20 DECEMBER, 2022


Whether you’re an artist, a software developer or a CEO of a multinational conglomerate, problem solving skills are a critical asset in any professional setting.

Closely linked to other cognitive competencies including self-management and critical thinking, problem solving is a key workplace skill that empowers employees to manage change, communicate effectively and bring a fresh perspective to old problems. But to harness the benefits of logical and adaptive thinking in the workplace, organisations must take concerted action to foster problem solving skills in their employees.

What do problem solving skills in the workplace look like?

Workplace problem solving has several prominent distinctions when compared to problem solving in other contexts. This includes the formal and goal-oriented structure of the problem, as well as the critical role of teamwork in reaching a solution. An individual who shows competence in problem solving outside the workplace may not necessarily thrive when confronting a workplace issue.

A lack of problem solving skills in the workplace can be detrimental to businesses. Problem solving skills enable employees to evaluate and effectively resolve daily challenges.  Every job role within a business will face challenges and unexpected situations. Problem solving skills provide employees with the ability to recognise and analyse problems, identify and evaluate a range of potential solutions and then decide on and implement the most effective solution.

A workforce equipped with problem solving skills will be adaptive and ready to face the challenges of the constantly evolving modern workplace. Its employees will demonstrate an ability to:

  • Listen actively
  • Think analytically and creatively
  • Come up with innovative solutions
  • Communicate effectively
  • Make decisions confidently based on evidence
  • Work together as a team

The importance of problem solving skills in the workplace

Problem solving is a vital skill in the workplace. The ability to think logically and creatively empowers individuals to tackle challenges and seize opportunities in all levels of business. This in turn helps to achieve the following benefits of problem solving skills in the workplace:

Time and resources are used efficiently

All businesses have limited time and resources. This means that when a problem arises, it must be resolved as quickly as possible leveraging available resources. One of the major benefits of problem solving skills in the workplace is that employees can utilise their innovative thinking to prioritise tasks and focus on pressing challenges facing the business. This will result in them providing effective solutions that utilise available resources within the time frame available.

Improved problem solving skills also lead to improved time management as employees learn to make quick and effective decisions. Problem solving skills become even more critical where employees are expected to  provide solutions to complex or urgent problems.

The business can better respond to changing client needs

One of the primary purposes of a business is to deliver reliable and excellent service to their clients. Satisfied clients buy more goods or services, create positive advertising by word-of-mouth and generate referrals. But businesses operate in a changing world, which leads to changing client needs that must be anticipated as early as possible.

Employees must be able to take the initiative to respond to those changing needs. A workforce equipped with problem solving skills can quickly reposition itself to better meet shifts in client needs and developments in the environment in which those clients operate.

The business stays ahead of the curve

To stay ahead of the curve, a business must be proactive across all levels. Change in the modern workplace is constant and businesses must come up with fast solutions to problems and be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.  Employees must be confident to continually challenge the norm and swiftly adapt to changes in the business and the market.

A team that can confidently solve problems will see problems as an opportunity to initiate change and growth, which will help to keep the business ahead of competitors.

The business can anticipate risk

Employees equipped with problem solving skills can handle difficult situations that arise in the workplace. They can expertly deal with challenges that create risk for the business.

A successful business must be able to assess the probability of something going wrong and be able to anticipate the negative consequences if it does. Problem solving skills assist employees to foresee the likely sources of risk to the business and to make considered decisions as to the best way to manage those risks. These skills also play a key role in refining an organisation’s internal talent pipeline.

Strategies for developing problem solving in

When developing problem solving in the workplace, it is critical to take a flexible approach that addresses the needs of both current and future employees.

Emphasise problem solving in recruitment and assessment

Whether they are entry level, managers or senior executives, problem solving is a crucial skill for all your employees. Skills that indicate a strong problem solving ability are listening skills, analytical thinking skills, creative thinking skills and communication skills. These skills should be sought out and encouraged in both recruitment and assessment.

One way to identify problem solving skills in interviews is by giving candidates problems that they must solve on the spot within a limited time frame. Interviewers can then assess both the solution that the candidate came up with as well as how they responded to the unexpected challenge.

Self management, not micromanagement

Micromanagement can impede a business’ ability to reach its goals. Instead of raising productivity, micromanagement is more likely to lower the morale of your employees, stifle creativity and damage trust. Employees must have the ability and be given the opportunity to manage their own workflow and productivity without constantly relying on a supervisor.

Problem solving skills will help equip your employees with the ability to self manage their tasks and projects. Through purposeful self management, they will be able to take initiative to solve both the straightforward and complex problems faced in their role.

Give employees goals rather than instructions

Giving employees step-by-step instructions as to how to complete each aspect of their job will not result in an agile and innovative workforce. Rather, it will restrict their ability to seek out new methods and evaluate current contexts.

By providing employees with goals rather than limiting instructions, businesses can increase employee engagement and productivity. This in turn can help empower employees to contribute meaningfully to larger business objectives.

Promote a culture of innovation and collaboration

A successful and resilient business supports its employees with a culture that promotes innovation and collaboration. Problem solving skills will allow your employees to build relationships and excel at daily decision making processes.

Good problem solvers possess good communication skills and can collaborate effectively with their team. They can also think laterally and creatively to find innovative solutions to problems and find opportunities for business development.

Ensure employees have the resources to solve problems

In order to identify issues and discover impactful solutions, employees must have access to relevant tools that provide them with in-depth insights into internal and external contexts. Even the most innovative thinker will struggle to fully capitalise on their problem solving skills without the right resources to support them.

Of course, the nature of these resources will depend on the employee’s role and the context in which they work. Resources may include software, subscriptions, technological equipment and specific communication channels. For all of their differences, these resources will ideally assist the employee to integrate root cause analysis into day-to-day processes.

Provide training

Despite common misconception, problem solving skills are not necessarily innate. Rather, analytical and creative thinking skills can be fostered through purposeful training that provides individuals with a toolkit of problem solving techniques. It also offers an open space for employees to build on existing skill sets through hypothetical scenarios that will test their ability to extempromise, communicate proactively and think creatively.

Start building problem solving skills today

All businesses have the power to create proficient problem solvers within their existing and future workforce. Contact our team today to find out how a bespoke DeakinCo. learning solution could help your employees build on their problem solving skill sets through purposeful, relevant training.