Resources_Swae_Harvard_Business_review_Approaches to Solving Problems in the Workplace

Approaches to Solving Problems in the Workplace

27 April 2022 4 min Read

Resources_Swae_Harvard_Business_review_Approaches to Solving Problems in the Workplace

This is a recap of Harvard Business Review’s  @HarvardBiz How to Solve Problems by Laura Amico @HiLauraAmico.

“You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions.”

Laura Amico @HiLauraAmico

Watch this video recap, or read the full article below.


The Two Minute Takeaway


Approaches to solving problems: there are 5 stages to problem-solving according to this research:

The individual that needs to solve a problem will automatically (and intuitively) move through these five steps easily, whereas in a group problem-solving session, leadership/managers or the employees that are leading the session must stop and ensure that everyone is in sync and know which stage they’re at. Being “in sync is how group problem-solving sessions can succeed. While this will slow down the problem-solving process, it’s a requirement for group problem-solving. In step one, if the problem is not properly defined and understood across the board, and if people aren’t in sync on each step, this can inevitably lead to frustration and disengagement. In fact, the “define the problem” stage is one the most critical steps to lay out clearly and concisely. So, the more organized the leader/manager/employee that’s running the problem-solving group, the better.


There’s another batch of research (here) also from HBR regarding the top traits of the best problem-solving teams in workplaces. This research states that highly effective teams that solve problems the right way has a pair of common features: the teams are cognitively diverse and psychologically safe (to note, these are two of the core fundamentals as to what Swae brings to the table!).

Source, HBR

What’s essential to understand is that it’s best to fully map out the problem-solving approach that you’re taking. This will make sure you consistently use everyone’s time wisely (including your own) and allow you to come back to the “what works” time and time again. From this place, you can iterate off of that list, and continuously build the go-to document for your group’s problem-solving best practices (becoming a template to make this process much easier).

Some common approaches to building your group problem-solving best practices list:

  • Think about the last problem you had to solve as a team and map out what you remember about each step you’ve used in the problem-solving process.
  • Answer these questions after each group problem-solving session: Were you all on the same page at each stage? If not, why? How could you ensure people are in sync as you move through each phase of the problem-solving process? What would you do differently? Take copious notes to ensure you’re tracking against these things so you can make sure you do better each time.
  • Take the chart above (how to solve problems) and ask each person where they felt that they ranked. Log what behaviors could be adopted across the group that would help more and more people move into the top-right quadrant.

Why This Matters

Leadership and managers in companies across the board can solve problems faster with groups that have more cognitive diversity (as you gain a lot more perspective), and the engagement and outcomes are far better in environments where people feel psychologically safe to voice their opinions, thoughts and provide ideas/solutions.

Toxic cultures permeate many corporate workplaces where people don’t feel safe speaking up and this has a negative effect on the entire culture and the way people operate day to day. (You can see more on this subject in this research recap here.)

Solving problems is a vital part of any role, even in junior positions, because one person’s decision can affect the entire whole in any workplace (regardless of size or business category). All it takes is one person to make one really bad decision, right?!

Summary and Next Steps

It’s important for companies to realize that group problem-solving is best when there are more people involved. Approaches to solving problems are best when they include teams that have more cognitive diversity and when they ensure that people feel psychologically safe allowing them to speak up. And, if there is a more formalized process (using the five steps above as a framework) then there is a greater chance that everyone is on the same page to get to problem-solving faster, and with far better outcomes. In short, being in sync, staying organized, and creating environments where everyone is engaged is a win-win for all.

Read the full HBR Article

This recap references the Harvard Business Review article How to Solve Problems

by Laura Amico @HiLauraAmico.

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