're able to plan events and projects, manage time, and keep things organized and running like a well-oiled machine. It also means you come to the table with the ability to communicate and engage with the customers, clients, and stakeholders of a company. 

Though administrative skills are necessary for jobs like Administrative Assistants, Receptionists, and Office Managers, they also add value to virtually any position across the various industries you might find yourself employed in. Since they're highly valued by employers, it benefits you to ensure you highlight sought-after administrative skills on your resume. 

In this post, we cover:

What administrative skills are

Why administrative skills on resumes are important

Some of the most in-demand administrative skills for resumes

How to highlight administrative skills on resumes

Where to include administrative skills on resumes

Administrative skills defined

Administrative skills are a series of qualities that, when combined, allow you to help manage a business or department or run an office. They include both hard skills, like knowing how to use a specific software application, and soft skills, like communication and problem solving. Examples of essential administrative tasks might include communicating with employees, filing, running reports, calendar management, and answering client questions. 

Why administrative skills are important to employers

People with strong administrative skills tend to be reliable self-starters with the ability to organize and manage time well. With a diverse skill set, they're valued by employers because they help organizations to maintain productivity and keep things running smoothly - they're a cornerstone of a company's success.  Any successful business will not only have administrative staff with strong administrative skills on their resume, but will also have other employees throughout the organization that apply these types of skills in their various jobs.

Administrative skills are also some of the most transferable skills between industries and job types. Administrative skills required for a role in the marketing sector would be applicable and transferable to the energy sector, for example. 

What are some of the most in-demand administrative skills for resumes?

When it comes to administrative skills on resumes, there are many that can make you stand out to hiring teams. Here are 11 of the top administrative skills to consider for your resume, and why they're important. 

1. Communication

Communication - both verbal and written - is a daily requirement for virtually any position. Those in administrative positions often need to communicate in different forms with a variety of people, both internal and external to the business, from employees and executives to clients and contractors. 

2. Microsoft 365

We're all familiar with certain Microsoft 365 applications, like Microsoft Word and Outlook. However, those with solid technical administrative skills on their resume tend to be knowledgeable in how to use all applications in the suite, including Excel, PowerPoint, and OneDrive. 

3. Organization

With the many plates employees often have spinning all at once, it's vital they hone in on the administrative skill of organization. In fact, it's one of the most important administrative skills to ensure things run smoothly within a team, department, or business. When you're organized, you tend to have good time management and planning skills as well, which are also sought-after administrative skills on resumes. 

4. Problem solving

We're constantly solving problems every day, including at work. A good problem solver identifies the problem, proposes solutions, chooses the best solution, and implements the it. Strong problem solvers support business continuity, innovation, and inspiration, making it a highly valuable administrative skill on resumes.  

5. Scheduling

Though essentially all employees have to maintain their schedules, administrative positions, in particular, often have the daunting task of keeping up with several schedules at once. In addition to calendar management, Administrators often have to coordinate and schedule meetings, travel arrangements, and events for the teams or individuals they support, making scheduling a vital technical skill to have.  

6. Flexibility

Change is the only constant, as they say, which requires flexibility. Employees need to be flexible to successfully adapt to changing priorities, demands, and requests. Without flexibility, work can be more stressful and productivity can take a hit.  

7. Working well under stress

Tight deadlines, quick turnaround times, multiple requests, several projects all at once, and day-to-day tasks can feel like a lot for any employee. Being able to work well under stress is necessary to stay on top of things without becoming overwhelmed, which can slow things down. When you work well under stress, you also tend to be good at multitasking, another valuable administrative skill. 

8. Customer service

For positions that are customer and client facing, strong interpersonal and customer service skills are necessary administrative skills. This is especially true for service and support-oriented positions. 

9. Teamwork

Though administrative professionals tend to be on point to keep things operating as needed, they do so as part of a team. The same goes for individual contributors who, while being responsible for their own tasks and activities, contribute to the department and generally work as part of a team to accomplish department and organizational goals and objectives. 

10. Detail orientation

When you're managing calendars, sharing business information, planning events, or drafting presentations, you must pay attention to the details to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Mistakes in these areas can be costly - if not in terms of dollars, in terms of added stress and lost time. As such, employers want to know they can trust you to adequately cross all the t's and dot all the i's when they hire you to do a job, making attention to detail an in-demand administrative skill.    

11. Event coordination

Administrative professionals, in particular, are often responsible for planning events of varying sizes. Coordinating company events, holiday parties, staff meetings, and more can all fall under the administrative umbrella. What's great about highlighting event coordination skills is that you're showing several other administrative skills at the same time, including organization, communication, multitasking, collaboration, and problem-solving.

Additional administrative skills for resumes 

The above list is just a launching point to help you get started with your own list of administrative skills to include on your resume. Below are some additional hard and soft skills often found on administrative resumes to provide even more inspiration.

Administrative hard skills for resumes

Office equipment use

Database management

Videoconferencing

Expense reporting

Google Docs

File management

Administrative soft skills for resumes

Decision-making

Interpersonal skills

Prioritization

Active listening

Critical thinking

Open-mindedness

How to highlight administrative skills on your resume

Make a list of your administrative-related skills and accomplishments. Using this post as inspiration, sit down and thoughtfully list all of the administrative skills you possess. From there, make a list of all of the administrative duties and responsibilities you've held, as well as any work accomplishments related to administrative skills you've applied or positions you've held. 

Refer to the job description. Review the job description you're interested in and highlight any administrative skills and experience required. Then, compare that to the list you created based on your work history. Be sure your resume includes the administrative skills and experience you have that align with the job description. This is a great way to incorporate keywords into your resume to pass an employer's applicant tracking system , or ATS, and grab the attention of hiring managers.

Showcase soft and hard (technical) skills throughout your resume. For maximum benefit, highlight both hard and soft administrative skills throughout your resume. Hard skills are measurable and learned skills, whereas soft skills are intangible and difficult to measure, though vital for job success. We discuss where and how to include hard and soft skills in the next section. 

Highlight soft skills through on-the-job accomplishments and achievements. Unlike with technical skills, you don't want to merely list soft skills on your resume. Instead, you want to show off your soft skills through the achievements you choose to highlight. For example, consider the following:

Oversaw and coordinated a 5-hour corporate event for 1,000 employees, showcasing the executive team and highlighting employee achievements and milestones for 2023

This achievement highlights organization, time management, attention to detail, critical thinking, and creativity administrative soft skills, to name a few. 

Where to highlight administrative skills on your resume

Now that you know how to come up with administrative skills to include on a resume, where can you incorporate them? Any of the following are excellent options:

Resume Summary

Skills or core competencies section.

Experience section

Certifications section

Additional sections.

Your resume summary , that sits just below your contact information, is where you can pack a punch to entice resume readers to keep reading. Here are a couple of examples of how to include administrative skills in your resume summary:

Administrative professional example

Administrator with over 5 years of experience working with C-suite executives to navigate organizational challenges and provide solutions to maintain business continuity and operations. Managed up to 15 calendars at one time using effective scheduling, time management, and organizational skills. 

What are some of the administrative skills this summary speaks to? How about:

Communication

Organization

Problem solving

Time management

Stress management

Multitasking

Non-administrative individual contributor example

Focused engineering professional with 10 years of experience in the oil & gas sector. Leverages solid problem-solving skills to address concerns in high-stakes environments, with the flexibility required to adjust priorities and maintain productivity. Organized and led a $2M pipeline construction project to upgrade pipeline requirements, meeting current industry standards. 

Some of the administrative skills that this summary highlights include:

Prioritizing

Flexibility

Attention to detail

It can be beneficial to include a Core Competencies section just below your resume summary to showcase your technical skills, as well pertinent soft skills. For example:

Core Competencies

Customer Service | Microsoft 365 | Quickbooks | Research | Scheduling   |   Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) | Oracle Applicant Tracking System | Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) | Event Coordination

Alternatively, the hard skills listed could all also go under a Technical Skills section near the end of your resume:

Technical Skills

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)   |   Microsoft 365   |   Quickbooks   |   Research   |   ATS Proficiency   |   Event Coordination   |   Scheduling

Avoid being repetitive and listing the same skills in both a Core Competencies and Skills section - only choose one of the two if you don't have different skills to include in each list.

Work Experience section

Another section to highlight your stellar administrative skills is in the Work Experience section. Here's an example that showcases focus, stress management, communication, filing, organization, switchboard management, time management, and more, all in just three bullet points!

Receptionist

ABC Company, Houston, TX

July 2021 - Present

Managed switchboard for three office buildings housing over 750 employees

Answered client questions regarding products and services, handling a high call volume of 40 to 50 calls per day

Spearheaded development of a new filing system for improved organization of client cases related to issues and concerns

If you hold any administrative-related certifications, you can choose to include them in a Certifications section on your resume. Relevant certifications not only showcase acquired administrative skills and knowledge, but also indicate your dedication to professional development. 

Examples of in-demand administrative certifications are:

Microsoft 365

Certified Administrative Professional (CAP)

Administrative Assistant Certification (CAA)

Microsoft Office Specialist Certification (MOS)

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence (PACE)

Finally, some might choose to highlight administrative skills on their resume by including additional sections, such as:

Volunteer Work

Hobbies & Interests

Extracurricular Activities

Special Projects

Including additional sections on a resume can benefit those who have gaps in administrative work experience, skills, or education.

Top tip: why not check out our Office Administrative Assistant resume example ?

Administrative skills = valuable assets for any resume

Whether you're applying for an administrative position or any other type of position, administrative skills on resumes add value and tend to stand out to hiring managers. Now, you're equipped with some of the most in-demand administrative skills to include on your resume, as well as advice on how and where to incorporate them. With these tips, you'll be landing those interviews in no time! 

Are you representing administrative skills on your resume appropriately? Why not submit it for a free resume review to find out?

Recommended reading:

How to Use a Reverse Chronological Resume Format

How to Check if My Resume is ATS-Friendly for Free

How to Show Promotions on a Resume (with Examples)

Related Articles:

How to Write a Cover Letter (With Example)

Do Hiring Managers Actually Read Cover Letters?

How to Create a Resume With No Education

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