How to develop problem solving skills in teams

When things go wrong – and they will – do your teams know how to respond? If not, team members can grow frustrated, issues will go unreported or not properly diagnosed, and quality will suffer. Develop problem solving skills by defining the expected behavior. This helps teams to navigate issues from root-cause analysis to resolution and improvement.

Define the triggers

Understanding what constitutes an issue is the first step. These are easily understood when defined by a trigger – e.g. X minutes of equipment downtime. It’s useful to involve the Team in defining these triggers, so they they feel ownership of any issue they encounter. The triggers should be specific with an agreed criteria for escalations. These could be agreed separately for different categories: Safety, Environment, Quality, Productivity, Cost or People issues. They could be either equipment, process or behavior related. It depends on the application and the culture the Team are striving for. They could even be specific to a challenge the Team is working towards. The main thing here is that the triggers are understood and signed up to.

Make it easy

There needs to be zero barriers to raising the incident. Whether it’s instant and on the spot, recorded and addressed later on, or in a regular Team meeting. The list of possible barriers is long;

  • Self-doubt
  • Disengagement
  • Lack of clarity on expectations
  • Not wanting to show up a problem caused by others
  • Lack of basic understanding on the issue
  • Perceived (or real) lack of support if the incident is raised

If the incident is not raised there can only be 2 explanations – there are no problems, or there are too many barriers stopping people. We’ve all got problems, so develop a psychologically safe culture and enable the Team. Just make it simple.

Team members standing next to equipment are logging an issue when it happened. This helps to develop problem solving skills.

Act quickly

Let’s assume the Team’s goals are clear and their expectations of each other are defined. All the major barriers to raising an incident have been removed. Now the Team leader’s role is all about support – with speed. It’s not about taking the issue from the Team member and asking them to resume work while you solve it. Support means developing the team member so that they can resolve it.

The first level of support can be an extra set of hands to get through the immediate required actions. Next, it’s about working with the Team member. Together you can determine the root causes of an issue or refine an improvement idea. Take this coaching opportunity to improve the Team member’s knowledge or skill. Engage their creativity to find a better way, or develop their confidence to work with others to resolve the issue. Whatever the support, it needs to be immediate otherwise the moment will be lost.

Give recognition

When sincere efforts are made, there should be open recognition. The person that raised the issue should be personally thanked.  After all, they overcame many potential barriers to raise the alarm – let them know they are safe to do it again. What you openly reward and recognize is as good as a broadcast message defining your Team’s cultural norms. It provides muscle memory for when they are met with their next opportunity.


TeamAssurance is an Operational Excellence platform that develops problem solving skills in teams. Contact us to find out more.


Nick Strybosch
Nick Strybosch
Nick leads the Product and User Experience teams at TeamAssurance.

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