The Art of Effective Problem Solving: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Author: Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Whether we realise it or not, problem solving skills are an important part of our daily lives. From resolving a minor annoyance at home to tackling complex business challenges at work, our ability to solve problems has a significant impact on our success and happiness. However, not everyone is naturally gifted at problem-solving, and even those who are can always improve their skills. In this blog post, we will go over the art of effective problem-solving step by step.

You will learn how to define a problem, gather information, assess alternatives, and implement a solution, all while honing your critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Whether you’re a seasoned problem solver or just getting started, this guide will arm you with the knowledge and tools you need to face any challenge with confidence. So let’s get started!

Problem Solving Methodologies

Individuals and organisations can use a variety of problem-solving methodologies to address complex challenges. 8D and A3 problem solving techniques are two popular methodologies in the Lean Six Sigma framework.

Methodology of 8D (Eight Discipline) Problem Solving:

The 8D problem solving methodology is a systematic, team-based approach to problem solving. It is a method that guides a team through eight distinct steps to solve a problem in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

The 8D process consists of the following steps:

8D Problem Solving2 - Learnleansigma

  • Form a team: Assemble a group of people who have the necessary expertise to work on the problem.
  • Define the issue: Clearly identify and define the problem, including the root cause and the customer impact.
  • Create a temporary containment plan: Put in place a plan to lessen the impact of the problem until a permanent solution can be found.
  • Identify the root cause: To identify the underlying causes of the problem, use root cause analysis techniques such as Fishbone diagrams and Pareto charts.
  • Create and test long-term corrective actions: Create and test a long-term solution to eliminate the root cause of the problem.
  • Implement and validate the permanent solution: Implement and validate the permanent solution’s effectiveness.
  • Prevent recurrence: Put in place measures to keep the problem from recurring.
  • Recognize and reward the team: Recognize and reward the team for its efforts.

Download the 8D Problem Solving Template

A3 Problem Solving Method:

The A3 problem solving technique is a visual, team-based problem-solving approach that is frequently used in Lean Six Sigma projects. The A3 report is a one-page document that clearly and concisely outlines the problem, root cause analysis, and proposed solution.

The A3 problem-solving procedure consists of the following steps:

  • Determine the issue: Define the issue clearly, including its impact on the customer.
  • Perform root cause analysis: Identify the underlying causes of the problem using root cause analysis techniques.
  • Create and implement a solution: Create and implement a solution that addresses the problem’s root cause.
  • Monitor and improve the solution: Keep an eye on the solution’s effectiveness and make any necessary changes.

Subsequently, in the Lean Six Sigma framework, the 8D and A3 problem solving methodologies are two popular approaches to problem solving. Both methodologies provide a structured, team-based problem-solving approach that guides individuals through a comprehensive and systematic process of identifying, analysing, and resolving problems in an effective and efficient manner.

Step 1 – Define the Problem

The definition of the problem is the first step in effective problem solving. This may appear to be a simple task, but it is actually quite difficult. This is because problems are frequently complex and multi-layered, making it easy to confuse symptoms with the underlying cause. To avoid this pitfall, it is critical to thoroughly understand the problem.

To begin, ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What are the problem’s symptoms or consequences?
  • Who or what is impacted by the issue?
  • When and where does the issue arise?

Answering these questions will assist you in determining the scope of the problem. However, simply describing the problem is not always sufficient; you must also identify the root cause. The root cause is the underlying cause of the problem and is usually the key to resolving it permanently.

Try asking “why” questions to find the root cause:

  • What causes the problem?
  • Why does it continue?
  • Why does it have the effects that it does?

By repeatedly asking “ why ,” you’ll eventually get to the bottom of the problem. This is an important step in the problem-solving process because it ensures that you’re dealing with the root cause rather than just the symptoms.

Once you have a firm grasp on the issue, it is time to divide it into smaller, more manageable chunks. This makes tackling the problem easier and reduces the risk of becoming overwhelmed. For example, if you’re attempting to solve a complex business problem, you might divide it into smaller components like market research, product development, and sales strategies.

To summarise step 1, defining the problem is an important first step in effective problem-solving. You will be able to identify the root cause and break it down into manageable parts if you take the time to thoroughly understand the problem. This will prepare you for the next step in the problem-solving process, which is gathering information and brainstorming ideas.

Step 2 – Gather Information and Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorming - Learnleansigma

Gathering information and brainstorming ideas is the next step in effective problem solving. This entails researching the problem and relevant information, collaborating with others, and coming up with a variety of potential solutions. This increases your chances of finding the best solution to the problem.

Begin by researching the problem and relevant information. This could include reading articles, conducting surveys, or consulting with experts. The goal is to collect as much information as possible in order to better understand the problem and possible solutions.

Next, work with others to gather a variety of perspectives. Brainstorming with others can be an excellent way to come up with new and creative ideas. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas when working in a group, and make an effort to actively listen to what others have to say. Be open to new and unconventional ideas and resist the urge to dismiss them too quickly.

Finally, use brainstorming to generate a wide range of potential solutions. This is the place where you can let your imagination run wild. At this stage, don’t worry about the feasibility or practicality of the solutions; instead, focus on generating as many ideas as possible. Write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous or unusual it may appear. This can be done individually or in groups.

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the next step in the problem-solving process, which we’ll go over in greater detail in the following section.

Step 3 – Evaluate Options and Choose the Best Solution

Once you’ve compiled a list of potential solutions, it’s time to assess them and select the best one. This is the third step in effective problem solving, and it entails weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, considering their feasibility and practicability, and selecting the solution that is most likely to solve the problem effectively.

To begin, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This will assist you in determining the potential outcomes of each solution and deciding which is the best option. For example, a quick and easy solution may not be the most effective in the long run, whereas a more complex and time-consuming solution may be more effective in solving the problem in the long run.

Consider each solution’s feasibility and practicability. Consider the following:

  • Can the solution be implemented within the available resources, time, and budget?
  • What are the possible barriers to implementing the solution?
  • Is the solution feasible in today’s political, economic, and social environment?

You’ll be able to tell which solutions are likely to succeed and which aren’t by assessing their feasibility and practicability.

Finally, choose the solution that is most likely to effectively solve the problem. This solution should be based on the criteria you’ve established, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and your overall goals.

It is critical to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problems. What is effective for one person or situation may not be effective for another. This is why it is critical to consider a wide range of solutions and evaluate each one based on its ability to effectively solve the problem.

Step 4 – Implement and Monitor the Solution

Communication the missing peice from Lean Six Sigma - Learnleansigma

When you’ve decided on the best solution, it’s time to put it into action. The fourth and final step in effective problem solving is to put the solution into action, monitor its progress, and make any necessary adjustments.

To begin, implement the solution. This may entail delegating tasks, developing a strategy, and allocating resources. Ascertain that everyone involved understands their role and responsibilities in the solution’s implementation.

Next, keep an eye on the solution’s progress. This may entail scheduling regular check-ins, tracking metrics, and soliciting feedback from others. You will be able to identify any potential roadblocks and make any necessary adjustments in a timely manner if you monitor the progress of the solution.

Finally, make any necessary modifications to the solution. This could entail changing the solution, altering the plan of action, or delegating different tasks. Be willing to make changes if they will improve the solution or help it solve the problem more effectively.

It’s important to remember that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to start from scratch. This is especially true if the initial solution does not effectively solve the problem. In these situations, it’s critical to be adaptable and flexible and to keep trying new solutions until you find the one that works best.

To summarise, effective problem solving is a critical skill that can assist individuals and organisations in overcoming challenges and achieving their objectives. Effective problem solving consists of four key steps: defining the problem, generating potential solutions, evaluating alternatives and selecting the best solution, and implementing the solution.

You can increase your chances of success in problem solving by following these steps and considering factors such as the pros and cons of each solution, their feasibility and practicability, and making any necessary adjustments. Furthermore, keep in mind that problem solving is an iterative process, and there may be times when you need to go back to the beginning and restart. Maintain your adaptability and try new solutions until you find the one that works best for you.

  • Novick, L.R. and Bassok, M., 2005.  Problem Solving . Cambridge University Press.

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website www.learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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To Solve a Tough Problem, Reframe It

  • Julia Binder
  • Michael D. Watkins

what are effective problem solving

Research shows that companies devote too little effort to examining problems before trying to solve them. By jumping immediately into problem-solving, teams limit their ability to design innovative solutions.

The authors recommend that companies spend more time up front on problem-framing, a process for understanding and defining a problem. Exploring different frames is like looking at a scene through various camera lenses while adjusting your angle, aperture, and focus. A wide-angle lens gives you a very different photo from that taken with a telephoto lens, and shifting your angle and depth of focus yields distinct images. Effective problem-framing is similar: Looking at a problem from a variety of perspectives helps you uncover new insights and generate fresh ideas.

This article introduces a five-phase approach to problem-framing: In the expand phase, the team identifies all aspects of a problem; in examine, it dives into root causes; in empathize, it considers key stakeholders’ perspectives; in elevate, it puts the problem into a broader context; and in envision, it creates a road map toward the desired outcome.

Five steps to ensure that you don’t jump to solutions

Idea in Brief

The problem.

Research shows that most companies devote too little effort to examining problems from all angles before trying to solve them. That limits their ability to come up with innovative ways to address them.

The Solution

Companies need a structured approach for understanding and defining complex problems to uncover new insights and generate fresh ideas.

The Approach

This article introduces a five-phase approach to problem-framing: In the expand phase, the team identifies all aspects of a problem; in examine, it dives into root causes; in empathize, it considers key stakeholders’ perspectives; in elevate, it puts the problem into a broader context; and in envision, it creates a road map toward the desired outcome.

When business leaders confront complex problems, there’s a powerful impulse to dive right into “solving” mode: You gather a team and then identify potential solutions. That’s fine for challenges you’ve faced before or when proven methods yield good results. But what happens when a new type of problem arises or aspects of a familiar one shift substantially? Or if you’re not exactly sure what the problem is?

Research conducted by us and others shows that leaders and their teams devote too little effort to examining and defining problems before trying to solve them. A study by Paul Nutt of Ohio State University, for example, looked at 350 decision-making processes at medium to large companies and found that more than half failed to achieve desired results, often because perceived time pressure caused people to pay insufficient attention to examining problems from all angles and exploring their complexities. By jumping immediately into problem-solving, teams limit their ability to design innovative and durable solutions.

When we work with organizations and teams, we encourage them to spend more time up front on problem-framing, a process for understanding and defining a problem. Exploring frames is like looking at a scene through various camera lenses while adjusting your angle, aperture, and focus. A wide-angle lens will give you a very different photo from that taken with a telephoto lens, and shifting your angle and depth of focus yields distinct images. Effective problem-framing is similar: Looking at a problem from a variety of perspectives lets you uncover new insights and generate fresh ideas.

As with all essential processes, it helps to have a methodology and a road map. This article introduces the E5 approach to problem-framing—expand, examine, empathize, elevate, and envision—and offers tools that enable leaders to fully explore the problem space.

Phase 1: Expand

In the first phase, set aside preconceptions and open your mind. We recommend using a tool called frame-storming, which encourages a comprehensive exploration of an issue and its nuances. It is a neglected precursor to brainstorming, which typically focuses on generating many different answers for an already framed challenge. Frame-storming helps teams identify assumptions and blind spots, mitigating the risk of pursuing inadequate or biased solutions. The goal is to spark innovation and creativity as people dig into—or as Tina Seelig from Stanford puts it, “fall in love with”—the problem.

Begin by assembling a diverse team, encompassing a variety of types of expertise and perspectives. Involving outsiders can be helpful, since they’re often coming to the issue cold. A good way to prompt the team to consider alternative scenarios is by asking “What if…?” and “How might we…?” questions. For example, ask your team, “What if we had access to unlimited resources to tackle this issue?” or “How might better collaboration between departments or teams help us tackle this issue?” The primary objective is to generate many alternative problem frames, allowing for a more holistic understanding of the issue. Within an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere, you deliberately challenge established thinking—what we call “breaking” the frame.

It may be easy to eliminate some possibilities, and that’s exactly what you should do. Rather than make assumptions, generate alternative hypotheses and then test them.

Consider the problem-framing process at a company we’ll call Omega Soundscapes, a midsize producer of high-end headphones. (Omega is a composite of several firms we’ve worked with.) Omega’s sales had declined substantially over the past two quarters, and the leadership team’s initial diagnosis, or reference frame, was that recent price hikes to its flagship product made it too expensive for its target market. Before acting on this assumption, the team convened knowledgeable representatives from sales, marketing, R&D, customer service, and external consultants to do some frame-storming. Team members were asked:

  • What if we lowered the price of our flagship product? How would that impact sales and profitability?
  • How might we identify customers in new target markets who could afford our headphones at the current price?
  • What if we offered financing or a subscription-based model for our headphones? How would that change perceptions of affordability?
  • How might we optimize our supply chain and production processes to reduce manufacturing costs without compromising quality?

In playing out each of those scenarios, the Omega team generated several problem frames:

  • The target market’s preferences have evolved.
  • New competitors have entered the market.
  • Product quality has decreased.
  • Something has damaged perceptions of the brand.
  • Something has changed in the priorities of our key distributors.

Each of the frames presented a unique angle from which to approach the problem of declining sales, setting the stage for the development of diverse potential solutions. At this stage, it may be relatively easy to eliminate some possibilities, and that’s exactly what you should do. Rather than make assumptions, generate alternative hypotheses and then test them.

Open Your Mind. Whereas brainstorming often involves generating many solutions for an already framed problem, frame-storming encourages teams to identify all aspects of a challenge. This graphic shows two diagrams. The first depicts brainstorming, where a single problem bubble leads to multiple solution bubbles. The second diagram depicts frame-storming, where a single problem bubble leads to multiple bubbles, labeled alternative problem frames, that represent different ways of defining the problem itself.

See more HBR charts in Data & Visuals

Phase 2: Examine

If the expand phase is about identifying all the facets of a problem, this one is about diving deep to identify root causes. The team investigates the issue thoroughly, peeling back the layers to understand underlying drivers and systemic contributors.

A useful tool for doing this is the iceberg model, which guides the team through layers of causation: surface-level events, the behavioral patterns that drive them, underlying systematic structures, and established mental models. As you probe ever deeper and document your findings, you begin to home in on the problem’s root causes. As is the case in the expand phase, open discussions and collaborative research are crucial for achieving a comprehensive analysis.

Let’s return to our Omega Soundscapes example and use the iceberg model to delve into the issues surrounding the two quarters of declining sales. Starting with the first layer beneath the surface, the behavioral pattern, the team diligently analyzed customer feedback. It discovered a significant drop in brand loyalty. This finding validated the problem frame of a “shifting brand perception,” prompting further investigation into what might have been causing it.

what are effective problem solving

Phase 3: Empathize

In this phase, the focus is on the stakeholders—employees, customers, clients, investors, supply chain partners, and other parties—who are most central to and affected by the problem under investigation. The core objective is to understand how they perceive the issue: what they think and feel, how they’re acting, and what they want.

First list all the people who are directly or indirectly relevant to the problem. It may be helpful to create a visual representation of the network of relationships in the ecosystem. Prioritize the stakeholders according to their level of influence on and interest in the problem, and focus on understanding the roles, demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals of the most important ones.

Now create empathy maps for those critical stakeholders. Make a template divided into four sections: Say, Think, Feel, and Do. Conduct interviews or surveys to gather authentic data. How do various users explain the problem? How do they think about the issue, and how do their beliefs inform that thinking? What emotions are they feeling and expressing? How are they behaving? Populate each section of the map with notes based on your observations and interactions. Finally, analyze the completed empathy maps. Look for pain points, inconsistencies, and patterns in stakeholder perspectives.

Returning to the Omega case study, the team identified its ecosystem of stakeholders: customers (both current and potential); retail partners and distributors; the R&D, marketing, and sales teams; suppliers of headphone components; investors and shareholders; and new and existing competitors. They narrowed the list to a few key stakeholders related to the declining-sales problem: customers, retail partners, and investors/shareholders; Omega created empathy maps for representatives from each.

Here’s what the empathy maps showed about what the stakeholders were saying, thinking, feeling, and doing:

Sarah, the customer, complained on social media about the high price of her favorite headphones. Dave, the retailer, expressed concerns about unsold inventory and the challenge of convincing customers to buy the expensive headphones. Alex, the shareholder, brought up Omega’s declining financial performance during its annual investor day.

Sarah thought that Omega was losing touch with its loyal customer base. Dave was considering whether to continue carrying Omega’s products in his store or explore other brands. Alex was contemplating diversifying his portfolio into other consumer-tech companies.

As a longtime supporter of the brand, Sarah felt frustrated and slightly betrayed. Dave was feeling anxious about the drop in sales and the impact on his store’s profitability. Alex was unhappy with the declining stock value.

Sarah was looking for alternatives to the headphones, even though she loves the product’s quality. Dave was scheduling a call with Omega to negotiate pricing and terms. Alex was planning to attend Omega’s next shareholder meeting to find out more information from the leadership team.

When Omega leaders analyzed the data in the maps, they realized that pricing wasn’t the only reason for declining sales. A more profound issue was customers’ dissatisfaction with the perceived price-to-quality ratio, especially when compared with competitors’ offerings. That insight prompted the team to consider enhancing the headphones with additional features, offering more-affordable alternatives, and possibly switching to a service model.

Engage with Stakeholders. Create an empathy map and conduct interviews and surveys to gather data to populate each section. This diagram shows a person in the center representing various types of stakeholders, with four questions companies should ask: What do stakeholders think? What do they do? What do they say? And what do they feel?

Phase 4: Elevate

This phase involves exploring how the problem connects to broader organizational issues. It’s like zooming out on a map to understand where a city lies in relation to the whole country or continent. This bird’s-eye view reveals interconnected issues and their implications.

For this analysis, we recommend the four-frame model developed by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, which offers distinct lenses through which to view the problem at a higher level. The structural frame helps you explore formal structures (such as hierarchy and reporting relationships); processes (such as workflow); and systems, rules, and policies. This frame examines efficiency, coordination, and alignment of activities.

The human resources frame focuses on people, relationships, and social dynamics. This includes teamwork, leadership, employee motivation, engagement, professional development, and personal growth. In this frame, the organization is seen as a community or a family that recognizes that talent is its most valuable asset. The political frame delves into power dynamics, competing interests, conflicts, coalitions, and negotiations. From this perspective, organizations are arenas where various stakeholders vie for resources and engage in political struggles to influence decisions. It helps you see how power is distributed, used, and contested.

The symbolic frame highlights the importance of symbols, rituals, stories, and shared values in shaping group identity and culture. In it, organizations are depicted as theaters through which its members make meaning.

Using this model, the Omega team generated the following insights in the four frames:


A deeper look into the company’s structure revealed siloing and a lack of coordination between the R&D and marketing departments, which had led to misaligned messaging to customers. It also highlighted a lack of collaboration between the two functions and pointed to the need to communicate with the target market about the product’s features and benefits in a coherent and compelling way.

Human resources.

This frame revealed that the declining sales and price hikes had ramped up pressure on the sales team, damaging morale. The demotivated team was struggling to effectively promote the product, making it harder to recover from declining sales. Omega realized it was lacking adequate support, training, and incentives for the team.

The key insight from this frame was that the finance team’s reluctance to approve promotions in the sales group to maintain margins was exacerbating the morale problem. Omega understood that investing in sales leadership development while still generating profits was crucial for long-term success and that frank discussions about the issue were needed.

This frame highlighted an important misalignment in perception: The company believed that its headphones were of “top quality,” while customers reported in surveys that they were “overpriced.” This divergence raised alarm that branding, marketing, and pricing strategies, which were all predicated on the central corporate value of superior quality, were no longer resonating with customers. Omega realized that it had been paying too little attention to quality assurance and functionality.

Adjust Your Vantage Point. Explore the broader organizational issues that factor into the problem, using four distinct frames. This diagram shows four quadrants: the first is political, including power dynamics, competing interests, and coalitions. The second is interpersonal, including people and relationships. The third is structural, including coordination and alignment of activities, and the fourth is symbolic, including group identity and culture.

Phase 5: Envision

In this phase, you transition from framing the problem to actively imagining and designing solutions. This involves synthesizing the insights gained from earlier phases and crafting a shared vision of the desired future state.

Here we recommend using a technique known as backcasting. First, clearly define your desired goal. For example, a team struggling with missed deadlines and declining productivity might aim to achieve on-time completion rates of 98% for its projects and increase its volume of projects by 5% over the next year. Next, reverse engineer the path to achieving your goal. Outline key milestones required over both the short term and the long term. For each one, pinpoint specific interventions, strategies, and initiatives that will propel you closer to your goal. These may encompass changes in processes, policies, technologies, and behaviors. Synthesize the activities into a sequenced, chronological, prioritized road map or action plan, and allocate the resources, including time, budget, and personnel, necessary to implement your plan. Finally, monitor progress toward your goal and be prepared to adjust the plan in response to outcomes, feedback, or changing circumstances. This approach ensures that the team’s efforts in implementing the insights from the previous phases are strategically and purposefully directed toward a concrete destination.

what are effective problem solving

Applying the Approach

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had one hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.” That philosophy underpins our E5 framework, which provides a structured approach for conscientiously engaging with complex problems before leaping to solutions.

As teams use the methodology, they must understand that problem-framing in today’s intricate business landscape is rarely a linear process. While we’re attempting to provide a structured path, we also recognize the dynamic nature of problems and the need for adaptability. Invariably, as teams begin to implement solutions, new facets of a problem may come to light, unforeseen challenges may arise, or external circumstances may evolve. Your team should be ready to loop back to previous phases—for instance, revisiting the expand phase to reassess the problem’s frame, delving deeper into an overlooked root cause in another examine phase, or gathering fresh insights from stakeholders in a new empathize phase. Ultimately, the E5 framework is intended to foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

  • JB Julia Binder is the director of the Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business and a professor of sustainable innovation at IMD.
  • Michael D. Watkins is a professor of leadership and organizational change at IMD , a cofounder of Genesis Advisers , and the author of The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking .

what are effective problem solving

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Brain Power

5 steps (and 4 techniques) for effective problem solving.

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Problem solving is the process of reviewing every element of an issue so you can get to a solution or fix it. Problem solving steps cover multiple aspects of a problem that you can bring together to find a solution. Whether that’s in a group collaboratively or independently, the process remains the same, but the approach and the steps can differ.

To find a problem solving approach that works for you, your team, or your company, you have to take into consideration the environment you’re in and the personalities around you.

Knowing the characters in the room will help you decide on the best approach to try and ultimately get to the best solution.

Table of Contents

5 problem solving steps, 4 techniques to encourage problem solving, the bottom line.

No matter what the problem is, to solve it, you nearly always have to follow these problem solving steps. Missing any of these steps can cause the problem to either resurface or the solution to not be implemented correctly.

Once you know these steps, you can then get creative with the approach you take to find the solutions you need.

1. Define the Problem

You must define and understand the problem before you start, whether you’re solving it independently or as a group. If you don’t have a single view of what the problem is, you could be fixing something that doesn’t need fixing, or you’ll fix the wrong problem.

Spend time elaborating on the problem, write it down, and discuss everything, so you’re clear on why the problem is occurring and who it is impacting.

Once you have clarity on the problem, you then need to start thinking about every possible solution . This is where you go big and broad, as you want to come up with as many alternative solutions as possible. Don’t just take the first idea; build out as many as you can through active listening, as the more you create, the more likely you’ll find a solution that has the best impact on the team.

3. Decide on a Solution

Whichever solution you pick individually or as a team, make sure you think about the impact on others if you implement this solution. Ask questions like:

  • How will they react to this change?
  • Will they need to change anything?
  • Who do we need to inform of this change?

4. Implement the Solution

At this stage of problem solving, be prepared for feedback, and plan for this. When you roll out the solution, request feedback on the success of the change made.

5. Review, Iterate, and Improve

Making a change shouldn’t be a one time action. Spend time reviewing the results of the change to make sure it’s made the required impact and met the desired outcomes.

Make changes where needed so you can further improve the solution implemented.

Each individual or team is going to have different needs and may need a different technique to encourage each of the problem solving steps. Try one of these to stimulate the process.

1-2-4 All Approach + Voting

The 1-2-4-All is a good problem solving approach that can work no matter how large the group is. Everyone is involved, and you can generate a vast amount of ideas quickly.

Ideas and solutions are discussed and organized rapidly, and what is great about this approach is the attendees own their ideas, so when it comes to implementing the solutions, you don’t have more work to gain buy-in.

As a facilitator, you first need to present the group with a question explaining the problem or situation. For example, “What actions or ideas would you recommend to solve the company’s lack of quiet working areas?”

With the question clear for all to see, the group then spends 5 minutes to reflect on the question individually. They can jot down their thoughts and ideas on Post-Its.

Now ask the participants to find one or two other people to discuss their ideas and thoughts with. Ask the group to move around to find a partner so they can mix with new people.

Ask the pairs to spend 5 minutes discussing their shared ideas and thoughts.

Next, put the group into groups of two or three pairs to make groups of 4-6. Each group shouldn’t be larger than six as the chances of everyone being able to speak reduces.

Ask the group to discuss one interesting idea they’ve heard in previous rounds, and each group member shares one each.

The group then needs to pick their preferred solution to the problem. This doesn’t have to be voted on, just one that resonated most with the group.

Then ask for three actions that could be taken to implement this change.

Bring everyone back together as a group and ask open questions like “What is the one thing you discussed that stood out for you?” or “Is there something you now see differently following these discussions?”

By the end of the session, you’ll have multiple approaches to solve the problem, and the whole group will have contributed to the future solutions and improvements.

The Lightning Decision Jam

The Lightning Decision Jam is a great way to solve problems collaboratively and agree on one solution or experiment you want to try straight away. It encourages team decision making, but at the same time, the individual can get their ideas and feedback across. [1]

If, as a team, you have a particular area you want to improve upon, like the office environment, for example, this approach is perfect to incorporate in the problem solving steps.

The approach follows a simple loop.

Make a Note – Stick It on The Wall – Vote – Prioritize

Using sticky notes, the technique identifies major problems, encourages solutions, and opens the group up for discussion. It allows each team member to play an active role in identifying both problems and ways to solve them.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a fantastic visual thinking tool that allows you to bring problems to life by building out the connections and visualizing the relationships that make up the problem.

You can use a mind map to quickly expand upon the problem and give yourself the full picture of the causes of the problem, as well as solutions [2] .

Problem Solving with Mind Maps (Tutorial) - Focus

The goal of a mind map is to simplify the problem and link the causes and solutions to the problem.

To create a mind map, you must first create the central topic (level 1). In this case, that’s the problem.

Next, create the linked topics (level 2) that you place around and connect to the main central topic with a simple line.

If the central topic is “The client is always changing their mind at the last minute,” then you could have linked topics like:

  • How often does this happen?
  • Why are they doing this?
  • What are they asking for?
  • How do they ask for it?
  • What impact does this have?

Adding these linking topics allows you to start building out the main causes of the problem as you can begin to see the full picture of what you need to fix. Once you’re happy that you’ve covered the breadth of the problem and its issues, you can start to ideate on how you’re going to fix it with the problem solving steps.

Now, start adding subtopics (level 3) linking to each of the level 2 topics. This is where you can start to go big on solutions and ideas to help fix the problem.

For each of the linked topics (level 2), start to think about how you can prevent them, mitigate them, or improve them. As this is just ideas on paper, write down anything that comes to mind, even if you think the client will never agree to it!

The more you write down, the more ideas you’ll have until you find one or two that could solve the main problem.

Once you run out of ideas, take a step back and highlight your favorite solutions to take forward and implement.

The 5 Why’s

The five why’s can sound a little controversial, and you shouldn’t try this without prepping the team beforehand.

Asking “why” is a great way to go deep into the root of the problem to make the individual or team really think about the cause. When a problem arises, we often have preconceived ideas about why this problem has occurred, which is usually based on our experiences or beliefs.

Start with describing the problem, and then the facilitator can ask “Why?” fives time or more until you get to the root of the problem. It’s tough at first to keep being asked why, but it’s also satisfying when you get to the root of the problem [3] .

The 5 Whys

As a facilitator, although the basic approach is to ask why, you need to be careful not to guide the participant down a single route.

To help with this, you can use a mind map with the problem at the center. Then ask a why question that will result in multiple secondary topics around the central problem. Having this visual representation of the problem helps you build out more useful why questions around it.

Once you get to the root of the problem, don’t forget to be clear in the actions to put a fix in place to resolve it.

Learn more about how to use the five why’s here .

To fix a problem, you must first be in a position where you fully understand it. There are many ways to misinterpret a problem, and the best way to understand them is through conversation with the team or individuals who are experiencing it.

Once you’re aligned, you can then begin to work on the solutions that will have the greatest impact through effective problem solving steps.

For the more significant or difficult problems to solve, it’s often advisable to break the solution up into smaller actions or improvements.

Trial these improvements in short iterations, and then continue the conversations to review and improve the solution. Implementing all of these steps will help you root out the problems and find useful solutions each time.

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[3]^Expert Program Management:

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9 Steps to Effective Problem Solving

what are effective problem solving

Executive Coaching ,  Leadership

Every day, we are each faced with problems to solve: the large problems can be intimidating and the small problems can be mind-numbing. Either way, there is no avoiding problems. You are in your leadership position, title or not, because you have the reputation for spotting and solving important problems while rallying others, and yourself, to action. However, every now and then a problem sneaks past even the best leaders and causes a stir. Where do you begin and how can you help deter the issue from becoming an even bigger problem?

The best outcomes usually come from problems that are dealt with early on. Problems can be identified in the early stages if you make it a habit to frequently ask peers and team members how things are going and what challenges, if any, they are facing. Encourage others to provide information on problems as soon as they arise. Be open to their input and suggested solutions, and thank people for bringing issues to your attention and allowing you the opportunity to address and resolve their concerns. Be sure to follow-through, or people will become reluctant to provide information as they may assume nothing will change.

Problem solving requires a high level of information about the issues and the needs of employees. This requires open communication. In order to become an effective problem solver, remember that this skill requires all parties to share control over the emerging solution. By using the following problem-solving model, you will generate a number of alternative solutions and increase the probability that the final solution will be the best one.

Step One: Define the Problem What are the symptoms of the problem? Why is it a problem? What is the impact of the problem?

Step Two: Gather Facts, Feelings, and Opinions What is happening? Who is involved? What is the impact of the problem? Who does it affect? What are the causes of the problem?

Step Three: Identify the Real Problem After you gather the facts, feelings, and opinions, it is important to discover if you are working on the real problem or only a symptom of the problem. This may require restating the problem in a totally different format. Be willing to start over with the real issues if that is what it takes. Why spend valuable time trying to solve something that is not the problem in the first place?

Step Four: Generate Possible Solutions The next step requires generating as many solutions as possible. In this stage, the goal is to generate alternatives. Avoid any judgment or evaluation of solutions at this point.

Step Five: Evaluate Alternatives After you have generated as many alternatives as possible, you want to start deciding which alternative will be the best. Now is the time to be critical about the different alternatives. Be cautious or hesitant when everyone agrees on which alternative to take.

Step Six: Select Best Alternative Once you have evaluated all the alternatives, you are then ready to pick the one you think will solve the problem in the best way. Most people start at Step One by defining the problem and then move right to Step Six by making a choice. If we do Steps Two through Five correctly and thoroughly, Step Six should be relatively easy.

Step Seven: Gain Approval and Support Any time you are going to change something, you will always need to rally approval and support. Do not think that the only thing that needs to be done is to select the alternative and then implement it. The negative thinkers will come up with obstacles and possess a “show-me” attitude that must be overcome. It helps if you involve such thinkers in the beginning of the problem-solving process so they become part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Step Eight: Implement Decision After support has been developed, you are finally ready to implement the decision.

Step Nine: Evaluate Results If you do not have a follow-up or monitoring system in place that allows you to check results, the chances for success diminish. If people do not know how the results are being measured or that they are going to be held responsible, problem-solving becomes a difficult task. When things go right, recognize success. When things go wrong, go back to Step One and start the process again.

It’s impossible to avoid all problems, but by following the above steps, you can minimize the impact of a problem and often come out of it better for having faced the challenge.

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5 Simple Steps to Effective Problem Solving

5 Steps to Problem Solving

The ability to solve problems is a crucial skill in the modern workplace. It can make the difference between success and failure, and it can help you navigate the complexities of a fast-paced environment. But what exactly is effective problem solving? And how can you develop the skills needed to solve problems efficiently and effectively?

Effective problem solving involves several key steps that can help you identify the root cause of a problem, develop a plan of action, and implement that plan to achieve a successful outcome . Here are five simple steps you can take to develop your problem-solving skills and tackle any challenge that comes your way in the workplace.


Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re faced with a workplace problem, and you’re not sure where to start? Whether it’s a customer complaint, a team conflict, or a project delay, it’s essential to address it promptly to maintain productivity and morale. In this article, we’ll provide practical steps that can help you effectively solve problems at your workplace.

what are effective problem solving

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in effective problem solving is to define the problem clearly. Take the time to analyze the issue and gather as much information as possible. It’s crucial to identify the cause of the problem and its impact on your team or organization. For example, if a team member is underperforming, it’s essential to understand the root cause of the issue and how it’s affecting the team’s productivity. Is it a lack of training, motivation, or resources? Are there external factors, such as personal issues or workload, that are affecting their performance?

Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can begin to develop a plan of action to address it. It’s important to involve all stakeholders in this process, including those who are directly affected by the problem, to ensure that you have a complete picture of the situation. Involving others in the process can also help you gain different perspectives and insights, which can be valuable in developing an effective solution.

Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

After identifying the problem, the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. It’s important to be creative and come up with as many solutions as possible, even if they seem unrealistic or impractical. Brainstorming can be done individually or in a group setting, where team members can bounce ideas off each other. In a group setting, it’s important to create an open and safe environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. Remember to focus on generating ideas, without evaluating or criticizing them during the brainstorming session.

Once you have a list of possible solutions, evaluate each one based on their feasibility, potential impact, and costs. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of each solution before selecting the most appropriate one. Keep in mind that the solution may not be perfect, but it should be the best one available given the resources and constraints. By considering different options, you can increase the chances of finding an effective solution that addresses the problem.

Step 3: Evaluate the Solutions

When evaluating the solutions, it’s important to keep an open mind and consider different perspectives. Seek feedback from other team members or colleagues who may have a different point of view. It’s also important to consider the long-term effects of each solution, rather than just the immediate impact. For instance, while changing the project scope may seem like a quick fix to a delayed project, it could cause further delays or even impact the project’s success in the long run.

During the evaluation process, it’s essential to prioritize solutions based on their impact on the problem and their feasibility. Consider the resources, time, and effort required to implement each solution. Some solutions may be quick fixes that can be implemented immediately, while others may require more planning and preparation. It’s important to choose a solution that addresses the problem effectively while also being feasible to implement within the given resources and timeframe.

It’s also important to remember that not all solutions may work as expected. Be prepared to modify or pivot to a different solution if the initial solution does not yield the desired results. Additionally, ensure that the chosen solution aligns with the company’s policies and values and does not violate any ethical standards.

Step 4: Implement the Solution

Implementing the chosen solution requires careful planning and execution. The team needs to work together to ensure that the solution is implemented smoothly and efficiently. The plan should include a timeline, specific tasks, and deadlines. Assigning roles and responsibilities to each team member is crucial to ensure that everyone understands their role in the implementation process.

Effective communication is also essential during the implementation phase. The team should communicate regularly to discuss progress, identify any obstacles, and adjust the plan if necessary. For example, if the team decides to implement a new customer service strategy, they should train the customer service team, provide them with the necessary tools, and communicate the new strategy to customers.

It’s also important to track the progress of the implementation to ensure that everything is on track. Regular check-ins can help identify any problems early on and provide an opportunity to address them before they become bigger issues.

Step 5: Monitor and Adjust

Monitoring and adjusting the solution is crucial in ensuring that the problem is fully resolved. It’s essential to track the progress of the solution and evaluate its effectiveness. If the solution is not working as planned, it’s important to adjust it accordingly. This step requires flexibility and open communication among team members.

For example, if the team decided to adjust the project timeline, they should monitor the progress regularly and make adjustments if necessary. They should also communicate any changes to the stakeholders involved in the project. If the new timeline is not working, the team should be open to making further adjustments, such as revising the project scope or adding more resources.

Feedback plays a vital role in this step. It’s important to gather feedback from team members and stakeholders to ensure that the solution is meeting their needs. Feedback can also help identify any potential issues that may arise and allow the team to address them promptly.

Learning from mistakes is also an important aspect of effective problem solving. Every problem presents an opportunity to learn and grow. By reflecting on the process and the outcome, team members can identify areas for improvement and apply them in future problem-solving situations.

So, there you have it – a five-step process to solve any workplace problem like a pro! Whether it’s a pesky customer complaint, a tricky team conflict, or a stubborn project delay, you can tackle it with ease.

Remember, the first step is to define the problem – analyze it, gather information, and understand the root cause. Next, brainstorm possible solutions, even if they seem unrealistic or impractical. Get creative and come up with as many solutions as possible!

After that, evaluate the solutions by identifying their pros and cons, and choose the one that’s most feasible and practical. Make sure to consider the potential risks and benefits of each solution. Then, it’s time to implement the most practical solution. Develop a plan, communicate it to everyone involved, and assign roles and responsibilities.

Last but not least, monitor the progress and adjust the solution if necessary. Keep track of the progress and be open to feedback. Remember, learning from your mistakes is the key to success!

So, the next time you face a workplace problem, take a deep breath and follow these simple steps. You’ll be able to find a solution that works for everyone and become a valuable asset to your team or organization. With effective problem solving skills, you can maintain productivity, boost morale, and achieve success!

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Six Key Elements of Effective Problem-Solving Methods 

There have been many articles written about the important steps in a problem-solving method: Clearly define the problem, Evaluate the measurement system, etc. Because of this, nearly every problem-solving framework you come across will contain these same steps. And when there are such similarities, it can often be difficult to distinguish what makes one method better than another. In this article, I want to look at the process differently. With over 29 years of experience in solving technical problems, I’ve come to discover another set of differentiating factors that make a problem-solving method effective. In my experience, the key elements of an effective problem-solving process are:

Promotes Effective Collaboration

Visually displayed information.

  • Efficient Resource Utilization
  • Fact Based Analysis

Easily Learned

Achieves results.

That said, let’s look at each. 

6 Key Elements of Problem Solving methods displayed in a hexagon.

An effective problem-solving method enables collaboration between different team members, from different sites and with different skills. This means people from various parts of the organization can help collect critical information, give their interpretation of what it means, and offer ideas of what may be happening. It is the opposite of an individual scouring a large database yelling, “Eureka!” when they think they have found the answer. 

Some people may misinterpret the need for collaboration to mean you need a large team of people for problem solving, but this is not the case. As teams get larger, making decisions and moving forward becomes more difficult, so it is important to keep the core team small and collaborate with others on an as-needed basis. 

For example, an hourly operator not on the core team might recognize a certain defect pattern as matching something in the process when that information is displayed the right way. Not everyone will recognize a pattern in hundreds of rows in a spreadsheet, but they may be able to find a matching pattern if you tell them it happens on every 5th part when they know they change a hand tool every 5th part. This need to have information displayed in the right way leads directly to the next essential element. 

what are effective problem solving

Key Takeaway

The problem-solving method should encourage keeping the core team small but allow and encourage them to call on important resources as needed while not allowing them to exclude pertinent resources. 

Good visual display of measurements and test results leads to more effective communication, so how we display information should be well thought out and deliberate. When solving technical problems, we often need to communicate results and information with multiple levels of people. 

The measurements and results should be easily understood by everyone from the hourly operator to the technical subject expert, to the executive leader in the report out. It should be displayed in a way that is easily understood by all stakeholders.

For effective collaboration, structuring information in a way that matches our physical processes and part designs enables teams to be better able to see patterns and recognize potential sources of those patterns. Sometimes the best insight into difficult problems comes from having a simplified visual of the issue and where/how it’s occurring. And while many software packages can generate beautiful output graphs; most are not structured in the best way to make pattern recognition easy. 

The method should make progress & results easy to understand visually. Not everyone will have time to read the full report. Make it visual. 

Efficient with Resources

A trial-and-error approach that is not getting you closer to the source of your problem is not an efficient use of your resources. When resources and time are an issue, a good problem-solving method can get the most information out of the fewest number of measurements, with the fewest number of parts, and the fewest number of tests. The challenge is to figure out which ones to leave out and which ones to include. Being more efficient allows your organization to solve more problems faster with existing resources. 

Use problem solving methods that don’t require exhaustive data collection.

Fact-Based Analysis

Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of unique problems, including some that presented with typical failure modes but ended up being the result of some hidden and complex technical cause. And in these cases, the problem has persisted despite the concentrated efforts of the problem-solving team.

When reviewing those efforts, I’ve often seen an extended hyperfocus on a specific potential cause, identified by opinion or guess, even when the data didn’t support it. 

Our problem-solving training courses always elicit a few stories from attendees about how “people run down their first guess continuously” without regard to the data and the problem persists. 

When considering a problem-solving method to add to your toolbox, examine if the method prioritizes gathering facts and displaying them to enable pattern recognition. Patterns help get us closer to the root cause of a problem. In other words, the method should prioritize facts over opinions and be structured to enable pattern recognition quickly.

Avoid selecting methods that enable guesses and conjecture when trying to identify the source of a problem. Brainstorming is a good technique to develop creative solutions once a root cause has been identified but should be avoided as a technique for “finding the root cause”. 

Select problem solving methods structured to support data-based decisions and limit hypothesizing.

 When adding a new problem-solving method to your company’s toolbox, you want to be sure that it can be used by many, not just a select few. Good problem-solving methods do not require a PhD to become proficient. If the method you’re considering can’t be taught to most of your team, your whole team can’t be part of your problem-solving culture. 

The most effective problem-solving organizations I’ve seen have a problem-solving culture that touches every person employed there: from the CEO to the hourly operator. Everyone has some level of understanding of how best to solve problems. 

And they’re aligned. 

That’s the key. They’ve selected problem solving methods that make it easy for anyone in their organization to learn, implement, and communicate about their problems.  

Choose a method that your entire team can learn, use, and understand.

Ultimately, the success of your problem-solving method is measured by your results. And while every method will demonstrate some success, you should look deeper than the surface. 

The output of effective problem-solving methods is not a science project which ends with a report or a white paper with no change in performance. Rather, a successful problem-solving method results in changes being implemented that improve your business metrics in a reasonable amount of time.

A target on the final step of a set of floating wood shelves. The target is shown with a magnifying glass around it to emphasize results.

When vetting a problem-solving method, consider not only that the issues get resolved but also how long it takes for that resolution to happen. After all, time…and more defects…cost money.

Trust but verify the stated results of a method. Look for not only root cause resolution but also how long that takes.

Problems abound but solutions do, too

Every company has problems, and every company can benefit from a good problem-solving method. Regardless of what you build or sell, implementing an easily learned, results oriented problem-solving method that includes effective collaboration, visually displayed information, efficient resource utilization, and fact-based analysis will yield better results to your bottom line faster. 

About the Author

Executive vp - problem solving, john abrahamian.

John Abrahamian is a highly respected problem solver and an expert in Lean manufacturing, with a career spanning over three decades. Throughout his career, John has become renowned for his innovative problem-solving approach and unwavering dedication to customer satisfaction.  His experience in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, medical devices, and consumer products, positions him to effectively guide cross-functional teams through manufacturing and engineering challenges. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Business Administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  

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Stumped five ways to hone your problem-solving skills.

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Respect the worth of other people's insights

Problems continuously arise in organizational life, making problem-solving an essential skill for leaders. Leaders who are good at tackling conundrums are likely to be more effective at overcoming obstacles and guiding their teams to achieve their goals. So, what’s the secret to better problem-solving skills?

1. Understand the root cause of the problem

“Too often, people fail because they haven’t correctly defined what the problem is,” says David Ross, an international strategist, founder of consultancy Phoenix Strategic Management and author of Confronting the Storm: Regenerating Leadership and Hope in the Age of Uncertainty .

Ross explains that as teams grapple with “wicked” problems – those where there can be several root causes for why a problem exists – there can often be disagreement on the initial assumptions made. As a result, their chances of successfully solving the problem are low.

“Before commencing the process of solving the problem, it is worthwhile identifying who your key stakeholders are and talking to them about the issue,” Ross recommends. “Who could be affected by the issue? What is the problem – and why? How are people affected?”

He argues that if leaders treat people with dignity, respecting the worth of their insights, they are more likely to successfully solve problems.

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Best 5% interest savings accounts of 2024, 2. unfocus the mind.

“To solve problems, we need to commit to making time to face a problem in its full complexity, which also requires that we take back control of our thinking,” says Chris Griffiths, an expert on creativity and innovative thinking skills, founder and CEO of software provider OpenGenius, and co-author of The Focus Fix: Finding Clarity, Creativity and Resilience in an Overwhelming World .

To do this, it’s necessary to harness the power of the unfocused mind, according to Griffiths. “It might sound oxymoronic, but just like our devices, our brain needs time to recharge,” he says. “ A plethora of research has shown that daydreaming allows us to make creative connections and see abstract solutions that are not obvious when we’re engaged in direct work.”

To make use of the unfocused mind in problem solving, you must begin by getting to know the problem from all angles. “At this stage, don’t worry about actually solving the problem,” says Griffiths. “You’re simply giving your subconscious mind the information it needs to get creative with when you zone out. From here, pick a monotonous or rhythmic activity that will help you to activate the daydreaming state – that might be a walk, some doodling, or even some chores.”

Do this regularly, argues Griffiths, and you’ll soon find that flashes of inspiration and novel solutions naturally present themselves while you’re ostensibly thinking of other things. He says: “By allowing you to access the fullest creative potential of your own brain, daydreaming acts as a skeleton key for a wide range of problems.”

3. Be comfortable making judgment calls

“Admitting to not knowing the future takes courage,” says Professor Stephen Wyatt, founder and lead consultant at consultancy Corporate Rebirth and author of Antidote to the Crisis of Leadership: Opportunity in Complexity . “Leaders are worried our teams won’t respect us and our boards will lose faith in us, but what doesn’t work is drawing up plans and forecasts and holding yourself or others rigidly to them.”

Wyatt advises leaders to heighten their situational awareness – to look broadly, integrate more perspectives and be able to connect the dots. “We need to be comfortable in making judgment calls as the future is unknown,” he says. “There is no data on it. But equally, very few initiatives cannot be adjusted, refined or reviewed while in motion.”

Leaders need to stay vigilant, according to Wyatt, create the capacity of the enterprise to adapt and maintain the support of stakeholders. “The concept of the infallible leader needs to be updated,” he concludes.

4. Be prepared to fail and learn

“Organisations, and arguably society more widely, are obsessed with problems and the notion of problems,” says Steve Hearsum, founder of organizational change consultancy Edge + Stretch and author of No Silver Bullet: Bursting the Bubble of the Organisational Quick Fix .

Hearsum argues that this tendency is complicated by the myth of fixability, namely the idea that all problems, however complex, have a solution. “Our need for certainty, to minimize and dampen the anxiety of ‘not knowing,’ leads us to oversimplify and ignore or filter out anything that challenges the idea that there is a solution,” he says.

Leaders need to shift their mindset to cultivate their comfort with not knowing and couple that with being OK with being wrong, sometimes, notes Hearsum. He adds: “That means developing reflexivity to understand your own beliefs and judgments, and what influences these, asking questions and experimenting.”

5. Unleash the power of empathy

Leaders must be able to communicate problems in order to find solutions to them. But they should avoid bombarding their teams with complex, technical details since these can overwhelm their people’s cognitive load, says Dr Jessica Barker MBE , author of Hacked: The Secrets Behind Cyber Attacks .

Instead, she recommends that leaders frame their messages in ways that cut through jargon and ensure that their advice is relevant, accessible and actionable. “An essential leadership skill for this is empathy,” Barker explains. “When you’re trying to build a positive culture, it is crucial to understand why people are not practicing the behaviors you want rather than trying to force that behavioral change with fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Sally Percy

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what are effective problem solving

Six Steps to Effective Problem Solving Within Organizations

  • Dr. Nancy Zentis
  • March 20, 2015

Six Steps to Effective Problem Solving Within Organizations article


  Managers and their subordinates sometimes lack the problem-solving skills necessary to move things forward within their organizations. Luckily, OD process consulting focused towards problem solving training can be an effective antidote to this, as it helps in building critical skills to handle a possible deadlock.

Problem solving training is an intervention tool that helps managers and employees develop critical thinking skills to sharpen their logic, reasoning, and problem-defining capability. Problem solving training also helps develop abilities to evaluate causation, analyze alternatives, and select and execute solutions. This training is an integral part of organizational efforts to introducing quality management programs as it helps define a process to manage problems.

In this article, we will introduce the six-step problem solving process defined by Edgar Schein, so that teams trained in this can find the best solution to a problem and create an action plan.

Why Use a Problem Solving Process?

Since problems can be many and root causes hidden, it may take an extended period of time to come to a solution. Developing a team to help search for answers and formulating a decision is advantageous to improving organizational quality and efficiency.

OD Problem Solving Process based on Edgar H. Schein’s Approach

OD expert, Edgar Schein along with other OD experts suggested that a process that helps in problem-solving, steers groups to successful outcomes. Schein’s approach is presented in a model that investigates problem definition, brainstorming, group decision-making, idea development, action planning, and assessment.

As an OD consultant, you can use this process to improve communication,  strengthen group cohesion, and make effective decisions.

  • Problem Definition .  Identify problems through  problem formulation and questioning. The key is asking the  right questions to discover root causes.
  • Brainstorming .  During this process,  assumptions are uncovered  and underlying problems are further revealed. Also, this is an opportunity to collect and analyze data.
  • Selection . Decisions are made within the group to  determine the appropriate solution and process  through creative selection .
  • Development .  Once the group has formed solutions and alternatives to the problem(s), they need to explore the pros and cons of each option through  forecasting consequences .
  • Action Planning . Develop an  action plan to implement and execute the solution process.
  • Assessment . This final stage requires an  evaluation of the outcomes and results of the solution process. Ask questions such as: Did the option answer the questions we were working on? Did this process address the findings that came out of the assumptions?

​ This process makes group problem solving in projects and meetings agreeable, action-oriented, and productive. Without a process, it can become challenging for teams or groups to create the best solutions and establish a plan of action.

Do tell us about the problem solving methods you use within your organization. We would love to hear from you.

Reference: Schein, E.H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership, (Vol 2). John Wiley & Sons.

About the Author:  Valamere S. Mikler is the founder and principal consultant of V.S.M. Professional Services and Consulting, a consulting firm providing organizational efficiency and administrative office management services. She can be reached at  [email protected] .

Additional Information: The Institute of Organization Development offers certification in OD Process Consulting. You can become certified as an OD Process Consultant and play an important role as a partner to make the organization more effective and help to align organizational changes with the strategy, culture, structure, systems, skills, and people. To learn more or register, please check out our website: www. instituteod.com or email us at [email protected].


Get updates and learn from the best, explore more articles and posts, certifications, educational resources, © 2021 institute of organization development, cancellation policy, privacy policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion (de&i) strategies.

DE&I consulting services focus on helping organizations foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Consultants assess the organization's current DE&I initiatives, develop DE&I strategies and policies, conduct training on unconscious bias and cultural competence, establish employee resource groups, and guide leaders in creating inclusive leadership practices. They work with organizations to attract and retain diverse talent, create inclusive hiring processes, and implement programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels. DE&I consultants aim to create an environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and have equal opportunities for growth.

Organizational Development Consulting

Organizational development (OD) consulting services focus on helping leaders lead change initiatives to improving organizational effectiveness and results. Consultants work closely with leaders to assess the organization's current state, identify areas for improvement, create action plans and design interventions, and implement changes to enhance employee engagement, teamwork, leadership development, and organizational culture. They facilitate strategic planning, conduct organizational assessments, and implement initiatives such as talent management, succession planning, performance management, and employee training and development programs. OD consultants aim to align people, processes, and systems to drive sustainable organizational growth and change.

Mentoring Program

Mentoring Programs involve establishing formal or informal relationships between experienced employees (mentors) and less experienced employees (mentees) within an organization. Consultants assist organizations in designing and implementing mentoring programs that facilitate knowledge transfer, skill development, and career growth. They establish mentoring guidelines, match mentors and mentees based on specific criteria, provide training and resources for mentors, and monitor the progress of the mentoring relationships. Mentoring programs aim to enhance employee development, engagement, and retention by leveraging the expertise and wisdom of experienced professionals.

Performance Management

Performance Management involves establishing systems and processes to monitor, assess, and improve employee performance. Consultants work with organizations to design and implement performance management frameworks that align with organizational goals and values. This includes setting clear performance expectations, defining key performance indicators (KPIs), establishing regular feedback and coaching mechanisms, conducting performance evaluations, and linking performance outcomes to rewards and recognition. Performance management systems aim to drive individual and team performance, align employee efforts with organizational objectives, and support employee development.

Job Redesign/Analysis

Job Redesign/Analysis is the process of reevaluating and modifying job roles and responsibilities to optimize efficiency, productivity, and employee satisfaction. Consultants analyze existing job descriptions, tasks, and workflows to identify opportunities for improvement. They may conduct job analyses to determine essential skills, competencies, and qualifications required for each role. Based on these findings, consultants provide recommendations for job redesign, such as clarifying roles and responsibilities, redistributing tasks, and implementing automation or technology solutions to streamline processes and enhance job satisfaction.

Executive Coaching, Competency Development, 360° Feedback

Executive Coaching, Competency Development, and 360 Feedback are individual-focused strategies that aim to enhance leadership and professional effectiveness. Consultants provide executive coaching services to senior leaders, offering personalized guidance, support, and feedback to help leaders develop their strengths, address developmental areas, and enhance their leadership capabilities. Competency development involves identifying and developing specific skills and competencies required for success in particular roles or functions. 360-degree feedback involves collecting feedback from multiple sources, including peers, subordinates, and superiors, to provide a comprehensive assessment of an individual's strengths and areas for improvement.

Culture Strategies

Culture Strategies focus on shaping and transforming the organizational culture to create a positive and productive work environment. Consultants assist organizations in assessing their current culture, identifying areas for improvement, and developing strategies to align the culture with the desired values, behaviors, and goals. This may involve initiatives such as defining core values, establishing cultural norms, enhancing communication and collaboration practices, promoting diversity and inclusion, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

Talent Management Strategies

Talent Management Strategies involve designing and implementing initiatives to attract, develop, engage, and retain top talent within an organization. Consultants work with organizations to develop comprehensive talent management strategies that encompass recruitment and selection processes, onboarding programs, performance management systems, career development frameworks, succession planning, and employee retention strategies. The goal is to ensure the organization has the right people in the right roles, with opportunities for growth and development that align with their skills and aspirations.

Career Planning/High Potentials

Career Planning/High Potentials initiatives involve designing strategies and programs to support employees in planning and advancing their careers within the organization. Consultants work with organizations to establish career development frameworks, provide guidance on career paths and progression opportunities, and assist in identifying and nurturing high-potential employees. They may offer career counseling, development planning, and training programs to enhance employees' skills, competencies, and knowledge needed for career growth. Career planning initiatives aim to engage and retain talented individuals by providing them with a clear path for advancement and professional development.

Change Management

Change management consulting services support organizations in managing and implementing significant organizational changes. Consultants help identify change management strategies and plans, assess the impact of change, and design effective communication and training programs to support employee adoption and buy-in. They work with leaders and teams to overcome resistance, address cultural and behavioral challenges, and foster a positive change culture. Change management consultants provide guidance throughout the change process, ensuring a smooth transition and successful adoption of new processes, systems, or structures.

Organization Change (OCM) Strategy

Organization Change Management (OCM) Strategy refers to the planned approach or roadmap that an organization follows to implement and manage changes within its structure, processes, technologies, or culture. OCM strategies involve identifying the need for change, setting goals, creating a plan, and executing and evaluating the change process. Organization Change Consulting involves developing and implementing effective strategies to manage and navigate organizational change. The consultant focuses on helping organizations transition smoothly from their current state to a desired future state, considering various factors such as technology advancements, market shifts, mergers and acquisitions, or internal restructuring. Consultants specializing in OCM work closely with organizational leaders to identify OCM processes and help implement a consistent approach to change management, and train internal consultants to lead change management projects and provide support throughout the change process. Consultants may develop assessments, develop communication and training programs, and provide guidance on change implementation to ensure successful organizational transitions. OCM design typically includes steps such as stakeholder analysis, communication and training plans, risk assessment, and monitoring progress to ensure a smooth transition and successful adoption of the changes.

Human Resources Strategies

Human resources (HR) consulting services assist organizations in optimizing their HR practices and processes. Consultants work with HR departments to enhance talent acquisition and retention strategies, develop compensation and benefits programs, design performance management systems, implement employee engagement initiatives, and ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations. They may also provide guidance on organizational restructuring, workforce planning, employee relations, and HR technology implementation. HR consultants help organizations align their HR practices with business objectives and create a positive and productive work environment.

Team Development Strategies

Team Development Strategies focus on improving the effectiveness and performance of teams within an organization. Consultants work with teams to enhance communication, collaboration, and decision-making processes. They facilitate team-building activities, provide training on effective teamwork and conflict resolution, and help establish clear roles and responsibilities. Team development strategies may also involve conducting assessments to identify team dynamics and strengths, and designing interventions to improve team cohesion, trust, and productivity.

Employee Engagement Strategies

Employee Engagement Strategies aim to create a work environment where employees feel motivated, committed, and connected to the organization. Consultants assist organizations in measuring employee engagement levels, identifying factors that influence engagement, and developing strategies to enhance it. These strategies may include initiatives such as fostering a positive work culture, improving communication and recognition practices, providing opportunities for growth and development, promoting work-life balance, and empowering employees to contribute their ideas and opinions. The goal is to create a work environment that fosters high employee morale, satisfaction, and productivity.

Leadership Development Strategies

Leadership Development Strategies focus on cultivating effective leaders within an organization. Consultants work with organizations to assess leadership capabilities, identify leadership gaps, and design leadership development programs that enhance leadership skills, competencies, and behaviors. These strategies may include executive education, coaching and mentoring programs, leadership training workshops, and succession planning initiatives. The aim is to build a strong leadership pipeline and foster a culture of leadership excellence throughout the organization.

Organization Design/Redesign

Organization Design or Redesign refers to the process of structuring an organization to align its structure, roles, processes, and systems with its strategic objectives. It involves reviewing and potentially revising elements such as reporting lines, departmental structure, job roles and responsibilities, decision-making processes, and overall organizational hierarchy to optimize efficiency, coordination, and effectiveness within the organization, ensuring that it is well-positioned to achieve its goals. Organization Systems Design or Redesign consulting focuses on designing or restructuring the systems and processes within an organization to optimize efficiency, effectiveness, and overall performance. This service involves analyzing existing organizational systems, such as workflows, communication channels, decision-making processes, and information management systems, to identify areas for improvement. Consultants work closely with organizational leaders to redesign these systems, incorporating best practices, automation, and streamlining processes to enhance productivity and achieve organizational goals. They may also provide recommendations on implementing new technologies or software to support the redesigned systems and ensure successful integration within the organization.

Organization Culture Change/Transformation

Organization Culture Change or Transformation involves deliberately altering the beliefs, values, behaviors, and norms that define the culture of an organization. Organization Culture Change consulting involves assisting organizations in transforming their existing culture or establishing a new desired culture within the organization. The organizational culture encompasses shared values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms that shape the way people work and interact within an organization. Culture change consultants help organizations identify their current culture, define the desired culture, and create strategies to bridge the gap between the two. They may conduct cultural assessments, facilitate workshops and training programs, develop communication strategies, and provide guidance to leaders and employees on how to align their behaviors and practices with the desired culture. This change is typically aimed at aligning the organizational culture with the company's vision, mission, and strategic objectives. Culture change initiatives often require a shift in leadership style, employee engagement, communication practices, and organizational practices to create a new cultural environment that supports desired outcomes such as increased collaboration, innovation, or adaptability.

Systems Design

Systems Design refers to the process of creating or modifying the systems and processes within an organization to optimize efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness. It involves analyzing the existing systems, identifying areas for improvement, and designing new systems or reconfiguring existing ones to meet organizational goals. Systems design may include aspects such as technology infrastructure, software applications, data management, workflow processes, and automation to enhance operational performance and streamline organizational activities.

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning is the process of defining an organization's direction, setting goals, and formulating action plans to achieve those goals. It involves assessing the organization's current state, identifying opportunities and challenges, and developing strategies to effectively allocate resources and achieve the desired outcomes. Strategic planning typically includes analyzing the external environment, conducting internal assessments, setting objectives, formulating strategies, and establishing a framework for monitoring and adapting to changes in the business landscape. Strategy consulting services focus on assisting organizations in formulating and implementing strategic plans to achieve their long-term objectives. Strategy consultants also help organizations align their vision, mission, values, processes, and organizational structure with the strategic goals.

Succession Planning

Succession Planning is the process of identifying and developing internal talent to fill key leadership positions within an organization when they become vacant. Consultants work with organizations to create succession planning strategies that align with the organization's long-term goals. They assess the current talent pool, identify high-potential employees, and design development programs to groom them for future leadership roles. Succession planning may involve creating development plans, providing leadership training, and implementing strategies to ensure a smooth transition when key positions need to be filled.

what are effective problem solving

6 Common Problem Solving Barriers and How Can Managers Beat them?

What is the meaning of barriers to problem solving, what are the 6 barriers to problem solving, examples of barriers to problem solving, how to overcome problem solving barriers at work tips for managers, problem solving barriers faqs.

Other Related Blogs

Lack of motivation

Lack of knowledge, lack of resources, emotional barriers, cultural and societal barriers, fear of failure.

  • Lack of motivation: A person who lacks motivation may struggle to complete tasks on time or produce quality work. For example, an employee who is disengaged from their job may procrastinate on essential tasks or show up late to work.
  • Lack of knowledge : Employees who lack knowledge or training may be unable to perform their duties effectively. For example, a new employee unfamiliar with the company’s software systems may struggle to complete tasks on their computer.
  • Lack of resources: Employees may be unable to complete their work due to a lack of resources, such as equipment or technology. For example, a graphic designer who doesn’t have access to the latest design software may struggle to produce high-quality designs.
  • Emotional barriers: Emotional barriers can affect an employee’s ability to perform their job effectively. For example, an employee dealing with a personal issue, such as a divorce, may have trouble focusing on their work and meeting deadlines.
  • Cultural and societal barriers: Cultural and societal barriers can affect an employee’s ability to work effectively. For example, an employee from a different culture may struggle to communicate effectively with colleagues or may feel uncomfortable in a work environment that is not inclusive.
  • Fear of failure : Employees who fear failure may avoid taking on new challenges or may not take risks that could benefit the company. For example, an employee afraid of making mistakes may not take on a leadership role or hesitate to make decisions that could impact the company’s bottom line.
  • Identify and Define the Problem: Define the problem and understand its root cause. This will help you identify the obstacles that are preventing effective problem solving.
  • C ollaborate and Communicate: Work with others to gather information, generate new ideas, and share perspectives. Effective communication can help overcome misunderstandings and promote creative problem solving.
  • Use Creative Problem Solving Techniques: Consider using creative problem solving techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, or SWOT analysis to explore new ideas and generate innovative solutions.
  • Embrace Flexibility: Be open to new ideas and approaches. Embracing flexibility can help you overcome fixed mindsets and encourage creativity in problem solving.
  • Invest in Resources: Ensure that you have access to the necessary resources, such as time, money, or personnel, to effectively solve complex problems.
  • Emphasize Continuous Learning: Encourage continuous learning and improvement by seeking feedback, evaluating outcomes, and reflecting on the problem solving process. This can help you identify improvement areas and promote a continuous improvement culture.

How good are you in jumping over problem-solving barriers?

Find out now with the free problem-solving assessment for managers and leaders.

What are the factors affecting problem solving?

What are the five key obstacles to problem solving, can habits be a barrier to problem solving, how do you overcome barriers in problem solving.

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what are effective problem solving

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Barriers to Effective Problem Solving

man staring at whiteboard

Learning how to effectively solve problems is difficult and takes time and continual adaptation. There are several common barriers to successful CPS, including:

  • Confirmation Bias: The tendency to only search for or interpret information that confirms a person’s existing ideas. People misinterpret or disregard data that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
  • Mental Set: People’s inclination to solve problems using the same tactics they have used to solve problems in the past. While this can sometimes be a useful strategy (see Analogical Thinking in a later section), it often limits inventiveness and creativity.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is another form of narrow thinking, where people become “stuck” thinking in a certain way and are unable to be flexible or change perspective.
  • Unnecessary Constraints: When people are overwhelmed with a problem, they can invent and impose additional limits on solution avenues. To avoid doing this, maintain a structured, level-headed approach to evaluating causes, effects, and potential solutions.
  • Groupthink: Be wary of the tendency for group members to agree with each other — this might be out of conflict avoidance, path of least resistance, or fear of speaking up. While this agreeableness might make meetings run smoothly, it can actually stunt creativity and idea generation, therefore limiting the success of your chosen solution.
  • Irrelevant Information: The tendency to pile on multiple problems and factors that may not even be related to the challenge at hand. This can cloud the team’s ability to find direct, targeted solutions.
  • Paradigm Blindness : This is found in people who are unwilling to adapt or change their worldview, outlook on a particular problem, or typical way of processing information. This can erode the effectiveness of problem solving techniques because they are not aware of the narrowness of their thinking, and therefore cannot think or act outside of their comfort zone.

According to Jaffa, the primary barrier of effective problem solving is rigidity. “The most common things people say are, ‘We’ve never done it before,’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” While these feelings are natural, Jaffa explains that this rigid thinking actually precludes teams from identifying creative, inventive solutions that result in the greatest benefit. “The biggest barrier to creative problem solving is a lack of awareness – and commitment to – training employees in state-of-the-art creative problem-solving techniques,” Mattimore explains. “We teach our clients how to use ideation techniques (as many as two-dozen different creative thinking techniques) to help them generate more and better ideas. Ideation techniques use specific and customized stimuli, or ‘thought triggers’ to inspire new thinking and new ideas.” MacLeod adds that ineffective or rushed leadership is another common culprit. “We're always in a rush to fix quickly,” she says. “Sometimes leaders just solve problems themselves, making unilateral decisions to save time. But the investment is well worth it — leaders will have less on their plates if they can teach and eventually trust the team to resolve. Teams feel empowered and engagement and investment increases.”

Image Courtesy of Pexels.  

Six Steps to Develop an Effective Problem-Solving Process

by Rawzaba Alhalabi Published on November 1, 2017

Problem-solving involves thought and understanding. Although it may appear simple, identifying a problem may be a challenging process.

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes”, says American industrialist Henry Kaiser. According to Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995), a problem is “ doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution” and “something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.” Such situations are at the center of what many people do at work every day.

Whether to help a client solve a problem, support a problem-solver, or to discover new problems, problem-solving is a crucial element to the workplace ingredients. Everyone can benefit from effective problem-solving skills that would make people happier. Everyone wins. Hence, this approach is a critical element but how can you do it effectively? You need to find a solution, but not right away. People tend to put the solution at the beginning of the process but they actually needed it at the end of the process.

Here are six steps to an effective problem-solving process:

Identify the issues, understand everyone’s interests, list the possible solutions, make a decision, implement the solution.

By following the whole process, you will be able to enhance your problem-solving skills and increase your patience. Keep in mind that effective problem solving does take some time and attention. You have to always be ready to hit the brakes and slow down. A problem is like a bump road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.

Case study 1:

According to Real Time Economics, there are industries that have genuinely evolved, with more roles for people with analytical and problem-solving skills. In healthcare, for example, a regulatory change requiring the digitization of health records has led to greater demand for medical records technicians. Technological change in the manufacturing industry has reduced routine factory jobs while demanding more skilled workers who can operate complex machinery.

Case study 2:

Yolanda was having a hard time dealing with difficult clients and dealing with her team at the office, so she decided to take a problem-solving course. “I was very pleased with the 2-day Problem Solving program at RSM.  It is an excellent investment for anyone involved in the strategic decision-making process—be it in their own company or as a consultant charged with supporting organizations facing strategic challenges.“

Yolanda Barreros Gutiérrez, B&C Consulting

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Problem Solving Skills: 25 Performance Review Phrases Examples

By Status.net Editorial Team on July 21, 2023 — 4 minutes to read

Problem solving is an important skill in any work environment: it includes the ability to identify, understand, and develop solutions to complex issues while maintaining a focus on the end goal. Evaluating this skill in employees during performance reviews can be highly beneficial for both the employee and the organization.

Questions that can help you determine an employee’s rating for problem solving skills:

  • How well does the employee define the problem and identify its root cause?
  • How creative is the employee in generating potential solutions?
  • How effective is the employee in implementing the chosen solution?
  • How well does the employee evaluate the effectiveness of the solution and adjust it if necessary?

Related: Best Performance Review Examples for 48 Key Skills

2000+ Performance Review Phrases: The Complete List (Performance Feedback Examples)

Performance Review Phrases and Paragraphs Examples For Problem Solving

5 – outstanding.

Phrases examples:

  • Consistently demonstrates exceptional problem-solving abilities
  • Proactively identifies issues and offers innovative solutions
  • Quickly adapts to unforeseen challenges and finds effective resolutions
  • Exceptional problem-solving ability, consistently providing innovative solutions
  • Regularly goes above and beyond to find creative solutions to complicated issues
  • Demonstrates a keen understanding of complex problems and quickly identifies effective solutions

Paragraph Example 1

“Jane consistently demonstrates outstanding problem-solving skills. She proactively identifies issues in our department and offers innovative solutions that have improved processes and productivity. Her ability to quickly adapt to unforeseen challenges and find effective resolutions is commendable and has proven invaluable to the team.”

Paragraph Example 2

“Sarah has demonstrated an outstanding ability in problem solving throughout the year. Her innovative solutions have significantly improved our department’s efficiency, and she consistently goes above and beyond expectations to find creative approaches to complicated issues.”

4 – Exceeds Expectations

  • Demonstrates a strong aptitude for solving complex problems
  • Often takes initiative in identifying and resolving issues
  • Effectively considers multiple perspectives and approaches before making decisions
  • Displayed a consistently strong ability to tackle challenging problems efficiently
  • Often takes the initiative to solve problems before they escalate
  • Demonstrates a high level of critical thinking when resolving issues

“John exceeds expectations in problem-solving. He has a strong aptitude for solving complex problems and often takes initiative in identifying and resolving issues. His ability to consider multiple perspectives and approaches before making decisions has led to valuable improvements within the team.”

“Sam consistently exceeded expectations in problem solving this year. His efficient handling of challenging issues has made a positive impact on our team, and he often takes the initiative to resolve problems before they escalate. Sam’s critical thinking ability has been a valuable asset to our organization, and we appreciate his efforts.”

3 – Meets Expectations

  • Displays adequate problem-solving skills when faced with challenges
  • Generally able to identify issues and propose viable solutions
  • Seeks assistance when necessary to resolve difficult situations
  • Demonstrates a solid understanding of problem-solving techniques
  • Capable of resolving everyday issues independently
  • Shows perseverance when facing difficult challenges

“Mary meets expectations in her problem-solving abilities. She displays adequate skills when faced with challenges and is generally able to identify issues and propose viable solutions. Mary also seeks assistance when necessary to resolve difficult situations, demonstrating her willingness to collaborate and learn.”

“Sarah meets expectations in her problem-solving abilities. She demonstrates a solid understanding of problem-solving techniques and can resolve everyday issues independently. We value her perseverance when facing difficult challenges and encourage her to continue developing these skills.”

2 – Needs Improvement

  • Struggles to find effective solutions to problems
  • Tends to overlook critical details when evaluating situations
  • Reluctant to seek help or collaborate with others to resolve issues
  • Struggles to find effective solutions when faced with complex issues
  • Often relies on assistance from others to resolve problems
  • May lack confidence in decision-making when solving problems

“Tom’s problem-solving skills need improvement. He struggles to find effective solutions to problems and tends to overlook critical details when evaluating situations. Tom should work on being more willing to seek help and collaborate with others to resolve issues, which will ultimately strengthen his problem-solving abilities.”

“Mark’s problem-solving skills need improvement. He often struggles to find effective solutions for complex issues and seeks assistance from others to resolve problems. We encourage Mark to build his confidence in decision-making and focus on developing his problem-solving abilities.”

1 – Unacceptable

  • Fails to identify and resolve problems in a timely manner
  • Lacks critical thinking skills necessary for effective problem-solving
  • Often creates additional issues when attempting to resolve problems
  • Demonstrates a consistent inability to resolve even basic issues
  • Often avoids responsibility for problem-solving tasks
  • Fails to analyze problems effectively, leading to poor decision-making

“Sally’s problem-solving skills are unacceptable. She consistently fails to identify and resolve problems in a timely manner, and her lack of critical thinking skills hinders her ability to effectively solve challenges. Additionally, her attempts to resolve problems often create additional issues, resulting in a negative impact on the team’s overall performance.”

“Susan’s problem-solving performance has been unacceptable this year. She consistently demonstrates an inability to resolve basic issues and avoids taking responsibility for problem-solving tasks. Her ineffectiveness in analyzing problems has led to poor decision-making. It is crucial that Susan improve her problem-solving skills to succeed in her role.”

  • Job Knowledge Performance Review Phrases (Examples)
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How to Use Online Whiteboards for Effective Problem-Solving

  • Post author By Jessica Wu
  • Post date July 3, 2024

People brainstorming at a work table with sticky notes

Effective problem-solving is at the heart of innovation and success, especially for agile teams. Teams need to quickly identify issues, brainstorm solutions, implement strategies efficiently, and adopt technology tools to help. Online whiteboards are a popular tool for distributed teams and have revolutionized the way we approach these challenges, helping teams collaborate visually and structure their thoughts in real-time, no matter where they are. Below, we explore how to harness the power of online whiteboards for problem-solving, dive into various problem-solving strategies, and introduce Frameable Whiteboard as a top-tier tool designed for structured thinking.

The Power of Online Whiteboards in Problem-Solving

What is an Online Whiteboard?

An online whiteboard is a digital tool that mimics the functionality of a physical whiteboard but with enhanced features such as real-time collaboration, drawing and annotation tools, and more. These features allow users to brainstorm, organize ideas, and develop solutions in a virtual canvas accessible from anywhere.

Why Use Online Whiteboards?

Online whiteboards bring several advantages to the table, especially when it comes to problem-solving:

  • Collaboration: Teams can work together in real-time, regardless of their geographical location.
  • Visualization: Concepts and ideas can be illustrated with diagrams, mind maps, and other visual aids.
  • Organization: Notes, images, and other resources can be organized on an infinite canvas, making it easier to see the big picture.
  • Accessibility: All changes are saved in the cloud, ensuring that the latest version is always available to all team members.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills with Online Whiteboards

Structured Visual Thinking

Effective problem-solving often requires structured visual thinking , which involves organizing and processing information visually to enhance understanding and communication. Online whiteboards excel in facilitating this by offering various templates and tools that help structure thoughts and ideas clearly and logically.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Here are some key problem-solving strategies that can be enhanced through the use of online whiteboards:

  • Brainstorming: This initial stage involves generating as many ideas as possible. Online whiteboards provide a collaborative platform where all team members can contribute ideas simultaneously on a blank canvas.
  • Mind Mapping : This technique helps in organizing thoughts and ideas around a central concept. By creating a mind map on an online whiteboard, teams can visually explore and connect different aspects of a problem.
  • SWOT Analysis : This strategy involves analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem. Online whiteboards can be used to create a structured SWOT analysis chart, to help you identify and comprehensively assess various factors affecting the problem at hand.

Approaching Complex Problems with Online Whiteboards

When it comes to complex problem-solving, structured thinking is crucial. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to approach a complex problem using an online whiteboard as a canvas for organizing your thoughts:

  • Define the Problem: Clearly articulate the problem statement. This step should always be followed for effective problem-solving.
  • Gather Information: Collect relevant data and insights and add this information to your online whiteboard so everything you need is organized in one place.
  • Identify Possible Solutions: Brainstorm potential solutions and create a mind map to explore different ideas. If you’ve never created a mind map, there are plenty of mind map templates to help you get started.
  • Evaluate Solutions: Use online whiteboards to create SWOT analysis or decision trees to evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
  • Implement the Solution: Develop an action plan in an online whiteboard and assign tasks to teammates using the whiteboard’s collaborative features such as tags and comments.
  • Monitor and Review: Track progress and make necessary adjustments. Online whiteboards allow for unlimited updates and revisions.

Frameable Whiteboard: Built for Structured Thinking

Frameable Whiteboard is a premier online whiteboard designed specifically for structured thinking and problem-solving . It offers a suite of features tailored to facilitate complex and effective problem-solving strategies:

Nested Cards: Frameable Whiteboard allows users to create nested cards, which are perfect for breaking down complex problems into manageable parts. This feature supports structured visual thinking by helping users organize information hierarchically.

Templates for Structured Thinking: Frameable Whiteboard provides a variety of templates, including Business Model Canvas, SWOT Analysis, Concept Map, Mind Map, and Decision Tree. These templates are designed to guide users through structured problem-solving processes.

Real-Time Collaboration: Teams can collaborate in real-time, making it easy to brainstorm ideas, develop strategies, and track progress together, regardless of location.

Tips for Maximizing the Use of Online Whiteboards

Establish Clear Objectives

Before diving into a brainstorming or problem-solving session, establish clear objectives. Knowing what you aim to achieve keeps the team focused and ensures that the session is productive. Use the online whiteboard to list these objectives visibly so everyone stays aligned and on-task.

Encourage Participation

To harness the full potential of your team’s creativity and problem-solving skills, encourage participation from all members. Online whiteboards allow for real-time contributions, so ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas with time-boxed opportunities to do so in these sessions. This inclusive approach can uncover insights that might otherwise be missed.

Utilize Templates

Frameable Whiteboard offers a variety of templates designed for structured thinking. Take advantage of these templates to streamline your problem-solving process. Whether it’s a SWOT analysis or a mind map, these tools provide a structured format that can help organize and visualize your thoughts.

Break Down Problems

Complex problems can often feel overwhelming. Use nested cards on Frameable Whiteboard to break down these problems into smaller, more manageable parts. This hierarchical organization makes it easier to tackle each aspect of the problem methodically and completely.

Track Progress

An effective problem-solving process doesn’t end once a solution is implemented. Continuously track progress and make adjustments as needed. Online whiteboards allow you to update your plans in real time, ensuring that your team stays on track and any new issues are promptly addressed.

Leverage Visual Aids

Visual aids such as arrows and shapes can significantly enhance understanding and communication. Use these features on your online whiteboard to illustrate complex relationships and ideas, making it easier for the team to grasp and analyze information.

Transform Your Problem-Solving Approach

Online whiteboards are powerful tools for enhancing problem-solving skills and strategies. By facilitating structured visual thinking and real-time collaboration, they enable teams to tackle complex problems effectively. Frameable Whiteboard, with its suite of features designed for structured thinking, stands out as an ideal solution for teams looking to enhance their problem-solving processes.

Ready to elevate your problem-solving skills? Get started with Frameable Whiteboard for free and experience the power of structured visual thinking in action. Visit Frameable Whiteboard to sign up and begin your journey towards more effective problem-solving today! 

Problem solving made easy with structured-thinking practices

  • Tags productivity , remote work , whiteboard

The foundation of effective problem solving

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The problem identification process is really about asking the question; what problem are we trying to solve and what are we trying to answer.   

But before we can identify the problem and really understand it, we first need to understand how does a situation evolve into a problem? How does the problem identification task get started? What causes us to start looking into this? In this blog I try to answer these questions and create a guide to successful problem identification.  

Below you’ll find four tips for the most effective problem identification:  

1. Don’t start with the solution 

It's very important to only focus on the problem and the structure of the problem at the initial steps of problem identification. Naturally, as we encounter an issue, we start brainstorming and thinking of the solution, however, if you focus on the problem first, you’ll fail to identify the core of the issue.   

2. Find the root cause 

It's not only about identifying the problem, but it's also about identifying the right issue and really getting to the root of it. What I mean by this is that one problem may actually be because of another lower-level root problem. A common technique for finding the core of a problem is the 5 Whys. The method is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you drill down to its root cause by asking "Why?" five times.  

For example:  

Why does the client not like this feature? Because the users cannot easily navigate it.  

Why can’t the users easily navigate it? Because the landing page is not helpful.  

Why is the landing page not helpful? Because the menu is too complex and there are too many options.  

Why is the menu so complicated and there are too many options? Because no UX considerations were made in the design process.  

Why was there no UX considerations made in the design process? Because the team members have no experience in UX design.  

Using the Why method, we have found the root cause of the problem which is that the team lacks members that are experienced and knowledgeable in UX design.  

3. Keep it simple 

Simplicity doesn’t mean a lack of understanding — it may mean a good solid understanding of the project but something in the plan didn’t quite work. Try to approach any complex situation by breaking it down into more simple elements.  

4. Exploit the collective wisdom and synergies 

We need the collective wisdom of the people around us and to accept different perspectives. It’s the only way a complete understanding of the problem will be achieved. Don’t forget to leave yourself open to different ideas and perspectives that may be contrary to your established beliefs and thinking patterns.  

Identifying the real problem and solving it in the most effective way is the fundamental step for finding an ideal solution and problem identification is the first step to finding the perfect result. Correctly defining the problem or asking the right question is the most critical stage of the decision-making process if we want to have the best choices and adopt the best solutions.

You may also be interested in:

  • What is project planning?
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George Sioutzos

George Sioutzos is an experienced Sr. Business Analyst at Netcompany, working on a large-scale social security project. He has authored numerous articles on business analysis, engaged in voluntary activities with the International Institute of Business Analysis, and conducted trainings. 

LinkedIn Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/gsioutzos

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Aaron Hall, Attorney for Businesses

Empowering Your Team: Strategies for Success

In the realm of leadership, the concept of empowering one’s team is a focal point for achieving success. By adopting strategies that encourage open communication and collaboration, leaders can create an environment where team members feel valued and heard. This, in turn, promotes effective teamwork and fresh perspectives. Additionally, challenging individuals’ thinking and fostering a proactive problem-solving culture can lead to personal growth and the development of essential skills. Therefore, understanding and implementing strategies for empowering team members can greatly enhance team dynamics and contribute to future leadership growth.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Asking questions and listening fosters open communication and collaboration.
  • Identifying patterns in thinking styles helps in effective leadership and delegation.
  • Challenging people’s thinking leads to growth and breakthrough moments.
  • Encouraging a focus on solutions creates a proactive problem-solving culture.

Asking Questions and Listening

The practice of asking questions and actively listening in a leadership role initiates meaningful conversations and encourages team members to participate and contribute their ideas. Active listening involves fully focusing on and comprehending what others are saying, without interrupting or judging. Effective questioning involves asking open-ended questions that encourage discussion and elicit thoughtful responses from team members. By engaging in active listening and effective questioning, leaders create an environment that fosters open communication and collaboration. Team members feel valued and heard when their ideas are acknowledged and considered. This approach also enables leaders to gain fresh perspectives and insights from team members, leading to more informed decision-making. Overall, incorporating active listening and effective questioning into leadership practices enhances team engagement and promotes a culture of open dialogue.

Identifying Patterns

Identifying patterns involves observing how individuals analyze information and make decisions, which aids in future leadership and delegation. Analyzing behaviors allows leaders to understand how individuals approach tasks and challenges. This understanding can help leaders assign appropriate responsibilities and motivate individuals effectively. By recognizing different thinking styles, leaders can tailor their leadership approach to suit each individual’s needs. Motivating individuals is an important aspect of leadership, and understanding their behaviors can provide insights into what drives them. By identifying patterns in how individuals analyze information and make decisions, leaders can develop strategies to inspire and empower team members. This can lead to a more productive and cohesive team, as well as foster a culture of motivation and success.

Challenging People’s Thinking

Challenging assumptions and guiding individuals towards considering other perspectives can lead to personal and intellectual growth. By provoking curiosity and stimulating critical thinking, individuals are encouraged to question their existing beliefs and explore alternative viewpoints. This process of challenging people’s thinking is essential in fostering growth and development. It enables individuals to expand their knowledge and gain new insights by engaging in concentrated dialogue and considering diverse perspectives. By encouraging individuals to challenge their own assumptions and explore different possibilities, breakthrough moments can be achieved. This approach also promotes the development of critical thinking skills, as individuals learn to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and make informed decisions. Overall, challenging people’s thinking is a valuable strategy in empowering individuals and cultivating intellectual growth.

Encouraging a Focus on Solutions

Encouraging a focus on solutions involves requiring team members to actively propose and implement ideas to address problems. This approach nurtures a problem-solving mindset that is essential for effective teamwork. By fostering a solution-oriented culture, organizations can benefit from the following:

  • Enhanced problem-solving techniques: Team members develop their problem-solving skills by actively engaging in finding solutions to challenges.
  • Increased innovation: A solution-oriented mindset encourages team members to think creatively and explore new possibilities when addressing problems.
  • Improved collaboration: When team members actively propose and implement solutions, it promotes collaboration and cooperation among team members.
  • Enhanced productivity: By focusing on solutions, teams can effectively address and overcome obstacles, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency.

Overall, encouraging a focus on solutions cultivates a proactive and problem-solving culture within teams, leading to better outcomes and a more cohesive working environment.

Modeling the Importance of Reflection

The importance of reflection in leadership is demonstrated by taking time to think, allowing for new discoveries and original answers. Quiet time plays a crucial role in this process, providing leaders with the opportunity to step back, analyze situations, and gain valuable insights. It is through reflection that leaders can shift from a leader-does-all model to shared responsibility and empowerment. This shift requires overcoming insecurities and avoiding the ‘do it myself’ mentality, ultimately investing in people and their growth as future leaders. By modeling the importance of reflection, leaders set an example for their team members, encouraging them to also engage in self-reflection and critical thinking. This shared responsibility fosters a culture of continuous improvement, where individuals are encouraged to contribute their ideas and collectively solve problems.

Development of Skills, Knowledge, and Decision-making

To ensure the development of skills, knowledge, and decision-making, leaders must create an environment that fosters continuous learning and growth. Strategies for growth and fostering decision-making skills include:

  • Providing opportunities for asking questions and listening: Engaging in dialogue and encouraging team members to participate and contribute their ideas fosters open communication and collaboration. It also helps individuals feel valued and heard, which can lead to fresh perspectives and successful team dynamics.
  • Identifying patterns: Observing how people analyze information and make decisions can aid in future leadership and delegation. Understanding others’ motivations and thinking styles enhances effective leadership and the assignment of appropriate responsibilities.
  • Challenging people’s thinking: Pushing individuals to consider other perspectives and challenging assumptions can lead to growth and breakthrough moments.
  • Encouraging a focus on solutions: Requiring team members to offer solutions with every problem fosters a proactive problem-solving culture and empowers individuals to become problem-solvers.

These strategies contribute to the overall development of skills, knowledge, discernment, and decision-making within a team.

Open Communication and Collaboration

Open communication and collaboration among team members is essential for fostering a culture of shared ideas and effective decision-making. Building trust and fostering creativity are key aspects of this process. Trust is developed through open and honest communication, where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or reprisal. This trust allows for the sharing of diverse perspectives and encourages creativity within the team. By creating an environment that values and encourages collaboration, team members are more likely to feel empowered to contribute their unique insights and ideas. This collaborative approach not only promotes innovation but also leads to better decision-making, as multiple perspectives are considered and analyzed. Overall, open communication and collaboration are crucial in building a team culture that fosters trust and creativity, resulting in improved outcomes.

Valuing Team Members and Their Ideas

In the context of empowering a team, valuing team members and their ideas is an essential aspect. Building trust within the team is crucial for creating an environment where team members feel valued and respected. This can be achieved by actively listening to their ideas, acknowledging their contributions, and providing constructive feedback. By valuing team members and their ideas, leaders foster creativity within the team. This encourages individuals to think outside the box, share their unique perspectives, and contribute to innovative solutions. Additionally, when team members feel valued, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and go the extra mile to achieve success. By fostering creativity and valuing team members, leaders can create a collaborative and high-performing team.

  • Building trust within the team
  • Actively listening to team members’ ideas
  • Acknowledging and valuing contributions
  • Fostering creativity within the team

Fresh Perspectives and Valuable Insights

Fresh perspectives and valuable insights can contribute to the growth and success of a team. Inclusive brainstorming allows for the exploration of diverse perspectives, which in turn fosters creativity and innovation within the team. When team members from different backgrounds and experiences come together to share their ideas, a wide range of possibilities and solutions can be generated. By incorporating diverse perspectives, teams can avoid groupthink and consider alternative viewpoints that may lead to better decision-making. Moreover, inclusive brainstorming creates an environment where all team members feel valued and empowered to contribute their unique insights. This not only enhances teamwork and collaboration but also promotes a culture of openness and respect. In summary, embracing diverse perspectives through inclusive brainstorming can greatly benefit teams by bringing fresh ideas and valuable insights to the table.

Creating a Successful Team Dynamic

Creating a harmonious and cohesive team dynamic is essential for maximizing productivity and achieving shared goals. To achieve this, building trust and promoting teamwork are crucial.

  • Building trust: Trust is the foundation of any successful team dynamic. It involves establishing open and honest communication, demonstrating reliability and competence, and showing respect for each team member’s contributions. Trust allows team members to feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and collaborating effectively.
  • Promoting teamwork: Teamwork promotes a sense of unity and collaboration within the team. It involves encouraging cooperation, fostering a supportive environment, and valuing diversity of skills and perspectives. Teamwork facilitates effective communication, problem-solving, and decision-making, as team members work together towards a common goal. By promoting teamwork, leaders can create a positive and productive team dynamic that drives success.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can leaders create a culture of open communication and collaboration.

Creating a culture of open communication and collaboration involves implementing strategies such as promoting active listening, encouraging participation, valuing team members’ ideas, and fostering a sense of teamwork and shared responsibility.

What Strategies Can Leaders Use to Challenge Individuals’ Thinking and Promote Growth?

Strategies for challenging individuals’ thinking and promoting growth include promoting innovation and critical thinking. This can be achieved by encouraging dialogue, considering different perspectives, and pushing individuals to question assumptions and explore new ideas.

How Can Leaders Foster a Proactive Problem-Solving Culture Within Their Teams?

To foster a proactive problem-solving culture within their teams, leaders can encourage team members to offer solutions with every problem, transform problem-bringers into problem-solvers, and foster a culture of proactive problem-solving.

What Are Some Effective Ways for Leaders to Model the Importance of Reflection?

Promoting self-awareness and encouraging continuous improvement are effective ways for leaders to model the importance of reflection. By demonstrating the value of introspection and personal growth, leaders inspire their team members to engage in reflective practices for professional development.

How Can Leaders Encourage the Development of Skills, Knowledge, and Decision-Making in Their Team Members?

Leaders can encourage skill enhancement, knowledge development, and decision-making in team members through effective leadership development strategies. This involves providing opportunities for growth, fostering a culture of learning, and providing guidance and support to help individuals reach their full potential.

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Solving word problems involving triangles and implications on training pre-service mathematics teachers

  • William Guo , 
  • School of Engineering and Technology, Central Queensland University, North Rockhampton, QLD 4702, Australia
  • Academic Editor: Zlatko Jovanoski
  • Received: 18 June 2024 Revised: 02 July 2024 Accepted: 05 July 2024 Published: 09 July 2024
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Triangles and trigonometry are always difficult topics for both mathematics students and teachers. Hence, students' performance in solving mathematical word problems in these topics is not only a reflection of their learning outcomes but also an indication of teaching effectiveness. This case study drew from two examples of solving word problems involving triangles by pre-service mathematics teachers in a foundation mathematics course delivered by the author. The focus of this case study was on reasoning implications of students' performances on the effective training of pre-service mathematics teachers, from which a three-step interactive explicit teaching-learning approach, comprising teacher-led precise and inspiring teaching (or explicit teaching), student-driven engaged learning (or imitative learning), and student-led and teacher-guided problem-solving for real-world problems or projects (or active application), was summarized. Explicit teaching establishes a solid foundation for students to further their understanding of new mathematical concepts and to conceptualize the technical processes associated with these new concepts. Imitative learning helps students build technical abilities and enhance technical efficacy by engaging in learning activities. Once these first two steps have been completed, students should have a decent understanding of new mathematical concepts and technical efficacy to analyze, formulate, and finally solve real-world applications with assistance from teachers whenever required. Specially crafted professional development should also be considered for some in-service mathematics teachers to adopt this three-step interactive teaching-learning process.

  • pre-service mathematics teacher ,
  • word problem ,
  • triangles ,
  • problem-solving ,
  • explicit teaching ,
  • imitated learning ,
  • active applications ,
  • professional development

Citation: William Guo. Solving word problems involving triangles and implications on training pre-service mathematics teachers[J]. STEM Education, 2024, 4(3): 263-281. doi: 10.3934/steme.2024016

Related Papers:

[1] , 2016, 47(7): 1028-1047. http://doi.org/10.1080/0020739X.2016.1155774 --> Koyunkaya, M.Y., Mathematics education graduate students' understanding of trigonometric ratios. , 2016, 47(7): 1028-1047. http://doi.org/10.1080/0020739X.2016.1155774 doi:
[2] , 2018, 6(1): 58-78. http://doi.org/10.18404/ijemst.328344 --> Koyunkaya, M.Y., An examination of a pre-service mathematics teacher's mental constructions of relationships in a right triangle. , 2018, 6(1): 58-78. http://doi.org/10.18404/ijemst.328344 doi:
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what are effective problem solving

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  • Figure 1. A sketch of isosceles triangle for the first word problem
  • Figure 2. A reworked sketch for the second problem with derived angles (in red)
  • Figure 3. The first reworked sketch for solving the second problem through right triangles
  • Figure 4. The second reworked sketch for solving the second problem through right triangles
  • Figure 5. The third reworked sketch for solving the second problem through right triangles


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