Five ways to approach problem solving in your business

Every team in every organisation around the world will come across problems as they grow. Whether the nature of the challenge is financial, technical, or difficult to define, at Hink we want to make sure you’ve got the tools you need to get those problems solved in a way that puts you in a stronger position than you were before.

Good problem solving comes about when the problem is clearly defined, conclusions aren’t jumped to, a facilitator is used to bring perspective, things aren’t taken personally, and everything is documented.

But don’t worry, we aren’t just going to leave you with that and mic drop our way out of here.


Whilst these steps are super duper important, the way in which they are taken matters a lot too. By working alongside different types of businesses, we’ve been able to curate a heckin’ great arsenal of specific problem solving techniques and activities, which have brought about great results.

And here are some of our favourites.

The one with the boat (and seagull).

This is a great exercise to run through as a team at the beginning of a problem solving session. It’s designed to help you identify the most pressing issues facing the business, ensuring you don’t waste time developing a solution for the wrong problem.

To start, all you need to do is draw something that could be discerned as a boat on a whiteboard, making sure it includes a sail and an anchor (seagulls and mermaids are optional but encouraged as jovial elements).

Without conferring with other members of the team, everyone then writes down on separate post-it notes what they feel the business’ greatest strengths are – placing them on the boat’s sails as these are the things you believe are pushing your business forward.

After discussing what everyone’s written, then do the same for things you feel are holding the business back – placing them ‘in the water’, on the bottom half of the drawing, near the anchor.

Then it’s time to unleash the raw power of democracy.

After you’ve discarded any duplicate post-it notes, every gets three votes on what they think are the business’ top three problems. Just like a starter question for 10 on University Challenge, there’s no conferring at this point.

Once the votes have all been cast a clear story should begin to emerge. The top voted sticky is the winner. If there is a draw, then the team’s designated decision maker will have the final say on which problem is the biggest.

The 5 whys.

This technique basically requires you to tap into your inner inquisitive 5 year old.

It’s a simple but powerful method and can be useful for getting to the core of a particular problem or challenge that may initially appear too big to tackle.

As the title suggests, your team defines a problem (perhaps the one you’ve identified from the above boat exercise) and then asks the question ‘why’ five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

This is all about finding the root cause, rather than treating a symptom. If you don’t get to the root, the problem will likely recur, perhaps with different symptoms – and nobody wants to waste time re-solving the same problem over and over again.

Example:

“I’m tired.”
Why?
“I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
Why?
“I decided to have a coffee at 10pm.”
Why?
“Because no-one should expect me to be able to have a chocolate digestive without a coffee.”
Why?
“I am lacking in the will-power department.”
Why?
“I’m a spoiled youngest child.”

LEGO Serious Play

LEGO Serious Play is the ideal way to learn how to problem solve in a more efficient, people-focused way (it’s also one of our all time favourite workshop activities because who doesn’t love LEGO??).

Not to toot our own horn or anything (ok maybe a little bit) but our team consists of highly trained and experienced Lego Serious Play facilitators who are focused on making your workshop as productive as possible. From team building exercises to activities that promote strategy and innovation, we offer a range of processes and tools and will design your workshop to meet your requirements.

Simply put, all the activities are about solving complex issues as a team by building models using LEGO bricks. Each task is a fun working example of what it’s like to work with different stakeholders who might not be on the same page as you and then move forward with a problem solving process that works for everyone.

Bonus features:

  • Everyone’s insights and ideas are listened to equally
  • Ensures discussion is always focused on the message, not the messenger, which eliminates the likelihood of personal ‘politics’ and allows full, frank discussions within the team
  • Allows you to model the most involved and complicated issues and visualise them in 3D (and in sweet RGB colour)
  • Gives people time to think before sharing ideas, ensuring introverts are comfortable and willing to contribute (whilst also mitigating the likelihood of anyone prone to steamrolling)

Thinking laterally.

We love a bit of lateral thinking over here at Hink.

When you use traditional logic to solve a problem, you come up with ideas or solutions based on what you assume the rules of that situation to be.

When you think laterally, these implied rules are disregarded and you blaze a new trail forward that’s often more efficient, creative, and solves your business problem in a way that will stand the test of time.

Basically, lateral thinking is just thinking outside the box (but said fancier).

The problem tree.

A problem tree can be a very useful tool to help you clarify the hierarchy of problems that have been put forward by your team – it can represent both high level problems and related sublevel problems, which makes it a great tool for when you want to zoom out and see how everything connects.

In the problem tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems, or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical – whatever your group agrees on.

This technique is super-effective for helping you identify, analyse, and better understand what your business problems actually are (as opposed to what you think they are). Understanding this is vital to problem solving because understanding the problem is actually half of the solution (and the most important half at that).

If you don’t understand the problem, then any suggested solutions will only create new problems. In fact, there’s no guarantee the solutions will address the problem at all…

 

Our top takeaway (advice-wise, not food-wise, sorry)

Take the time to get to know the problems you face.

When you direct your time and attention to the right things and ask the right questions, magical things will happen.
Intrigued?
Good.

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