Whilst many basic problems and issues at work can be solved very quickly and without too much effort or stress, more complex problems require a more strategic and planned approach.
If you are interested in the issue of training and teaching staff problem-solving skills, here are 6 basic questions that are worth trying to answer as you begin to consider what problem-solving really is about and what it involves.
So, which of the statements are TRUE and which are FALSE?
- Problem-solving has to start with a defined problem
- There can be more than one correct solution in problem-solving
- You may need to go through the problem-solving process more than once
- Some types of data are better than others
- Different problems may require different approaches
- All problems can and/or must be solved
Take a few minutes not only to consider the questions but also to consider why you chose true or false.
Under the image below are the answers.
1. Problem-solving has to start with a defined problem
It is rarely the case that we have a clear and defined problem to start with.
Often, problem-solving is a discovery process that starts with identifying the problem itself.
We might have an idea of what the issue is, but we might not exactly understand its ramifications, which we need to identify to understand the problem.
|For example, a company might have high levels of absenteeism among its staff, and we want to reduce absenteeism.|
However, is absenteeism the problem or is it just the manifestation of other underlying problems?
Often, a problem may be attached to other problems, so we need to look at the bigger picture.
So, for example, if we think that absenteeism is the problem itself we might decide to discourage it by penalizing staff who are absent.
However, if the real problem is, let’s say, bad management, we are unlikely to solve the problem this way.
Staff may go to work more often if they are penalized for being absent, but their productivity may be low, and they may leave the company at the first opportunity.
So, if we don’t find out the real problem, we will not find an effective solution.
This is why, as we will see, we might need to redefine the problem more than once during the process as we delve deeper into its causes and the correlations with other issues.
2. There can be more than 1 correct solution
There may be more than one correct solution, but not all solutions may be optimal. Some may just be adequate.
This is why we should never just accept the first adequate solution just for lack of time or energy, as there may be better solutions available.
Of course, we should not seek a solution forever, as there must be time limits. Also, sometimes the best solution is not always the easiest to implement.
So, we should consider the pros and cons of each. However, if there are obstacles to implementing the optimal solution, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should give up on it. We might be able to overcome those obstacles.
3. You may need to go through the problem-solving process more than once
This is especially true for complex problems. We might think of the problem-solving process as being linear, but this is not the case.
We are likely to have to go back and forth more than once before we implement the best solution.
We have already discussed how we might have to redefine the problem, once we find out its underlying causes.
Likewise, we might, for example, have to reconsider our choice of a solution if in practice we see that it does not work.
4. Some types of data are better than others
Sometimes, during the problem-solving process, data that don’t fit our understanding get ignored. They may be considered irrelevant, not sizeable enough, or just an anomaly.
However, every piece of data should be considered. Reasons we sometimes ignore data include:
- We don’t understand the data, so we brush them under the carpet
- Data don’t fit our preconceived idea of what things should be like. I.e., we think we already know the solution, so we ignore anything that does not fit our interpretation. As a result, any data that support our vision are accepted, while the data that don’t are ignored or distorted.
Instead, any piece of data can be important. Our preconceived ideas may be mistaken and there is nothing wrong with that. It is better to admit mistakes than to miss the opportunity of finding a good solution to a problem.
|For example, we have already decided in our mind that the reason why absenteeism is high is that employees are lazy (this is not likely to happen in real life as we know better than labeling people as lazy, but let’s just say it for the sake of the example).|
So, in trying to figure out why absenteeism levels are high, we might ignore some telling signs.
We might ignore a complaint against a supervisor on the basis that the employee who made the complaint was young and inexperienced.
Or we might justify low morale in the team due to a bad global financial climate and higher costs of living.
We might ignore these signs because we are unwilling to admit that there is a problem with the management style, for instance.
5. Different problems may require different approaches
Not all problems require the same approach.
We need to consider the level of complexity of a problem, its urgency, and its nature (i.e., is it technical, research-oriented, or social?
What type of intervention does it require?).
So, we might need to adjust how we go about solving the problem in practice.
6. All problems can and/or must be solved
Some problems are ignored, or a solution is not implemented because the solution may be too expensive or too impractical to implement. Maybe there are not enough resources or know-how.
Sometimes the magnitude and impact of the problem are not enough to justify the effort that implementing a solution might take.
Other times though, the initial problem is not addressed as it was, but it is reformulated, and the focus shifts. So, a solution is implemented but to a different problem, which was only identified following the effort to try to solve the original problem.
|For example, you might start to try and solve the absenteeism problem but realize that the actual problem is a lack of engagement.|
In this case, lack of engagement is the issue you will address and the absenteeism problem might take care of itself as a result (as engaged staff are less likely to take unauthorized time off).
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