Help the team become problem solvers

Help the team become problem solvers

If you’ve got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it…
Vanilla Ice

No truer words can be said from one of the early 90s’ most iconic rap stars. We all have to deal with problems on a regular basis both in our personal and professional lives. It’s often said that a leader’s main job is to be a problem solver. You’re hired to fix problems that pop up in your business. While it’s a little bit more complex than that, you would do well to equip your teams to be great problem-solvers themselves. 

Helping your team increase their problem-solving skills helps them be more efficient in their job, increases their level of satisfaction in their role, reduces stress and uncertainty, and lightens your load as a leader. 

Help them change their mindset

We all have a tendency to avoid things that we don’t like, and this is one of the reasons why we put off problems that need to be solved, or we don’t address them in the right way. While changing someone’s mindset on anything takes time, you can be successful in altering their perception of the problems that are ahead of them. 

Help them:

  • Help them see problems as opportunities. Help your team see that problems are inevitable. It’s part of life and business, no matter how well we plan. Helping them with this understanding will assist them in becoming more open-minded when a problem occurs. 

  • Don’t linger on the implications of the problem too long. We can sometimes spend too much time focusing on the impact of the problem instead of focusing on the problem itself. For instance, you may have left your wallet at home and you begin focusing on how it’s going to impact and ruin the rest of your day. Instead, focus on what you need to do to get yourself fixed up for the rest of the day and keep moving forward. On the podcast, I share a story about realizing I didn’t have my wallet when I arrived at a hotel during a week-long trip with no means to get back home. It was a week of problem-solving for sure!

  • Make a list of worst-case scenarios. Sometimes it’s helpful just to see that the problem is just not as bad as you thought it was. Doing this will help you think objectively as you face an issue and begin problem-solving. In my wallet story, I realized quickly that I couldn’t linger on the issue and thinking of the worst-case scenarios actually helped reroute my thinking into some out-of-the-box ideas that successfully got me through the trip and back home. 

  • Focus on improvement. Help your team by helping them focus on what they can improve on to eliminate or minimize the problem going forward. Perhaps it’s a change in policy, additional training, or altering a process. For my wallet situation, I began the phone-wallet-keys check on myself before moving to a different location.  

Answer questions with questions when possible

One of my tried and true ways to help people grow in their problem-solving ability is to answer questions with my own reflective question in order for them to start thinking through things for themselves. 


Team member – “How do I handle this customer issue?”

Leader – “How do you think we should handle it?”

After hearing their strategy, affirm their answer or coach to redirect them towards the right solution. Sometimes lower problem-solving ability comes from lower levels of confidence in the job, not feeling equipped to handle the problem, or they don’t feel like they have the authority to address the question or scenario. This tactic in coaching helps strengthen and solidify all of those areas. 

Coaching by asking questions instead of always providing answers is very effective, but it takes more time. If the situation is dire, or of high urgency, fix the problem and then debrief afterward to help them see how they could have navigated the situation. 

Run chessboarding exercises

In Finding Leadership in Chess (EP 290) we talk about the chessboarding exercise.  It’s an activity that you can complete with others that centers around hypothetical scenarios that are rooted in reality and how you would respond to the situation. 

This is a great exercise to run with your team as you help them increase their problem-solving skills. It forces the person to think critically and strategically in order to overcome the change successfully. One of the best parts? You get to talk it through with no consequence since it’s hypothetical. Learning without the cleanup! 

Good problem-solving skills will serve you and your team well. Spend time honing in those abilities to become more effective and less stressed where you are. 

Make a better tomorrow.