Problems in business are inevitable. All companies encounter challenges and setbacks, but one of the key factors that separates the weak from the strong is the way that they respond to problems. Leaders who are destined for success recognise that problems are an opportunity to improve teamwork skills, cultivate creativity, and instil positive and constructive attitudes across the company. There are many benefits in adopting a methodical and professional approach to problem solving:
- It will help prevent the problems from reoccurring.
- The impact of problems will be minimised through effective team collaboration. This is because the best solution, not just the first one to come to mind, will be the one that is implemented.
- A problem can reveal existing issues that are undermining the progress of a team or of the business, and this can be a great learning opportunity for everyone.
- Collaborative problem solving can help a team discover new opportunities.
- Adopting a collective approach to problem solving strengthens the team instead of isolating individuals.
- By creating an environment in which problems are considered as opportunities to learn, rather than to blame, you can minimise fear, guilt and shame amongst your employees.
- Such an environment will help to release creativity.
This is the process of approaching problem solving:
1. Identify the problem
Pinpoint the main issues that create the gap between the desired outcome and the current state. Your analysis should be based on facts as much as possible. At this stage, it is beneficial to rate the impact and frequency of your problem, always using relevant and insightful criteria. This will help you to determine the level of urgency, and set an appropriate deadline for resolution.
2. Create a team
Nominate a leader and contributors based on the required skillsets. The team will then work collaboratively through the remaining steps.
3. Clarify the objective
Describe in detail the expected results. The relevant quantitative and/or qualitative key performance indicators (KPIs) should be specified.
4. Identify the potential causes
Brainstorm the potential causes of the problem, considering all possibilities. Think beyond the ostensible causes, being mindful that there is a general tendency to ‘externalise’ the problem. Don’t fall into this trap of blaming suppliers, clients or anyone else!
5. Analyse the root causes
For simpler problems, the root cause can be identified by repeatedly asking ‘why?’. In the case of more complex problems, it is necessary to draw cause and effect links between all of the previously identified causes, as the root cause is likely to be complex and multifaceted.
6. Develop the action plans
There are two types of action plans. Corrective action plans are designed to reduce the impact of the current problem. Preventive action plans are designed to prevent the problem from reoccurring by addressing the root causes.
7. Document your findings
Formally document the findings of the previous steps, making the results available for everyone in your organisation. The problems should be broadly categorised by type. This document will then become an invaluable source of information for all.
8. Implement the action plan
Each objective and action will have a leader and a deadline. The team should deal with any unforeseen issues collectively, revising the action plan if necessary.
9. Check effectiveness
By monitoring results over a specified period of time, you can assess whether or not the solution is sustainable. If the solution proves sustainable and appropriate, then the processes and standards can be modified accordingly. If there are any issues in sustainability, then the solution can be adapted, or improved, as is necessary.
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