How to Develop Your Team’s Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills

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Every day, your team runs into bumps in the road. These roadblocks and speedbumps require your team to hone their problem solving and decision-making skills.

But are you developing a team of problem solvers? Are your team members empowered to make decisions independently?

If your answer is shaky, you may need to work on building your team’s problems solving and decision-making skills. After all, there will come a day when you’re not there to lead the way. If you shudder to think of what your team would do without your guidance, you may also need to work on your own effective delegation skills.

Problems and Choices Are Part of Everyday Life

Whether your team is faced with small day-to-day problems or large problems that require a group effort, training your team on problem solving and decision making is essential. They need to tackle problems head-on. Great leaders provide a framework and ensure the policies and procedures are in place, so team members can troubleshoot by working together.

As a leader, it’s important you possess the vision to identify any major roadblocks in the future. Speedbumps, on the other hand, are smaller issues currently slowing down a process or causing additional work for certain team members. Unbalanced workloads and inefficient processes lead to unhappy stakeholders (including customers, owners, and vendors).

Every workplace needs problem solving and decision-making skills. It’s your job to know there’s an issue, but it’s not always the best use of your time to carry out the problem solving (especially for smaller speedbumps). However, you do set the tone and create the problem solving process. At all times, you should stay aware of your company’s weak spots and problem areas where issues arise. You should also assign who identifies, prioritizes, and tracks these issues.

Problems within a business run the gamut. Identifying issues directly and quickly makes solving them easier and more effective. For example, if you learn your customer satisfaction has decreased, you might ask your team, “What indicators do we see that customer satisfaction has decreased?” (The WHAT and the WHY.) And then ask, “How will we ensure our customers are happier?” (The HOW and the WHEN.) If you listen closely and you’ve encouraged clear communication, your team will feel comfortable identifying and solving problems. Be careful not to address the symptoms, get to the root cause.

Step 1: Identifying Adaptable Players

bring together the team members that have the best problem solving and decision making skills to tackle the problem
via Pixabay

Running a business is all about making sure you put the right people on the bus—the right employees in the right positions. If your team is struggling with the choices they face, take a step back and assess.

Your challenge is to identify those individuals who strengthen your team and add value to your established processes. Employees who think independently in exceptional situations yield the most value, as they help you actualize your goals with minimal nudging from you.

Building a strong team is like solving a puzzle. Though you may feel tempted to seek out cookie-cutter answers, the formation of a team is an improvisational skill, developed over time with experience. Leaders play a key role in the health of the team and the culture of the company. Remember to examine your own behavior if the team faces challenges, as you are the center of the wheel, and your team members are the spokes.

An agile team has the capacity to work together within their roles, but also has the ability to step outside of assigned roles and take on other responsibilities when necessary; for example, in the case of illness, emergency, or growth. When faced with challenges, a strong team addresses the obstacle or demand with fluidity and confidence without cracking or breaking.

A vigorous team has members who:

  • Don’t require hand-holding.
  • Are properly cross-trained.
  • Want to contribute.
  • Are accountable to themselves and other team members.
  • Are capable of completing their tasks.
  • Are resilient in responding to circumstances.

You may want to use personality assessment tools like DiSC. These types of tests allow you to understand how to communicate better with different personality types so no one team member feels constantly steamrolled or frustrated by another team member’s personality or actions.

Build a strong team with effective people who are flexible in deploying their talents and skills. Your team must be diverse in talents and personalities; they shouldn’t be clones of each other or of the leader. Unfortunately, diverse personalities sometimes clash, requiring careful maneuvering. If conflict on your team is an issue, these types of personality assessments are helpful in resolution.

Step 2: Setting Up for Success

PLAN written on a blackboard with communication, teamwork, strategy, goals, planning, development, problems written around it
via Pixabay

No matter how flexible and adept your team at problem solving and decision making, teams still require policies and procedures to ensure success. Let’s face it, provide too much pliancy and even the best teams devolve into chaos.

Policies name and guide the range of responsibilities any individual has in the company. For example, you may set a policy allowing a team member to clear out 80% of the finance charges up to $500. Beyond the set level, they need the guidance of a supervisor. This firm policy provides guidelines and ensures employees have room to work with customers to create solutions.

Often, though, businesses require a supervisor to confirm or approve each task. This disrupts the flow of business and undermines employee judgment and trust. When every project or task requires handholding, you’re looking at a lot of day-to-day operational bottlenecks and significant frustration for the employee.

While establishing these guidelines may feel time-consuming and may even feel like you’re relinquishing control, they’re critical to developing the scope of your business from “what” to “how?” When you establish policies and procedures for your employees, you create room to work on your business rather than running around working in your business. You create the opportunity for your business to mature.

Step 3: Encourage Your Team to Divide and Conquer

The key to any problem solving or decision making is to ensure you’ve correctly identified the real problem. Efficient problem-solving strategies include categorizing the problem. Where does the issue fall: sales, customer service, billing, company policies, somewhere else? Identifying the primary impact helps define who will drive the problem solving, leading your team to a better understanding of the dimensions of the problem.

After getting to the root of the problem, the next natural step is to determine how to solve the problem. Bring the problem to your team, encouraging each individual to look at the problem from multiple angles. It’s important to look at the problem and assess the 360-degree impact. If your problem-solving efforts require you hold a team meeting, don’t forget productive meetings require discipline to produce results.

To perform at a high level, individuals must understand their objectives and how their role fits into the whole to achieve larger company goals. You should also hold each team member accountable for their work. Creating this structure, uniting your team, and setting clear expectations to facilitate understanding all falls upon you, as the leader.

Team members should take ownership of their portion of the process. When you get buy-in from the team, you’ll find greater productivity and higher morale. Responsibility boosts buy-in and reminds your employees that everyone has a stake in the success of the business.

Step 4: Guide the Implementation of the Solution

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the solution should become obvious
via Pixabay

Once your team has identified the proper problem (the WHAT), WHY it happens, and WHO is involved in creating the solution, then the resolution should become obvious. If your team is still struggling to find the answer, encourage them to go back and breakdown the problem again. Maybe there was more to the problem than initially identified. If the details of the problem are clear, your team will present solutions and create an implementation plan to ensure those problems are solved—and remain solved.

When looking for a solution to a problem, your team must work together to find a solution that covers all bases and makes sense throughout. You’ve built your team for success, so set them up to continue on the same track.

Test the solution by asking:

  • Does my team have the necessary tools to implement the solution?
  • Is the team in agreement that this is the best solution?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, encourage your team to take advice from one another; they’re all knowledgeable and they all care about solving the problem. If everyone on your team sees the solution’s benefits, they’ll feel motivated to work together towards the same goal.

Determine if further adjustments are needed before the final solution by asking:

  • Does the solution rely too heavily on one person or department?
  • Or does it create more work for someone else?

If the answers here are “yes,” consider further adjustments to the solution. After your team has discovered an effective solution for the problem, follow up on and guide the implementation at a high level. If their hard work resulted in a successful solution, provide recognition for a job well done. For less successful solutions, encourage your team to learn from the outcome. (Always circle back through the process to identify the fork in the road that brought them to this particular attempt.) Perform a post-mortem on every project to learn more about how your team works now and how they will work better together into the future.

Rewarding a Team of Great Problem Solvers

Reward your team for a problem successfully solved
via Pixabay

With high expectations comes a responsibility to recognize and reward, as well as provide a break. Give your team members something to look forward to; for example, birthday and holiday celebrations, a surprise picnic lunch day on the company, and other fun activities like team-building exercises. Mix it up a little to add flair to the doldrums of day-to-day work.

Encourage employees to break up the day a bit and to build and strengthen relationships. Productivity requires think time and downtime. Good management will also recognize that life issues sometimes interfere with work. Offer a helping hand and provide flexibility (when and where appropriate) and you’ll create a truly committed team.

A well-balanced team is hired with diversity in mind, provided the tools they need to feel confident and positive about problem solving and decision making, provided with clear expectations and guidelines, and offered opportunities for fun and to celebrate team achievements.

These principles allow your day-to-day business to flourish and progress while you focus on big-picture business development. Wouldn’t you rather not feel like you’re drowning, constantly interfering and solving problems that your team members are perfectly capable of solving? If your day-to-day is leaving your innovation drained, it’s time for a change!

Every problem in the workplace is unique and requires different solutions. It’s been my experience that the best solutions often come from the boots on the ground—those closest to the problem. Lead a team confident in their abilities and equipped to handle the issues presented. Providing leadership in problem solving will empower your team and push your business to greater success.


Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.

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