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

When your team faces a problem, do they come together to resolve it or does indecision paralyze them? Do they pass the buck and wait for you to give them direction (adding even more to your already-full plate)? Are you empowering a team with problem-solving skills—a cohesive team that works together?

If your answer is shaky, you may need to work on building your team’s problem-solving skills. Not only is your team’s inability to problem-solve together creating more work for you, but it can become detrimental to the health and well-being of your entire operation. After all, there should  come a day when you’re not there to lead the way. If your team becomes paralyzed by indecision and feels lost without you, the company won’t function.

Building your team’s problem-solving skills is a two-fold job. You need to lead them through the right approach to decision-making. If you shudder to think of what your team would do without your guidance, you may also need to work on your effective delegation skills. For today, let’s look at the 6 steps you can take to empower your employees and boost your team’s problem-solving skills.

1. Recognize that Problems are Part of Everyday Life

No business is perfect, and life often throws us curve balls. Even if you think you’ve anticipated every possible scenario, something will come out of the left field and surprise you. So let go of the idea that you can plan for every situation—realize there will be times when you and your team need to problem solve on their feet.

Whether your team faces small day-to-day problems or significant 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 empower their organizations. Provide a framework and ensure the policies and procedures are in place, so team members can troubleshoot any unexpected scenario, by working together.

As a leader, you must possess the vision to identify most major roadblocks in the future. Speedbumps, on the other hand, are smaller issues currently slowing down a process or causing additional work for individual team members. Unbalanced workloads and inefficient processes lead to unhappy stakeholders (including customers, owners, and vendors). Some of these situations you can (and should) see coming, but it’s also important to recognize that you don’t have a crystal ball. Anticipate and envision what you can, and then foster the skills in your team to problem-solve the rest.

Remember that problem solving skills should also include risk assessment. Not every problem is a four-alarm fire (and not every problem necessitates a robust response). Help your team learn to triage and empower them to assess risk on their own. For a low-risk problem, a coworker or supervisor might provide guidance. For a higher risk issue, a higher-level review is often required. The ability to ascertain the risk and importance of an issue is crucial to moving items off your very full plate.

2. Recognize and Celebrate Adaptable Players

Does your team come together to problem-solve? Everyone should reach a consensus.

You should stay aware of your company’s weak spots and problem areas where issues arise, of course, but you can’t be everywhere at once. Empower your team by assigning who identifies, prioritizes, and tracks the day-to-day issues that will inevitably come up.

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 the group as a whole.

Your challenge is to identify those individuals who strengthen your team and add value to your established processes. Employees who think independently in unexpected situations yield the most benefit, as they help achieve the Company’s 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 crucial role in the health of the team and the culture of the company. Remember to examine your behavior as the group faces challenges—your influence may be greater than you think.

An agile team can work together within their roles, but also can step outside of assigned tasks and take on other responsibilities; 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 capable team has members who:

  • Don’t require handholding.
  • 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, and you can set the expectation of appropriate interaction so no one team member feels constantly steamrolled or frustrated by another team member’s personality or actions.

Build a strong team with competent people who can adapt their talents and skills to changing situations. Your organization must be diverse in abilities and personalities; they shouldn’t be clones of each other or 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.

3. Set Your Team Up with the Right Procedures

As this chalkboard says, there are a lot of pieces that go into problem-solving and creating a plan, including communication, teamwork, planning, and development.

No matter how flexible and adept your team at problem-solving on their own, 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, creating the need for you to swoop in and resolve the problem. Instead, empower your team with the right procedures and guidelines.

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 micro-management disrupts the flow of business and undermines employee judgment and trust. For small companies, this also leaves way too much on the plates of upper management (you)! When every project or task requires handholding, you’re looking at a lot of day-to-day operational bottlenecks and significant frustration for all those involved.

While establishing the right policy and procedure 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. You empower your team to problem-solve on their own!

4. Teach Your Team to Identify and Breakdown Problems

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 carefully and you’ve encouraged clear communication, your team will feel comfortable identifying and solving problems.

The key to any problem solving or decision making is to ensure you’ve correctly identified the real problem. Don’t get bogged-down pointing fingers at the symptoms; focus on figuring out the root and right approach to the cure. Identifying the root is key and requires multiple iterations of asking “what” and “why”. Make sure that you have the right players involved in the conversation. 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 problem-solving, leading your team to a better understanding of the dimensions of the problem.

After getting to the root, the next natural step is to determine how to solve the problem. Bring the problem to your team, encouraging everyone to look at the problem from multiple angles—assess the 360-degree impact. If your problem-solving efforts require you to hold a team meeting, don’t forget productive meetings need the discipline to produce results. It’s not to “beat a dead horse,” as the saying goes, but instead to focus on a proactive solution.

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 all fall 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.

5. Empower Your Team to Identify and Test the Solution

Empower your team’s problem-solving skills by having them identify the Who, How, What, When, Where, and Why of the problem.

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 evident. 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 they 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 and remain solved.

When looking for a solution, your team must work together to find an answer that covers all bases and makes sense. You’ve built your team for success, so set them up to continue 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 benefits, they’ll feel motivated to work together.

Determine if you need to make further adjustments 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 resolution, 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 attempt.) Perform a post-mortem on every project to learn how your team works now and how they can work better in the future.

6. Reward and Acknowledge Your Team’s Problem-Solving Skills

Is it time for everyone to come together for a group cheer? Reward your team’s effective problem-solving skills.

With high expectations comes a responsibility to recognize, reward, and 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, empowered with the tools they need to feel confident about problem-solving, provided with clear expectations, and offered opportunities 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 and rushing to solve 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 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 face and handle issues. 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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