Seven techniques for boosting independent problem solving skills in the workplace

  • DeakinCo.
  • 22 September 2017

Are you an employee wanting to be able to solve problems more independently? Or are you a boss wanting to encourage your employees to trust their instincts and try to solve problems independently before reaching out for help? Whoever you are, you’ve come to the right place.

By 2020, it’s anticipated that 36% of jobs across all industries will need complex problem solving as a core skill, compared with the 4% that will require physical abilities. What's more, when a problem remains unsolved, it will become a larger problem or split into many problems – that’s why problem solving is an essential work skill.

Being able to solve problems can help keep business operations running smoothly and efficiently, so here are seven techniques for boosting autonomous problem solving skills in the workplace.

1. Think like a problem solver

You need to think positively and be open-minded when faced with a problem. Think about how you can resolve the problem in a calm manner. You should also keep your emotions out of it. Remember that every problem has a solution. By adopting this problem solving mindset, you’ll be able to evaluate a problem, come up with solutions, decide on the best course of action, and deliver great results.

2. Clearly define the problem

There are many problems that can happen to you in the workplace, eg. you get a complaint from a customer, there’s poor communication between you and a colleague, or there’s a misunderstanding between you and a supplier.

When defining a problem, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the real problem?
  • Am I making biased or inaccurate assumptions?
  • Where can I find the most recent info, research, or data on the issue?
  • How long do I have before the problem gets worse?
  • Can I ignore the problem? What will happen if the problem remains unsolved?
  • Who and what can help solve the problem?

3. Determine the cause of the problem

The next thing you should do is determine what caused the problem in the first place. When considering how and why the problem occurred, collect information based on evidence. Observe what’s going right, or the positive aspects of the issue, and then do the same with the negative aspects. This could help you identify causes and give you ideas on how to fix the problem.

You can also ask your co-workers how and why they think the issue occurred, but try to solve the problem yourself. You’ll also need to talk to those affected by the problem, such as a customer, supervisor, or colleague. You might also have to read market information, which could include looking at how other industries handled similar situations.

Then come up with at least five possible reasons for the current situation. This helps you isolate the facts, and by determining the root cause of a problem, you can brainstorm solutions to solve the problem.

4. Propose solutions

If you have a customer complaining about a product they bought from your company, for example, you can either give them a full refund, have them return the product for a better one, or have them buy a similar product at a discounted price. You have many options to choose from – it’s just a matter of choosing one that’s right for the customer and the company.

On the other hand, if you’re working on a project or an experiment and you’re not getting the results you want, you can come up with new ways to do things so you can get the desired outcomes.

5. Evaluate your options

You should consider the risks and benefits associated with each solution you proposed. You can better evaluate your options by reading case studies, interviewing experts, and playing online business simulation games. The solution that has a higher chance of solving the problem according to your evaluation and research is the one you should implement.

6. Implement your chosen solution

Finally, implementing your chosen solution should come with a step-by-step plan of action. This can help you focus on solving the problem and keep track of your progress.

If your problem involves a project collaboration, for example, you can use outlines, graphic organisers, colour codes, charts, graphs, tables, and spreadsheets to organise and plan out the steps needed to solve the problem and to assign tasks to the right people.

You should also establish criteria that your solution must meet. If it’s not met, then you know it’s not working and you should try a different solution.

7. Can’t solve the problem? Go back and redefine it

If you still can’t solve the problem, it means you didn’t clearly identify the real problem at the beginning. So go back and redefine the problem, then reconsider the cause and brainstorm new solutions. And hopefully next time you’ll find the right solution to your problem.

Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee

By following these steps, you’ll become an excellent problem solver and a valuable asset for your team and organisation. And the more you solve problems, the better you get at it.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to solve problems independently at work and enhance your skills, DeakinCo.’s Problem Solving credential can help you.