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Problem Solving

Training For many organizations, providing problem solving training is a way to modify ineffective or unproductive behaviors. Different types of organizations deal with different types of problems or issues. Some are more complex, while others are simpler because they are more technical in nature. Characteristics of technical problems are that:

  • There are similar problems/issues to compare with
  • There are predictable factors that impact the problem or situation
  • There is a group or set of solutions that for the problem
  • There are few stakeholders to appease
  • There are low-risk “testable” solutions that can be experimented with

Developing problem solving skills allows people to become more creative in their approach by exploring alternatives and to make better decisions. It also requires analytical thinking, which is a good skill to practice. So how can we train our people to be more creative, think analytically, and make better decisions?

There are a few approaches to problem solving that can be incorporated into training. The most important factor is that the learners are given realistic and relevant problems to test or apply their skills to. Another important aspect is modeling the problem-solving behavior or providing examples for learners to start from (a building block of sorts). Whatever the problem or issue, a systematic approach can help determine a solution. Just be sure not to let a systematic approach hinder creativity.

One simple way to get learners to start problem solving with a systematic approach is by getting them to brainstorm using a specific technique such as mind mapping. A mind map is a very simple way to visualize the problem and all the elements that affect the situation. Learners write the (name of the) problem in a circle in the middle of a page or whiteboard. Then write the names of all the “elements” that are creating or affecting the problem in circles all around the main issue, connecting them to the middle circle with a line. This is a good exercise because it requires the use cause and effect thinking, thus effectively defining the problem (not over simplifying it). It also allows learners to not only see the various parts of the problem, but the sum of its parts too. Making connections like that enables learners to analyze the relationship of elements in a visual way.

Another systematic approach, that will lead to the cause of a problem and likely to the solution, is to use a questioning approach. Common questioning approaches include the “Five W’s” (who, what, when, where, why) or using the multiple “Why” technique, which consists of asking why at a high level and then delving deeper by asking why to the answer of each higher-level question.