Solving Problems at Work: The Techniques and Soft Skills Your Employees Need

There is always a need for those who have premium problem-solving skills in the workplace. The 2020 Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum found that complex problem solving was the second most rapidly emerging, sought-after skill by employers, second only to analytical thinking and innovation. While the pandemic and subsequent economic turbulence have created an uncertain future for the labor market, they have also helped spur the introduction of the future of work, probably much sooner than we would have seen it otherwise. 

The pace with which companies are adopting technologies is increasing, and some of those technologies are also assisting with the problem-solving process. AI, bots, and automation are big players in the current world of work, but that doesn’t minimize how much you must ensure that your human employees have the soft skills required to provide their best efforts on your company’s behalf. 

Team of four professionals analyzing data on computer and printed graphs in sunlit office.

What Is Problem Solving?

Simply put, problem solving is a process that involves the discovery, analysis, and solving of issues that have created obstacles. The ability to problem solve in a business setting is crucial. The best strategy will depend a lot on the situation at hand, and several different problem-solving strategies can be employed to improve your operations. 

Problem solving is also not a linear process. There is no “step-by-step” guide that you can find to help you get from the problem to the solution. Each issue will require its own strategy and steps to resolve, and some problems will require repeating steps and processes until the solution is discovered. A problem-solving cycle and strategy will help, but those will be more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast set of steps. 

What Soft Skills are Necessary for Workplace Problem Solving?

Problem solving is something that all prospective employers often inquire about during the interview process. This is because it’s an integral part of every role in the workplace and having employees that are ready to jump at the first sign of trouble is a huge asset. Although employers will often generally request problem-solving skills, here are some other soft skills that are related to the process that will also be necessary for employees, both now and moving forward. 

Active listening skills: No one can successfully understand a problem, let alone solve it, without being a good listener. Someone good at solving problems will be able to identify the issue, understand its cause, and be able to  create workable solutions. 

Analytical thinking: Although creativity helps, analytical thinking skills will be necessary for successful problem solving. People need the ability to understand and establish cause-and-effect relationships to foresee the long-term effects of your organization’s decisions. 

Decision making: Doing nothing is the worst possible solution. Your team needs to be able to determine which methods of solving the problem are most relevant, how to implement the solutions, and so forth. If your employees cannot make decisions, problem solving will never be successful. 

Teamwork and collaboration: It’s not a single person’s job to solve problems. Some of the best problem-solving efforts are done by teams who have different opinions and methodologies that they utilize in the process. This ensures that all possible avenues are explored. 

Creativity: Being logical and analytical is important when solving problems, but you also need to be creative with problem solving. Thinking “out of the box” and coming up with innovative answers is the key to success, and creatives bring a unique perspective that should be appreciated by all businesses. 

Communication: Of course, with all of this, you need effective communication. You need people who can communicate across all channels and with a variety of people, from team members to managers and even executive leadership. 

These soft skills all have their own place, as well, and can help with a host of business processes and problem-solving needs. Keep an eye out for candidates who highlight these relevant skills on their resumes and applications to ensure that your business will be able to overcome obstacles. 

Two Powerful Problem-Solving Techniques

There are several techniques that people use for problem solving. Performing a SWOT analysis can help figure out whether a solution has specific strengths and weaknesses. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

  • Strength—why does this particular solution fit this problem?
  • Weaknesses—What weak points does the solution have? Can you tweak them or improve them?
  • Opportunities—What benefits and opportunities come from being able to implement this specific solution?
  • Threats—Is there any part of the solution that will affect your team or organization negatively?

For those who want an in-depth look at all sides of the situation, this is a good choice. The other popular method is the 5 whys. 

This is a tricky name because it’s really only one question, but repeated five times to ensure that you get to the root of the issue and can create the most effective solution. Let’s say a campaign wasn’t launched on the right date. 

  1. Why did this happen? Because the auto-scheduler wasn’t properly programmed. 
  2. Why wasn’t it programmed? Because someone forgot to put it on the calendar. 
  3. Why was it missed on the calendar? Because there was a communication breakdown and there is no standard process. 
  4. Why isn’t there a standard process? Because standard practices haven’t been decided upon and resources have been short. 
  5. Why have resources been short? We are understaffed and are having a hard time filling important positions.

So, here you arrive at the solution of improving campaign launches by creating standard processes for communication and collaboration, which may include adding team members to your organization to cover the shortage of resources. 

Further Resources

Running into problems in the workplace can be a daunting experience, but learning just a few problem solving techniques can help you and your team approach these conflicts quickly and with confidence. 

If you would like more help, check out this guide from KnowledgeCity with even more tips for solving problems at work. You should also check out this Creative Problem Solving for Insightful Solutions course or consider requesting a free demo of KnowledgeCity’s Learning Library with over 20,000 videos to help you and your team become the best problem solvers you can be. 

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