problem solving and making decisions (2023)

Problem solving and decision making is important for every consultant, every company and every person in the world. In the end, aren't all units and individuals just a sum of their decisions? We'll spare you the philosophical lecture, but want to provide some insight into why problem solving and decision making are so important in the workplace. We also want to give you problem-solving and decision-making examples so that you can not only think about the topic, but also act.

problem solving and making decisions (1)

The importance of problem solving and decision making

We all have our problems. While it would be great if we could just make them go away, life will go on and your problems will remain if you don't take care of them. If there is no problem-solving habit embedded in the culture of the workplace, the company will eventually collapse. As a result, employees must have the right training and resources to independently and confidently solve business problems.

Decision making goes hand in hand with problem solving. If a problem is identified but nothing is done, it will only get worse. But blind and misguided decisions can also pose a problem. Therefore, it is important to have a systematic and logical decision-making process guided by a strong business instinct. In this way, problem solving and decision making in the workplace will be beneficial for the rest of your career.

Problem solving and decision making are important attributes for any business leader. Although some personalities are better attuned to these skills, they can be learned and mastered by any individual. Consider the differences between the nerdy Bill Gates and the more playful Richard Branson - both are considered great business leaders, although at face value the two couldn't be more different.

The problem-solving and decision-making process

Below we have developed a 5 step structured approach to decision making for business leaders, but the process can also be used by individual employees for life and for problem solving and decision making in the workplace.

Of course, almost all of your decisions, especially the smaller ones, don't require you to follow every step. However, we believe this process will serve well for the big decisions that require careful thought and time.

  1. Clearly define and identify the problem

This is possibly the most overlooked part of the problem solving and decision making process because it is so obvious. However, here it is important to coordinate with your team on the issue at hand.

You will be surprised how much can get lost in translation, especially in a large corporate organization. If your team isn't aligned with the problem at hand—down to the small details and nuances—the rest of your process will go awry.

2. Gather information

Most problems cannot be solved without some amount of data or information. In this step of the process it is important to collect the relevant information. Usually, too much data hinders the decision-making process and leads to wasted time.

At the same time, there may be instances where gathering data leads to a new perspective or problem. In this scenario, it may be worth going back to Step 1 and revising the issue at hand.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

This is the time to get creative. During this step, teams shouldn't be afraid to discard any ideas that might be solutions. Brainstorming works best in a non-judgmental atmosphere because you never know which idea will sow the seeds and trigger the ultimate right decision.

It's also helpful to brainstorm on an individual level first, and then come together as a team. Team brainstorming sessions can be dominated by stronger personalities, preventing some individuals from speaking their minds on the spot. When teams are given the opportunity to develop thoughtful options, everyone feels more confident and more likely to voice their ideas.

4. Narrow down the options

From the long list of potential ideas, now is the time to narrow them down to the top three to five. The way you come up with these top ideas may vary, but includes one of the following methods:

    • Pros and cons list– Identifying the pros and cons of each option
    • SWOT-Analyse– Description of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each option
    • scenario analysis– Projection of the possible probable scenarios that will result from each option

Different problems require different insights into each potential option. By using the data and comparing each option relatively, you arrive at a smarter solution.

5. Choose the optimal solution and delegate

When choosing the final solution, keep two things in mind. First and foremost, choose the option that is in the best interest of the company. There will be times when some employees or teams will be negatively impacted by a decision. Trust in the resilience of your team and always push for the optimal solution.

Second, realize that not everyone will be happy. Rarely will the entire company be happy with a big decision, and that's okay. In most cases, employees who are initially dissatisfied will eventually recognize that the decision was made for the good of the company and adjust accordingly.

After all this work, it would be a shame if nothing changed! After informing your team about the new solution, delegate the work to the employees who need to help implement the solution. Then ensure follow-up procedures are in place to review progress.

Examples of problem solving and decision making

When thinking about problem solving and decision making, you also need to realize that we don't live in a sterile environment. By this we mean that the person making the decision is influenced by external factors that could (and probably will) influence their decisions. If you are not sure about this, check out the latest articlesMental ModelsAndThe ladder of conclusion. These two concepts together have a huge impact on your decisions. But when you think about problem solving and decision making in general, you need to understand the priority of each.

You could make a good decision, but what are the criteria for determining whether the decision was a good one? You need to think from the perspective of the customer, manager or partner. It's not just about giving authority what they do, it's more about having enough context on the issue to consider what's at play and factor that into your decision. For example, check out these examples of problem solving and decision making:

You are a manager responsible for a project that collects customer preferences and data. The business requirements have been conveyed to you by both the VPs and the Directors. What are you doing to deliver the project on time and on budget?

Brainstorm the factors at play:
    • Do the VPs and Directors agree on the requirements?
    • What is the end goal?
    • What is the given schedule?
      • is it reasonable
    • What is the budget?
      • is it reasonable
    • Are there factors to consider when collecting data?
      • Credit Card Privacy?
      • HIPPA requirements?
      • Do the end users need access to the information once it is collected?
    • What staff is required for the project?
      • Are these resources available?
    • etc etc

What you don't want is to return a result that is useless because you misunderstood the requirements. As a consultant, you must be able to assess a situation and weigh up the pros and cons. You need to be able to see alternative solutions and have a plan to get the customer where they need to go. Can you think of examples of problem solving and decision making in your own life that you could apply this method to?

Final Thoughts

Problem solving and decision making in the workplace is undoubtedly an important skill. Therefore, the right systematic approach is essential. It may seem like a lot of work upfront, but taking the necessary steps to resolve important issues and successfully arriving at a solution will save much more time and create a healthier business in the long run.

Related content:

  • What is MECE?
  • Think like a consultant: Quantitative thinking and prioritizing
  • The pyramid principle
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