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How To Nurture Problem Solvers

How To Nurture 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, the culture will prevail with people who struggle in problem solving and give up trying.

But what’s 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?

The truth is this unfortunate manager trait is causing the organization more harm then benefit. Here’s 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.

2. 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.

3. 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’s how:


leadership traits1. 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.

2. 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's 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 the 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.

3. Create boundaries and make is safe

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

4. 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 touch points 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.


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Tresha D. Moreland, MBA, MS, FACHE, SPHR, SSBBP, founder of HR C-Suite, is an HR thought leader in Human Resource Strategic Management. She has held key human resource leadership roles for over 20 years in multiple industries most recently a senior vice president in the healthcare industry. Tresha is the founder and publisher of HR C-Suite ( HR C-Suite is a game changer results-based HR strategy website. It is a first-of-it's-kind site that organizes HR strategy based on desired business result. She has developed a business philosophy of integrating human resources with business strategy, thus creating a hybrid HR leadership approach. This approach enables the leveraging human resources to achieve business results.

One Comment

  1. I could not resist responding to the above article about problem solvers. My experience has been that people will only learn by doing and with the proper guidance they will generally make the right decision. However, they will not learn to make decisions if you do not allow them to do so. So, use your delegating skills, provide guide and parameters and then turn people loose. Once they learn that they are being trusted, they will feel free to make decisions on their own. As Vince Lombardi, the famous NFL coach once said “some people need hand holding, some people need to be coaxed, some need a kick in the butt and others just get the hell out of their way.” Good advice.

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