Four Workplace Problem-Solving Techniques You Might Not Have Tried

Mar 02 2023 | Insights

Problem-solving: the act of finding solutions to issues.

It happens every day, in an array of situations. But having effective problem-solving skills in the workplace can be incredibly helpful in your career specifically.

Along with the ability to assess situations and deal with issues quickly and efficiently, employers often hold these skills in high regard – it shows other competencies like logic, governance, resolve, resilience, and creative thinking, as well as eliminating issues that might put a company at a disadvantage.

So, understanding which problem-solving techniques work for you, and being able to deploy them when you need, is a massive benefit in your workplace performance.

Although there are plenty more techniques, we’ve defined four of the most common problem-solving methods used in the workplace and beyond.

Four problem-solving techniques

1. Linear thinking problem-solving

Linear thinking is a problem-solving process defined by a set starting point followed by a sequence of ideas that lead to a definite solution. It is a logical step-by-step process, and often referred to as sequential thinking – think of it as the ‘conventional’ method of problem-solving. It can be very useful when overcoming strategic problems at work.

Linear thinkers tend to use information, data, logic, and experience from previous solutions as a basis for their problem-solving. This isn’t just confined to problem-solving. Linear thinkers use this process in processing information, making connections, and much more!

So, how would a linear thinker approach a problem?

Typically, a ‘root cause analysis process’ is used as a means for solving problems. One of the most well-known root cause analyses is called the ‘Five Whys’, a method used to explore the cause-and-effect of a particular problem. You’re breaking down a problem until you get to the root cause.

"By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear." Sakichi Toyoda

Here's an illustration of what this looks like in action:

Image courtesy of Kanbanize

2. Lateral linking problem-solving

Lateral thinking, unlike linear thinking, is the process of solving problems in an indirect and more creative manner. Think of it as ‘thinking outside the box’.

This kind of problem-solving will often challenge assumptions, and seek alternative solutions to the ‘norm’, which can actually create powerful and disruptive solutions that may provide growth and development within a company.

What does that look like, I hear you ask? It might look like multiple optional ‘routes’ to an array of innovative solutions that can be used to solve problems.

Lateral problem-solving skills can be a huge pull for employers who are looking for creative, fresh ideas within their business, but it can also be one of the most under-valued problem-solving tools within an organisation.

Thinking laterally to solve problems showcases your innovation and creativity, which is a huge benefit to employers and a green flag to recruiters.

3. Design thinking problem-solving

Design thinking is a type of non-linear, immersive problem-solving, understood as the process of solving problems with the customer, client, or consumer at the forefront of your mind. They are the priority in this problem-solving technique.

This technique can be defined by five stages (although, just to reiterate, these aren’t linear!):

  1. Empathizing: Understand the needs of your consumer, client, or other.

  2. Defining: Analyse and identify the issues that need to be solved.

  3. Ideating: Create and share ideas, no matter how dramatic they might be.

  4. Prototyping: Put together solutions.

  5. Testing: Just as it says, test your solutions.

Although design testing might not be a quick method to solve your problems, and therefore may not be used regularly at work, the technique can be used in a ‘consulting manner’ when there is time to come up with the best solution for a challenge.

4. Solutions-based problem-solving

Solutions-based problem-solving is a process aimed at promoting solutions, rather than searching for causation, and playing the ‘blame-game’. It essentially flips problem-solving on its head and can be used to get a solution as quickly as possible rather than uncovering the causes on the way.

Regardless of what type of problem-solving technique works for you, for a workplace issue, or a particular situation, there are some simple steps you can follow when starting out in problem-solving.

Some simple steps to problem-solving

1. Define the problem

What is it that has become an issue? This might be a decline in company performance or revenue, a decline in effective and collaborative teamwork, or an objection from a client.

This problem may come through the process of active listening, a key workplace communication skill that involves engaging in information being shared with you and reflecting on it. This may come from a client or an employee.

2. Develop a plan

Here's how to plan your plan:

  1. Use questions to generate ideas and solutions to solving a problem.

  2. Identify these solutions.

  3. Evaluate these solutions to narrow down the most efficient options.

  4. And finally, select a solution best suited to a problem through your evaluation and analysis.

3. Implement the planned solution, with a timely approach

Having a timeline to solving problems can help you to stay on course and can signal to the client that their issues are being taken seriously.

4. Take the time to evaluate

What went well? What could have gone better? What learnings are there for next time?

Why is problem-solving so important at work?

Problem-solving is something that is relevant in virtually any job role, no matter how far you have progressed in a company, which is why these skills are so important. Employees often use an individual’s problem-solving abilities to see the competency they have in dealing with and facing challenges, no matter how large or small.

Problem-solving is a test of your aptitude for evaluating circumstances at work and analysing information to come up with the best solutions. Whether it’s dealing with hitting a deadline or creating a solution to a drop in revenue, problem-solving is something we all deal with on the daily.

Want to improve your problem-solving skills, or discover what technique works for you? Our expert coaches at EZRA can help with identifying and boosting these skills to help throughout your team's careers, whether that be at a leadership level, when you’re facing career change challenges, or in more general workplace roles.

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