Some of your people may be excellent at problem solving. But even those team members can occasionally run into problems that seem so complex and overwhelming that they get stuck because they’re unsure about where to begin.
That’s when it’s time to step back, reassess the situation and try some different approaches to problem solving.
Problem solving techniques
Instead of tackling that problem head-on, try reverse engineering, or even blowing it out of proportion:
- Hold a reverse brainstorming meeting with your team. Have them come up with ways to make a problem worse, like decreasing sales or increasing expenses. It seems counterproductive – until you tell team members they have to think up ways to undo the negative “solutions” they suggested, which can reveal the real solution.
- Start with the end goal, then work backwards. What’s the final stage prior to reaching the goal? What comes before that? Step by step, you work backward to the present stage. Then compare those stages to the standard, start-to-finish process. How are they the same and how are they different?
- Imagine that each problem you’re dealing with is 10 times worse than it is. This is a great approach to problem solving when the main issue is prioritizing tasks. Dwight Eisenhower used this strategy when he was a general in the U.S. Army. When looking at that to-do list through a magnified lens, whatever has the most significant big-picture impact tends to become clearer and rise to the top.
If something’s been plaguing a team member for days or weeks, they may be losing sleep over it because they’re so determined to “crack the code.” If this is the case, it’s OK to advise them to go beyond stepping back and sleep on it.
According to Harvard Medical School, a quality night’s sleep actually aids in problem solving, and staying up late to work on a problem generally isn’t effective (unless there are tight, simultaneous payroll and tax filing deadlines that can’t be missed).
Lack of sleep can not only take a toll on your health and wellness, it can also prevent your brain from performing natural and critical rest-time information processing and problem solving functions. Sleep is why great minds like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and others have come up with unique, creative solutions to complex problems.
When telling a staffer to sleep on it, it might be encouraging to tell them they’re following in the footsteps of Einstein and Edison.