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Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies
Picture this, you're handling your daily tasks at work and your boss calls you in and says, "We have a problem."
Unfortunately, we don't live in a world in which problems are instantly resolved with the snap of our fingers. Knowing how to effectively solve problems is an important professional skill to hone. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, what is the right process to use to ensure you get the most effective solution?
In this article we'll break down the problem-solving process and how you can find the most effective solutions for complex problems.
What is problem solving?
Problem solving is the process of finding a resolution for a specific issue or conflict. There are many possible solutions for solving a problem, which is why it's important to go through a problem-solving process to find the best solution. You could use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew a Phillips head screw, but there is a better tool for the situation. Utilizing common problem-solving techniques helps you find the best solution to fit the needs of the specific situation, much like using the right tools.
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4 steps to better problem solving
While it might be tempting to dive into a problem head first, take the time to move step by step. Here’s how you can effectively break down the problem-solving process with your team:
1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved
One of the easiest ways to identify a problem is to ask questions. A good place to start is to ask journalistic questions, like:
Who : Who is involved with this problem? Who caused the problem? Who is most affected by this issue?
What: What is happening? What is the extent of the issue? What does this problem prevent from moving forward?
Where: Where did this problem take place? Does this problem affect anything else in the immediate area?
When: When did this problem happen? When does this problem take effect? Is this an urgent issue that needs to be solved within a certain timeframe?
Why: Why is it happening? Why does it impact workflows?
How: How did this problem occur? How is it affecting workflows and team members from being productive?
Asking journalistic questions can help you define a strong problem statement so you can highlight the current situation objectively, and create a plan around that situation.
Here’s an example of how a design team uses journalistic questions to identify their problem:
Overarching problem: Design requests are being missed
Who: Design team, digital marketing team, web development team
What: Design requests are forgotten, lost, or being created ad hoc.
Where: Email requests, design request spreadsheet
When: Missed requests on January 20th, January 31st, February 4th, February 6th
How : Email request was lost in inbox and the intake spreadsheet was not updated correctly. The digital marketing team had to delay launching ads for a few days while design requests were bottlenecked. Designers had to work extra hours to ensure all requests were completed.
In this example, there are many different aspects of this problem that can be solved. Using journalistic questions can help you identify different issues and who you should involve in the process.
2. Brainstorm multiple solutions
If at all possible, bring in a facilitator who doesn't have a major stake in the solution. Bringing an individual who has little-to-no stake in the matter can help keep your team on track and encourage good problem-solving skills.
Here are a few brainstorming techniques to encourage creative thinking:
Brainstorm alone before hand: Before you come together as a group, provide some context to your team on what exactly the issue is that you're brainstorming. This will give time for you and your teammates to have some ideas ready by the time you meet.
Say yes to everything (at first): When you first start brainstorming, don't say no to any ideas just yet—try to get as many ideas down as possible. Having as many ideas as possible ensures that you’ll get a variety of solutions. Save the trimming for the next step of the strategy.
Talk to team members one-on-one: Some people may be less comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting. Discuss the issue with team members individually and encourage them to share their opinions without restrictions—you might find some more detailed insights than originally anticipated.
Break out of your routine: If you're used to brainstorming in a conference room or over Zoom calls, do something a little different! Take your brainstorming meeting to a coffee shop or have your Zoom call while you're taking a walk. Getting out of your routine can force your brain out of its usual rut and increase critical thinking.
3. Define the solution
After you brainstorm with team members to get their unique perspectives on a scenario, it's time to look at the different strategies and decide which option is the best solution for the problem at hand. When defining the solution, consider these main two questions: What is the desired outcome of this solution and who stands to benefit from this solution?
Set a deadline for when this decision needs to be made and update stakeholders accordingly. Sometimes there's too many people who need to make a decision. Use your best judgement based on the limitations provided to do great things fast.
4. Implement the solution
To implement your solution, start by working with the individuals who are as closest to the problem. This can help those most affected by the problem get unblocked. Then move farther out to those who are less affected, and so on and so forth. Some solutions are simple enough that you don’t need to work through multiple teams.
After you prioritize implementation with the right teams, assign out the ongoing work that needs to be completed by the rest of the team. This can prevent people from becoming overburdened during the implementation plan . Once your solution is in place, schedule check-ins to see how the solution is working and course-correct if necessary.
Implement common problem-solving strategies
There are a few ways to go about identifying problems (and solutions). Here are some strategies you can try, as well as common ways to apply them:
Trial and error
Trial and error problem solving doesn't usually require a whole team of people to solve. To use trial and error problem solving, identify the cause of the problem, and then rapidly test possible solutions to see if anything changes.
This problem-solving method is often used in tech support teams through troubleshooting.
The 5 whys problem-solving method helps get to the root cause of an issue. You start by asking once, “Why did this issue happen?” After answering the first why, ask again, “Why did that happen?” You'll do this five times until you can attribute the problem to a root cause.
This technique can help you dig in and find the human error that caused something to go wrong. More importantly, it also helps you and your team develop an actionable plan so that you can prevent the issue from happening again.
Here’s an example:
Problem: The email marketing campaign was accidentally sent to the wrong audience.
“Why did this happen?” Because the audience name was not updated in our email platform.
“Why were the audience names not changed?” Because the audience segment was not renamed after editing.
“Why was the audience segment not renamed?” Because everybody has an individual way of creating an audience segment.
“Why does everybody have an individual way of creating an audience segment?” Because there is no standardized process for creating audience segments.
“Why is there no standardized process for creating audience segments?” Because the team hasn't decided on a way to standardize the process as the team introduced new members.
In this example, we can see a few areas that could be optimized to prevent this mistake from happening again. When working through these questions, make sure that everyone who was involved in the situation is present so that you can co-create next steps to avoid the same problem.
A SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis can help you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a specific solution. SWOT stands for:
Strength: Why is this specific solution a good fit for this problem?
Weaknesses: What are the weak points of this solution? Is there anything that you can do to strengthen those weaknesses?
Opportunities: What other benefits could arise from implementing this solution?
Threats: Is there anything about this decision that can detrimentally impact your team?
As you identify specific solutions, you can highlight the different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each solution.
This particular problem-solving strategy is good to use when you're narrowing down the answers and need to compare and contrast the differences between different solutions.
Even more successful problem solving
After you’ve worked through a tough problem, don't forget to celebrate how far you've come. Not only is this important for your team of problem solvers to see their work in action, but this can also help you become a more efficient, effective , and flexible team. The more problems you tackle together, the more you’ll achieve.
Looking for a tool to help solve problems on your team? Track project implementation with a work management tool like Asana .
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How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips
- 01 Mar 2022
The importance of creativity in the workplace—particularly when problem-solving—is undeniable. Business leaders can’t approach new problems with old solutions and expect the same result.
This is where innovation-based processes need to guide problem-solving. Here’s an overview of what creative problem-solving is, along with tips on how to use it in conjunction with design thinking.
What Is Creative Problem-Solving?
Encountering problems with no clear cause can be frustrating. This occurs when there’s disagreement around a defined problem or research yields unclear results. In such situations, creative problem-solving helps develop solutions, despite a lack of clarity.
While creative problem-solving is less structured than other forms of innovation, it encourages exploring open-ended ideas and shifting perspectives—thereby fostering innovation and easier adaptation in the workplace. It also works best when paired with other innovation-based processes, such as design thinking .
Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking
Design thinking is a solutions-based mentality that encourages innovation and problem-solving. It’s guided by an iterative process that Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar outlines in four stages in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation :
- Clarify: This stage involves researching a problem through empathic observation and insights.
- Ideate: This stage focuses on generating ideas and asking open-ended questions based on observations made during the clarification stage.
- Develop: The development stage involves exploring possible solutions based on the ideas you generate. Experimentation and prototyping are both encouraged.
- Implement: The final stage is a culmination of the previous three. It involves finalizing a solution’s development and communicating its value to stakeholders.
Although user research is an essential first step in the design thinking process, there are times when it can’t identify a problem’s root cause. Creative problem-solving addresses this challenge by promoting the development of new perspectives.
Leveraging tools like design thinking and creativity at work can further your problem-solving abilities. Here are eight tips for doing so.
8 Creative Problem-Solving Tips
1. empathize with your audience.
A fundamental practice of design thinking’s clarify stage is empathy. Understanding your target audience can help you find creative and relevant solutions for their pain points through observing them and asking questions.
Practice empathy by paying attention to others’ needs and avoiding personal comparisons. The more you understand your audience, the more effective your solutions will be.
2. Reframe Problems as Questions
If a problem is difficult to define, reframe it as a question rather than a statement. For example, instead of saying, "The problem is," try framing around a question like, "How might we?" Think creatively by shifting your focus from the problem to potential solutions.
Consider this hypothetical case study: You’re the owner of a local coffee shop trying to fill your tip jar. Approaching the situation with a problem-focused mindset frames this as: "We need to find a way to get customers to tip more." If you reframe this as a question, however, you can explore: "How might we make it easier for customers to tip?" When you shift your focus from the shop to the customer, you empathize with your audience. You can take this train of thought one step further and consider questions such as: "How might we provide a tipping method for customers who don't carry cash?"
Whether you work at a coffee shop, a startup, or a Fortune 500 company, reframing can help surface creative solutions to problems that are difficult to define.
3. Defer Judgment of Ideas
If you encounter an idea that seems outlandish or unreasonable, a natural response would be to reject it. This instant judgment impedes creativity. Even if ideas seem implausible, they can play a huge part in ideation. It's important to permit the exploration of original ideas.
While judgment can be perceived as negative, it’s crucial to avoid accepting ideas too quickly. If you love an idea, don’t immediately pursue it. Give equal consideration to each proposal and build on different concepts instead of acting on them immediately.
4. Overcome Cognitive Fixedness
Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind that prevents you from recognizing a situation’s alternative solutions or interpretations instead of considering every situation through the lens of past experiences.
Although it's efficient in the short-term, cognitive fixedness interferes with creative thinking because it prevents you from approaching situations unbiased. It's important to be aware of this tendency so you can avoid it.
5. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking
One of the key principles of creative problem-solving is the balance of divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of brainstorming multiple ideas without limitation; open-ended creativity is encouraged. It’s an effective tool for generating ideas, but not every idea can be explored. Divergent thinking eventually needs to be grounded in reality.
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of narrowing ideas down into a few options. While converging ideas too quickly stifles creativity, it’s an important step that bridges the gap between ideation and development. It's important to strike a healthy balance between both to allow for the ideation and exploration of creative ideas.
6. Use Creative Tools
Using creative tools is another way to foster innovation. Without a clear cause for a problem, such tools can help you avoid cognitive fixedness and abrupt decision-making. Here are several examples:
Creating a problem story requires identifying undesired phenomena (UDP) and taking note of events that precede and result from them. The goal is to reframe the situations to visualize their cause and effect.
To start, identify a UDP. Then, discover what events led to it. Observe and ask questions of your consumer base to determine the UDP’s cause.
Next, identify why the UDP is a problem. What effect does the UDP have that necessitates changing the status quo? It's helpful to visualize each event in boxes adjacent to one another when answering such questions.
The problem story can be extended in either direction, as long as there are additional cause-and-effect relationships. Once complete, focus on breaking the chains connecting two subsequent events by disrupting the cause-and-effect relationship between them.
The alternate worlds tool encourages you to consider how people from different backgrounds would approach similar situations. For instance, how would someone in hospitality versus manufacturing approach the same problem? This tool isn't intended to instantly solve problems but, rather, to encourage idea generation and creativity.
7. Use Positive Language
It's vital to maintain a positive mindset when problem-solving and avoid negative words that interfere with creativity. Positive language prevents quick judgments and overcomes cognitive fixedness. Instead of "no, but," use words like "yes, and."
Positive language makes others feel heard and valued rather than shut down. This practice doesn’t necessitate agreeing with every idea but instead approaching each from a positive perspective.
Using “yes, and” as a tool for further idea exploration is also effective. If someone presents an idea, build upon it using “yes, and.” What additional features could improve it? How could it benefit consumers beyond its intended purpose?
While it may not seem essential, this small adjustment can make a big difference in encouraging creativity.
8. Practice Design Thinking
Practicing design thinking can make you a more creative problem-solver. While commonly associated with the workplace, adopting a design thinking mentality can also improve your everyday life. Here are several ways you can practice design thinking:
- Learn from others: There are many examples of design thinking in business . Review case studies to learn from others’ successes, research problems companies haven't addressed, and consider alternative solutions using the design thinking process.
- Approach everyday problems with a design thinking mentality: One of the best ways to practice design thinking is to apply it to your daily life. Approach everyday problems using design thinking’s four-stage framework to uncover what solutions it yields.
- Study design thinking: While learning design thinking independently is a great place to start, taking an online course can offer more insight and practical experience. The right course can teach you important skills , increase your marketability, and provide valuable networking opportunities.
Ready to Become a Creative Problem-Solver?
Though creativity comes naturally to some, it's an acquired skill for many. Regardless of which category you're in, improving your ability to innovate is a valuable endeavor. Whether you want to bolster your creativity or expand your professional skill set, taking an innovation-based course can enhance your problem-solving.
If you're ready to become a more creative problem-solver, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses . If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.
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How to solve a workplace problem in 5 steps
Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour e pisode Monday-Friday
Company leaders often advocate for a break-neck pace. But moving fast can cause long-term problems at work. Leadership coach Anne Morriss shares five steps to fix workplace problems.
About Anne Morriss
Anne Morriss is a leadership coach and writer who advises entrepreneurs, companies and governments on strategy, leadership and organizational change. In 2018, she founded The Leadership Consortium, an organization that provides training and teaching materials for executives at several of the best-known companies in the US. Anne is the coauthor of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business and Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader's Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You and Move Fast & Fix Things . She is the co-host of Fixable , a podcast from the TED Audio Collective that helps guest callers solve their workplace problems in 30 minutes or less.
This segment of TED Radio Hour was produced by James Delahoussaye and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour. You can follow us on Facebook @ TEDRadioHour and email us at [email protected].
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Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace
Problem-solving and decision-making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they answer ‘Yes!’ But how many of us have had training in problem-solving? We know it’s a critical element of our work, but do we know how to do it effectively?
People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that’s a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems!
There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we’re not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be “conflict-averse”. We don’t feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more “conflict-friendly” and “conflict-competent”.
There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.)
Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That’s a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process.
Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process.
1. Identify the issues.
- Be clear about what the problem is.
- Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.
- Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that’s the next step!).
2. Understand everyone’s interests.
- This is a critical step that is usually missing.
- Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.
- The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests.
- This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.
- Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions.
3. List the possible solutions (options)
- This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity.
- Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options.
4. Evaluate the options.
- What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly!
- Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options.
5. Select an option or options.
- What’s the best option, in the balance?
- Is there a way to “bundle” a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?
6. Document the agreement(s).
- Don’t rely on memory.
- Writing it down will help you think through all the details and implications.
7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.
- Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).
- How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?
- Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)
Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape.
Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you’re having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests.
This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you’re just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don’t need to go through these seven steps!
Don’t worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice!
Tim Hicks is a conflict management professional providing mediation, facilitation, training, coaching, and consulting to individuals and organizations. From 2006 to 2014 he led the Master’s degree program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution at the University of Oregon as its first director. He returned to private practice in 2015. Tim is… MORE >
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How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace
" We've been stuck at it for a week now, " thought Frank to himself. His team came across a simple bin-packing problem surrounding consecutive character strings that were seemingly impossible to solve, and had been running into the same error message every time someone hit the ‘Compile’ button.
The new guy on his team ( his first day ), who had been quiet the whole day, walked to the whiteboard and started jotting down something. When he was done, five minutes later, a solution pattern popped right out the whiteboard.
" Gosh! How did he do that? "
Well, we'll find out. Here's what we'll be covering in this article:
- What exactly is problem-solving?
- What will be the employer or manager looking for in you?
- How to approach a workplace problem?
- Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem
Step 2: Define the problem
Step 3: Strategize a solution
Step 4: Find alternate solutions
Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything
Step 6: Choose a solution
Step 7: Implement
Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly
- What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for during the interview?
- How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
What exactly is problem-solving?
Problems are a massive part of what we do in our day-to-day lives, be it at your home or workplace.
Problem-solving is the complete process of understanding and defining the problem, brainstorming a solution, finding alternatives, implementing the best solution, and making adjustments based on the outcome.
What do hiring managers look for?
One's problem-solving ability is a harmonious accord between instinct and immense practice. As your technical skills age with experience, so does your ability to identify patterns and solve problems effectively.
Almost each and every employer looks for effective problem-solving skills in a candidate when making a hiring decision. They look for an aspirant's natural talent to dig up patterns, look at the problem with a fresh perspective, and be realistic while providing solutions.
How to approach a workplace problem?
During computer science classes, you will find two types of students.
The first batch has a mindset that algorithms and data structures are only useful for passing the finals and getting an edge over others in interviews.
The second batch loves programming and aspires to write codes from scratch for each new project that they come across.While both mindsets may be partially correct, they do not hold up much.
In real-life situations and as part of an organization, your job drastically changes to one objective only: ' write the right amount of good code. '
For most projects, you will need to write quick, efficient codes to overcome difficult roadblocks. And the only way to achieve that skill is by getting acquainted with as many problems as possible.
Solve as many problems as possible. Learn as many Data Structures and Algorithms as you can. Get acquainted with the basics of reusing a chunk of code. Make StackOverflow your default homepage.
Does that seem too groundbreaking? Let us simplify it for you.
Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
See, a lot of people understand the problem at hand and the syntax or logic that might explain the issue. The primary thing you need to learn is how to convert your thoughts into code to all the creative geniuses out there.
If you need a comprehensive set of instructions, here are the problem-solving steps that you can adopt in your day-to-day lifestyle. This procedure applies not only to coding problems but also to other general hiccups.
While some have the mental affluence to solve problems on the go, keep practicing these daily, and you too will develop critical thinking skills.
The first and most crucial step in solving a problem is to comprehend the standing concepts behind it. Believe us when we say this, a lot of employees jump to providing suggestions before actually understanding what the problem is.
A quick way to gauge your understanding is verifying if you can explain the problem to someone else. This also ties into your communication skills, and employers will gauge your ability to converse issues and solutions effectively. It is, thus, also one of the essential interview preparation tips for you.
Hiring managers have a behavioral question that they like asking, which revolves around the following:
" How will you be explaining a complex technical concept to a person who is not very sound technically? "
Ask yourself these questions and make a note of the solutions as you go.
- What exactly is the end goal?
- What are the variables?
- Do you understand every concept revolving the problem?
- Are you familiar with the provided measurement units?
- What information is missing?
- Is there any unnecessary information?
- Can you verify the information from a bona fide source?
The next step in this process is accumulating every bit of necessary information so that you can start assembling a solution. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds, and you can effortlessly mess up things during proceedings.
Strangely, at this time, do not focus on the solution. Instead, focus on defining the question.
Therefore, instead of saying ' the sale numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, ' say ' the sale numbers are inconsistent. '
Based on the information you collected in step 1, start separating the facts from estimations. Analyze the procedures that have been used previously and make precise adjustments based on the company policies.
Now that you have understood the problem and defined it, start strategizing a solution for it based on your findings. Workplace solutions can be majorly categorized into two different kinds, i.e. tactical solutions and strategic solutions .
A tactical solution is a short-term fix for a standing obstacle, more like a workaround for an issue. Imagine reusing a piece of code from your last project to get around that pesky error message in your new one.
A strategic solution, on the other hand, is a long-term fix for an issue. Strategic solutions involve using a comprehensive series of steps to find the overall architecture of a problem.
Usually, workplaces adopt the following problem-solving strategies into their policies.
- Use logical reasoning
- Recognize patterns
- Reverse engineer the problem
- Try a different point of view
- Consider worst-case scenarios
- Relate to a more straightforward real-life problem
- Data organization
- Prepare a visual representation
- Take all possibilities into account
- Intelligent guessing and testing
Your goal as an employee should be to become as fluent in these strategies as possible. Once you can naturally zoom into the problem, you will be able to form a strategy within minutes, without having to write anything down.
Are you starting to understand how the new guy deduced a solution that quickly?
Keeping the goals and objectives in mind, understand that there's always more than one way to skin a cat . Invite your team members and other experienced guys to brainstorm ideas alongside you.
For each problem, you should be able to find at least THREE different points of view or solutions, each with a unique USP.
Here's a neat little trick you may find useful someday in your career. Invite everyone associated with the project to this brainstorming session. Making sure that everybody gets equal participation is one of the ways you can exhibit your leadership skills while forging strong workplace relationships.
Now that you have found alternate solutions as well, it's time to evaluate these solutions. You will need to assess each solution based on various factors and list down all the pros and cons of each alternative you found in solution 4.
Create a document or spreadsheet listing down the USPs of each alternative and the positive and negative consequences thereby. You can go on adding other columns such as budget constraints, time allocation, resource requirements, workforce, and other relevant data.
The ability to quickly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. A manager will be able to evaluate and implement solutions based on such factors quickly. Train yourself to find as many parameters as you can find to analyze solutions effectively.
Basically, your main objective is to find one effective solution out of all the ones provided on the list. The solution you choose depends on various parameters, which can be one or all of the following:
- Company policies and procedures
You can promote strong work ethics by running the chosen solution by everyone in your team or involved in the project before implementing it. Also, select the employees who will be actively implementing it, and ask for their feedback.
Implementing a solution does not merely mean diving headfirst with anything that you do. After you have collected the feedback and communicated the solution to everybody involved, here's what you will need to do next.
First, redefine the objectives , in brief, to help get a better idea of the end goal. Develop a simple action plan with defined timelines for the solution that you agreed upon in the step above.
Implement the chosen solution according to the action plan. Then, identify the measurable parameters to track success and failure rates.
Finally, set up communication channels for regular feedback and a contingency plan in case of a failure.
The last problem-solving step involves actively monitoring how the solution performs in real life and if it meets the end goal for which it was adopted in the first place.
Tally how the solution functions compared to how you expected it to perform and document all changes. Check the feedback channel for any discrepancy or issues that arise during the process.
If you feel that any modification will further optimize the process, implement it after running it with your team.
Improving problem-solving skills for programmers
- Understand the question and classify it as Corner-case or Edge-case
- Simplify and optimize your steps
- Write line-by-line pseudo code, focusing on the logic and steps rather than the syntax
- Translate it into a code
- Debug and remove repetitions
- Write comments to help you understand
- Get feedback regularly
- Practice again
What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for in interviews?
Problem-solving in the workplace is one of the most sought-after skills in any organization. During the interview, if you can highlight your ability to find creative solutions quickly along with your technical skills , you definitely have a better chance of making it to the next round.
Hiring managers tend to leave specific questions open-ended; the notion being that without a trail for the candidate to follow, they'll be able to understand better how the candidate thinks.
Some of the crucial problem-solving skills that employers look for in the candidate include the following:
" Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. " – Helen Keller
Effective problem-solving encompasses teamwork. As a problem-solver ( and a leader ), you need to show empathy towards your teammates, develop effective feedback channels, and use their input to solve the problem at hand.
A good listener in the workplace will be able to gather more valuable information and then use them to find unique solutions in the least possible time. Additionally, an active listener encourages every team member to get involved in the problem-solving steps , listens to their feedback, and comes up with a profitable solution.
However, ' saying ' that you have good listening skills outright defeats the purpose.
During the interview , maintain your composure and LISTEN quietly to the problem at hand. Understand the problem and its root cause; only then provide a solution.
Irrespective of the nature of a problem, you need to be able to communicate the issue and any possible solution effectively to everybody else involved in the project. You need to brush up your delivery skills and learn which points to communicate first and last.
Interviewers may either ask your proficiency with various communication channels such as e-mail, phone, and text or give you a behavioral task and test your ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.
Creativity and critical thinking
"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou
Employers in this day and age are always on the lookout for an innovative thinker, one who can see the problem with a new set of eyes and bring a unique perspective to the team. You need to be able to establish the balance between cause and effect quickly, anticipate long-term effects of a solution that you implement, and lead your team to a new direction when stuck.
More often than not, decision-making is closely tied to an employee's problem-solving ability . Besides implementing solutions that your team comes up with, you should also be able to foresee the long-term effects and prevent catastrophes.
With quality technical interview preparation courses , you can further understand the importance of this step.
How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
Your resume is the first document that a hiring manager sees. The experience and skills you mention in your resume can help you secure an interview if it catches the recruiter's attention.
The first approach you can adopt is highlighting your analysis and problem-solving skills right under the hard skills. This approach shows that you are confident in your technical skills and can find and implement work-based solutions efficiently.
For a full-stack web developer, the following problem-solving skills can be mentioned.
Secondly, you can list your problem-solving ability under the work experience section. This is an excellent way to highlight your job experience and emphasizes that you learn and implement these skills in your work.
- Analyzed customer service feedback to predict interest in a sales campaign to attract a target audience group.
- Documented the standard processes and scripts using specialized software solutions which led to customer satisfaction increased by 45% in a quarter.
- Researched and launched a mobile app that reduced the school pickup time by 21 minutes.
- Altered the inventory safeguard protocols during hurricane season, saving $1 million in wastage.
Apart from using problem-solving skills in your workplace , a quick way to develop your skills is to ask many questions. Only by asking questions and analyzing the information at hand can you build a workplace reputation as someone who handles challenging situations wisely.
Attend our free webinar on how to nail your next technical interview.
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JD enjoys teaching people how to use ZoomShift to save time spent on scheduling. He’s curious, likes learning new things everyday and playing the guitar (although it’s a work in progress).
- Feb 02, 2022
10 Common Workplace Challenges and Solutions
There are many challenges that come with working in an office. From the sometimes overwhelming feeling of being overworked to the hidden stressors such as having to be “on” all day, it’s not always easy for employees. However, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and get more out of your workday.
In this article, we’ll explore some common workplace challenges and share ideas for how you can turn them into solutions.
10 Workplace Challenges and Solutions
If you look at most challenges in the workplace, they’re not unique to any one business. This is good news because it means there’s plenty of advice out there to help you find a solution!
1. Insufficient Training
A lack of training leads to a number of workplace issues. The most obvious one is that employees aren’t able to do their jobs as well as they would like, but it goes deeper than this.
Poor training is a leadership challenge in the workplace that can also lead to increased frustration because employees don’t know what it takes to improve their performance or excel in their roles. If left unchecked, this can lead to employee burnout, which can be very damaging for the employee and the business. Eventually, this may turn into the biggest challenge at work.
It’s important to see training as an investment. When you make training a big part of your culture, it will come back to you in improved efficiency and productivity.
Make sure it’s an open process by involving your employees in the conversation. Ask them what skills they think they need to work on.
2. Schedule Inflexibility
People lead complicated lives that don’t always fit with the Monday to Friday, 9-5 work schedule. While some businesses need their employees to work a fixed schedule, there are many that don’t.
Scheduling inflexibility can lead to higher stress levels, and affect your workers’ ability to do their best work.
Flexible schedules might seem complicated, but with the right scheduling software, they’re actually easy to manage. You can still keep track of your employees’ time (if you feel it’s necessary), and you can give your staff greater responsibility for their schedules.
The easiest way to do this is with employee scheduling software from ZoomShift. This will allow you to effortlessly create schedules (including rotating shifts and split shifts ) and track your employees’ time, but most importantly, it provides flexibility.
Employees can easily request time off, trade shifts, and track their PTO, all of which gives them a great sense of flexibility.
3. Poor Work-Life Balance
If you have a work-life balance problem, it is the biggest challenge at work. We all know balancing work-life balance is tricky. From the CEO down to the new entry-level employee, we can all find it tricky to get this right.
As a business owner and manager, important thing to remember is that more time spent at work doesn’t necessarily mean you get more work done, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee quality. If you’re expecting your employees to spend all their hours at work and rarely grant time off, then it’s going to start to affect their health and their performance.
Work-life balance starts with culture. If you’re conveying a message that the way to success is to spend as much time as possible in the office, then it’s not surprising that people are going to lack a proper work-life balance (even if your scheduling is flexible).
Celebrate time off and the idea that rest and relaxation are essential to peak performance. Invest in employee wellbeing , and encourage people to switch off when they leave the office (don’t expect people to constantly reply to emails and messages outside of office hours).
4. Lack of Motivation
Motivation isn’t something you can just magic up. There will always be some days where your employees feel motivated and others where they don’t.
What is a problem when there’s a persistent lack of motivation across your entire workforce?
Motivation is a common workplace challenge, and thankfully there are lots of solutions to it.
Communicate with your staff! A great place to start is by asking what factors they find most motivating. Create a list of factors such as pay, time off, goals, and bonuses, and ask them to rank them in order of importance.
This will help you understand what gets the most out of your employees, allowing you to implement new motivation techniques.
5. Lack of Communication
A lack of communication is a common problem in the workplace. But without communication, it’s difficult for employees to know what’s expected of them. It also means that other problems go unreported, rather than getting fixed, they begin to stack up.
Poor communication will hurt productivity and lead to more errors, so it’s important that businesses find ways to improve in this area.
Encouraging open communication should be one of the main roles of a manager. It’s about putting systems in place that allows messages to travel freely from top-to-bottom, and bottom to top.
Sometimes this can be as simple as finding the right platform to communicate on. For example, you might be doing everything through email, when instead, what you need is something more instant like Slack.
6. Trust Issues
When it comes to workplace challenges and solutions, trust issues can be one of the most difficult to solve. This is because trust is generally eroded over a period of time, and it takes time to win it back.
If employees feel like their employers can’t be trusted, or that they’re not trusted to do their job, then it’s a recipe for unhappiness.
One of the easiest ways for trust to break down is through a lack of communication. People can’t read minds, so when they’re not getting the information they need, they start to fill in the blanks themselves, and often not in a good way.
Sometimes businesses have to deliver bad news, but if you’re open and honest about it, it’s going to help build trust.
One way to get people to communicate and trust each other again is to encourage team-building activities .
7. Little Recognition
It’s natural that people want to be recognized for the hard work they do. It’s easy to get into the mindset that an employee’s pay is their recognition, but often it’s the small details that really matter.
When someone does great work, it’s an excellent opportunity to boost morale and build trust, so don’t miss out on it.
Create employee rewards like employee of the month , and keep track of milestones like birthdays and work anniversaries. Demonstrate that your employees are valuable to your company, and recognition shouldn’t be a problem at work.
8. Staff Conflict/ Bullying
Staff conflicts happen, it’s a part of life, and it’s a part of the business. People have different opinions, and that’s a great thing, but it’s how communication is handled that matters.
When differences of opinion spill over into outright conflict, and even bullying, it can be terrible for employee morale, performance, productivity, mood, and everything else.
You can overcome this common workplace challenge by creating an open environment where employees can express themselves in a structured way. By promoting teamwork, encouraging feedback, addressing negative attitudes, and asking about the biggest challenges at work, you can create a more harmonious environment.
9. No Potential Growth
Everybody has goals. As much as your employees might enjoy their jobs, they also want to progress their careers and take on new challenges in the workplace. If your business doesn’t appear to offer these opportunities, then it’s going to be a top issues in the workplace.
Set a career progression map that shows your employees the opportunities that are available. Discuss what criteria need to be met for raises, and help your staff plan their career trajectory .
The other important aspect is to follow through with what you talk about. Show that you promote from within and offer raises to high-performing employees.
10. Lack of Technology
It can be endlessly frustrating when you don’t have the right tools to do your job.
Choosing the right technology can be difficult, particularly for small business owners who have limited resources. However, there’s some technology that pays for itself in the long run, and without it, you just can’t keep up with the competition.
One of the best things you can do is create a technology plan. This looks at your current and future needs to decide which technology is a priority and which can wait.
Make sure to get feedback from your employees, as they’re the ones that will be working with the technology on a daily basis. Ask them what problems have you faced during the work and what technology can help resolve that.
You’ll find that technology like ZoomShift can save employees precious time, freeing them up to spend more time on the most important tasks.
ZoomShift can help you streamline your employee scheduling and keep a track of who is working when and where . Track your employee’s time and attendance with ease, eliminate costly time tracking errors, calculate work hours, and run payroll in minutes, not hours . On top of all, your team can effectively communicate with one another from a single platform.
Start your 14 days free trial with no credit card required. You get full access to employee scheduling, time tracking, timesheet, team communication, and everything else required to manage a team.
Leadership challenges in the workplace are a part of the business. There are always going to be new workplace issues, but the important thing is that you can work through them in a logical, timely way.
These are some of the most common workplace challenges and solutions. As you can see, they’re very solvable. Often, the key is communication, and with the right technology, you can normally find a simple solution.
If you have any unique challenges at work examples, please comment below. We shall try to address them with the best possible solution to resolve your workplace issues.
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Problem-Solving Skills: 5 Ways to Evaluate Them When Hiring
Knowing how to hire employees with strong problem-solving skills can make all the difference in becoming the next Netflix – or Blockbuster.
Because every role, from the penthouse corner office to the high street, involves a degree of problem-solving. Whether managing a team, developing a web page, or resolving a customer complaint, what matters is how people deal with the problems they face .
To ensure your company is prepared to tackle even the most challenging situations, we’ll first look at what problem solving skills are, using some real-life applications, before walking you through 5 of the best ways to test for them.
TL;DR – Key Takeaways
- Problem-solving skills encompass all the skills that employees use in the workplace to analyze problems and come up with solutions .
- Examples of typical problem-solving skills include good communication skills , active listening skills, decision-making skills, analytical skills, creativity, and collaboration.
- Different problem-solving skills are required from a manager compared to an individual contributor, so hiring managers should look for different competencies according to the seniority of the role.
- There are several ways to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills when hiring, such as asking behavioral interview questions, running assessment tests or job simulations , conducting reference checks, and asking cultural fit questions.
- Toggl Hire has an impressive library of customizable skills tests and homework assignments that hiring managers can plug into their hiring pipeline to help identify the best problem-solvers right from the start.
What are problem-solving skills?
“Problem solving skills” refers to someone’s ability to identify problems , analyze possible solutions , and think through the steps required to solve those problems. For example, an HR specialist faced with the problem of filling a new position might first analyze whether it would be best filled internally or externally before posting a job description .
Problem solving skills are critical for every possible industry, role, and level of seniority, because at the bottom of each job is solving some type of problem.
Examples of typical problems in the workplace include:
- Finding out the reason behind increased customer complaints
- Improving the efficiency of outbound cold calls for your sales team
- Overhauling a landing page so that it drives more people to subscribe to a software
As you can see, every possible role that exists requires people to solve problems effectively.
What skills make up the problem-solving competency?
“Problem solving skills” is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of different skills . Here are some examples of typical problem solving abilities that an employee may need for any given role:
- Communication skills
- Decision-making skills
- Research skills
- Analytical skills
- Active listening skills
Not all of them are necessary for every role, but these examples of hard and soft skills are a great starting point if you’re putting together a job description for your next role.
Problem-solving skills examples at different levels
In addition to the variety of skills that fall under the term “problem-solving”, there are also different competency levels of problem-solving.
Just like the difference between hiring an intern , a manager , and a director, choosing the right level of problem-solving competency will depend on the role you’re hiring for.
To explain this further, let’s dig into the 3 basic levels of problem-solving skills.
Entry-level problem-solving skills
A candidate with entry-level problem-solving skills is capable of identifying what the problem is and considering the potential solution. However, they struggle to move beyond this point. These types of skills are suitable if you’re looking to hire for a junior position.
Intermediate-level problem-solving skills
At an intermediate level, the candidate not only identifies problems and finds potential solutions for them, but also uses different types of problem-solving skills and strategies to tackle them from different angles.
However, for more complex problems, they might struggle to implement the solution and will look for assistance from other team members.
Expert-level problem-solving skills
At an expert level, a candidate is capable of solving problems from beginning to end . They are skilled in different problem-solving strategies, including how to gather and analyze relevant information. They are able to see creative solutions where others do not and can anticipate potential obstacles before they happen.
Why are problem-solving skills so important at work?
The modern workplace is full of problems that need solving. Solution-focused employees are a valuable asset to any company in any possible role. They help your company save money , keep customers happy , and inspire colleagues by coming up with new ways to solve old problems .
Employers like to see good problem-solving skills because it also helps to show them you have a range of other competencies such as logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking, and determination.
Here are some of the benefits amazing problem solvers bring to an organization and those around them:
Problem-Solvers Work Well Under Pressure
When a problem arises, it needs to be fixed quickly. Employees with amazing problem-solving skills roll with the punches and tight deadlines to deliver when it matters.
To do this, expert problem-solvers react quickly to short-term situations while thinking proactively about future problems. That ability to act fast and effectively exuberates confidence, creating a sense of calm across the wider team.
They Create Amazing New Ideas
Problem-solving and creative thinking go hand-in-hand. The best problem-solvers don’t just put bandaids over an issue, they fix them in a dynamic, value-adding way.
Exciting, out-of-the-box thinking isn’t just good in the moment but creates an exciting, innovative culture across the organization. That helps organizations stay ahead of the curve and attracts other expert problem-solvers to join the organization, improving the workforce’s capability over time.
Problems Create Risk, and Problem-Solvers Fix Problems
From an organizational perspective, problems create risk. Even if a business process is slightly off-kilter, it can become a much greater issue.
Problem-solvers help organizations reduce risk in the moment while mitigating future risks before they even occur. That helps everyone sleep sounder at night and also removes financial liability from the C-suite.
Problem-Solvers Beat The Competition
Ultimately, excellent problem-solvers help organizations stay ahead of their competition. Whether through creative ideas, faster outputs, or reduced risk, organizations with awesome problem solvers deliver better products and services to their clients.
As we all know, it’s the people that make an organization great, and problem-solvers are some of the best people out there!
Next, let’s take a closer look at how problem-solving skills may differ between individual contributors and managers.
Example of using problem-solving skills in the workplace: manager vs individual contributor
While their approaches may differ, both the manager and the individual contributor go through the same stages of the problem-solving process.
Managers look at the broader perspective of solving a problem and the different ways of coordinating their team and the organization. Their focus is the long-term success of their team and the company.
The individual contributor, on the other hand, is more concerned with individual tasks and technical problems, as well as instant solutions to a problem at hand.
Both sides of the coin are important if you want to succeed at problem solving in the long run and thrive as a team and as a company.
Step 1 – Problem definition
Quick example – A Sales Exec goes to their manager with a problem – they’re struggling to hit their sales target. The Sales Manager sits down with them to understand the situation, where they are with their sales, and the gap to the target.
Step 2 – Problem analysis
Quick example – The Sales Manager goes away and gathers some information about the Sales Exec. They look at their CRM notes, speak with other team members, and shadow the Sales Exec on the job.
Step 3 – Generating the possible solutions
Quick example – The Sales Manager comes up with some solutions to help their Sales Exec. Options on the table include additional training, a structured work plan, and re-prioritizing their workload.
Step 4 – Implementing the best solution(s)
Quick example – The Sales Manager lays out the next steps with the Sales Exec, explaining the proposed solutions. The Sales Exec will do some re-training on the sales process and will re-prioritize their workload to focus on particular, high-value customers.
5 Ways to Evaluate Problem-Solving Skills When Hiring
There are many practical ways to evaluate how people solve problems during the hiring process. Depending on your needs, you can use one, more, or all of these in combination.
#1 – Behavioral interview questions
These are questions you ask candidates to find out how they solved problems in the past and behaved in a certain situation. Here are some examples:
- How do you handle setbacks at work?
- A customer came back to you with a complaint and the fault is on your company’s end. How do you resolve the issue?
- Your employees have a conflict and you need to resolve it without taking sides. How do you go about this?
- You have a certain timeframe to complete a complex task. How do you prioritize the work to ensure you meet the deadline and not burn out?
You can use the STAR method to assess how they solve problems in specific situations:
S – Situation: how well did they explain the situation they faced?
T – Task: what was the task they had to complete in that situation?
A – Action: did they clearly show the action they took to resolve the problem?
R – Result: how did they explain the result, and measure success?
With the right set of questions and the application of the STAR method, you can see if your candidates have good problem solving skills or not. However, this method is not 100% reliable as your candidates could be less than honest in their responses, which brings us to the other methods.
#2 – Job simulation exercises
Instead of asking candidates to think of past experiences, you can put them in a real-life situation to judge how they think and react in real time. And see for yourself how analytical, creative, and competent they are. The best way to do this is with a simulation exercise .
Note that these job simulation tasks only resemble what the candidate will be doing in their job but shouldn’t include real data or customers to protect your business.
One such example is our Homework assessments . Designed as an assessment tool for hiring managers, Homework assessments offer 500 pre-built tasks you can give to potential candidates before inviting them for an interview or extending an offer.
Candidates can do these tasks on their own and in their free time. In our library, you can choose from a variety of tasks where candidates can show off their analytical skills and proficiency in solving problems.
Once they’re done, you can review the tasks and create shared notes for your entire team to review. Just like that, you’re one step closer to making a more confident hiring decision, and your candidates can practice solving problems without causing risks for your ongoing work.
#3 – Assessment tools
Putting candidates in different situations is a solid way to find out more about their problem solving skills. However, another fantastic way to see how they solve problems is by using skills assessment tools .
Tools like Toggl Hire allow you to create pre-employment tests often used in the first step of the hiring process. That way, you can tell early on how good someone is at solving problems and whether they have the key skills to meet the requirements for the job .
In our problem-solving skills test, we test for four crucial skills:
- Problem solving
- Innovative thinking
- Logical reasoning
- Decision making
Problem solving assessment template
The assessment takes only 15 minutes , making it a great alternative to submitting a resume and cover letter. Applicants love Toggl Hire because they get feedback rapidly, and know within minutes of completing the test if they are a good fit for the role. [ Grab the template here ]
#4 – References and past performance
Reference checking is a simple but effective way to evaluate the skills of potential candidates. To understand if someone has the right problem-solving skills for the job, simply ring up their past employers and ask!
The more specific your questions, the better. Ask about objectives and goals that they completed that stand out during their time with the company. Moreover, you need to make sure that they have a pattern in their performance. In other words, were they consistent in finding new ways to solve problems and tackle complex issues?
A word of caution.
References are not always reliable. Past employers may refuse to comment on an employee’s performance, or they could be forbidden from doing so by their contracts. Sometimes, you may be unable to get ahold of the point of contact. Other times, their feedback can be overly positive.
This is why it’s important to consider other possible solutions for assessing problem solving skills in combination with reference checks.
#5 – Cultural fit
When you have all of this information in one place, it’s time to find the last piece of the puzzle. In other words, to see if the way a candidate solves problems aligns with your values and company culture.
For example, you may have a customer who has a problem with their account and wants a full subscription refund. One approach to problem-solving, in this case, would be to give the full refund because the customer is right – no matter what.
On the other hand, someone else might try and talk to the customer and get them to stay. You can come up with different problem solving skills examples to inquire about during the interview stage.
The candidate should be able not just to solve problems, but also do it in a way that matches your company culture .
Employees with great problem-solving skills will always be in demand, no matter the profession or seniority level. However, testing for those skills can present a challenge for recruiters.
With the right tools, problem solving interview questions , and reference checks, you can determine if a candidate is a good problem solver or not.
If you need a bit more guidance on how to test for problem solving skills, try a ready-made Toggl Hire skills test to quickly screen candidates and determine who will continue to the job interview.
Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.
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12 Problems In The Workplace And Their Easy Solutions
We spend almost one-third of our adult lives at work, and workplace issues always cause stress to us.
An ideal workplace doesn’t exist where there is no conflict , and everyone’s roles fit together.
Some of these issues go beyond the control and causes negative psychological symptoms.
12 Real Problems In The Workplace – Try These Solutions
Either employee is underpaid or overworked. A micromanager boss who behaves more like a jerk or bullying coworkers makes it hard to get work done.
Whatever the situation is, it’s about what you do to address the problem that matters. Here are some of the common workplace problems, and you might be suffering from one of them.
1. Working With Bad Bosses
Most common problem that forces people to leave their job is bad bosses. A bad boss won’t let you live in peace.
You can get along with all of the other problems at work somehow. But being productive and successful is not possible when you can’t get along with your boss .
There’s plenty of bad bosses , and you’d find different types out there. You might be working with a micromanager currently. But in your next position, you get a boss who’s hard to be found.
Or you just simply suffer from an employer mismatch. In that case, your manager can be a good person, but you two can’t get along for some other reason.
This problem is hard to solve. You can try to better your communication with the boss. Try to be a bit more proactive and see if it works.
But if nothing works and the bad boss continues to be bad, you should consider quitting .
2. Not Enough Raises
There’s high competition in the job market, but the wages haven’t reached the prerecession levels.
It makes the employer still do out those 3% raises, which isn’t enough now.
Most people can quit their job because of mini-raises and find a way to bigger paychecks.
But there are also people out there who don’t have the option of quitting. That’s why they stick to their lower-paying jobs for no reason.
If you think that you aren’t getting a pay raise, you can quit the job and look for a new one.
But you need to do your homework before you hand in your resignation letter. Is your next job really going to pay you more?
Suppose there’s a doubt you should wait for a better option. If not, then gather the courage to take this risk.
3. Workplace Bullying Is A Major Problem
Hearing the word bullying takes you back to school memories where it happened to kids. But bullying can affect you for your whole life.
What does workplace bullying look like? Bullying shows up in different forms. It can be worse, like verbal abuse or subtle, like getting excluded from teamwork.
The real deal is when it happens to you, you can’t shake it off. Even if you are the person who doesn’t care what others do or say, you’ll get affected.
You can deal with workplace bullying by acknowledging it. Document the bullying so you can report to higher management if necessary.
Also, document your performance so that you can have proofs. Take care of yourself outside the work.
Talk to someone in HR or your direct manager. They will take action according to workplace policies.
4. Workplace Discrimination – Problems In The Workplace
Workplace discrimination against protected categories like age, gender, race is illegal. But organizations do it anyway.
Other forms of discrimination are even harder to fight. For instance, mentioning black people they lack motivation or are too much aggressive .
Workplace discrimination is subtle as compared to the former days. So it will be harder for you to pinpoint what you’re experiencing exactly.
If you think it’s discrimination, review the company’s employee handbook. Follow the policies that are in place for workplace discrimination.
Then you can decide whether you should pursue a formal complaint or not.
5. Inadequate Motivation
Every individual can feel motivated towards his job. But the problem arises when we forget that motivation is a two-way process.
Management doesn’t bother to look deep into what motivates their employees. And in return, employees give average results.
Lack of rewards and incentives is a major reason for low motivation. When an employee doesn’t get appreciated for what he did, he won’t try harder next time.
In such a state, the team needs motivation and encouragement. Being a manager, you can motivate them to perform their best.
Eliminate the communication problems and find out what makes them motivated.
Distribute an anonymous survey and get honest answers from employees about their problems.
Work with your management team to decide rewards that drive people to work harder.
6. Lack Of Training
A company should train employees to take on new responsibilities when business grows.
It’s mandatory so that the company doesn’t miss the opportunities coming its way.
Insufficient training leads to frustration or burnout in employees . Because they are unaware of the skills required to excel in the new roles.
An employer can’t expect his employees to figure out their jobs on their own. He will have to lead and train them for new challenges.
Ask each of your employees to tell you what they are struggling with. It will be good to bring in effective HR consulting services.
Or you can have a development trainer who’ll do the job right. These professionals will analyze what skills your employees lack.
Then devise the training programs accordingly and get them on the path of success .
7. Insufficient Technology Or Equipment
Small businesses are comparatively easy when it comes to deciding where to invest. But large businesses have so many factors to consider.
They prefer to hire new employees rather than updating the equipment. But sooner or later, the effects of outdated equipment will be visible.
Employees’ work will suffer due to slow systems and lack of equipment. As a result, their motivation and performance will also get affected.
A company should invest in new equipment instead of forcing the staff to engage in problem-solving.
Communicate with your employees about what they need to do their jobs better. Do some research on the latest technology.
Create a budget for new purchases and install the latest technology for convenience.
8. Overloaded Work – Problems In The Workplace
If you have a quite long to-do list, then you’re facing one of the most common workplace problems. You have too much to do and no time to do it in.
If you’re already a perfectly organized person, your next step might be to get your boss in the loop.
Your manager is responsible for helping you get done with your work . But if he isn’t doing so, then you have to deal with the pile of work yourself.
That’s what gives rise to many other issues like work-life balance, stress or anxiety.
You’ll have to confess to your manager what issues you’re facing directly.
If you’re avoiding this subject on your one-on-one meeting because of fear, it’s time to rethink.
When you bring a problem to your manager, you expect him to provide you with a solution. However, if you don’t like his solutions, you should go to him with some suggestions.
9. No Room To Grow
If your company is small, there would be no chances for people to move out or move on.
However, people want to progress and move forward in their career . For different reasons, you can’t quit or find a brand new job.
A company where there are no new opportunities is a problem in itself. If you can’t quit and there are no promotions on the way , then you can do a few things.
Make sure that you don’t stop growing as an individual. Learn and add new skills to your list.
Attend networking events and catch up with former coworkers and friends. Find new projects at work and volunteer for meaningful causes.
10. A Major Problem Is a Poor Communication
Lack of communication makes people insecure about a situation. They think that they don’t have enough information to make good decisions .
That’s what happens when there’s not enough communication in the workplace.
When management starts being secretive, it causes discomfort in the staff. Employees wonder what the company is up to. Are they going to get fold of? Do they have layoffs around the corner?
Lack of communication creates too many confusions. The staff thinks that the manager doesn’t trust them with the important information.
It all makes the organization disorganized and inefficient. Being bad at communication is not always intentional. Some people are naturally good at communication than others.
Overcoming poor communication is not that difficult. Managers should encourage their direct reports to give feedback on their performance .
Soliciting, embracing and acting upon the feedback will improve the communication.
Train the employees to do the same and make the situation better.
11. High-Stress Work Environment – Problems In The Workplace
A little bit of stress is helpful to perform better, but too much stress can be detrimental. It leaves a negative impact on employees and causes problems in the workplace.
There are jobs out there that are naturally high-stressed. For instance, working in a hospital emergency room keeps you in a life-death situation.
However, in most workplaces, that’s the managerial style that induces stress. Competitive work cultures are a good example, employees get told to do whatever they can to beat their others.
The pressure of competing with coworkers and managerial pressure can be very stress-inducing.
Introduce a healthy competitive environment at the workplace. Train the employees to encourage one another rather than trying to win the race.
Develop a managerial style that is more of leadership and not authoritative. A leader will help your team to grow as a whole part of the company.
12. Poor Work-life Balance
A poor work-life balance is a problem that every employee suffers from. If you’re running a small business, your work must be getting blended with your personal life .
If you constantly think about work, it doesn’t mean that your employees should do the same. Instead of enjoying their personal time, you can’t expect them to work all the time.
No one can be available for the jobs at all hours of the day. If people don’t get the time off, their work will get affected.
Establish a good work-life balance and a culture that celebrates doing well at home and work.
Employees should answer the emails and work calls only during working hours.
Allow the employees to live their life the fullest and engage with their families.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you identify workplace issues.
If there's an issue in your employees' performance, identify it by examining past mistakes. Evaluate their engagement and make punctuality a priority. Find high-performing employees to replace old ones.
What Causes Problems In The Workplace?
High-stress levels are the major reason for causing problems at work. Pressure from above makes a job more stressful. Your boss feels the heat from her boss on productivity and gets the frustration out on you.
How Do You Deal With Problems At Work?
Be attentive towards your emotions and watch out how to respond in a conflict situation. Prepare yourself, listen, reflect and inquire about the problem. You should focus and work on what you can change.
What Is The Biggest Problem In Most Offices Today?
Problems with coworkers it can be employees, manager or the boss. There's an unwillingness to acknowledge these problems. Lack of integrity, inadequate training, and development issues are some other major problems.
Before you take a quick decision of leaving your job in a tight job market, try to make your current job work.
Workplace problems exist everywhere, and you’d have to deal with them on your own.
Pinpoint the problem, change the routine , take on responsibility, do an activity other than work.
If these issues don’t seem to get resolved, then it’s time to look for a new job.
If you experienced a problem in the workplace other than these mentioned above, share it with us. Leave a comment and tell us how you coped up with it.
Last Updated on 4 months by Aleena
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- Solving Workplace Problems
Harvard offers a wide range of problem-solving resources to help you deal with a variety of workplace situations. These resources provide both formal avenues for addressing issues as more informal opportunities to get information or find a person with whom you can speak confidentially.
Most workplace problems can be addressed within your own unit by working with your manager and/or local HR office. Union employees may seek advice from their union representative. If local efforts to resolve workplace issues fail, the collective bargaining agreement for each employee group outlines formal problem-solving processes. Nonunion staff will find the formal problem-solving process in the University's Personnel Manual .
Directory of problem-solvers
Harvard university anonymous reporting hotline.
The University Anonymous Reporting Hotline allows Harvard employees to anonymously report violations of ethics, integrity, compliance issues or other irregular business practices. To allow for anonymity, when you call the hotline you will speak with a third-party representative who will report your question or concern to University management for review and follow-up. You are also able to report concerns via a secure third-party website. Whether you call or make a report via the web, you will be provided with a report number to allow you to obtain updates or to provide additional information without revealing your identity. Call 877-694-2275 or go to www.integrity-helpline.com/HarvardUniversity.jsp for more information.
Local Offices of Human Resources
In most cases, if you are experiencing a problem at work that you can’t resolve with your manager/supervisor, you can consult your school/department office of human resources. Professionals there can advise you, explain University and department policies, answer questions about rights and responsibilities, and help resolve conflicts. They can also refer you to other helpful services.
Local HR Offices
Harvard's Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
The professionals at Harvard's Employee Assistance Program provide free and confidential support to all faculty, staff and their household members and help find solutions for a wide range of workplace or personal issues.
Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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Labor and Employee Relations negotiates and administers the University’s collective bargaining agreements and provides advice, counsel and training to HR officers, supervisors and staff members on a range of employment-related issues.
Labor and Employee Relations 124 Mt. Auburn Street Suite 480 South Cambridge, MA 02138 Phone: 617-495-2786
University Disability Resources
Harvard University Disability Resources serves faculty, staff and students dealing with disability issues on campus and in the workplace. Your local HR office can connect you with these services.
The office ensures access for all persons with disabilities, serves as a resource for information and problem solving on disability issues, and raises awareness in the Harvard community.
University Disability Resources staff provide assistance to employees, departments, HR offices and union representatives with disability issues, such as transitioning back to work after disability, reasonable accommodations and adherence to the ADA, and education on the prevention of workplace injuries. Reasonable Accommodation Request Form Reasonable Accommodations Fact Sheet
You can learn more about these services on the office's website. Harvard University Disability Resources Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, Suite 900. | 617-495-1859 | TTY: 617-496-0466 | Fax: 617-495-8520 | [email protected]
Harvard Ombuds Office
The Harvard Ombuds Office is a confidential and independent resource open to anyone from the Harvard community. A discussion with an impartial Ombuds can help a visitor voice concerns, clarify goals and consider options so they can make their own best decisions about next steps. Any issue affecting one’s work or studies may be brought to an Ombuds. Services include coaching for difficult conversations, facilitation of individual or group conversations, education regarding policies, procedures and resources, connecting to resources when requested, and providing upward feedback to leadership about systemic trends and concerns. Training is also available upon request. The Harvard Ombuds Office is now one office with two locations serving Cambridge and Longwood . Appointments are available in person and virtually.
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The University is committed to responding promptly and effectively when it learns of any form of possible discrimination based on sex. The University responds to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, as part of its efforts to stop the harassment and prevent its recurrence of possible sex discrimination. An individual who has questions or concerns regarding possible discrimination based on sex should contact their local Title IX Coordinator or the Title IX Office . More resources and information can be found in the Resource Guide .
Members of the Harvard community can anonymously submit disclosures of sexual and/or gender-based harassment to the Title IX Office, using the Anonymous Disclosure Form .
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How to Solve Workplace Problems
by Steffani Cameron
Published on 9 Aug 2019
If you’ve ever shrugged off a few tough days on the job with “work is just work”, you’re not alone. People grow complacent about issues in the workplace because jobs are expected to come with adversity and challenges, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. When a quarter of your life is spent at work, it’s a huge factor in your physical and mental health, and solving workplace problems goes a long way toward battling the stress and burnout that so many people face.
Use your words. Communication will always be the best first line of defense when solving workplace problems. Beyond that, there are other methods.
Examples of Workplace Problems
Not all problems are created equally, so while you may have a problem that could be easily resolved through communication and diplomacy, some problems are so serious that they must be escalated through the chain of command immediately.
Problems that routinely come up in the workplace include:
- Loudness: In an open-floor workspace age, some colleagues fail to realize how disruptive their behavior can be, from computer sounds to being loud while talking on the phone.
- Respect: Just because people are colleagues doesn’t mean that respect is always shown. Those with little regard for others can be hugely disruptive in the workplace when it means equality is threatened and camaraderie is derailed.
- Harassment: In many workplaces, this is strongly regulated, but it’s still common and often comes down to “he said, she said” confrontations between both parties. In these instances, speaking up for yourself with the person in question could help, but odds are that things will need escalating through higher channels.
- Theft of work product: If someone is stealing a co-worker’s work or ideas and passing it off as his own, it’s a problem that can make or break careers.
- Incompetence or sabotage: If another co-worker's incompetence or an act of sabotage will impact your work performance, that's a problem that needs resolving pronto.
- Poor management: Managers who are ill-suited to their role are an enormous problem. It’s so widespread that it’s become a parody mainstay in cult-classic filmed entertainment like “Office Space” and “The Office.”
Seven Steps of Problem Solving
This is a written, step-based strategy for handling most problems, from process and method problems in the workplace to dealing with problem personnel. These steps have been widely shared by many relationship and employment experts, as they tend to work both with people and many task-based scenarios.
- Identify the problem. This is the perfect “five W’s” situation: What’s the problem, why is it a problem, when did it start, who is involved and where does it transpire? The better you can detail the problem, the more likely you’ll have early insight as to its solutions.
- Ascertain the causes. Drill down: Why is this problem happening? This may require some deep digging on your behalf since, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Being harassed or ill treated by another is never OK ; it’s inexcusable but figure out if you’re being targeted or if this is general behavior toward most colleagues or subordinates. If it's just you, try to figure out why you’re being targeted. It won't justify the behavior, but it could help you find the solution.
- Set your objective. What does solving this problem look like for you? After this, how do you want things to be? Understanding why this is an ideal outcome for you may also give you clarity on how to more easily reach that solution.
- Brainstorm. Write down all your possible solutions, from outlandish to downright diplomatic. What’s resonating? What are the pros and cons?
- Choose your way. After proper evaluation of all your options, it’s time to pick a method. Narrow things down for plausibility and achievable outcomes. Sometimes, the best solution isn’t the one you’d like the most, but it’s the one that will have the best results for all concerned. Being perceived as being objective and reasonable is beneficial in most workplaces, so choose pragmatically, as it could put you in new light with the bosses.
- Put things in motion. Now it’s time to move ahead with solving the problem. It’s OK to dread this sometimes because confrontation is upsetting for most people. It’s difficult to rock the boat and stand up for what you feel is right, but no matter how unsettling it feels, it’ll be a load off once you take that first step, and who knows? You could be surprised with how it goes.
- Re-evaluate. So, how did it go? If you’re satisfied, then that’s great, and the job is done. If not, what were the shortcomings in how it played out? Do you have cause to continue your efforts or a means of appealing the outcome?
Tips for Handling Difficult Colleagues
When problem solving isn’t working, or things haven’t quite escalated to the point of confrontation, managing your interactions and reactions is the way to go. Maybe there’s a co-worker you just dislike, or you have to deal with someone whose work ethic doesn’t match yours. There are all sorts of scenarios for which these approaches can keep things in check.
- Keep engagement at a minimum. Sometimes, avoidance is the best policy, so walk the long way around. Check your phone or read a memo as you pass the person's desk. Stick to the clock for meetings and don’t linger when done.
- Face it head on. If you can do so tactfully, confront the issue with the colleague. If she's always chatty, cut her short with, “Sorry, I have deadlines to meet, so I’ll have to leave it there.” If she's the negative type who is always complaining, find a way out of the conversation, like, “I can’t say I’ve had the same experience, but I understand how you feel. Sorry, I’ve got to get back to work.”
- Flip the script. Sure, someone’s actions might hurt your feelings or frustrate you, but being bothered is what you’re choosing to be rather than a default reaction. Instead, move on and let it go (for now, anyhow).
- Refocus the perspective. If a colleague or superior seems to have it in for you and is resistant to helping you with a project or task, remind her that it’s not about you – it’s for the success of the company. If it’s someone who’s just slow, ineffective or shirking her task, remind her that you’ll need her report before you can create the graphics to support her copy, for instance.
Talking Matters Too
Sometimes, problem-solving skills don’t work as well when it’s a problem of a different magnitude, like trying to handle working in a job that isn’t what was promised or when your boss fails to notice the work that you do. In these instances, the seven steps may not be as practical or helpful.
Those can be the moments when it’s best to turn to someone whose opinion about professional matters is one that you trust — ideally, someone outside of the workplace so it can’t come back to bite you. Get things off your chest with him and discuss your possible responses going forward.
Once you're calm, try to talk it out with those concerned. In the end, the most frequent solution to average, everyday problems is through communication.
Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail
26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
By Biron Clark
Published: November 15, 2023
Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation.
Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.
Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences.
It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.
Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving
Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way. We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online. Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.
Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.
Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
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- Need to solve an intractable problem? Collaboration is hard but worth it.
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Complex problems facing cities like homelessness and climate change can only be solved by multiple organizations collaborating across boundaries, say Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Jorrit de Jong and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson.
Featuring jorrit de jong and amy edmondson, november 9, 2023 42 minutes and 21 seconds.
Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Jorrit de Jong and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson say the big, intractable challenges facing city leaders today are too complex to be addressed by any one agency or government department. Complex challenges like the shortage of economic opportunity and affordable housing, homelessness, the effects of the climate crisis, and crime, can only be solved by multiple organizations working together. But that’s easier said than done. Bringing together government agencies, nonprofits, private businesses, academia, and the public into successful collaborations can be a huge challenge. Different people bring different agendas and goals. They don’t necessarily trust each other. Sometimes they can’t even agree on what the problem actually is, and they fail before even getting started. In a recent study, de Jong and Edmondson found that the most successful problem-solving collaborations have a number of things in common, including building a culture of safety and trust and being empowered to try, fail, and learn from mistakes. Sometimes, they say, the key can be just finding a place to start.
Jorrit de Jong is the Emma Bloomberg Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School. He is director of the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. His research and teaching focus on the challenges of making the public sector more effective, efficient, equitable, and responsive to social needs. A specialist in experiential learning, he has taught strategic management and public problem-solving in degree and executive education programs at HKS and around the world. He is also faculty co-chair of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, the world’s most comprehensive effort to advance effective problem-solving and innovation through executive education, research, curriculum development, and fieldwork in cities.
He is also Academic Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. In that capacity, he launched the Innovation Field Lab , an experiential learning, executive education, and action-oriented research project working with 15 cities in Massachusetts and New York to help them leverage data, community engagement and innovation to revitalize distressed and underinvested neighborhoods. He holds a PhD in Public Policy and Management from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, as well as a master's in philosophy and a master's in public administration from Leiden University. He has written extensively, including the books “The State of Access: Success and Failure of Democracies to Create Equal Opportunities;” “Agents of Change: Strategy and Tactics for Social Innovation;” and “Dealing with Dysfunction: Innovative Problem Solving in the Public Sector.”
Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, a chair established to support the study of human interactions that lead to the creation of successful enterprises that contribute to the betterment of society. Edmondson has been recognized by the biannual Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers since 2011, and most recently was ranked No. 1 in 2021. She also received that organization’s Breakthrough Idea Award in 2019, and Talent Award in 2017.
She studies teaming, psychological safety, and organizational learning, and her articles have been published in numerous academic and management outlets. Her 2019 book, “The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth,” has been translated into 15 languages. Her prior books: “Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy;” “Teaming to Innovate;” and “Extreme Teaming” explore teamwork in dynamic organizational environments. Edmondson’s latest book, “Right Kind of Wrong,” builds on her prior work on psychological safety and teaming to provide a framework for thinking about, discussing, and practicing the science of failing well. Edmondson received her PhD in organizational behavior, AM in psychology, and AB in engineering and design from Harvard University.
Ralph Ranalli of the HKS Office of Communications and Public Affairs is the host, producer, and editor of HKS PolicyCast. A former journalist, public television producer, and entrepreneur, he holds an AB in Political Science from UCLA and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University.
The co-producer of PolicyCast is Susan Hughes . Design and graphics support is provided by Lydia Rosenberg , Delane Meadows , and the OCPA Design Team. Social media promotion and support is provided by Natalie Montaner and the OCPA Digital Team.
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Preroll: (Ralph Ranalli): PolicyCast explores evidence-based policy solutions to the big problems we’re facing in our society and our world. This podcast is a production of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Jorrit de Jong (Intro): Let me give you one example, homelessness. You can think of that as one big problem, but if you break it down into smaller subsets of problems, you see that some people experiencing homelessness are dealing with mental illness and others are the victims of domestic violence, and yet others are experiencing substance abuse issues and others may have lost their house and are living below the poverty line. When you disaggregate a problem, you see a variety of different causes and consequences, but also it becomes very clear that, for some parts of the problem, you need the social services department, for another part of the problem, you need affordable housing, and for another part of the problem, you may need law enforcement or addiction help.
Amy Edmondson (Intro): The problems can be roughly referred to as wicked problems, which are the kinds of problems that have incomplete, contradictory, and shifting requirements. They do not have easy answers and they impact different groups in different ways. They're just by their very nature hard to solve, and so you need the different perspectives both for the innovation and the creative problem solving that that allows, but also for the acceptability of the solution. If people aren't participating, then they're unlikely to appreciate and effectively use or implement solutions that just came in from outside and, "Here, we think this is going to fix your problem for you."
Ralph Ranalli (Intro): Cities, like our world, are complex and interconnected places. So it’s hardly a surprise that our most intractable problems—lack of economic opportunity and affordable housing, homelessness, the effects of the climate crisis, crime—are that way too, complicated and seemingly hopelessly tangled, like that box of extensions cords you’re too afraid to bring up from the basement. Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Jorrit de Jong and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson say the big challenges facing city leaders today have another thing in common: they’re too tough to be addressed by any one agency or government department and can only be solved by multiple organizations working together. But that’s easier said than done. Bringing together city departments, nonprofits, private business, academia, and the public into successful collaborations can be a huge challenge. Different people bring different agendas and goals. They don’t necessarily trust each other. Sometimes they can’t even agree on what the problem actually is and they fail before even getting started. In a recent study, de Jong and Edmondson found that the most successful problem-solving collaborations have a number of things in common, including building a culture of safety and trust and being willing to try, fail, and learn from mistakes. Sometimes it's even just finding a place to start. Jorrit de Jong is the director of the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University and academic director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at HKS. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, whose books and writings on teamwork in successful organizations have been translated into 15 languages. They’re here with me today.
Ralph Ranalli: Amy, Jorrit, welcome to PolicyCast.
Jorrit de Jong: Thanks for having us.
Amy Edmondson: Great to be here.
Ralph Ranalli: We're talking today about cross-boundary collaboration, which I think is a term that a lot of people aren’t familiar with. Well maybe they're more familiar with the general concept, but can we start with a little bit about its origins in the context of solving intractable problems in cities and why it's important? Jorrit do you want to start us off?
Jorrit de Jong: Sure. Well, the main thing about cross-boundary collaboration is that it is something that is necessary because the problems that we face in society today are multifaceted, they're complex, they're volatile and no single organization, unfortunately, is able to tackle them. When we talk about homelessness or climate change or poverty or crime, we need multiple organizations to work together to come up with a good diagnosis of what the problem is and then to generate ideas for action and then to implement those ideas.
Ralph Ranalli: Amy?
Amy Edmondson: Let me just even say something more basic, which is what's a boundary? I mean, a boundary is a line between groups. The kinds of groups that Jorrit and I studied include expertise groups, different sectors, different employers, different organizations, even different levels on a hierarchy. Having people come across those boundaries to do something together is what we studied.
Ralph Ranalli: Right. The stakeholders are usually government, nonprofits and NGOs, the business community, and academia. Is there anything else on that list?
Amy Edmondson: Well, I think, occasionally, citizens, community.
Ralph Ranalli: Amy, you've written four books on the subject of teamwork including one where you said: "The work done in the modern organization is less and less about looking inward and creating strong teams inside a company and more about teaming across boundaries that are often in flux. What’s causing that shift to companies and organizations needing to look outwards?
Amy Edmondson: Organizations are more and more dependent on the cooperation of and the contributions of people from other organizations. That can be as simple as suppliers and customer organizations where the degree to which you can collaborate effectively across those boundaries matters for the effective delivery of services and goods in supply chains of all kinds. That's just one ordinary way of doing business that involves that. Beyond that, there's a real interest for companies and government organizations and others to be working together to solve some of the more thorny problems that society faces. These are the kinds of problems that cannot be solved by one organization alone or even one sector working alone, so there's just more need for that kind of reaching out, reaching across, and collaborating.
Ralph Ranalli: Jorrit, you're a leading scholar on collective governance to address multi-stakeholder problems. What are some examples of the problems that either can only be solved by or addressed or best addressed with cross-boundary collaboration?
Jorrit de Jong: Yeah. I would say that there's almost no significant problem facing cities today that can be solved by a single organization. Local government obviously offers a variety of basic services and is responsible for law enforcement in a variety of different areas, but most of the problems— whether it's crime or economic development or homelessness—require multiple types of expertise, multiple skill sets, resources that cannot be offered by one organization alone and, therefore, if you really want to make progress on these issues, you can't go it alone.
It makes sense that we have silos within government agencies. Division of labor is, of course, a very basic principle of organizational design. You can't do everything all at once, and therefore we've created departments, a department for buildings, a department for parks and recreation, a department of police, fire department and so forth, human services, but those departments are focused on the types of activities, types of services that they're responsible for. What we increasingly find is that the way problems manifest themselves in the real world requires interventions, actions and resources from multiple departments. Even within governments, you need cross-boundary collaboration where the boundaries are the departmental boundaries.
Let me give you one example, homelessness. You can think of that as one big problem, but if you break it down into smaller subsets of problems, you see that some people experiencing homelessness are dealing with mental illness and others are the victims of domestic violence, and yet others are experiencing substance abuse issues and others may have lost their house and are living below the poverty line. When you disaggregate a problem, you see a variety of different causes and consequences, but also it becomes very clear that, for some parts of the problem, you need the social services department, for another part of the problem, you need affordable housing, and for another part of the problem, you may need law enforcement or addiction help.
The way problems manifest themselves in cities, it's very varied. It varies from city to city. It varies from time to time. And it definitely depends on how you look at it. The way you look at it can inform the way you try to solve it. What we're claiming in this study is that the nature of these problems requires a more comprehensive, a broader, more holistic look and, therefore, it requires multiple organizations to look at it together and then to solve it together.
Amy Edmondson: Right, and I'll just double down on that idea, the nature of the problems. I mean, the nature of the problems can be roughly referred to as wicked problems, which are the kinds of problems that have incomplete, contradictory, and shifting requirements. They do not have easy answers and they impact different groups in different ways. They're just by their very nature hard to solve, and so you need the different perspectives both for the innovation and the creative problem solving that that allows, but also for the acceptability of the solution. If people aren't participating, then they're unlikely to appreciate and effectively use or implement solutions that just came in from outside and, "Here, we think this is going to fix your problem for you."
Ralph Ranalli: Right. I think we all have this lovely ideal of what collaboration looks like, right? But one of the things that struck me when I was reading your study is how difficult it is and how significant the barriers are that need to be broken down. On the one hand, we have a nice picture in your mind of people holding hands and singing kumbaya and everyone bringing their own expertise to bear on a problem in this lovely holistic way, but on the other you identified the process of just getting started as something that's difficult to the point where you used the term "disorientation" to talk about early phase of trying different groups together. Can you talk a bit about that notion of disorientation and why it's so difficult to get traction with cross-boundary collaborations?
Jorrit de Jong: Absolutely. You may know the expression, "If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." If you are the Department of, let's say, Parks and Recreation, you look at a problem from that perspective and you think, "Oh, the problem to solve is to get this park clean and safe, and you may look at the people experiencing homelessness in that park as people that need to be removed, but if you are from the Department of Social Services, you look at the people in the park and you think, "Hey, we need to help these individuals," get them into housing, stabilize their condition and so forth, and you don't care as much about the park. Both are very legitimate perspectives, but very often—and this is what we found in a number of different studies that we conducted over the past 10 years—is that there are, in almost every cross-boundary collaboration phases, three major barriers.
The very first one is how to define the problem. How do we define the problem in a way that generates sufficient consensus, not full consensus, but sufficient consensus to actually start working on it, because, if you don't see yourself in that problem definition, you're like, "What am I doing here?" It needs to be sufficiently inclusive to get the right parties on board and to get started. The second barrier is actually team building. Amy is, of course, an expert on this. It requires a certain kind of psychological safety—and maybe Amy you can say a little bit more about that—to actually engage in work where you don't know the problem yet and where you don't know the solution yet and where you don't maybe trust each other or understand each other enough yet to work together.
The final barrier that we always find is multiple accountability challenges. You're committed to solving the problem and to working together, yet you're also on the payroll of your organization and, at the end of the day, your boss or your constituents will hold you accountable for the siloed organizational task and not the work that you did with other parties, and so there's this natural tension that occurs.
Amy Edmondson: Yes. I mean, I'll build on that by saying, you mentioned psychological safety, and that's something that research, including my own, has shown is a really important factor in teamwork in general. And it's because it's not easy to be candid, it's not easy to speak up with a wild idea that people might laugh at, and it's not easy to ask for help if you don't understand something. Nobody likes to admit their ignorance or advertise their incompetence. I use those terms almost tongue in cheek, but we can naturally think, "Oh, someone will think I'm an idiot because I don't know something." It's much easier to hold back, wait and see. And so there's that challenge of speaking up.
Roughly speaking, there's psychological, I mean, there's many psychological barriers, and you alluded to several, but just, "I don't maybe trust you because you come from a different department or a different background. I don't feel safe speaking up, honestly, candidly." There are so many things that get in the way of the innovation we're talking about, so it's much, much easier to fail than to succeed in this domain, and then layered on top of that are what I would call technological or logistical hurdles related to the jargon, different expertise areas, and different sectors have different jargon. The alphabet soup is a really big deal in the public sector and private sector, and so you can have people talking right by each other and really just struggling to have the effortless collaboration that you envision in this kumbaya moment that you recalled. You can't underestimate both the logistical, technological challenges and the psychological, sociological challenges.
Ralph Ranalli: Sure. If you just think about the groups that you're talking about who are trying to collaborate with each other. One example is you've got nonprofits who are probably distrustful of for-profits. A lot of the time, that's a common nonprofit worldview. Then you've got for-profit businesses who are often distrustful of government, and …
Amy Edmondson: ... and vice versa.
Ralph Ranalli: Exactly, and vice versa. You talked about in the study about finding an entry point. Can you talk about that, Amy, maybe starting out with what is an entry point and how does one help you break through those initial difficulties and get a collaborative process moving?
Amy Edmondson: Yeah. I guess what I will have to admit is that this is more descriptive, and I think it makes good sense theoretically and practically, but I'll tell you what we found. What we found was, as I alluded to earlier, that most, all the teams struggle, but the ones that end up making traction in their wicked problems and their challenging problems are the ones, now this will sound almost tautological, but they're the ones who found an entry point. There's a point at which, if you find an entry point, you get enough momentum to keep going through the hard work of teaming up across boundaries and making progress in new territory, and it's easy not to find one.
What is an entry point? It took different forms in different projects, but we created this acronym, M-A-A-P. It means they found some way to get started that was meaningful. People could agree that this was connected to our broader goal even though it isn't a solution to our broader goal. It was meaningful. It was acceptable, meaning, different constituents would find it an okay thing to be working on. It was actionable, right? Again, not a magic wand or big solution to everything, but it was something you could go try, and it was provisional. I mean, it was almost deliberately seen by all as a starting point that, as we learn more together, we will get more clear, we will get better at making progress.
Ralph Ranalli: At this point, I'd really like to if we can get into some concrete examples. In your study, you used the example of Manchester, New Hampshire. There were 10 other groups that were a big part of your study. Can you talk about how the group in Manchester, New Hampshire, found its entry point and what problem they were tackling?
Jorrit de Jong: Absolutely. It's a great story, and I have to say it's not a story that is finished. It's a work in progress. I think it's fair to say that most of these problems are not solved. You can make progress. You can mitigate the problem, but there's only one way, as Amy suggested, to get started, which is to get started, but then you have to figure out and agree with this whole group, "Where do we start and how do we start?" There's often a theme that we see around the ideal is the enemy of good, right? We think we know enough about the problem to say that any tiny step in the right direction is not sufficient, because it will not solve the problem or it will not make progress fast enough, but what we've found in this study is that, if you start and focus on something small but meaningful, and if you make sure that you learn from that first step, you will see the next step and the next step and the next step.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, they were facing multiple crises, homelessness on one the hand and opioid abuse on the other. There was overlap, but the city did not have data on how exactly these problems were intertwined, who was experiencing what problem or what condition and how to intervene as a city. Now, the parties in Manchester included social service providers, caregiving organizations, the police, fire departments, the Department of Public Works, but also the business community, especially downtown where business owners were complaining about people sleeping on the streets and panhandling.
The mayor, Joyce Craig, really was worried about the situation and did not have necessarily enough resources for affordable housing or for the help, but she did know that just banning panhandling wasn't going to solve the problem. It's like fighting a symptom and not addressing the underlying problems. However, the business community was primarily interested in addressing that part of the problem because it mattered most to them and to their customers. What they agreed to do is to say, "Okay, we are going to think of panhandling as an entry point, but under one condition, that if we discourage panhandling, then we will make sure that the individuals that are being removed from the downtown area will be directed to treatment, to shelter, to social workers and so forth, and we will learn from what they're experiencing, what their needs are, and then we will use that to generate new funding and additional services so that we can make progress on the larger issue and the underlying problems."
Even though it looks like fighting a symptom to some and solving a problem to others, it allowed the group to start to work together, to look at the problem together, to learn from what works and what doesn't work together. And because they formed a coalition as such, they had a much better case to make to the state and to other funders. A few years later, they changed the structure in their governments. They have much more cross-silo collaboration in their government because they did find out that about 50% of the people who were homeless also were struggling with addiction problems. They changed their approach to helping the individuals, but they also helped create better conditions in downtown at the same time.
Now, has it been solved? Absolutely not, but is the city in a better place to tackle the problem? Absolutely, and that is basically what we're seeing in all of those teams that are making progress. How they're getting traction is they start somewhere that is imperfect, but they learn, and as they learn they get to a better place.
Amy Edmondson: One thing to just underline strongly here is that we've talked about, in a sense, to get started, you have to get started. And that might sound at first glance like a willpower problem where we just have to take the first step. I don't want to underplay how creative the first step was.
This isn't a matter of: "It's obvious what the first step is. Let's just do it." This is truly a matter of: "We don't have a clue what the first step is because it's a wicked problem with multi-dimensional, multifaceted challenges." It's actually a team creative project to figure out an entry point, something that we can do that's meaningfully connected to our broader, ambitious goal that again is acceptable and something fundamentally we can learn from together.
Jorrit de Jong: One other example that I really love, and not just because it's from my home country, the Netherlands, is the problem that they had in the City of Breda with illegal grow houses. They were growing marijuana.
The idea was, or the suspicion was, that organized crime was exploiting or coercing low-income residents to use their attics and basements for this illegal activity. The police and the prosecutor's office had been trying the traditional law enforcement approach, but the community wouldn't want to work with them because they were afraid or didn't trust law enforcement.
Then they started working within a utility company that had been experiencing electricity theft because grow houses take a lot of electricity. They also worked with the City of Breda, which was interested in community engagement, and they worked with a tax office who was interested in money laundering related to organized crime. They came up with a very different approach, and they found their entry points were focused on fire safety, because everybody cares about fire safety because your family needs to be safe, and so-
Amy Edmondson: Neighbor could be-
Jorrit de Jong: Your neighbors could be having a grow house and create that risk for you because they're using the electricity and the wiring catches fire because of the overuse, the overload. They started knocking on doors and said , "Hey, here's what you need to know about fire safety. If you smell this smell," and they had a sample with them, "then you might be at risk, and so you need to report that." That was a way to build trust with the community. Well, did it solve organized crime? Did it end illegal grow houses? No, but at least they found a way, literally, into the houses, an entry point, but also into the problem and, from there, they learned and adjusted their approach. I think that's another example of not giving up on the goal, the ultimate goal, but just structuring the process of learning.
Ralph Ranalli: It's wonderful when these things succeed, but they don't all succeed. What have you found about when they fail, why they fail?
Amy Edmondson: In a way, I mean, this is a bit tautological, but they fail because they fail to overcome the very real hurdles. These challenges are both creative challenges, they're political, they're effortful. There's lots and lots of pushback and barriers. They're overwhelming, so it's almost the assumed outcome that they will struggle anyway.
Ralph Ranalli: You talk in the study about inherent paradoxes. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Jorrit de Jong: Sure. There's a chicken-and-egg issue which is interesting to think about. For busy people and organizations with limited resources to commit to a collaboration, they need to know what's in it for them or why it would be important for them to participate. But you don't know that until you actually start looking at the problem together.
For example, the growing house case did not include the fire department at first. It did include the tax office. Now, when you would have asked the fire department, "Hey, do you want to go chase organized crime in this neighborhood?" They're like, "Why would we do that?" They're like, "We got fires to put out. Organized crime is not in our job description," but because they learned more about the problem, and one part of it was the fire risk, then it became more relevant for the fire to be included.
Here's the other thing. The tax office was less relevant, and you can imagine this poor tax inspector who would go to you about like, "What have you been doing lately, John?" and then, "Well, I've been finding illegal grow houses and detecting fire risk." Well, that's not your job description either, so you can see that, because all these problems were multifaceted, that a case has to be made for involvement and inclusion and participation. The inherent paradox there is that you need to have a broader group to work and look at the problem, but in order to get that group to look at the problem, you need to have a sufficient idea of what you're doing. That cannot be resolved one way or the other, other than just getting started and trying something out.
Amy Edmondson: Yeah, and people who are willing to just be operating slightly outside their normal job description and willing to be creative and not worry so much about: "Is this my boss' number one priority right now?" because they glimpse an opportunity to make a real difference in something that speaks to them and matters to the community.
Ralph Ranalli: Right, and you go back to the trust issue, too. You need to trust enough to have collaboration, but you also build trust through collaboration, so we're back to chickens and eggs.
Amy Edmondson: It's chickens and eggs for sure. I'm not sure it's paradoxes. To me, the word paradox is overused. I shouldn't maybe say that, but it technically means two things that can't both be true at the same time, versus I think what we're talking about is a little bit more interesting and subtle, which is it's hard to get started and it's hard to know which comes first, the chicken or the egg.
Ralph Ranalli: I love that you quoted the philosopher John Dewey and his saying that: “A problem well put is a problem half solved.” But that's not necessarily easy either. What happens when you can't even agree on the problem? I live in a suburb of Boston and our local political dividing line basically breaks down along the issue of affordable housing. One group identifies the lack of affordable housing as the problem, where the other basically views the impulse to build more affordable housing as the problem. What happens when you can’t agree on whether a problem actually exists?
Amy Edmondson: In a way, it's everything. It's the frame. With that frame, if you get stuck and stay in that frame, you will get nowhere. That is a guarantee because neither side is going to willingly change their view of the problem. What's needed is something that both sides care about, the future, the children and the future, or things along those lines, access to our schools, what have you.
I won't try to solve that particular problem in your particular area, but the only way to break out and go forward is by finding an overarching shared goal or value that we both care about and then we get to start to take baby, creative steps toward what might this look like to help us resolve some of that very real tension.
Jorrit de Jong: I would also say that a lot of this work was informed by Bloomberg Harvard City leadership program that Amy and I both teach in. It's a program for mayors and their senior teams. Mayors are often the ones nominating a problem for action. They run on a campaign platform, and they want to do something about inclusive growth or climate resilience or crime, and then, when they create a task force or try to build a coalition around that problem, it is important for them to know that, yes, they need to say, "This is the problem that I care about."
But they also, as authorizers of this work, need to keep an open mind and be flexible because, if they're not flexible, the group will be reluctant to zoom in on one particular entry point that doesn't immediately make sense. Knowing what the nature is of this work—going back to Amy's notion earlier about the wicked problem—acknowledging and being explicit that you expect the group to learn rather than to deliver on the specific thing you're asking them to do. What we've seen is that the role of authorizers is often understudied. One of the things that we see in the groups is those groups that felt like they had agency—they had the license to innovate and the permission to learn and develop as they went along—those groups were more successful in making progress. In our executive education program for mayors, both Amy and I spent a lot of time like, "How can leaders create the conditions for these diverse teams to do their work and to make meaningful progress?"
Ralph Ranalli: I was interested in the personal aspect of when these collaborations start achieving success. What have you seen in terms of transformations in people's attitudes and outlooks when all of a sudden things start clicking and positive things start happening? What have you seen in terms of changes in the participants once this cross-boundary collaboration starts working?
Amy Edmondson: I'll just say more abstractly, and then maybe Jorrit can give more concrete observations, but more abstractly, they start to feel like a "we" rather than, "I'm here. I'm from tax," or, "I'm from fire," or, "I'm from city hall.” They start to be part of the homelessness task force. They start to feel like each other as a mighty resource and that they start to care about each other, they start to care about their work together.
Jorrit de Jong: Yeah. A colleague of ours, Ronnie Heifetz, uses the metaphor of a vegetable soup where you can throw different types of vegetables in a pan and add cold water, and then these vegetables will remain the same thing and there's no blending. You can also turn up the heat and cook them to pieces, and it's like one ratatouille, but the idea is to raise the temperature enough so that the individual vegetables still keep their taste and their shape, but they also start to form like a vegetable soup. Very often, we think of these processes of cross-boundary collaboration as pressure cookers. Without heat, there will be no dinner, but with too much heat, there will also be no dinner or it won't taste very well. Getting the temperature right, raising the pressure, creating a holding environment if you like around a group, which is what we do in our Executive Education programs, we bring people together and support them as they engage with the work and with each other and regulate the temperature so that they get to a level of productivity and trust that is required to make progress.
Ralph Ranalli: You also teach this in the Executive Education program. Why is it important to connect with that audience?
Amy Edmondson: I mean, I think, in professional schools, certainly in the Kennedy School and the Business School at Harvard, our goal is knowledge for action. Our research is always in the back of our minds. Sometimes, in the very front of our minds is how would this work? What can we learn about how to help people in tough jobs, tough leadership roles? How can we help them do a better job in achieving their results?
One of the ways that we both share, but also develop our insights is in the executive classroom. We are teaching there, but we are also learning from them, from their feedback, from their examples, from their stories. We use the case method quite deliberately so that we have some principles that we're trying to convey and make them memorable and sticky through the stories, but we also want to hear their stories and how they've seen this work in practice, so that allows us to learn, that allows them to learn.
Jorrit de Jong: Yeah, I would say I fully agree with that. A lot of the research questions come from practice and come from our interactions with mayors and their senior leaders and others. The work that we do at Harvard is only good if it's both rigorous and relevant. If it's only rigorous and not relevant, we wouldn't want to do it because why?
Amy Edmondson: If it's only relevant and not rigorous, then we don't feel so good either.
Jorrit de Jong: Exactly, because you don't want to be sharing just ideas that are not rooted in research, right? That's why Amy and I and the whole group of authors, when we learned early on that mayors were struggling with cross-boundary collaboration and forming coalitions and task forces, we said like, "That's a really interesting research question." Amy had done research for many years on teaming and increasingly on wicked problem solving. I had been doing a lot of work on collaborative governance, but mostly at national or even international levels. We felt like, if we could combine our expertise and bring in some other colleagues, Hannah Riley Bowles, Eva Flavia Martinez Orbegozo, Jan Rivkin, and Mark Moore, then we could actually fill that gap.
The studies that we've recently published are the first fruits of that labor, and we immediately bring it back to the classroom. When we teach now, we refer to these studies and we say, "Well, we don't have the definitive answer to the question how to do this, but we have some ideas that may help you guide the work as you go along."
Amy Edmondson: We see if it resonates. Does it resonate?
Ralph Ranalli: We've been talking about using this approach at the city level, but a lot of the problems that cities are facing are national and international in scope: climate readiness, the green energy transition, migration. Does the cross-boundary collaboration approach scale up?
Jorrit de Jong: Well, we haven't done that research yet, but I think what we are seeing in the cross-sector collaborations in cities, those themes are not necessarily only happening in cities. It's much more about different professions, disciplines, organizational realities trying to work together than that it is about city-specific issues. Obviously, at the national level and at the international level, you have many more wicked problems, and some are the same, climate change, poverty, drugs, crime. Anywhere where people try to make progress on wicked problems, you will see the same types of mechanisms, barriers and patterns. Therefore, our hypothesis is that this applies to other contexts as well, but we haven't done that research yet.
Amy Edmondson: We haven't done that research, but I think, if you look to any effective body that has trudged, made a dent in something, maybe child labor or human trafficking at a more global scale versus a local city scale, you will always find the requirement of different areas of expertise more often than not coming from multiple organizations, the NGOs, governments, business, large business players. Obviously, not all of these efforts are successful, but if they're serious, they will nearly always involve cross-boundary collaboration.
Ralph Ranalli: We've reached the point in the podcast where we put the policy in PolicyCast, which is where I'm going to ask you for some specific recommendations, and in this case I think policy recommendations. Do you have any policies that would encourage or make it easier to create successful cross-boundary collaborations or to help them along the road to success? What policies could turbocharge this process, which has shown that it can make a dent in big and intractable problems?
Amy Edmondson: This is where I'm not a policy person, so I could just have a free ride here, but I will say one thing. I mean, one policy thing that occurs to me is making funding available. I think, oftentimes, funding is only available for things that are really clear cut and proven and have been done before. Making seed funding available for this kind of exploratory work is something that I think could be a policy issue.
Jorrit de Jong: I don't think it is a policy question. I think it's a leadership question and a management question. What is helpful for creating and sustaining cross-boundary collaboration is for authorizers to be supportive of the process of, as Amy calls it, execution as learning, so try something out, come back and hold teams accountable for learning.
What I always tell authorizers is that, if you say, "Well, have you fixed the problem?" then everybody is going to be very fixed on delivering exactly what they think the authorizer expects. And that may not be the best thing for solving the problem. What you have to do as an authorizer is to say, "Well, I expect you to do something" and whether it works or not …
Amy Edmondson: … learn from it …
Jorrit de Jong: ... it doesn't matter, but you have to come back and tell me, "This is what I've done. This is what worked. This is what didn't work. This is what I've learned or what we have learned, and this is the next step that we're thinking of taking, and we want authorization for that next iteration."
I think that is a very different way of providing guidance and support and sponsorship than many authorizers are used to. I would say, if that's something, if you're a mayor or if you're a secretary, the national government or if you're a CEO even, then that's the difference in how you create the conditions for this type of work to be successful.
Ralph Ranalli: Great. Well, I would just like to thank you both. This was a really interesting conversation that I enjoyed very much. Thanks for your time.
Amy Edmondson: Thanks for having us.
Ralph Ranalli (Outro) : Thanks for listening. Please join us for our next episode, when Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Deming and Harvard University Economics Professor Raj Chetty will discuss their research on how legacy preference affects college admissions.
And please subscribe to PolicyCast on your favorite podcasting app so you don’t miss any of our great upcoming episodes. If you have a comment or a suggestion for the team here at PolicyCast, please drop us an email at [email protected]—we’d love to hear from you. And until next time, remember to speak bravely, and listen generously.
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Today’s Most Critical Workplace Challenges Are About Systems
- Ludmila N. Praslova
So why do leaders tend to focus on individual-level solutions?
Critical workplace issues — e.g., the problematic quality of leadership within organizations, the threats to employee mental health and well-being, and the lack of belonging and inclusion — are primarily attributable to systemic factors embedded in organizational cultures and processes. And yet, many of these and other issues are still mainly addressed on the individual level. Why do organizations keep investing in remedies that don’t work and have little chance of working? An automatic bias in how we perceive and explain the world is a likely culprit. The author explains how that “superbias” manifests — and what leaders can do to combat it in their organizations.
W. Edwards Deming , a forward-thinking American who helped engineer the Japanese economic miracle and was the father of the continuous quality improvement philosophy, wrote that 94% of issues in the workplace are systemic. Only 6% are attributable to individual-level, idiosyncratic factors. Improvements, therefore, should also focus on systems — not individuals.
- LP Ludmila N. Praslova , PhD, SHRM-SCP , author of the The Canary Code , uses her extensive experience with neurodiversity and global and cultural inclusion to help create talent-rich workplaces. She is a professor of graduate industrial-organizational psychology and the accreditation liaison officer at Vanguard University of Southern California.
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How to Solve Problems in the Workplace
Posted by B Enos | May 5, 2022
Table of Contents
When working in an office, it is common to see workplace issues arise because you are working with a diverse group of people. However, as a business owner or manager, you must overcome these problems at the earliest as they can disrupt the morale and functionality of the workplace.
Problem-solving skills in any workplace are crucial as it allows employees to engage with one another psychologically in a professional manner. It will enable individuals to evaluate, realize, and resolve any challenge and find an effective solution.
When faced with a problem or challenge, people at work tend to react in three ways; first, they either blame someone, deflect, or assume they need to give the correct answer. To overcome this obstacle, you must have an open mind, willingness to adapt, and be flexible so that your business can run efficiently. Here are five challenges that you may face at your work regarding coworking spaces.
We have listed some quick tips that can help you solve specific problems at your workplace and ensure that it does not affect your team’s productivity:
Define the Problem
One of the first steps in solving any problem is understanding the root cause of the issue. Remember, everyone has different views and opinions, so it is your duty to define the problem; to do that, you first need to separate the facts from the conflicts and be specific about the terms of the problem. Once you identify the problem, make sure that you locate the cause, as it will help you find the right solution. You may also use tools like flow charts or diagrams that will help you narrow the problem and approach the challenge with a solution.
Understand the Impact of the Problem
Another critical step in solving problems is to know how wide the conflict has spread. This means that you need to know how many members this problem affects and how long it has been. By doing so, you will understand the impact of the crisis on your team and note down the severity of the problem. So put down any differences, listen to your members, and understand your people’s interests. When you know how far or how long it has been affecting them, you will be able to satisfy their interests.
Brainstorm Alternate Solutions
The next step is to find alternative solutions to solve the problem and deal with the root cause. There are several options to solve problems most of the time, but you must find the right solution. Make sure that you don’t settle on the first solution that you come across but distinguish between several options. This means that you need to strategize and analyze different approaches to the problem.
Evaluate the Solution
Now that you have researched several options, it is important that you evaluate your final solution. As a problem solver, you need to make decisions that will have minimal resistance from your team members. Create a structure that allows your employees to test and track the new solution so that you can overcome any issues or queries that come your way. Make sure that you analyze all your options well so that it does have a negative effect on your workplace. Above all, make sure that your solution options meet your business’s needs and within the organization’s policies.
Implement the Solution
Now that you have finalized the solution, the next step is to take action and implement it in your workplace system. This means that you need to ensure that the conflict is solved and appropriate action is taken so that you can meet your business goal. Make sure that you clear any doubts when implementing your solution. Also, create a feedback channel so that your members can communicate any difficulties during the training. Communication is key when taking action in solving the problem, so be direct, clear, and concise in the tasks that need to be implemented.
Monitor and Track
If you think that once you have taken action over the challenge, then your work is done? Well, it has only begun. The next step is ensuring that the problem does not arise again, which means you need to monitor, track, and evaluate your solution. This daily work schedule template by Monday can be helpful for the manager to monitor the schedules of their employees.
It is important to note that conditions may change, so it is better to plan and create a system to follow through with the process. You can even give your solution a timeline where you can track and monitor and then make the necessary tweaks.
These six ways you can solve any problem that may arise at your workplace. Make sure that you are fair and create solutions that meet the interests of both parties. Managing employees and your business is no easy task; make sure you find faster and more innovative ways to manage your business well .
About The Author
With a lifetime love of gaming and computers, I enjoy spending my time testing new hardware and tech. With over 10+ Years as a product reviewer, I offer easy-to-understand insights into any product I test. While I specialize in reviewing PC Gaming Hardware, I do enjoy all aspects of the tech and gaming industries.
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Sci-fi inspired tractor beams are real, and could solve a major space junk problem
Researchers are developing a real-life tractor beam, with the goal of pulling defunct satellites out of geostationary orbit to alleviate the space junk problem.
In science fiction films, nothing raises tension quite like the good guys' spaceship getting caught in an invisible tractor beam that allows the baddies to slowly reel them in. But what was once only a sci-fi staple could soon become a reality.
Scientists are developing a real-life tractor beam, dubbed an electrostatic tractor. This tractor beam wouldn't suck in helpless starship pilots, however. Instead, it would use electrostatic attraction to nudge hazardous space junk safely out of Earth orbit.
The stakes are high: With the commercial space industry booming , the number of satellites in Earth's orbit is forecast to rise sharply. This bonanza of new satellites will eventually wear out and turn the space around Earth into a giant junkyard of debris that could smash into working spacecraft, plummet to Earth , pollute our atmosphere with metals and obscure our view of the cosmos . And, if left unchecked, the growing space junk problem could hobble the booming space exploration industry, experts warn .
The science is pretty much there, but the funding is not.
The electrostatic tractor beam could potentially alleviate that problem by safely moving dead satellites far out of Earth orbit, where they would drift harmlessly for eternity.
While the tractor beam wouldn't completely solve the space junk problem, the concept has several advantages over other proposed space debris removal methods, which could make it a valuable tool for tackling the issue, experts told Live Science.
Related: 11 sci-fi concepts that are possible (in theory)
A prototype could cost millions, and an operational, full-scale version even more. But if the financial hurdles can be overcome, the tractor beam could be operational within a decade, its builders say.
"The science is pretty much there, but the funding is not," project researcher Kaylee Champion , a doctoral student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), told Live Science.
The tractor beams depicted in "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" suck up spacecraft via artificial gravity or an ambiguous "energy field." Such technology is likely beyond anything humans will ever achieve. But the concept inspired Hanspeter Schaub , an aerospace engineering professor at CU Boulder, to conceptualize a more realistic version.
Schaub first got the idea after the first major satellite collision in 2009 , when an active communications satellite, Iridium 33, smashed into a defunct Russian military spacecraft, Kosmos 2251, scattering more than 1,800 pieces of debris into Earth's orbit .
Related: How many satellites orbit Earth?
In the wake of this disaster, Schaub wanted to be able to prevent this from happening again. To do this, he realized you could pull spacecraft out of harm's way by using the attraction between positively and negatively charged objects to make them "stick" together.
Over the next decade, Schaub and colleagues refined the concept. Now, they hope it can someday be used to move dead satellites out of geostationary orbit (GEO) — an orbit around Earth's equator where an object's speed matches the planet's rotation, making it seem like the object is fixed in place above a certain point on Earth. This would then free up space for other objects in GEO, which is considered "prime real estate" for satellites, Schaub said.
How does it work?
The electrostatic tractor would use a servicer spacecraft equipped with an electron gun that would fire negatively charged electrons at a dead target satellite, Champion told Live Science. The electrons would give the target a negative charge while leaving the servicer with a positive charge. The electrostatic attraction between the two would keep them locked together despite being separated by 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) of empty space, she said.
Once the servicer and target are "stuck together," the servicer would be able to pull the target out of orbit without touching it. Ideally, the defunct satellite would be pulled into a "graveyard orbit" more distant from Earth, where it could safely drift forever, Champion said.
Related: 15 of the weirdest things we have launched into space
The electrostatic attraction between the two spacecraft would be extremely weak, due to limitations in electron gun technology and the distance by which the two would need to be separated to prevent collisions, project researcher Julian Hammerl , a doctoral student at CU Boulder, told Live Science. So the servicer would have to move very slowly, and it could take more than a month to fully move a single satellite out of GEO, he added.
That's a far cry from movie tractor beams, which are inescapable and rapidly reel in their prey. This is the "main difference between sci-fi and reality," Hammerl said.
Advantages and limitations
The electrostatic tractor would have one big advantage over other proposed space junk removal methods, such as harpoons, giant nets and physical docking systems: It would be completely touchless.
"You have these large, dead spacecraft about the size of a school bus rotating really fast," Hammerl said. "If you shoot a harpoon, use a big net or try to dock with them, then the physical contact can damage the spacecraft and then you are only making the [space junk] problem worse."
Scientists have proposed other touchless methods, such as using powerful magnets, but enormous magnets are both expensive to produce and would likely interfere with a servicer's controls, Champion said.
Related: How do tiny pieces of space junk cause incredible damage?
The main limitation of the electrostatic tractor is how slowly it would work. More than 550 satellites currently orbit Earth in GEO , but that number is expected to rise sharply in the coming decades.
If satellites were moved one at a time, then a single electrostatic tractor wouldn't keep pace with the number of satellites winking out of operation. Another limitation of the electrostatic tractor is that it would work too slowly to be practical for clearing smaller pieces of space junk, so it wouldn't be able to keep GEO completely free of debris.
Cost is the other big obstacle. The team has not yet done a full cost analysis for the electrostatic tractor, Schaub said, but it would likely cost tens of millions of dollars. However, once the servicer were in space, it would be relatively cost-effective to operate it, he added.
The researchers are currently working on a series of experiments in their Electrostatic Charging Laboratory for Interactions between Plasma and Spacecraft (ECLIPS) machine at CU Boulder. The bathtub-sized, metallic vacuum chamber, which is equipped with an electron gun, allows the team to "do unique experiments that almost no one else can currently do" in order to simulate the effects of an electrostatic tractor on a smaller scale, Hammerl said.
Once the team is ready, the final and most challenging hurdle will be to secure funding for the first mission, which is a process they have not yet started.
Most of the mission cost would come from building and launching the servicer. However, the researchers would ideally like to launch two satellites for the first tests, a servicer and a target that they can maneuver, which would give them more control over their experiments but also double the cost.
Related: 10 stunning shots of Earth from space in 2022
If they can somehow wrangle that funding, a prototype tractor beam could be operational in around 10 years, the team previously estimated .
Is it viable?
While tractor beams may sound like a pipe dream, experts are optimistic about the technology.
"Their technology is still in the infancy stage," John Crassidis , an aerospace scientist at the University at Buffalo in New York, who is not involved in the research, told Live Science in an email. "But I am fairly confident it will work."
If you shoot a harpoon, use a big net or try to dock with them, then the physical contact can damage the spacecraft and then you are only making the [space junk] problem worse.
Removing space junk without touching it would also be much safer than any current alternative method, Crassidis added.
The electrostatic tractor "should be able to produce the forces necessary to move a defunct satellite" and "certainly has a high potential to work in practice," Carolin Frueh , an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University in Indiana, told Live Science in an email. "But there are still several engineering challenges to be solved along the way to make it real-world-ready."
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Scientists should continue to research other possible solutions, Crassidis said. Even if the CU Boulder team doesn't create a "final product" to remove nonfunctional satellites, their research will provide a stepping stone for other scientists, he added.
If they are successful, it wouldn't be the first time scientists turned fiction into fact .
"What is today's science fiction could be tomorrow's reality," Crassidis said.
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Harry is a U.K.-based staff writer at Live Science. He studied Marine Biology at the University of Exeter (Penryn campus) and after graduating started his own blog site "Marine Madness," which he continues to run with other ocean enthusiasts. He is also interested in evolution, climate change, robots, space exploration, environmental conservation and anything that's been fossilized. When not at work he can be found watching sci-fi films, playing old Pokemon games or running (probably slower than he'd like).
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- Aerophd Great concept however it would make more sense to require all future satellites be equipped with a reserve fuel tank to be used to jettison the equipment into deep space or sent back to Earth for eventual burn up. Reply
- DawnStar It does make sense to have satellites incorporate the means of their own destruction. But I don't agree with the idea of simply moving the junk to a less desirable orbit. Same problem for the future, different distance. Now here is a radical thought that some purists will find problematic. We intend to colonize the moon, yes? Why not cause the 'junk' to impact a specific place on the moon? Construction of bases may need building materials.. so recycle the junk by either by finding usable materials or melting it down for construction purposes? It's going to take a lot of money to move construction materials to the moon. Might as well use what could already be there to defray some costs and clean up the space around our world. Reply
- Mikeo999 It would take a lot of extra fuel to get a satellite to the moon, though Reply
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Gonorrhea Is Becoming Drug Resistant. Scientists Just Found a Solution.
A new antibiotic, zoliflodacin, is as effective as the current standard of care. Its creation may hasten the arrival of other needed antibiotics.
By Apoorva Mandavilli
A new antibiotic, the first to be developed in decades, can cure gonorrhea infections at least as effectively as the most powerful current treatment, a large clinical trial has found. The drug, zoliflodacin, is taken as a single dose, and it has not yet been approved for use in any country.
But the drug was developed in a way that experts hope will make it widely accessible and will prevent widespread drug resistance.
Why It Matters: Gonorrhea is a major global problem.
With more than 82 million new infections recorded worldwide in 2020, gonorrhea is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases. The pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, spreads through sexual contact to the genitals, rectum and throat.
About half of infected people show no symptoms, but in others gonorrhea can lead to painful joints and burning urination. Left untreated, it can cause infertility and sterility, blindness in infants or even death.
Over the years, the bacterium has found a way to dodge nearly every available antibiotic. It has become resistant to azithromycin and is increasingly resistant to another antibiotic called ceftriaxone, which is now the standard of care.
The most powerful defense combines a shot of ceftriaxone with azithromycin, but some evidence hints that gonorrhea is evolving to sidestep even that treatment.
Zoliflodacin is a new type of antibiotic, boosting hopes that the bacterium will remain susceptible to it for a long time.
“This is a new drug, genuinely solving a problem that really needs to be solved,” said Dr. Manica Balasegaram, executive director of Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership, or G.A.R.D.P., a nonprofit that shepherded the drug’s development.
“This doesn’t happen often,” he added.
The Back Story: A clever way to create new antibiotics.
Pharmaceutical companies have largely abandoned antibiotic development as unprofitable. The development of zoliflodacin represents a new model: G.A.R.D.P., which is funded by many Group of 20 countries and the European Union, developed the drug in collaboration with an American pharmaceutical company called Innoviva Specialty Therapeutics.
The nonprofit sponsored the Phase 3 trial of the drug. In exchange, it holds the license to sell the antibiotic in about 160 countries while Innoviva retains marketing rights for high-income countries.
“I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s probably the only way in which we develop antibiotics going forward, because the old model is simply not going to work,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton University who chairs the G.A.R.D.P. board.
The agreement ensures that the antibiotic will be available and affordable for people in low- and middle-income countries.
“Nobody’s making a boatload of money off treatment of gonorrhea, especially when you’re using a single dose of an oral antibiotic,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“This is a path forward to solve the dilemma of getting pathways for products that don’t guarantee profits,” Dr. Marrazzo said.
What We Don’t Know: The drug may not cure all cases.
The clinical trial enrolled 930 people in five countries, the largest so far for a gonorrhea treatment. It showed that zoliflodacin was as effective at treating gonorrhea as the combination of ceftriaxone and azithromycin.
The trial was designed to test how well zoliflodacin works in the urogenital tract. Based on previous research , the drug is unlikely to be as effective in the throat and rectum, said Dr. Marrazzo. But “this will give us a pathway to at least address very common infections, particularly in women, worldwide,” she said.
The drugmakers were more sanguine. The numbers of throat and rectal infections were too small to produce firm results, “but we’re very encouraged because they were comparable” to the urogenital tract, said Dr. Margaret Koziel, Innoviva’s chief medical officer.
What’s Next: Scientists will try to prevent resistance.
The more widely a drug is used, the greater the chances that pathogens will find ways to defend against it. In studies, zoliflodacin appears to be effective against a wide range of resistant strains of gonorrhea.
But that does not preclude the possibility that the bacterium may yet evolve to dodge the drug. The partnership’s agreement minimizes that chance: The nonprofit plans to manage how the drug is distributed, and to see that it is used only to treat gonorrhea.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the form in which zoliflodacin was administered in a trial. It was given as an oral suspension, not a pill.
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Apoorva Mandavilli is a reporter focused on science and global health. She was a part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of the pandemic. More about Apoorva Mandavilli