How to Nurture and Encourage Problem Solvers

For some managers, it is easy to be tempted to being the “be all end all” for decision-making. For some leaders, there is always a reason not to trust the team to make the “right” decisions. In a workplace where decisions are reserved for only the top, a dysfunctional culture will prevail when people struggle in problem-solving and give up trying.

But what is wrong with that? Why not resist the leadership quality of developing others, and just control and do everything at the top? That way you can be assured things get done right, right?

This unfortunate manager trait is will cause the organization more harm than benefit.

Here is Why:

  1. It Creates Bottlenecking at the Top.

Not empowering others to make healthy decisions, creates bottlenecking at the top. Since all decisions are funneled only to one or two people, the rate of decisions to be made slow down. This is particularly true with the only decision-maker can’t be reached when issues arise. This becomes especially problematic when challenges become bigger than life itself such as pandemics and economic meltdowns.

  1. There Can Be a Lack of Response to Market and Environment Changes.

Depending on the size of the company, critical issues and timelines get missed. The leader being buried in the weeds runs the risk of missing key market shift trends or consumer demand changes.

  1. Top Performers Become Frustrated.

There are individuals who pride themselves to be able to think through solutions and resolve problems. A micro-manager will simply write off this type of individual as a “loose cannon” and dismiss it, ultimately frustrating them. But for your competitor, these individuals are considered critical thinkers or problem solvers and are on-demand.

The above can be avoided. A healthy and agile work environment can be created nurturing a culture of problem solvers.

Here Is How:

  1. Acknowledge that Problems Can Be Good.

The truth is, the secret to creativity begins with good problems. Almost every creative thought is a potential answer to a problem. Einstein’s theory of relativity was about working out a discrepancy between electromagnetism and physics. Post-its were about discovering a use for not very sticky glue. Picasso’s cubistic paintings were about working out the problem of mapping cubic space on flat canvases.

  1. Turn Problems into Challenges.

Turn those problems into challenges for your team to tackle. Encourage the team to write down the problem on a sheet of paper. Encourage them to try and break the trouble down. Asking, “Why is this a problem?”, “What is causing this?”, “What additional matters are at stake?” And so forth. Encourage them to ask “why?” till they are no longer answer the question.

Encourage them to not quit at the first idea that springs to mind. The first beneficial idea that springs to mind is seldom the most creative mostly because it is nearly always the most conspicuous. Better to yield lots of ideas and then decide which thoughts to select.

Have them write all of their replies on a sheet of paper. At this stage, the core problem, as well as key crucial issues, will be manifest. Let’s call this the big problem.

  1. Create Boundaries and Make It Safe

As a manager, if letting go is hard, try setting up healthy boundaries to start. Set up milestones or goals for your team to reach within certain timeframes. Create periodic meetings or touchpoints to review progress. Remember that truly innovative cultures encourage calculated risk-taking.

  1. Get Out of the Way!

While all of the above is nice, it won’t happen if people are fearful or frustrated at making decisions. If all a manager has done, is get after people for making decisions, then people simply won’t do it anymore. That negative dynamic needs to be corrected and can only be done if people are safe at exploring solutions to problems. As they become stronger at problem-solving, encourage occasional touchpoints with you and get out of the way.

Choking people, preventing them from becoming stronger at decision-making, is harmful to the organization in the short and long term. Empowering people to critically think and problem solve will permit an agile organization that will realize growth.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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