How to create a problem solving culture in your company

  • 5 minutes read

“It’s not in my job description”, “nothing I can do about it”, “we’ve always done it this way” or “who messed up” are few of the things you might hear around the office. If you do, it should set your alarm bells ringing, as these are signs that a problem solving culture is lacking from your company. People that say those phrases feel that finding solutions is the sole problem of the management and that it’s a process that goes on behind closed doors.

Why is it important to have a healthy problem solving culture?

As a survey of 373 business leaders revealed, the top business issues most important to the success of organizations include: surviving in a changing economy, operating at more profitable levels, daily delivery of customer service, meeting the demands of owners and stakeholders, and maintaining quality control. The same survey showed that utilizing some form of problem-solving technique in the organization is critical to addressing major business issues. So, developing a problem solving environment that touches upon all aspects of the organization is an important issue that you should all work on.

How can we improve?

The “it’s not my job to do this” mind set can be changed and you can do something about it. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: 

Start from the top

Getting the leadership team behind this is a critical element that can make or break the new culture implementation. If they understand the benefits, they will rebuild their role. We need management to create safe zones where failure could happen and employees can experiment with improvements and learn from the outcomes.

One small thing leaders can implement is asking 5 times “why”. It’s a simple technique with the primary goal to find the exact reason that causes a given problem. It’s most important follow up is that it switches the perspective from a problem of people to a problem of process.

Suggest a formal and structured process to agree upon at company level

People will discover that it takes practice and patience to validate a problem and uncover the root cause to ensure that the right problem is solved with the right solution. For instance, some organizations use the following, but there are more to choose from:

  • Define the problem or quantify the gap.
  • Identify the causes.
  • Create options. 
  • Test and refine the solution.
  • Adopt new standards.
Include training sessions that build individual problem solving skills

Problem solving requires two distinct types of mental skill, analytical and creative. Analytical or logical thinking includes skills such as ordering, comparing, evaluating and selecting. Creative thinking uses the imagination to create a large range of ideas for solutions. Both types can be improved in an individual with the right kind of workshops.

Look at the current state

Your organization already does something good in this area. Take the good case practices, make problem solving employees’ examples for the others by bringing them in front and rewarding them, show all of them the good results that came from “leading from the middle”. It’s great to build on what you already have, it shows people it’s possible and that it’s not so difficult.

Create a space where is accepted to talk open about problems

We often say in trainings to rather talk about “issues” or “opportunities” than “problems”. It seemed like a good way to avoid sounding negative. But then we realised that problem solving begins with the ability to acknowledge problems and a willingness to see them without judgment. Problems that stay hidden will not get fixed.

Encourage suggested solutions when team members point out problems

Make sure to take this next step. A good example here is a Japanese manufacturer that encouraged employees to name problems but only if they immediately follow with at least a solution for it. Organizations cannot improve unless they seek out but also resolve their problems.

Finally, organizations today are shifting from the rigid hierarchical management of yesterday to a more open, collaborative model. As this happens, it’s crucial to provide and cultivate opportunities for team members to “take the lead.” By building a healthy problem solving culture, employees will take responsibility and will change their mind set to never say again “there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Want to implement a problem solving culture in your company? Our critical thinking training might help.

References:

  • The Future of Jobs Report – World Economic Forum, 2018
  • Creating a problem solving culture, Exploring Problem Resolution in the Workplace – Mark Marone and Chris Blauth, 2004
  • Building a problem-solving culture that lasts – Randy Cook and Alison Jenkins, McKinsey & Company, 2014
Insights