Very few projects, if any at all, ever flow so completely smoothly that they don’t require problem solving skills at one stage or another. Depending on the field these may get kicked up to a manager or to you, the project manager, or individual team members may be encouraged to solve them themselves. The problem is, if your team are not used to solving problems and don’t have the confidence, ability or experience to do so, more than likely everything will eventually end up on your desk.
This is an increasingly common fact of life for many project managers, which isn’t surprising when one considers the results of a major survey from Payscale.com which found that problem solving skills were what hiring managers found most lacking in recent graduates. All too often the hierarchical system that is in place in most organizations actually discourages employees, not only newcomers, from attempting to solve problems on their own.
The benefits of having extensive problem-solving skills throughout your team can be great however. Not only will it stop minor issues reaching your desk and taking up your time, but it should also mean that the most appropriate team member will tackle the issues in their own area.
Making your team more capable of sorting issues out on their own will take some time but will give big payoffs when it happens and here are some tips to make it work for you.
Introduce problem solving slowly around the office
By introducing your team to different concepts and getting them used to approaching issues, you can open up the discussion on the best approaches to take and get team members thinking and talking about problem solving.
It can be easy to do this by setting up a “Problem of The Week” on a whiteboard or weekly email, where everyone is encouraged to submit a possible solution to a fictional emergency. You can also ask team members at various times for their input on an issue you must resolve, either formally in a meeting or informally while passing by.
Institute a simple process for dealing with problems
The IDEAL method for problem solving is a simple and easy to remember practice that makes it easier for your team to start thinking about solutions in a structured manner. IDEAL stands for:
- Identify the problem
- Define the problem (i.e. get as much information about it as possible)
- Explore possible strategies or solutions
- Act on the chosen strategy
- Look back and review how things went
By using this process to work through whatever issues arise, your team will be empowered to work through them on their own.
Listen to and appreciate individual approaches
One of the major obstacles to allowing teams to develop problem solving skills on their own is the fact that managers and others like everything to fit into neat and tidy boxes, metaphorically speaking. This means that, as much as it is supposedly lauded, outside of the box thinking is often shunned in favor of rigid protocol. To help your team, and individual team members, to find their own path to solving problems it is important to give them the freedom to do so and not to shut down potential answers which wouldn’t be the way you’d do something yourself. Work with them and investigate the possibilities and who knows, you might even improve your problem-solving skills yourself.