How good are you and your team at problem-solving? Is there room for improvement in how you approach challenges? Problem-solving is an essential skill for every team and organisation, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Because every person, team, organisation, and, ultimately, every problem is unique, it’s critical to select the approach that best suits your team.

When it comes to problem-solving, the theory of steps is straightforward: we must first identify the problem, then seek out and evaluate many options before selecting the best one and putting it into action. We should also never forget to establish a way to measure our success.

Unfortunately, while the processes may appear to be simple and straightforward, there can be numerous obstacles to overcome while attempting to solve a problem.

Common barriers to problem-solving

Knowing what problems you and your team may face ahead of time might be really beneficial. It will assist you in anticipating them and putting in place procedures to deal with them. It also helps to increase self-awareness. The more aware we are, the easier it will be to recognise and overcome these obstacles when they arise.

When it comes to problem-solving, the following are the most prevalent barriers:

  1. Confirmation bias: is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.
  2. Mental set: It is a form of rigidity in which a person acts or believes in a certain way as a result of prior experience.
  3. Functional fixedness: It’s a cognitive bias that limits individuals to use an object in a different way from how it is traditionally used. 
  4. Unnecessary constraints: A phenomenon that occurs when an individual create boundaries on the task at hand. They become fixated on only one way to solve the problem, making it really difficult to see any other possible solution. 
  5. Groupthink: When everyone in a group or team has the same thinking, it is called groupthink. This is something we should be aware of because it can not only make issue-solving more difficult but it can also hinder a group from seeing the problem.
  6. Irrelevant information: When unrelated or unimportant information is offered as part of a problem-solving task, it is referred to as irrelevant information.

While these are the most common barriers, there are a few others that can impede successful problem-solving:

  • Fear of failure.
  • Lack of autonomy, motivation, or accountability. 
  • Failing to identify the root problem. 
  • Having a problem finder mindset instead of a solution seeker. 

7 Tips to tackle problem-solving the Optimist Way

problem solvingThe leader role is to help every team member become the best version of themselves, and problem-solving is definitely a skill everyone in your team must have. As a leader, you need to encourage, empower and coach your team to master this ability.

So we’ve compiled some recommendations that can help your team excel at problem-solving based on the issues we stated before.

Here are some of our recommendations:

1. Encourage people to take ownership

As a leader, you cannot be everywhere, all the time. So you need to encourage people to own their space and allow them the autonomy to do so. When it comes to problem-solving, everyone will have a different idea of how to deal with it, but your job as a leader, it’s not to solve it for them but to trust them and assist them if needed while they do it themselves. 

  • Assure them that you trust them and that they are capable of solving the problem. 
  • Be there as support, in case they need it. If you trust your team’s ability, there is no need to micromanage; however, you still need to be there and be approachable and reachable as a leader. Sometimes, all people need is reassurance. 

2. Ask questions to elicit deeper thought and new perspectives

We can sometimes get fixated on one solution, obstructing our ability to view other options. As an observer, you will have a different perspective, so you will likely be able to notice things that others who are more invested are unable to, and you should support your team if this occurs. Again, it’s not about providing answers; it’s about posing questions that empower people to go deeper. (Check out our post about how to ask questions to empower your team)

3. Ensure that everyone involved, including yourself, maintains an open mind during the process

If we want to be innovative and creative, we need to keep an open mind. However, it’s easier than we think to slip into our own biases. Here are some suggestions for keeping an open mind:

  • Pose questions and participate in discussions.
  • Practise active listening, so you are genuinely listening to others instead of just waiting to respond. (Read more about active listening here)
  • Pay attention to your thoughts so you can see when you’re shutting out other people’s perspectives.

4. Ensure that you approach it with the right mindset

Some people are excellent at detecting problems but not so good at finding solutions. If problems continue to arise without being resolved, this can have a detrimental impact on team morale.

  • Make it a rule that whenever someone discovers an issue, they must bring at least one solution, even if it isn’t the best. It was done by  Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore, a midsize Canadian ad tech company, and it worked well for them.

5. Make sure there is accountability

As a follow-up to the previous point, it’s critical that people not just bring in ideas to solve problems but that everyone understands who is responsible for solving them. On the other hand, accountability can be a problem in and of itself; occasionally, people accept the task despite their reservations. It’s part of your job as a leader to make sure that accountability is in place and that employees are comfortable with it.

  • Know your people. Sometimes people can accept a challenge, but in reality, not feel ready for it. Knowing your people will give you the ability to identify this. 
  • Ensure people have what they need. Make sure whoever is in charge of the job understands what they need to do, feels comfortable doing it, and is up for the task. Even if it’s your responsibility to assign projects, allowing people to express their concerns will make them feel more respected and comfortable, which will aid them in their work.

6. Make failure not only possible but even part of the process

problem solvingIf we want to innovate, be creative and try new things, there must be room for failure. Otherwise, people won’t even try. Failure is an inevitable part of life, and it should not be viewed as a negative experience. We all learn more from our mistakes than from our triumphs.

  • Include a review and reflection process with your team. During problem-solving, we must give ourselves time and space to review and reflect on how it’s going. So make this part of your everyday practices. 
  • Instead of focusing on what didn’t work, consider what we can learn from it and how we might apply what we’ve learned in the future.

7. Find an outside perspective

Some of the challenges mentioned above happen because we are too close, too invested, or too fixated in one way or another. Bringing a fresh perspective into the mix can be a great way to find new and more creative solutions to our problems.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert; even bringing someone from a different team who hasn’t worked on the project previously can be beneficial. It cal also help to uncover groupthink if this is happening. 

The Optimist view…

At Optimist Performance, we believe that problem-solving skills are extremely valuable. It is not only necessary for every team and organisation, but it is also essential in our daily life. However, as mentioned above, various barriers can prevent us from succeeding at problem-solving, and sometimes, recognising these is the most challenging part.

Our leadership programmes are designed to assist teams and organisations in identifying and addressing these issues. We create bespoke programmes that are tailored to the needs of your team, and we will also accompany you on your journey.

If you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you, please get in touch with us today