Problem Solving in the Workplace – Get Creative

Apr 10
problem solving in the workplace

Problem Solving in the Workplace – Get Creative

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around

Shake It Out  – Florence + The Machine

I like that song. OK, it’s a little bit dark and ghoulish, but it basically means the stuff you don’t work out, you carry with you. As a manager, you are presented with all sorts of problems, every day. Human-shaped problems, technology-shaped problems, budget-shaped problems. Problems beget problems. That means that one little problem, if not dealt with properly, will likely become a big, agonising, throbbing pain right in the temple kind of problem before too long.  Problem solving in the workplace isn’t a nice-to-have skill, it’s an absolute must have if you want to hit your targets and minimise your staff churn.

As a leader, it is a part of your job to be fairly awesome at problem solving in the workplace. You need to be observant enough to notice the problem when it’s a niggle, brave enough to face the problem head-on and clever enough to navigate towards a solution. Easy right? Not at all. But problem solving in the workplace doesn’t need to be a drudge. It can be kind of fun, or at least there are some really different approaches you can take to come at the problems from a different angle. Here are a few.

The Dictionary Trick

Gavin Sharples is a South African motivational speaker who is a little different. He has come up with a way of solving any problem, really quickly. Ready?

Step 1 – get a dictionary

Step 2 – Pick a page number without opening the dictionary. Write the page number down on a piece of paper

Step 3 – Choose a column – right or left. Write ‘right column’ or ‘left column’ on your piece of paper.

Step 4 – Choose a number between one and 12. Write it on your piece of paper, below your page number and your ‘right column’ or ‘left column’.

Now open the dictionary to the page number you’ve chosen. Look in the column you’ve selected, left or right, and select the word that corresponds with the word number you’ve chosen.

There it is. The word is your answer.

Look, it probably isn’t. But the point it makes is by throwing something completely random into your mind it can force you to think differently, and you probably can find a link between your problem and this word. It will force your mind to open a little which is a good thing when you’re trying to solve a problem.

What kind of problem is this?

Often the solution to our problem is in our brain, but it’s been trapped in a dark, lonely corner because we are shining our cognitive light elsewhere. If we reframe the problem it can shine a light on other ways of thinking.

Think about James Dyson. He was sick of using vacuum bags. Dirty, messy things they are. The vacuum industry was focused on finding a ‘better’ vacuum bag. James had recently built an industrial cyclone tower for a factory that separated paint particle from air.  He realised that the issue with vacuum cleaners wasn’t with the bags, but how to separate dirt from air – exactly the same as his factory solution. We all know how this ends. Dyson invented the world’s first bag-less vacuum and made a fortune.

He re-framed the problem.

This can be helpful when problem solving in the workplace. An agent might come up to you and complain that they are unhappy with where they are sitting. This may seem like a very small problem in the scheme of things, and probably nothing you need to address straight away. Besides, changing a seating plan is a royal pain. But if you ask your team member why they don’t like it, you might realise it’s not because they physically don’t like the seat, but maybe they don’t feel a part of things. Maybe it’s an inclusion problem rather than a seating problem, and you can tackle it in other ways. Team catch ups, regular chats, social outings.

Google is your friend

There is a finite number of problems in the world, at any given time. And in the age of the internet and social media, you have access to a billion solutions to a billion problems. I guarantee what you are going through, someone has gone through before or is going through right now. Saying “Google it” might seem flippant, but seriously, Google it. Just type your problem or question right into Google and see what comes up. You’ll likely get a plethora of suggestions you can work your way through.

So there you have it. Problem solving in the workplace isn’t going anywhere. Humans working towards targets with not much money (generally) are going to encounter problems. And as a manager you need to be a problem solver. If you try approaching these problems a bit differently you might find you get pretty good at it.


Flickr cc: Daniele Marlenek