Creating Workplace Problem Solvers

When faced with problems in the workplace we have a choice of doing what we always do, doing nothing or changing the way we go about finding solutions. Making incremental changes can bring about progress in individual and team problem solving efforts and create a more effective organization.

Support Decisions with Objective Data

Challenging problems in the workplace can stimulate a variety of emotions in people from excitement to discontent which can lead to overlooking important facts and stifle optimal outcomes. Ask for supporting data and objective facts when individuals or teams are tasked with solving important business issues. Developing even preliminary data findings provides an opportunity to ask probing questions, validate information and formalize data driven recommendations.

Involve vs. Show or Tell

Unless we are really involved, we tend to feel like outsiders rather than participants. Humans who feel left out tend to find less positive ways to get into the game. Dealing with co-workers that attempt to derail progress can be a bit overwhelming in the workplace. From voicing opposition to all out refusal to cooperate are responses I’ve experienced when introducing different initiatives in the workplace. Engaging people directly in conversation and involving them early in the process can save you from spinning your wheels down the road. Simply listening to the concerns of others can defuse tense situations. Allowing opposing opinions to enter the dialogue does not equate to surrendering control. When co-workers resist changes the real concern often boils down to wanting to know WHO made the decision and WHAT information exists to support the change and WHY they were not asked for their input; seldom is it about saying NO to a beneficial change without good reason.

Document throughout the Problem Solving Process

Let’s face it – players, issues and politics are constantly subject to change in the workplace. Documentation can be tracked and updated over time as circumstances evolve. I’m not advocating reams of text or exhaustive manuals here – in fact try to limit to 1 page max when initiating a problem solving effort. Documenting problems, proposed solutions, owners and time frames to hold people accountable makes good business sense. Ever attended a meeting where lots of information or good ideas were exchanged but zero action came out of it? It is easy to misinterpret information, even more so when it’s not in writing. It can be difficult but not impossible to get an individual or team to succinctly define an objective problem statement in 20 words or less. (ex: 20% of customer orders contain inaccurate information leading to lost shipments and angry customers) Gaining agreement about what the problem is and how it should be solved is a PROCESS. Through this process, people are forced to focus attention on the problem and not ancillary issues.

Cristina Mont-Kraus is President of DoConnect Systems and a management consultant working with organizations implementing complex Information Technology and Process Transformation efforts. Her passion is helping people break performance challenges through organizational change by applying Lean & Six Sigma strategies, tools and methodologies. She can be reached at

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