Team Leadership Guide

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  Problem Solving  

Five Steps to Successful Problem Solving

All leaders have multiple problems to face on a day-to-day basis.  Most, of course, are minor and can readily be addressed; but others are much stickier and have potentially far-reaching ramifications.  With the latter, it is often helpful to follow a structured format that can help leaders work toward meaningful solutions. 

Successful problem solving requires not only a keen assessment of the situation, but also an ability to listen to your inner signals: experiences, feelings, preferences, and ethical standards.  In addition, leaders must be astutely receptive to the responses of others.  When you can put all three together--the external situation, your self-awareness, and the reactions of others--your odds of finding a satisfactory solution increase.  

Step 1: Clarify the problem

Before moving ahead on an issue, it is vitally important that you know exactly what the problem really is.  Problem solving efforts can be counterproductive if you don't have the "real" issues firmly identified, or you are reinventing the wheel, or you are putting a disproportionate amount of time and energy into a problem that doesn't warrant such effort.  The questions below will help you initiate the clarification process:

Can you state the problem precisely?

What is the source of the problem: A person/team?  Changing conditions? External factors? New data? Etc.

Who is involved in the issue?

What will happen if the problem goes unsolved?

How do those people who are affected by the issue feel/know about it? 

Step Two: Processing the issue

Once you have clearly identified the problem, process it from four different perspectives: sensing, intuiting, thinking, and feeling:


What are the facts?  What resources do you have to help solve the problem?  What has been done in the past?


Have you brainstormed the issue? How does this issue impact your work culture? What are the implications of the information you have gathered?


What are the consequences of various options? What are the pros and cons of each option? What impact will suggested options have? How can you successfully apply each option?


Do the options fit your values? What effect will each option have on the people involved? Will the options support harmony and success?

Step Three: Testing possible solutions

Once you have processed the issue, it is time to list and rank your options.  With the options ranked at the top of your list, apply the following considerations to test the workability of each. 

A. Visualize barriers and worst/best case scenarios

B. Identify people who will support this option.  

C. Establish criteria for a solution

D. Challenge your thinking

Step Four: Commitment

Once you have defined, processed, and tested key options, you must finally "pull the trigger."  Commit to a solution and establish a sensible course of action:

Establish a reasonable timetable

Determine responsibilities

Promote the solution

Implement the action

Step Five: Monitor and adjust

Obtain feedback continuously. This is important because solutions to problems must remain adjustable as the situation changes.  An ongoing, thorough appraisal of an implemented action can fall into four different categories:

Reactions. How are people responding to the action? 

Data Assessment.  What effect is the action having on budgets? Materials? Costs? Machinery? Production? Procurement? Profits? Etc.

Behavior Shifts.  Is the action changing on-the-job behavior?

Impact.  To what extent is the action impacting your goals?