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Problem Solving

Problem or Exercise?

The main activity of mathematics is solving problems. However, what most people experience in most mathematics classrooms is practice exercises. An exercise is different from a problem.

In a problem , you probably don’t know at first how to approach solving it. You don’t know what mathematical ideas might be used in the solution. Part of solving a problem is understanding what is being asked, and knowing what a solution should look like. Problems often involve false starts, making mistakes, and lots of scratch paper!

In an exercise , you are often practicing a skill.  You may have seen a teacher demonstrate a technique, or you may have read a worked example in the book.  You then practice on very similar assignments, with the goal of mastering that skill.

Note: What is a problem for some people may be an exercise for other people who have more background knowledge! For a young student just learning addition, this might be a problem:

\underline{\qquad} + 4 = 7

But for you, that is an exercise!

Both problems and exercises are important in mathematics learning. But we should never forget that the ultimate goal is to develop more and better skills (through exercises) so that we can solve harder and more interesting problems.

Learning math is a bit like learning to play a sport. You can practice a lot of skills:

  • hitting hundreds of forehands in tennis so that you can place them in a particular spot in the court,
  • breaking down strokes into the component pieces in swimming so that each part of the stroke is more efficient,
  • keeping control of the ball while making quick turns in soccer,
  • shooting free throws in basketball,
  • catching high fly balls in baseball,

But the point of the sport is to play the game. You practice the skills so that you are better at playing the game. In mathematics, solving problems is playing the game!

On Your Own

For each question below, decide if it is a problem or an exercise . (You do not need to solve the problems! Just decide which category it fits for you.) After you have labeled each one, compare your answers with a partner.

1. This clock has been broken into three pieces. If you add the numbers in each piece, the sums are consecutive numbers.(Note: Consecutive numbers are whole numbers that appear one after the other, such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 13, 14, 15. )

problem solving vs exercise

Can you break another clock into a different number of pieces so that the sums are consecutive numbers?   Assume that each piece has at least two numbers and that no number is damaged (e.g. 12 isn’t split into two digits 1 and 2).

2. A soccer coach began the year with a $500 budget.  By the end of December, the coach spent $450.  How much money in the budget was not spent?

3. What is the product of 4,500 and 27?

4. Arrange the digits 1–6 into a “difference triangle” where each number in the row below is the difference of the two numbers above it.

5. Simplify the following expression:

\[\displaystyle \frac{2 + 2(5^3-4^2)^5 - 2^2}{2(5^3-4^2)}.\]

7. You have eight coins and a balance scale. The coins look alike, but one of them is a counterfeit. The counterfeit coin is lighter than the others. You may only use the balance scale two times. How can you find the counterfeit coin?

problem solving vs exercise

8. How many squares, of any possible size, are on a standard 8 × 8 chess board?

9. What number is 3 more than half of 20?

10. Find the largest eight-digit number made up of the digits 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, and 4 such that the 1’s are separated by one digit, the 2’s are separated by two digits, the 3’s by three digits, and the 4’s by four digits.

Mathematics for Elementary Teachers Copyright © 2018 by Michelle Manes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Site navigation, problem-solving vs. exercise solving.

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Problem-solving

  • Involves a process used to obtain a best answer to an unknown, subject to some constraints.
  • The situation is ill defined. There is no problem statement and there is some ambiguity in the information given. Students must define the problem themselves. Assumptions must be made regarding what is known and what needs to be found.
  • The context of the problem is brand new (i.e., the student has never encountered this situation before).
  • There is no explicit statement in the problem that tells the student what knowledge / technique / skill to use in order to solve the problem.
  • There may be more than one valid approach.
  • The algorithm for solving the problem is unclear.
  • Integration of knowledge from a variety of subjects may be necessary to address all aspects of the problem.
  • Requires strong oral / written communication skills to convey the essence of the problem and present the results.

Exercise Solving

  • Involves a process to obtain the one and only right answer for the data given.
  • The situation is well defined. There is an explicit problem statement with all the necessary information (known and unknown).
  • The student has encountered similar exercises in books, in class or in homework.
  • Exercises often prescribe assumptions to be made, principles to be used and sometimes they even give hints.
  • There is usually one approach that gives the right answer.
  • A usual method is to recall familiar solutions from previously solved exercises.
  • Exercises involve one subject and in many cases only one topic from this subject.
  • Communication skills are not essential, as most of the solution involves math and sketches.

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Mathematics LibreTexts

1.3: Problem or Exercise?

  • Last updated
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  • Page ID 132866

  • Michelle Manes
  • University of Hawaii

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The main activity of mathematics is solving problems. However, most people in most American mathematics classrooms actually do practice exercises. An exercise is different from a problem.

In a problem , you probably don’t know at first how to approach solving it. You don’t know what mathematical ideas might be used in the solution. Part of solving a problem is understanding what is being asked, and knowing what a solution should look like. Problems often involve false starts, making mistakes, and lots of scratch paper!

In an exercise , you are often practicing a skill. You may have seen a teacher demonstrate a technique, or you may have read a worked example in the book. You then practice on very similar assignments, with the goal of mastering that skill.

What is a problem for some people may be an exercise for other people who have more background knowledge! For a young student just learning addition, this might be a problem:

\[\textit{Fill in the blank to make a true statement} \: \_\_\_ + 4 = 7 \ldotp \nonumber \]

But for you, that is an exercise!

Both problems and exercises are important in mathematics learning. But we should never forget that the ultimate goal is to develop more and better skills (often through exercises) so that we can solve harder and more interesting problems.

Learning math is a bit like learning to play a sport. You can practice a lot of skills:

  • hitting hundreds of forehands in tennis so that you can place them in a particular spot in the court,
  • breaking down strokes into the component pieces in swimming so that each part of the stroke is more efficient,
  • keeping control of the ball while making quick turns in soccer,
  • shooting free throws in basketball,
  • catching high fly balls in baseball,

But the point of the sport is to play the game. You practice the skills so that you are better at playing the game. In mathematics, solving problems is playing the game!

On Your Own

For each question below, decide if it is a problem or an exercise . (You do not need to solve the problems! Just decide which category it fits for you.) After you have labeled each one, compare your answers with a study partner or ask a tutor or your teacher for feedback.

  • This clock has been broken into three pieces. If you add the numbers in each piece, the sums are consecutive numbers. (Note: Consecutive numbers are integers that appear one after the other, such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 13, 14, 15. )

index-12_1.png

Can you break another clock into a different number of pieces so that the sums are consecutive numbers? Assume that each piece has at least two numbers and that no number is damaged (e.g. 12 isn’t split into two digits 1 and 2).

  • A soccer coach began the year with a $500 budget. By the end of December, the coach spent $450. How much money in the budget was not spent?
  • What is the product of 4,500 and 27?
  • Arrange the digits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 into a “difference triangle” where each number in the row below is the difference of the two numbers above it.
  • Simplify the following expression: \(\frac{2 + 2(5^{3} - 4^{2})^{5} - 2^{2}}{2(5^{3} - 4^{2})} \ldotp\)
  • What is the sum of \(\frac{5}{2}\)and \(\frac{3}{13}\)?
  • You have eight coins and a balance scale. The coins look alike, but one of them is a counterfeit. The counterfeit coin is lighter than the others. You may only use the balance scale two times. How can you find the counterfeit coin?

index-19_1-300x275.png

  • How many squares, of any possible size, are on a standard 8 × 8 chess board? Recall that a  square  is a rectangle with four sides of equal length.
  • What number is 3 more than half of 20?
  • Find the largest eight-digit number made up of the digits 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, and 4 such that the 1’s are separated by one digit, the 2’s are separated by two digits, the 3’s by three digits, and the 4’s by four digits.

There are many subtypes of problems and exercises. Of particular importance are  story problems . These are problems that involve some sort of story.

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Write two problems for a young student just learning addition, one of which is a story problem and one of which is not a story problem, that are solved by adding 5 and 11.

Problem 1 (not a story problem)

Fill in the blank: 5+11 = __

Problem 2 (a story problem)

Mo has 5 colored pencils. Her mother gives her 11 more colored pencils. How many colored pencils does she have after receiving her mother's gift?

While all kinds of exercises and problems are useful at times, story problems are particularly valuable as a teaching tool because they attach meaning and narrative to the concepts involved. They often can also prepare learners for what are often referred to as "real-world" or application problems. 

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problem solving vs exercise

Problem-Solving or Solving Problems?

By Carolyn Marchetti,

In both math and science, problem-solving is a critical skill.  It is a process that students will use throughout their schooling, work life, and beyond.  By developing problem-solving skills, our students not only learn how to tackle a math or science problem but also how to logically work their way through any types of problems that they face.  Our textbooks include word problems after every lesson – so this incorporates problem-solving skills, right?  Not necessarily.

I was at a conference over 10 years ago and heard a presenter say, “Problem-solving is what you do when you don’t know how to solve a problem”.  Solving problems, like the typical word problems found in our texts, on the other hand, is applying a known method to a problem that has already been solved before.

Here’s an example of how the majority of textbooks phrase a lesson — “Today we are going to learn how to multiply fractions.  Here are the steps to multiplying 2 fractions.   Here are some non-contextual examples to hone your skill”.  Then most follow with ‘real-life’ word problems which, more times than not, involve fractions that require multiplication. This is a routine of practicing skills.  I’m not saying that this isn’t important, just that problem solving is much more than this.

As teachers, we need to know the differences between the 21st-century skill of problem-solving and the traditional way of solving problems, and we especially need to learn how to recognize and even create true problem-solving experiences for our students.

I would like to give some tips on creating a problem-solving classroom by using an example of a task that I used when doing professional development with math teachers. The task is called The McDonald’s Claim Problem.  There are several versions of this task on the internet, but basically, it goes like this:

  • Wikipedia reports that 8% of all Americans eat at McDonald’s every day.
  • There are 310 million Americans and 12,800 McDonald’s in the United States.
  • Do you believe the Wikipedia report to be true? Create a mathematical argument to justify your position.

Tips on creating a problem-solving classroom:

  • Engage students in real-world problems that students can relate to and have a prior understanding of.  For McDonald’s, it was an interesting problem because it engaged students in prior learning – they’ve all been to McDonald’s and have all used Wikipedia.  For other tasks, videos can be used to spark interest.  For example, Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Tasks are one way to spark interest.  Another suggestion is to use a career video like the Defined STEM videos that are included with each performance task.  These videos grab students interest by answering the question of “When will I ever use this?”.
  • Use group work for problem-solving. Students can frequently help each other, and talking about a problem helps them think more critically about the steps needed to solve the problem.  By discussing the problem, students will start to realize that problems have multiple solution strategies, and some may be more effective than others.  For the McDonald’s problem, I would have teachers work in groups of 4-5. There would be many discussions among the members before even starting the task. Discussions around what does “eat at” mean?  Does the drive-through count?  Does the question mean the same 8% eat there every day?  These questions and discussions had teachers brainstorming ideas before deciding on a course of action to solve the problem.
  • There should not be a direct path to the solution.  Even better if there is not one right answer, like the McDonald’s problem, but these are harder to find.  Monitor student progress and solutions.  When they get stuck, answer their questions with other probing questions.  When the math teachers would ask me questions regarding the McDonald’s problem, I would always come back with “What does your group think?”, to encourage them to collaborate and come to a consensus.
  • Have students share their solutions. When everyone is finished, have groups present their solution to the others, especially the ones that went about the problem in different or unique ways. Having the groups share their solutions and justifications is very important for others to see various ways of problem-solving. For the McDonald’s problem, even though groups often used calculations to solve the problem and would get the same numbers, many had a different answer of “yes or no” depending on their reasoning. Hearing the different reasons from other groups can be very enlightening.  I heard a lot of “I never thought of it that way”, which is a powerful aspect of problem-solving.

There are many other tips I can give, which I will continue in a later post.  For now, I would like to leave you with a quote from a colleague: “It is better to answer 1 problem 5 different ways than to answer 5 different problems”.  In one short sentence, that is the difference between problem-solving and solving problems.

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Introduction to Problem Solving Skills

What is problem solving and why is it important.

Defining problem solving skills

The ability to solve problems is a basic life skill and is essential to our day-to-day lives, at home, at school, and at work. We solve problems every day without really thinking about how we solve them. For example: it’s raining and you need to go to the store. What do you do? There are lots of possible solutions. Take your umbrella and walk. If you don't want to get wet, you can drive, or take the bus. You might decide to call a friend for a ride, or you might decide to go to the store another day. There is no right way to solve this problem and different people will solve it differently.

Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.

Why is problem solving important? Good problem solving skills empower you not only in your personal life but are critical in your professional life. In the current fast-changing global economy, employers often identify everyday problem solving as crucial to the success of their organizations. For employees, problem solving can be used to develop practical and creative solutions, and to show independence and initiative to employers.

Throughout this case study you will be asked to jot down your thoughts in idea logs. These idea logs are used for reflection on concepts and for answering short questions. When you click on the "Next" button, your responses will be saved for that page. If you happen to close the webpage, you will lose your work on the page you were on, but previous pages will be saved. At the end of the case study, click on the "Finish and Export to PDF" button to acknowledge completion of the case study and receive a PDF document of your idea logs.

What Does Problem Solving Look Like?

IDEAL heuristic strategy for problem solving

The ability to solve problems is a skill, and just like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you get. So how exactly do you practice problem solving? Learning about different problem solving strategies and when to use them will give you a good start. Problem solving is a process. Most strategies provide steps that help you identify the problem and choose the best solution. There are two basic types of strategies: algorithmic and heuristic.

Algorithmic strategies are traditional step-by-step guides to solving problems. They are great for solving math problems (in algebra: multiply and divide, then add or subtract) or for helping us remember the correct order of things (a mnemonic such as “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to remember which way the clock changes for daylight saving time, or “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey” to remember what direction to turn bolts and screws). Algorithms are best when there is a single path to the correct solution.

But what do you do when there is no single solution for your problem? Heuristic methods are general guides used to identify possible solutions. A popular one that is easy to remember is IDEAL [ Bransford & Stein, 1993 ] :

  • I dentify the problem
  • D efine the context of the problem
  • E xplore possible strategies
  • A ct on best solution

IDEAL is just one problem solving strategy. Building a toolbox of problem solving strategies will improve your problem solving skills. With practice, you will be able to recognize and use multiple strategies to solve complex problems.

Watch the video

What is the best way to get a peanut out of a tube that cannot be moved? Watch a chimpanzee solve this problem in the video below [ Geert Stienissen, 2010 ].

[PDF transcript]

Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Describe the series of steps you think the chimpanzee used to solve this problem.

Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

  • [Page 2: What does Problem Solving Look Like?] Think of an everyday problem you've encountered recently and describe your steps for solving it.

Developing Problem Solving Processes

Problem solving is a process that uses steps to solve problems. But what does that really mean? Let's break it down and start building our toolbox of problem solving strategies.

What is the first step of solving any problem? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and identify the right cause of the problem. This may sound obvious, but similar problems can arise from different events, and the real issue may not always be apparent. To really solve the problem, it's important to find out what started it all. This is called identifying the root cause .

Example: You and your classmates have been working long hours on a project in the school's workshop. The next afternoon, you try to use your student ID card to access the workshop, but discover that your magnetic strip has been demagnetized. Since the card was a couple of years old, you chalk it up to wear and tear and get a new ID card. Later that same week you learn that several of your classmates had the same problem! After a little investigation, you discover that a strong magnet was stored underneath a workbench in the workshop. The magnet was the root cause of the demagnetized student ID cards.

The best way to identify the root cause of the problem is to ask questions and gather information. If you have a vague problem, investigating facts is more productive than guessing a solution. Ask yourself questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? When was the last time it worked correctly? What has changed since then? Can you diagram the process into separate steps? Where in the process is the problem occurring? Be curious, ask questions, gather facts, and make logical deductions rather than assumptions.

Watch Adam Savage from Mythbusters, describe his problem solving process [ ForaTv, 2010 ]. As you watch this section of the video, try to identify the questions he asks and the different strategies he uses.

Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important. Your list may be different from other people in your class—that's ok!

  • [Page 3: Developing Problem Solving Processes] Adam Savage shared many of his problem solving processes. List the ones you think are the five most important.

“The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.” — Thomas J. Watson , founder of IBM

Voices From the Field: Solving Problems

In manufacturing facilities and machine shops, everyone on the floor is expected to know how to identify problems and find solutions. Today's employers look for the following skills in new employees: to analyze a problem logically, formulate a solution, and effectively communicate with others.

In this video, industry professionals share their own problem solving processes, the problem solving expectations of their employees, and an example of how a problem was solved.

Meet the Partners:

  • Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a comprehensive, fully accredited high school with special programs in Health Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Work-Based Learning.
  • Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prepares its students with applied manufacturing technical skills, providing hands-on experience at industrial laboratories and manufacturing facilities, and instructing them in current technologies.
  • H.C. Starck in Newton, Massachusetts, specializes in processing and manufacturing technology metals, such as tungsten, niobium, and tantalum. In almost 100 years of experience, they hold over 900 patents, and continue to innovate and develop new products.
  • Nypro Healthcare in Devens, Massachusetts, specializes in precision injection-molded healthcare products. They are committed to good manufacturing processes including lean manufacturing and process validation.

Making Decisions

Now that you have a couple problem solving strategies in your toolbox, let's practice. In this exercise, you are given a scenario and you will be asked to decide what steps you would take to identify and solve the problem.

Scenario: You are a new employee and have just finished your training. As your first project, you have been assigned the milling of several additional components for a regular customer. Together, you and your trainer, Bill, set up for the first run. Checking your paperwork, you gather the tools and materials on the list. As you are mounting the materials on the table, you notice that you didn't grab everything and hurriedly grab a few more items from one of the bins. Once the material is secured on the CNC table, you load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets.

Bill tells you that since this is a rerun of a job several weeks ago, the CAD/CAM model has already been converted to CNC G-code. Bill helps you download the code to the CNC machine. He gives you the go-ahead and leaves to check on another employee. You decide to start your first run.

What problems did you observe in the video?

  • [Page 5: Making Decisions] What problems did you observe in the video?
  • What do you do next?
  • Try to fix it yourself.
  • Ask your trainer for help.

As you are cleaning up, you think about what happened and wonder why it happened. You try to create a mental picture of what happened. You are not exactly sure what the end mill hit, but it looked like it might have hit the dowel pin. You wonder if you grabbed the correct dowel pins from the bins earlier.

You can think of two possible next steps. You can recheck the dowel pin length to make sure it is the correct length, or do a dry run using the CNC single step or single block function with the spindle empty to determine what actually happened.

screenshot of cnc problem

  • Check the dowel pins.
  • Use the single step/single block function to determine what happened.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is still on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem to him. Bill asks if you know what the end mill ran into. You explain that you are not sure but you think it was the dowel pin. Bill reminds you that it is important to understand what happened so you can fix the correct problem. He suggests that you start all over again and begin with a dry run using the single step/single block function, with the spindle empty, to determine what it hit. Or, since it happened at the end, he mentions that you can also check the G-code to make sure the Z-axis is raised before returning to the home position.

ask help from a more experienced person

  • Run the single step/single block function.
  • Edit the G-code to raise the Z-axis.

You finish cleaning up and check the CNC for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. You check your paperwork and gather the components and materials again. You look at the dowel pins you used earlier, and discover that they are not the right length. As you go to grab the correct dowel pins, you have to search though several bins. For the first time, you are aware of the mess - it looks like the dowel pins and other items have not been put into the correctly labeled bins. You spend 30 minutes straightening up the bins and looking for the correct dowel pins.

Finally finding them, you finish setting up. You load tools into the tool carousel in the order listed on the tool list and set the fixture offsets. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do a dry run of the part. Everything looks good! You are ready to create your first part. The first component is done, and, as you admire your success, you notice that the part feels hotter than it should.

You wonder why? You go over the steps of the process to mentally figure out what could be causing the residual heat. You wonder if there is a problem with the CNC's coolant system or if the problem is in the G-code.

  • Look at the G-code.

After thinking about the problem, you decide that maybe there's something wrong with the setup. First, you clean up the damaged materials and remove the broken tool. You check the CNC machine carefully for any damage. Luckily, everything looks good. It is time to start over again from the beginning.

You again check your paperwork and gather the tools and materials on the setup sheet. After securing the new materials, you use the CNC single step/single block function with the spindle empty, to do a dry run of the part. You watch carefully to see if you can figure out what happened. It looks to you like the spindle barely misses hitting the dowel pin. You determine that the end mill was broken when it hit the dowel pin while returning to the start position.

idea at cnc machine

After conducting a dry run using the single step/single block function, you determine that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin on its return to the home position. You discuss your options with Bill. Together, you decide the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis before returning to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Just to make sure, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. You are ready to create your first part. It works. You first part is completed. Only four more to go.

software or hardware problem

As you are cleaning up, you notice that the components are hotter than you expect and the end mill looks more worn than it should be. It dawns on you that while you were milling the component, the coolant didn't turn on. You wonder if it is a software problem in the G-code or hardware problem with the CNC machine.

It's the end of the day and you decide to finish the rest of the components in the morning.

  • You decide to look at the G-code in the morning.
  • You leave a note on the machine, just in case.

You decide that the best thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to home. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code.

While editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis, you notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and at the end of the code. The coolant command error caught your attention because your coworker, Mark, mentioned having a similar issue during lunch. You change the coolant command to turn the mist on.

  • You decide to talk with your supervisor.
  • You discuss what happened with a coworker over lunch.

As you reflect on the residual heat problem, you think about the machining process and the factors that could have caused the issue. You try to think of anything and everything that could be causing the issue. Are you using the correct tool for the specified material? Are you using the specified material? Is it running at the correct speed? Is there enough coolant? Are there chips getting in the way?

Wait, was the coolant turned on? As you replay what happened in your mind, you wonder why the coolant wasn't turned on. You decide to look at the G-code to find out what is going on.

From the milling machine computer, you open the CNC G-code. You notice that there are no coolant commands. You add them in and on the next run, the coolant mist turns on and the residual heat issues is gone. Now, its on to creating the rest of the parts.

Have you ever used brainstorming to solve a problem? Chances are, you've probably have, even if you didn't realize it.

You notice that your trainer, Bill, is on the floor and decide to ask him for help. You describe the problem with the end mill breaking, and how you discovered that items are not being returned to the correctly labeled bins. You think this caused you to grab the incorrect length dowel pins on your first run. You have sorted the bins and hope that the mess problem is fixed. You then go on to tell Bill about the residual heat issue with the completed part.

Together, you go to the milling machine. Bill shows you how to check the oil and coolant levels. Everything looks good at the machine level. Next, on the CNC computer, you open the CNC G-code. While looking at the code, Bill points out that there are no coolant commands. Bill adds them in and when you rerun the program, it works.

Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Talking with Bill, you discuss the best way to fix the problem. Bill suggests editing the G-code to raise the Z-axis of the spindle before it returns to its home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code. Following the setup sheet, you re-setup the job and use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part. It works. Since you need four of each component, you move on to creating the rest of them before cleaning up and leaving for the day.

It's a new day and you have new components to create. As you are setting up, you go in search of some short dowel pins. You discover that the bins are a mess and components have not been put away in the correctly labeled bins. You wonder if this was the cause of yesterday's problem. As you reorganize the bins and straighten up the mess, you decide to mention the mess issue to Bill in your afternoon meeting.

You describe the bin mess and using the incorrect length dowels to Bill. He is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are not the first person to mention similar issues with tools and parts not being put away correctly. Chances are there is a bigger safety issue here that needs to be addressed in the next staff meeting.

In any workplace, following proper safety and cleanup procedures is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money.

You now know that the end mill was damaged when it hit the dowel pin. It seems to you that the easiest thing to do would be to edit the G-code and raise the Z-axis position of the spindle before it returns to the home position. You open the CNC control program and edit the G-code, raising the Z-axis. Starting over, you follow the setup sheet and re-setup the job. This time, you use the CNC single step/single block function, to do another dry run of the part. Everything looks good, so you run the job again and create the first part.

At the end of the day, you are reviewing your progress with your trainer, Bill. After you describe the day's events, he reminds you to always think about safety and the importance of following work procedures. He decides to bring the issue up in the next morning meeting as a reminder to everyone.

In any workplace, following proper procedures (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. One tool to improve communication is the morning meeting or huddle.

The next morning, you check the G-code to determine what is wrong with the coolant. You notice that the coolant is turned off at the beginning of the code and also at the end of the code. This is strange. You change the G-code to turn the coolant on at the beginning of the run and off at the end. This works and you create the rest of the parts.

Throughout the day, you keep wondering what caused the G-code error. At lunch, you mention the G-code error to your coworker, John. John is not surprised. He said that he encountered a similar problem earlier this week. You decide to talk with your supervisor the next time you see him.

You are in luck. You see your supervisor by the door getting ready to leave. You hurry over to talk with him. You start off by telling him about how you asked Bill for help. Then you tell him there was a problem and the end mill was damaged. You describe the coolant problem in the G-code. Oh, and by the way, John has seen a similar problem before.

Your supervisor doesn't seem overly concerned, errors happen. He tells you "Good job, I am glad you were able to fix the issue." You are not sure whether your supervisor understood your explanation of what happened or that it had happened before.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor that something is not going well, it is important to remember that timing, preparation, and attitude are extremely important.

It is the end of your shift, but you want to let the next shift know that the coolant didn't turn on. You do not see your trainer or supervisor around. You decide to leave a note for the next shift so they are aware of the possible coolant problem. You write a sticky note and leave it on the monitor of the CNC control system.

How effective do you think this solution was? Did it address the problem?

In this scenario, you discovered several problems with the G-code that need to be addressed. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring and avoid injury to personnel. The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas and concerns. If you need to tell your co-workers or supervisor that there is a problem, it is important to remember that timing and the method of communication are extremely important.

You are able to fix the coolant problem in the G-code. While you are glad that the problem is fixed, you are worried about why it happened in the first place. It is important to remember that if a problem keeps reappearing, you may not be fixing the right problem. You may only be addressing the symptoms.

You decide to talk to your trainer. Bill is glad you mentioned the problem to him. You are the third worker to mention G-code issues over the last week. You noticed the coolant problems in your G-code, John noticed a Z-axis issue in his G-code, and Sam had issues with both the Z-axis and the coolant. Chances are, there is a bigger problem and Bill will need to investigate the root cause .

Over lunch, you ask your coworkers about the G-code problem and what may be causing the error. Several people mention having similar problems but do not know the cause.

You have now talked to three coworkers who have all experienced similar coolant G-code problems. You make a list of who had the problem, when they had the problem, and what each person told you.

When you see your supervisor later that afternoon, you are ready to talk with him. You describe the problem you had with your component and the damaged bit. You then go on to tell him about talking with Bill and discovering the G-code issue. You show him your notes on your coworkers' coolant issues, and explain that you think there might be a bigger problem.

You supervisor thanks you for your initiative in identifying this problem. It sounds like there is a bigger problem and he will need to investigate the root cause. He decides to call a team huddle to discuss the issue, gather more information, and talk with the team about the importance of communication.

Root Cause Analysis

flower root cause of a problem

Root cause analysis ( RCA ) is a method of problem solving that identifies the underlying causes of an issue. Root cause analysis helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. RCA uses clear cut steps in its associated tools, like the "5 Whys Analysis" and the "Cause and Effect Diagram," to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

  • Determine what happened.
  • Determine why it happened.
  • Fix the problem so it won’t happen again.

RCA works under the idea that systems and events are connected. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it developed into the problem you're now facing. Root cause analysis can prevent problems from recurring, reduce injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money. There are many different RCA techniques available to determine the root cause of a problem. These are just a few:

  • Root Cause Analysis Tools
  • 5 Whys Analysis
  • Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram
  • Pareto Analysis

5 whys diagram root cause

How Huddles Work

group huddle discussion meeting

Communication is a vital part of any setting where people work together. Effective communication helps employees and managers form efficient teams. It builds trusts between employees and management, and reduces unnecessary competition because each employee knows how their part fits in the larger goal.

One tool that management can use to promote communication in the workplace is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting where everyone is standing in a circle. A daily team huddle ensures that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, reiterated problems and safety issues, and how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

The most important thing to remember about huddles is that they are short, lasting no more than 10 minutes, and their purpose is to communicate and identify. In essence, a huddle’s purpose is to identify priorities, communicate essential information, and discover roadblocks to productivity.

Who uses huddles? Many industries and companies use daily huddles. At first thought, most people probably think of hospitals and their daily patient update meetings, but lots of managers use daily meetings to engage their employees. Here are a few examples:

  • Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk? , uses the daily huddle as an operational tool to take the pulse of his employees and as a motivational tool. Watch a morning huddle meeting .
  • Fusion OEM, an outsourced manufacturing and production company. What do employees take away from the daily huddle meeting .
  • Biz-Group, a performance consulting group. Tips for a successful huddle .

Brainstorming

brainstorming small lightbulbs combined become a big idea

One tool that can be useful in problem solving is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination . The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually. Like most problem solving techniques, brainstorming is a process.

  • Define a clear objective.
  • Have an agreed a time limit.
  • During the brainstorming session, write down everything that comes to mind, even if the idea sounds crazy.
  • If one idea leads to another, write down that idea too.
  • Combine and refine ideas into categories of solutions.
  • Assess and analyze each idea as a potential solution.

When used during problem solving, brainstorming can offer companies new ways of encouraging staff to think creatively and improve production. Brainstorming relies on team members' diverse experiences, adding to the richness of ideas explored. This means that you often find better solutions to the problems. Team members often welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and can provide buy-in for the solution chosen—after all, they are more likely to be committed to an approach if they were involved in its development. What's more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond.

  • Watch Peggy Morgan Collins, a marketing executive at Power Curve Communications discuss How to Stimulate Effective Brainstorming .
  • Watch Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, a digital content company, and her team share their top five rules for How to Effectively Generate Ideas .

Importance of Good Communication and Problem Description

talking too much when describing a problem

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide when you talk to your supervisor.

Tips for clear communication of an issue:

  • Provide a clear summary of your problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.
  • Avoid including your opinion or personal attacks in your explanation.
  • Avoid using words like "always" or "never," which can give the impression that you are exaggerating the problem.
  • If this is an ongoing problem and you have collected documentation, give it to your supervisor once you have finished describing the problem.
  • Remember to listen to what's said in return; communication is a two-way process.

Not all communication is spoken. Body language is nonverbal communication that includes your posture, your hands and whether you make eye contact. These gestures can be subtle or overt, but most importantly they communicate meaning beyond what is said. When having a conversation, pay attention to how you stand. A stiff position with arms crossed over your chest may imply that you are being defensive even if your words state otherwise. Shoving your hands in your pockets when speaking could imply that you have something to hide. Be wary of using too many hand gestures because this could distract listeners from your message.

The challenge of communicating in the workplace is learning how and when to share your ideas or concerns. If you need to tell your supervisor or co-worker about something that is not going well, keep in mind that good timing and good attitude will go a long way toward helping your case.

Like all skills, effective communication needs to be practiced. Toastmasters International is perhaps the best known public speaking organization in the world. Toastmasters is open to anyone who wish to improve their speaking skills and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so. To learn more, visit Toastmasters International .

Methods of Communication

different ways to communicate

Communication of problems and issues in any workplace is important, particularly when safety is involved. It is therefore crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. As issues and problems arise, they need to be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important skill because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

There are many different ways to communicate: in person, by phone, via email, or written. There is no single method that fits all communication needs, each one has its time and place.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response through their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

Email: Email has become the communication standard for most businesses. It can be accessed from almost anywhere and is great for things that don’t require an immediate response. Email is a great way to communicate non-urgent items to large amounts of people or just your team members. One thing to remember is that most people's inboxes are flooded with emails every day and unless they are hyper vigilant about checking everything, important items could be missed. For issues that are urgent, especially those around safety, email is not always be the best solution.

Phone: Phone calls are more personal and direct than email. They allow us to communicate in real time with another person, no matter where they are. Not only can talking prevent miscommunication, it promotes a two-way dialogue. You don’t have to worry about your words being altered or the message arriving on time. However, mobile phone use and the workplace don't always mix. In particular, using mobile phones in a manufacturing setting can lead to a variety of problems, cause distractions, and lead to serious injury.

Written: Written communication is appropriate when detailed instructions are required, when something needs to be documented, or when the person is too far away to easily speak with over the phone or in person.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for your situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

  • [Page 6:] Did you notice any other potential problems in the previous exercise?

Summary of Strategies

In this exercise, you were given a scenario in which there was a problem with a component you were creating on a CNC machine. You were then asked how you wanted to proceed. Depending on your path through this exercise, you might have found an easy solution and fixed it yourself, asked for help and worked with your trainer, or discovered an ongoing G-code problem that was bigger than you initially thought.

When issues and problems arise, it is important that they are addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost, and save money. Although, each path in this exercise ended with a description of a problem solving tool for your toolbox, the first step is always to identify the problem and define the context in which it happened.

There are several strategies that can be used to identify the root cause of a problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred. RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the “5 Why Analysis" or the “Cause and Effect Diagram,” to identify the origin of the problem, so that you can:

Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue defined, the next step is to explore possible strategies to fix the problem.

If you are not sure how to fix the problem, it is okay to ask for help. Problem solving is a process and a skill that is learned with practice. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one knows everything. Life is about learning. It is okay to ask for help when you don’t have the answer. When you collaborate to solve problems you improve workplace communication and accelerates finding solutions as similar problems arise.

One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming . Brainstorming is a technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution to a problem. The method was first popularized in 1953 by Alex Faickney Osborn in the book Applied Imagination. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done in a group, it can be done individually.

Depending on your path through the exercise, you may have discovered that a couple of your coworkers had experienced similar problems. This should have been an indicator that there was a larger problem that needed to be addressed.

In any workplace, communication of problems and issues (especially those that involve safety) is always important. This is especially crucial in manufacturing where people are constantly working with heavy, costly, and sometimes dangerous equipment. When issues and problems arise, it is important that they be addressed in an efficient and timely manner. Effective communication is an important tool because it can prevent problems from recurring, avoid injury to personnel, reduce rework and scrap, and ultimately, reduce cost and save money.

One strategy for improving communication is the huddle . Just like football players on the field, a huddle is a short meeting with everyone standing in a circle. A daily team huddle is a great way to ensure that team members are aware of changes to the schedule, any problems or safety issues are identified and that team members are aware of how their work impacts one another. When done right, huddles create collaboration, communication, and accountability to results. Impromptu huddles can be used to gather information on a specific issue and get each team member's input.

To learn more about different problem solving strategies, choose an option below. These strategies accompany the outcomes of different decision paths in the problem solving exercise.

  • View Problem Solving Strategies Select a strategy below... Root Cause Analysis How Huddles Work Brainstorming Importance of Good Problem Description Methods of Communication

Communication is one of the most frequent activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we have all felt that we did not effectively communicate an idea as we would have liked. The key to effective communication is preparation. Rather than attempting to haphazardly improvise something, take a few minutes and think about what you want say and how you will say it. If necessary, write yourself a note with the key points or ideas in the order you want to discuss them. The notes can act as a reminder or guide during your meeting.

  • Provide a clear summary of the problem. Start at the beginning, give relevant facts, timelines, and examples.

In person: In the workplace, face-to-face meetings should be utilized whenever possible. Being able to see the person you need to speak to face-to-face gives you instant feedback and helps you gauge their response in their body language. Be careful of getting sidetracked in conversation when you need to communicate a problem.

There is no "right" way to communicate, but you should be aware of how and when to use the appropriate form of communication for the situation. When deciding the best way to communicate with a co-worker or manager, put yourself in their shoes, and think about how you would want to learn about the issue. Also, consider what information you would need to know to better understand the issue. Use your good judgment of the situation and be considerate of your listener's viewpoint.

"Never try to solve all the problems at once — make them line up for you one-by-one.” — Richard Sloma

Problem Solving: An Important Job Skill

Problem solving improves efficiency and communication on the shop floor. It increases a company's efficiency and profitability, so it's one of the top skills employers look for when hiring new employees. Recent industry surveys show that employers consider soft skills, such as problem solving, as critical to their business’s success.

The 2011 survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing ," polled over a thousand manufacturing executives who reported that the number one skill deficiency among their current employees is problem solving, which makes it difficult for their companies to adapt to the changing needs of the industry.

In this video, industry professionals discuss their expectations and present tips for new employees joining the manufacturing workforce.

Quick Summary

  • [Quick Summary: Question1] What are two things you learned in this case study?
  • What question(s) do you still have about the case study?
  • [Quick Summary: Question2] What question(s) do you still have about the case study?
  • Is there anything you would like to learn more about with respect to this case study?
  • [Quick Summary: Question3] Is there anything you would like to learn more about with respect to this case study?

problem solving vs exercise

Mathematics for Teaching

This site is NOT about making mathematics easy because it isn't. It is about making it make sense because it does.

Tag: problem solving vs exercise

Use of exercises and problem solving in math teaching.

Mathematical tasks can be classified broadly in two general types: exercises and problem solving tasks. Exercises are tasks used for practice and mastery of skills. Here, students already know how to complete the tasks. Problem solving on the other hand are tasks in which the solution or answer are not readily apparent. Students need to strategize – to understand the situation, to plan and think of mathematical model, and to carry-out and evaluate their method and answer.

Exercises and problem solving in teaching

Problem solving is at the heart of mathematics yet in many mathematics classes ( and textbooks) problem solving activities are relegated at the end of the unit and therefore are usually not taught and given emphasis because the teacher needs to finish the syllabus. The graph below represents the distribution of the two types of tasks in many of our mathematics classes in my part of the globe. It is not based on any formal empirical surveys but almost all the teachers attending our teacher-training seminars describe their use of problem solving and exercises like the one shown in the graph. We have also observed this  distribution in many of the math classes we visit.

problem solving vs exercise

The graph shows that most of the time students are doing practice exercises. So, one should not be surprised that students think of mathematics as a a bunch of rules and procedures. Very little time is devoted to problem solving activities in school mathematics and they are usually at the end of the lesson. The little time devoted to problem solving communicates to students that problem solving is not an important part of mathematical activity.

Exercises are important. One need to acquire a certain degree of fluency in basic mathematical procedures. But far more important to learn in mathematics is for students to learn to think mathematically and to have conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts. Conceptual understanding involves knowing what, knowing how, knowing why, and knowing when (to apply). What could be a better context for learning this than in the context of solving problems. In the words of S. L. Rubinshtein (1989, 369) “thinking usually starts from a problem or question, from surprise or bewilderment, from a contradiction”.

My ideal distribution of exercises and problem solving activities in mathematics classes is shown in the the following graph.

problem solving vs exercise

What is teaching for and teaching through problem solving?

Problems in mathematics need not always have to be an application problem. These types of problems are the ones we usually give at the end of the unit. When we do this we are teaching for problem solving. But there are problem solving tasks that are best given at the start of the unit. These are the ones that can be solved by previously learned concepts and would involve solutions that teachers can use to introduce a new mathematical concept. This strategy of structuring a lesson is called Teaching through Problem Solving . In this kind of lesson, the structure of the task is king. I described the characteristics of this task in Features of Good Problem Solving Tasks . Most, if not all of the lessons contained in this blog are of this type. Some examples:

  • Teaching triangle congruence through problem solving
  • Teaching the properties of equality through problem solving
  • Principles for Teaching Problem Solving
  • Mathematics through Problem Solving
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Do You Solve Programming Problems or Complete Exercises? (The Difference Matters.)

Amy Haddad

People tend to use the terms “problems” and “exercises” interchangeably. But there’s a difference—and it matters.

Professor Paul Zeitz makes the distinction.

Take 5 × 5. That’s easy, and that’s an exercise. So is 5,490,900 × 496. It’s a bit harder and will take you more time to solve, but you know what to do. That’s the key point.

“An exercise is a mathematical question that you immediately know how to answer,” explains Zeitz in a lecture series on problem-solving . “You may not answer it correctly, in fact you may never answer it correctly...but there’s no doubt about how to proceed.”

Not so with problems. A problem, according to Zeitz, “is a mathematical question that you do not know how to answer, at least initially.”

He defines problems and exercises through the lens of mathematical problem-solving, but they’re applicable to programming as well.

Each day we put our problem-solving skills to work as programmers: debugging code, learning a new topic, or even solving a problem. Exercises have their place, but as a programmer there’s no replacement for solving problems.

Exercise with Exercises

There are two ways you can benefit from exercises. First, they’re helpful when learning a new topic.

I’m learning JavaScript right now and using a mix of exercises and problems to do so. The exercises help me see patterns and get comfortable with concepts and syntax.

Here’s an example of an exercise from a project that asked me to write a function, which took an array of cars.

I had to sort the array of objects by the car_model key, in ascending order.

It’s not to say this exercise was a breeze—it wasn’t. It took me time and I got my fair share of error messages.

However, it qualifies as an exercise because I knew what I needed to do from the start.

I’d recently learned about arrays in JavaScript. I was familiar with sorting data from my experience with Python, though I had to research how to do this in JavaScript. The explicit directions helped, too.

But the concepts were still new. I needed practice putting them together, which is why this exercise was valuable. Repetition breeds familiarity, and the concepts began to solidify in my mind.

Maintain What You’ve Gained

Exercises also help keep learned information fresh.

As I learn JavaScript, I don’t want to forget everything I’ve learned about the first language I learned, Python. So I use Anki, a flashcard program, multiple times per day.

In this context, exercises help you keep a mountain of material straight, remind you of important concepts, and get more comfortable using a particular data structure or approach. It’s maintenance work on the body of knowledge you’ve gained so far.

I have over 1,000 cards that are filled with material I’ve seen many times before. Some cards have questions about syntax. Others ask me to write SQL queries or command-line or Git commands. Many others are filled with exercises, like “rotate a list of numbers to the right by one place value.”

It’s important to note that this exercise was once a problem for me. If you do a problem enough, it can become an exercise. At the same time, you can make an exercise a problem by adding a constraint .

Exercises are a slippery slope. On the one hand, they’re useful for learning purposes. On the other, it’s easy to get comfortable by sticking with exercises exclusively.

That’s the downside: staying in your comfort zone.

Dealing with Ambiguity

Programming is about problem-solving. And solving problems will take you outside of your comfort zone. This is a good thing.

For me, problems have two distinctive qualities. The first is ambiguity. Problem-solving is largely about how to effectively deal with ambiguity.

  • An error message appears each time your program runs. Why? What’s going on? Where’s the bug? How can you fix it?
  • You pull up a new problem statement. You read it and re-read it. At first glance, you’ve got no idea what’s going on, let alone what you need to do to solve it. You may even get the “deer in headlights” sensation that’s accompanied by a pit in the bottom of your stomach. (You picked a good problem!)
  • You need to learn about relational databases. That’s pretty broad. How are you going to go about it? What to focus on first? What matters most? What do you really need to know right now ?

These examples all involve ambiguity. And all of them require solving problems , whether that’s finding and trouble-shooting a bug, solving an actual problem, or learning a new topic.  

To make progress, you research, experiment, pull out the facts, create a plan, and apply a variety of problem-solving tactics. In short, you learn to figure it out. The more time you spend with a problem and the different perspectives you gain , the more layers it reveals and the closer you get to the “aha” moment.

Embrace the Struggle

The other difference with problems is the struggle. It’s real.

Problem-solving will test your mental stamina and patience. Progress can be slow, and the process tedious. I’ve toiled away at problems for hours, days, and even weeks.

It’s not to say that exercises won’t challenge you. They can. It’s one thing when you know that you need to use a particular method; you just need to get it to work properly. That’s a challenge, which can sometimes be downright frustrating.

But it’s something else entirely when you have no idea what to do from the start, which may happen multiple times when solving a problem. To me, problems are a struggle.

The best solution is to endure it and get yourself unstuck . In my experience, the struggle means I’m learning a lot and the breakthrough is usually around the corner.

As you push through the mental discomfort, you’ll find yourself thinking creatively and devising solutions you never thought of before. (You surprise and impress yourself—you know more than you think!) You’re becoming a stronger programmer.

You’ll even find yourself having fun. Problem-solving is challenging, to be sure, and even frustrating at times. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

It’s like crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. No doubt the past 13.1 miles were grueling, but crossing the finish line was worth it and I’d do it again. Solving a problem feels the same way.

Which Is It: Problems or Exercises?

When you crack open your laptop, are you going to solve problems or complete exercises?  

Exercises have benefits, and it’s fine to incorporate them into your programming sessions. I use exercises as a warm-up prior to a programming session. I’ll flip through an Anki flashcard deck for ten or fifteen minutes and work through some exercises. If I’m learning something new, like JavaScript, I may have an entire programming session devoted to exercises.

However, I devote time each day to solving problems —no matter what else I’m learning or building. Even on the days when I allocate a large chunk of time to exercises, I allocate plenty of time to solving problems, too.  

So when you’re about to start a programming session, be aware what you’re setting out to do: exercises or problems. And no matter what, make time for solving problems.

Problem-solving is a skill that takes a lot of practice and time to develop. The only way to get better is to work at it each day. It’s that important, and for good reason.

We solve problems each day as programmers, and in a variety of ways. Making time to problem-solve is a no-brainer; our work as programmers depends on it.

I write about learning to program, and the best ways to go about it ( amymhaddad.com ).

Programmer and writer | howtolearneffectively.com | dailyskillplanner.com

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Team Building Exercises – Problem Solving and Decision Making

Fun ways to turn problems into opportunities.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving vs exercise

Whether there's a complex project looming or your team members just want to get better at dealing with day-to-day issues, your people can achieve much more when they solve problems and make decisions together.

By developing their problem-solving skills, you can improve their ability to get to the bottom of complex situations. And by refining their decision-making skills, you can help them work together maturely, use different thinking styles, and commit collectively to decisions.

In this article, we'll look at three team-building exercises that you can use to improve problem solving and decision making in a new or established team.

Exercises to Build Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Skills

Use the following exercises to help your team members solve problems and make decisions together more effectively.

Exercise 1: Lost at Sea*

In this activity, participants must pretend that they've been shipwrecked and are stranded in a lifeboat. Each team has a box of matches, and a number of items that they've salvaged from the sinking ship. Members must agree which items are most important for their survival.

Download and print our team-building exercises worksheet to help you with this exercise.

This activity builds problem-solving skills as team members analyze information, negotiate and cooperate with one another. It also encourages them to listen and to think about the way they make decisions.

What You'll Need

  • Up to five people in each group.
  • A large, private room.
  • A "lost at sea" ranking chart for each team member. This should comprise six columns. The first simply lists each item (see below). The second is empty so that each team member can rank the items. The third is for group rankings. The fourth is for the "correct" rankings, which are revealed at the end of the exercise. And the fifth and sixth are for the team to enter the difference between their individual and correct score, and the team and correct rankings, respectively.
  • The items to be ranked are: a mosquito net, a can of petrol, a water container, a shaving mirror, a sextant, emergency rations, a sea chart, a floating seat or cushion, a rope, some chocolate bars, a waterproof sheet, a fishing rod, shark repellent, a bottle of rum, and a VHF radio. These can be listed in the ranking chart or displayed on a whiteboard, or both.
  • The experience can be made more fun by having some lost-at-sea props in the room.

Flexible, but normally between 25 and 40 minutes.

Instructions

  • Divide participants into their teams, and provide everyone with a ranking sheet.
  • Ask team members to take 10 minutes on their own to rank the items in order of importance. They should do this in the second column of their sheet.
  • Give the teams a further 10 minutes to confer and decide on their group rankings. Once agreed, they should list them in the third column of their sheets.
  • Ask each group to compare their individual rankings with their collective ones, and consider why any scores differ. Did anyone change their mind about their own rankings during the team discussions? How much were people influenced by the group conversation?
  • Now read out the "correct" order, collated by the experts at the US Coast Guard (from most to least important): - Shaving mirror. (One of your most powerful tools, because you can use it to signal your location by reflecting the sun.) - Can of petrol. (Again, potentially vital for signaling as petrol floats on water and can be lit by your matches.) - Water container. (Essential for collecting water to restore your lost fluids.) -Emergency rations. (Valuable for basic food intake.) - Plastic sheet. (Could be used for shelter, or to collect rainwater.) -Chocolate bars. (A handy food supply.) - Fishing rod. (Potentially useful, but there is no guarantee that you're able to catch fish. Could also feasibly double as a tent pole.) - Rope. (Handy for tying equipment together, but not necessarily vital for survival.) - Floating seat or cushion. (Useful as a life preserver.) - Shark repellent. (Potentially important when in the water.) - Bottle of rum. (Could be useful as an antiseptic for treating injuries, but will only dehydrate you if you drink it.) - Radio. (Chances are that you're out of range of any signal, anyway.) - Sea chart. (Worthless without navigational equipment.) - Mosquito net. (Assuming that you've been shipwrecked in the Atlantic, where there are no mosquitoes, this is pretty much useless.) - Sextant. (Impractical without relevant tables or a chronometer.)

Advice for the Facilitator

The ideal scenario is for teams to arrive at a consensus decision where everyone's opinion is heard. However, that doesn't always happen naturally: assertive people tend to get the most attention. Less forthright team members can often feel intimidated and don't always speak up, particularly when their ideas are different from the popular view. Where discussions are one-sided, draw quieter people in so that everyone is involved, but explain why you're doing this, so that people learn from it.

You can use the Stepladder Technique when team discussion is unbalanced. Here, ask each team member to think about the problem individually and, one at a time, introduce new ideas to an appointed group leader – without knowing what ideas have already been discussed. After the first two people present their ideas, they discuss them together. Then the leader adds a third person, who presents his or her ideas before hearing the previous input. This cycle of presentation and discussion continues until the whole team has had a chance to voice their opinions.

After everyone has finished the exercise, invite your teams to evaluate the process to draw out their experiences. For example, ask them what the main differences between individual, team and official rankings were, and why. This will provoke discussion about how teams arrive at decisions, which will make people think about the skills they must use in future team scenarios, such as listening , negotiating and decision-making skills, as well as creativity skills for thinking "outside the box."

A common issue that arises in team decision making is groupthink . This can happen when a group places a desire for mutual harmony above a desire to reach the right decision, which prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.

If there are frequent unanimous decisions in any of your exercises, groupthink may be an issue. Suggest that teams investigate new ways to encourage members to discuss their views, or to share them anonymously.

Exercise 2: The Great Egg Drop*

In this classic (though sometimes messy!) game, teams must work together to build a container to protect an egg, which is dropped from a height. Before the egg drop, groups must deliver presentations on their solutions, how they arrived at them, and why they believe they will succeed.

This fun game develops problem-solving and decision-making skills. Team members have to choose the best course of action through negotiation and creative thinking.

  • Ideally at least six people in each team.
  • Raw eggs – one for each group, plus some reserves in case of accidents!
  • Materials for creating the packaging, such as cardboard, tape, elastic bands, plastic bottles, plastic bags, straws, and scissors.
  • Aprons to protect clothes, paper towels for cleaning up, and paper table cloths, if necessary.
  • Somewhere – ideally outside – that you can drop the eggs from. (If there is nowhere appropriate, you could use a step ladder or equivalent.)
  • Around 15 to 30 minutes to create the packages.
  • Approximately 15 minutes to prepare a one-minute presentation.
  • Enough time for the presentations and feedback (this will depend on the number of teams).
  • Time to demonstrate the egg "flight."
  • Put people into teams, and ask each to build a package that can protect an egg dropped from a specified height (say, two-and-a-half meters) with the provided materials.
  • Each team must agree on a nominated speaker, or speakers, for their presentation.
  • Once all teams have presented, they must drop their eggs, assess whether the eggs have survived intact, and discuss what they have learned.

When teams are making their decisions, the more good options they consider, the more effective their final decision is likely to be. Encourage your groups to look at the situation from different angles, so that they make the best decision possible. If people are struggling, get them to brainstorm – this is probably the most popular method of generating ideas within a team.

Ask the teams to explore how they arrived at their decisions, to get them thinking about how to improve this process in the future. You can ask them questions such as:

  • Did the groups take a vote, or were members swayed by one dominant individual?
  • How did the teams decide to divide up responsibilities? Was it based on people's expertise or experience?
  • Did everyone do the job they volunteered for?
  • Was there a person who assumed the role of "leader"?
  • How did team members create and deliver the presentation, and was this an individual or group effort?

Exercise 3: Create Your Own*

In this exercise, teams must create their own, brand new, problem-solving activity.

This game encourages participants to think about the problem-solving process. It builds skills such as creativity, negotiation and decision making, as well as communication and time management. After the activity, teams should be better equipped to work together, and to think on their feet.

  • Ideally four or five people in each team.
  • Paper, pens and flip charts.

Around one hour.

  • As the participants arrive, you announce that, rather than spending an hour on a problem-solving team-building activity, they must design an original one of their own.
  • Divide participants into teams and tell them that they have to create a new problem-solving team-building activity that will work well in their organization. The activity must not be one that they have already participated in or heard of.
  • After an hour, each team must present their new activity to everyone else, and outline its key benefits.

There are four basic steps in problem solving : defining the problem, generating solutions, evaluating and selecting solutions, and implementing solutions. Help your team to think creatively at each stage by getting them to consider a wide range of options. If ideas run dry, introduce an alternative brainstorming technique, such as brainwriting . This allows your people to develop one others' ideas, while everyone has an equal chance to contribute.

After the presentations, encourage teams to discuss the different decision-making processes they followed. You might ask them how they communicated and managed their time . Another question could be about how they kept their discussion focused. And to round up, you might ask them whether they would have changed their approach after hearing the other teams' presentations.

Successful decision making and problem solving are at the heart of all effective teams. While teams are ultimately led by their managers, the most effective ones foster these skills at all levels.

The exercises in this article show how you can encourage teams to develop their creative thinking, leadership , and communication skills , while building group cooperation and consensus.

* Original source unknown. Please let us know if you know the original source.

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HOCS Problem Solving vs. LOCS Exercise Solving: What Do College Science Students Prefer?

Cite this chapter.

problem solving vs exercise

  • Uri Zoller 4  

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The acquisition of higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS) such as problem (not exercise) solving, decision making and critical thinking, by our students, constitutes a major instructional goal in contemporary science teaching. The driving force for this research has been to provide supporting research-based evidence that will encourage the use of HOC S-promoting science teaching strategies and examinations by science teachers at all levels. The main findings of two of our relevant studies were: (1) college science students consistently perform best on algorithmic (ALG), compared to their performance on lower order cognitive skills (LOCS) which, in turn, is higher than on HOCS exam questions; (2) given a free choice, LOCS questions are pragmatically preferred on HOCS questions by the students; (3) students’ “ideological” preference is HOCS, compared to ALG/LOCS which are referred to as ‘computational questions’. The implications concerning the current HOCS-oriented reform in science education will be critically discussed.

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Zoller, U. (2003). HOCS Problem Solving vs. LOCS Exercise Solving: What Do College Science Students Prefer?. In: Psillos, D., Kariotoglou, P., Tselfes, V., Hatzikraniotis, E., Fassoulopoulos, G., Kallery, M. (eds) Science Education Research in the Knowledge-Based Society. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-0165-5_22

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35 problem-solving techniques and methods for solving complex problems

Problem solving workshop

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A step-by-step guide to planning a workshop, how to create an unforgettable training session in 8 simple steps, 47 useful online tools for workshop planning and meeting facilitation.

All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

problem solving vs exercise

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

problem solving vs exercise

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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How to master the seven-step problem-solving process

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , Simon London speaks with Charles Conn, CEO of venture-capital firm Oxford Sciences Innovation, and McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin about the complexities of different problem-solving strategies.

Podcast transcript

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast , with me, Simon London. What’s the number-one skill you need to succeed professionally? Salesmanship, perhaps? Or a facility with statistics? Or maybe the ability to communicate crisply and clearly? Many would argue that at the very top of the list comes problem solving: that is, the ability to think through and come up with an optimal course of action to address any complex challenge—in business, in public policy, or indeed in life.

Looked at this way, it’s no surprise that McKinsey takes problem solving very seriously, testing for it during the recruiting process and then honing it, in McKinsey consultants, through immersion in a structured seven-step method. To discuss the art of problem solving, I sat down in California with McKinsey senior partner Hugo Sarrazin and also with Charles Conn. Charles is a former McKinsey partner, entrepreneur, executive, and coauthor of the book Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything [John Wiley & Sons, 2018].

Charles and Hugo, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here.

Hugo Sarrazin: Our pleasure.

Charles Conn: It’s terrific to be here.

Simon London: Problem solving is a really interesting piece of terminology. It could mean so many different things. I have a son who’s a teenage climber. They talk about solving problems. Climbing is problem solving. Charles, when you talk about problem solving, what are you talking about?

Charles Conn: For me, problem solving is the answer to the question “What should I do?” It’s interesting when there’s uncertainty and complexity, and when it’s meaningful because there are consequences. Your son’s climbing is a perfect example. There are consequences, and it’s complicated, and there’s uncertainty—can he make that grab? I think we can apply that same frame almost at any level. You can think about questions like “What town would I like to live in?” or “Should I put solar panels on my roof?”

You might think that’s a funny thing to apply problem solving to, but in my mind it’s not fundamentally different from business problem solving, which answers the question “What should my strategy be?” Or problem solving at the policy level: “How do we combat climate change?” “Should I support the local school bond?” I think these are all part and parcel of the same type of question, “What should I do?”

I’m a big fan of structured problem solving. By following steps, we can more clearly understand what problem it is we’re solving, what are the components of the problem that we’re solving, which components are the most important ones for us to pay attention to, which analytic techniques we should apply to those, and how we can synthesize what we’ve learned back into a compelling story. That’s all it is, at its heart.

I think sometimes when people think about seven steps, they assume that there’s a rigidity to this. That’s not it at all. It’s actually to give you the scope for creativity, which often doesn’t exist when your problem solving is muddled.

Simon London: You were just talking about the seven-step process. That’s what’s written down in the book, but it’s a very McKinsey process as well. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s go through the steps, one by one. You were just talking about problem definition as being a particularly important thing to get right first. That’s the first step. Hugo, tell us about that.

Hugo Sarrazin: It is surprising how often people jump past this step and make a bunch of assumptions. The most powerful thing is to step back and ask the basic questions—“What are we trying to solve? What are the constraints that exist? What are the dependencies?” Let’s make those explicit and really push the thinking and defining. At McKinsey, we spend an enormous amount of time in writing that little statement, and the statement, if you’re a logic purist, is great. You debate. “Is it an ‘or’? Is it an ‘and’? What’s the action verb?” Because all these specific words help you get to the heart of what matters.

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Simon London: So this is a concise problem statement.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah. It’s not like “Can we grow in Japan?” That’s interesting, but it is “What, specifically, are we trying to uncover in the growth of a product in Japan? Or a segment in Japan? Or a channel in Japan?” When you spend an enormous amount of time, in the first meeting of the different stakeholders, debating this and having different people put forward what they think the problem definition is, you realize that people have completely different views of why they’re here. That, to me, is the most important step.

Charles Conn: I would agree with that. For me, the problem context is critical. When we understand “What are the forces acting upon your decision maker? How quickly is the answer needed? With what precision is the answer needed? Are there areas that are off limits or areas where we would particularly like to find our solution? Is the decision maker open to exploring other areas?” then you not only become more efficient, and move toward what we call the critical path in problem solving, but you also make it so much more likely that you’re not going to waste your time or your decision maker’s time.

How often do especially bright young people run off with half of the idea about what the problem is and start collecting data and start building models—only to discover that they’ve really gone off half-cocked.

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah.

Charles Conn: And in the wrong direction.

Simon London: OK. So step one—and there is a real art and a structure to it—is define the problem. Step two, Charles?

Charles Conn: My favorite step is step two, which is to use logic trees to disaggregate the problem. Every problem we’re solving has some complexity and some uncertainty in it. The only way that we can really get our team working on the problem is to take the problem apart into logical pieces.

What we find, of course, is that the way to disaggregate the problem often gives you an insight into the answer to the problem quite quickly. I love to do two or three different cuts at it, each one giving a bit of a different insight into what might be going wrong. By doing sensible disaggregations, using logic trees, we can figure out which parts of the problem we should be looking at, and we can assign those different parts to team members.

Simon London: What’s a good example of a logic tree on a sort of ratable problem?

Charles Conn: Maybe the easiest one is the classic profit tree. Almost in every business that I would take a look at, I would start with a profit or return-on-assets tree. In its simplest form, you have the components of revenue, which are price and quantity, and the components of cost, which are cost and quantity. Each of those can be broken out. Cost can be broken into variable cost and fixed cost. The components of price can be broken into what your pricing scheme is. That simple tree often provides insight into what’s going on in a business or what the difference is between that business and the competitors.

If we add the leg, which is “What’s the asset base or investment element?”—so profit divided by assets—then we can ask the question “Is the business using its investments sensibly?” whether that’s in stores or in manufacturing or in transportation assets. I hope we can see just how simple this is, even though we’re describing it in words.

When I went to work with Gordon Moore at the Moore Foundation, the problem that he asked us to look at was “How can we save Pacific salmon?” Now, that sounds like an impossible question, but it was amenable to precisely the same type of disaggregation and allowed us to organize what became a 15-year effort to improve the likelihood of good outcomes for Pacific salmon.

Simon London: Now, is there a danger that your logic tree can be impossibly large? This, I think, brings us onto the third step in the process, which is that you have to prioritize.

Charles Conn: Absolutely. The third step, which we also emphasize, along with good problem definition, is rigorous prioritization—we ask the questions “How important is this lever or this branch of the tree in the overall outcome that we seek to achieve? How much can I move that lever?” Obviously, we try and focus our efforts on ones that have a big impact on the problem and the ones that we have the ability to change. With salmon, ocean conditions turned out to be a big lever, but not one that we could adjust. We focused our attention on fish habitats and fish-harvesting practices, which were big levers that we could affect.

People spend a lot of time arguing about branches that are either not important or that none of us can change. We see it in the public square. When we deal with questions at the policy level—“Should you support the death penalty?” “How do we affect climate change?” “How can we uncover the causes and address homelessness?”—it’s even more important that we’re focusing on levers that are big and movable.

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Simon London: Let’s move swiftly on to step four. You’ve defined your problem, you disaggregate it, you prioritize where you want to analyze—what you want to really look at hard. Then you got to the work plan. Now, what does that mean in practice?

Hugo Sarrazin: Depending on what you’ve prioritized, there are many things you could do. It could be breaking the work among the team members so that people have a clear piece of the work to do. It could be defining the specific analyses that need to get done and executed, and being clear on time lines. There’s always a level-one answer, there’s a level-two answer, there’s a level-three answer. Without being too flippant, I can solve any problem during a good dinner with wine. It won’t have a whole lot of backing.

Simon London: Not going to have a lot of depth to it.

Hugo Sarrazin: No, but it may be useful as a starting point. If the stakes are not that high, that could be OK. If it’s really high stakes, you may need level three and have the whole model validated in three different ways. You need to find a work plan that reflects the level of precision, the time frame you have, and the stakeholders you need to bring along in the exercise.

Charles Conn: I love the way you’ve described that, because, again, some people think of problem solving as a linear thing, but of course what’s critical is that it’s iterative. As you say, you can solve the problem in one day or even one hour.

Charles Conn: We encourage our teams everywhere to do that. We call it the one-day answer or the one-hour answer. In work planning, we’re always iterating. Every time you see a 50-page work plan that stretches out to three months, you know it’s wrong. It will be outmoded very quickly by that learning process that you described. Iterative problem solving is a critical part of this. Sometimes, people think work planning sounds dull, but it isn’t. It’s how we know what’s expected of us and when we need to deliver it and how we’re progressing toward the answer. It’s also the place where we can deal with biases. Bias is a feature of every human decision-making process. If we design our team interactions intelligently, we can avoid the worst sort of biases.

Simon London: Here we’re talking about cognitive biases primarily, right? It’s not that I’m biased against you because of your accent or something. These are the cognitive biases that behavioral sciences have shown we all carry around, things like anchoring, overoptimism—these kinds of things.

Both: Yeah.

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.

Simon London: Right. Right.

Hugo Sarrazin: So it’s the same thing in problem solving.

Charles Conn: And it’s why diversity in our teams is so important. It’s one of the best things about the world that we’re in now. We’re likely to have people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and national backgrounds, each of whom sees problems from a slightly different perspective. It is therefore much more likely that the team will uncover a truly creative and clever approach to problem solving.

Simon London: Let’s move on to step five. You’ve done your work plan. Now you’ve actually got to do the analysis. The thing that strikes me here is that the range of tools that we have at our disposal now, of course, is just huge, particularly with advances in computation, advanced analytics. There’s so many things that you can apply here. Just talk about the analysis stage. How do you pick the right tools?

Charles Conn: For me, the most important thing is that we start with simple heuristics and explanatory statistics before we go off and use the big-gun tools. We need to understand the shape and scope of our problem before we start applying these massive and complex analytical approaches.

Simon London: Would you agree with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: I agree. I think there are so many wonderful heuristics. You need to start there before you go deep into the modeling exercise. There’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, though. In some cases, for some types of problems, it is even better to set yourself up to maximize your learning. Your problem-solving methodology is test and learn, test and learn, test and learn, and iterate. That is a heuristic in itself, the A/B testing that is used in many parts of the world. So that’s a problem-solving methodology. It’s nothing different. It just uses technology and feedback loops in a fast way. The other one is exploratory data analysis. When you’re dealing with a large-scale problem, and there’s so much data, I can get to the heuristics that Charles was talking about through very clever visualization of data.

You test with your data. You need to set up an environment to do so, but don’t get caught up in neural-network modeling immediately. You’re testing, you’re checking—“Is the data right? Is it sound? Does it make sense?”—before you launch too far.

Simon London: You do hear these ideas—that if you have a big enough data set and enough algorithms, they’re going to find things that you just wouldn’t have spotted, find solutions that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of. Does machine learning sort of revolutionize the problem-solving process? Or are these actually just other tools in the toolbox for structured problem solving?

Charles Conn: It can be revolutionary. There are some areas in which the pattern recognition of large data sets and good algorithms can help us see things that we otherwise couldn’t see. But I do think it’s terribly important we don’t think that this particular technique is a substitute for superb problem solving, starting with good problem definition. Many people use machine learning without understanding algorithms that themselves can have biases built into them. Just as 20 years ago, when we were doing statistical analysis, we knew that we needed good model definition, we still need a good understanding of our algorithms and really good problem definition before we launch off into big data sets and unknown algorithms.

Simon London: Step six. You’ve done your analysis.

Charles Conn: I take six and seven together, and this is the place where young problem solvers often make a mistake. They’ve got their analysis, and they assume that’s the answer, and of course it isn’t the answer. The ability to synthesize the pieces that came out of the analysis and begin to weave those into a story that helps people answer the question “What should I do?” This is back to where we started. If we can’t synthesize, and we can’t tell a story, then our decision maker can’t find the answer to “What should I do?”

Simon London: But, again, these final steps are about motivating people to action, right?

Charles Conn: Yeah.

Simon London: I am slightly torn about the nomenclature of problem solving because it’s on paper, right? Until you motivate people to action, you actually haven’t solved anything.

Charles Conn: I love this question because I think decision-making theory, without a bias to action, is a waste of time. Everything in how I approach this is to help people take action that makes the world better.

Simon London: Hence, these are absolutely critical steps. If you don’t do this well, you’ve just got a bunch of analysis.

Charles Conn: We end up in exactly the same place where we started, which is people speaking across each other, past each other in the public square, rather than actually working together, shoulder to shoulder, to crack these important problems.

Simon London: In the real world, we have a lot of uncertainty—arguably, increasing uncertainty. How do good problem solvers deal with that?

Hugo Sarrazin: At every step of the process. In the problem definition, when you’re defining the context, you need to understand those sources of uncertainty and whether they’re important or not important. It becomes important in the definition of the tree.

You need to think carefully about the branches of the tree that are more certain and less certain as you define them. They don’t have equal weight just because they’ve got equal space on the page. Then, when you’re prioritizing, your prioritization approach may put more emphasis on things that have low probability but huge impact—or, vice versa, may put a lot of priority on things that are very likely and, hopefully, have a reasonable impact. You can introduce that along the way. When you come back to the synthesis, you just need to be nuanced about what you’re understanding, the likelihood.

Often, people lack humility in the way they make their recommendations: “This is the answer.” They’re very precise, and I think we would all be well-served to say, “This is a likely answer under the following sets of conditions” and then make the level of uncertainty clearer, if that is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you’re always in the gray zone; it doesn’t mean you don’t have a point of view. It just means that you can be explicit about the certainty of your answer when you make that recommendation.

Simon London: So it sounds like there is an underlying principle: “Acknowledge and embrace the uncertainty. Don’t pretend that it isn’t there. Be very clear about what the uncertainties are up front, and then build that into every step of the process.”

Hugo Sarrazin: Every step of the process.

Simon London: Yeah. We have just walked through a particular structured methodology for problem solving. But, of course, this is not the only structured methodology for problem solving. One that is also very well-known is design thinking, which comes at things very differently. So, Hugo, I know you have worked with a lot of designers. Just give us a very quick summary. Design thinking—what is it, and how does it relate?

Hugo Sarrazin: It starts with an incredible amount of empathy for the user and uses that to define the problem. It does pause and go out in the wild and spend an enormous amount of time seeing how people interact with objects, seeing the experience they’re getting, seeing the pain points or joy—and uses that to infer and define the problem.

Simon London: Problem definition, but out in the world.

Hugo Sarrazin: With an enormous amount of empathy. There’s a huge emphasis on empathy. Traditional, more classic problem solving is you define the problem based on an understanding of the situation. This one almost presupposes that we don’t know the problem until we go see it. The second thing is you need to come up with multiple scenarios or answers or ideas or concepts, and there’s a lot of divergent thinking initially. That’s slightly different, versus the prioritization, but not for long. Eventually, you need to kind of say, “OK, I’m going to converge again.” Then you go and you bring things back to the customer and get feedback and iterate. Then you rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. There’s a lot of tactile building, along the way, of prototypes and things like that. It’s very iterative.

Simon London: So, Charles, are these complements or are these alternatives?

Charles Conn: I think they’re entirely complementary, and I think Hugo’s description is perfect. When we do problem definition well in classic problem solving, we are demonstrating the kind of empathy, at the very beginning of our problem, that design thinking asks us to approach. When we ideate—and that’s very similar to the disaggregation, prioritization, and work-planning steps—we do precisely the same thing, and often we use contrasting teams, so that we do have divergent thinking. The best teams allow divergent thinking to bump them off whatever their initial biases in problem solving are. For me, design thinking gives us a constant reminder of creativity, empathy, and the tactile nature of problem solving, but it’s absolutely complementary, not alternative.

Simon London: I think, in a world of cross-functional teams, an interesting question is do people with design-thinking backgrounds really work well together with classical problem solvers? How do you make that chemistry happen?

Hugo Sarrazin: Yeah, it is not easy when people have spent an enormous amount of time seeped in design thinking or user-centric design, whichever word you want to use. If the person who’s applying classic problem-solving methodology is very rigid and mechanical in the way they’re doing it, there could be an enormous amount of tension. If there’s not clarity in the role and not clarity in the process, I think having the two together can be, sometimes, problematic.

The second thing that happens often is that the artifacts the two methodologies try to gravitate toward can be different. Classic problem solving often gravitates toward a model; design thinking migrates toward a prototype. Rather than writing a big deck with all my supporting evidence, they’ll bring an example, a thing, and that feels different. Then you spend your time differently to achieve those two end products, so that’s another source of friction.

Now, I still think it can be an incredibly powerful thing to have the two—if there are the right people with the right mind-set, if there is a team that is explicit about the roles, if we’re clear about the kind of outcomes we are attempting to bring forward. There’s an enormous amount of collaborativeness and respect.

Simon London: But they have to respect each other’s methodology and be prepared to flex, maybe, a little bit, in how this process is going to work.

Hugo Sarrazin: Absolutely.

Simon London: The other area where, it strikes me, there could be a little bit of a different sort of friction is this whole concept of the day-one answer, which is what we were just talking about in classical problem solving. Now, you know that this is probably not going to be your final answer, but that’s how you begin to structure the problem. Whereas I would imagine your design thinkers—no, they’re going off to do their ethnographic research and get out into the field, potentially for a long time, before they come back with at least an initial hypothesis.

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Want better strategies? Become a bulletproof problem solver

Hugo Sarrazin: That is a great callout, and that’s another difference. Designers typically will like to soak into the situation and avoid converging too quickly. There’s optionality and exploring different options. There’s a strong belief that keeps the solution space wide enough that you can come up with more radical ideas. If there’s a large design team or many designers on the team, and you come on Friday and say, “What’s our week-one answer?” they’re going to struggle. They’re not going to be comfortable, naturally, to give that answer. It doesn’t mean they don’t have an answer; it’s just not where they are in their thinking process.

Simon London: I think we are, sadly, out of time for today. But Charles and Hugo, thank you so much.

Charles Conn: It was a pleasure to be here, Simon.

Hugo Sarrazin: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Simon London: And thanks, as always, to you, our listeners, for tuning into this episode of the McKinsey Podcast . If you want to learn more about problem solving, you can find the book, Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything , online or order it through your local bookstore. To learn more about McKinsey, you can of course find us at McKinsey.com.

Charles Conn is CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Sydney office. Hugo Sarrazin is a senior partner in the Silicon Valley office, where Simon London, a member of McKinsey Publishing, is also based.

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10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

Problem solving therapy

Cognitive science tells us that we regularly face not only well-defined problems but, importantly, many that are ill defined (Eysenck & Keane, 2015).

Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to overcome our daily problems or the inevitable (though hopefully infrequent) life traumas we face.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce the incidence and impact of mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by helping clients face life’s difficulties (Dobson, 2011).

This article introduces Problem-Solving Therapy and offers techniques, activities, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use with clients.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free . These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

What is problem-solving therapy, 14 steps for problem-solving therapy, 3 best interventions and techniques, 7 activities and worksheets for your session, fascinating books on the topic, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Problem-Solving Therapy assumes that mental disorders arise in response to ineffective or maladaptive coping. By adopting a more realistic and optimistic view of coping, individuals can understand the role of emotions and develop actions to reduce distress and maintain mental wellbeing (Nezu & Nezu, 2009).

“Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella” (Nezu, Nezu, & D’Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). It aims to encourage the client to cope better with day-to-day problems and traumatic events and reduce their impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

Clinical research, counseling, and health psychology have shown PST to be highly effective in clients of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly, across multiple clinical settings, including schizophrenia, stress, and anxiety disorders (Dobson, 2011).

Can it help with depression?

PST appears particularly helpful in treating clients with depression. A recent analysis of 30 studies found that PST was an effective treatment with a similar degree of success as other successful therapies targeting depression (Cuijpers, Wit, Kleiboer, Karyotaki, & Ebert, 2020).

Other studies confirm the value of PST and its effectiveness at treating depression in multiple age groups and its capacity to combine with other therapies, including drug treatments (Dobson, 2011).

The major concepts

Effective coping varies depending on the situation, and treatment typically focuses on improving the environment and reducing emotional distress (Dobson, 2011).

PST is based on two overlapping models:

Social problem-solving model

This model focuses on solving the problem “as it occurs in the natural social environment,” combined with a general coping strategy and a method of self-control (Dobson, 2011, p. 198).

The model includes three central concepts:

  • Social problem-solving
  • The problem
  • The solution

The model is a “self-directed cognitive-behavioral process by which an individual, couple, or group attempts to identify or discover effective solutions for specific problems encountered in everyday living” (Dobson, 2011, p. 199).

Relational problem-solving model

The theory of PST is underpinned by a relational problem-solving model, whereby stress is viewed in terms of the relationships between three factors:

  • Stressful life events
  • Emotional distress and wellbeing
  • Problem-solving coping

Therefore, when a significant adverse life event occurs, it may require “sweeping readjustments in a person’s life” (Dobson, 2011, p. 202).

problem solving vs exercise

  • Enhance positive problem orientation
  • Decrease negative orientation
  • Foster ability to apply rational problem-solving skills
  • Reduce the tendency to avoid problem-solving
  • Minimize the tendency to be careless and impulsive

D’Zurilla’s and Nezu’s model includes (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • Initial structuring Establish a positive therapeutic relationship that encourages optimism and explains the PST approach.
  • Assessment Formally and informally assess areas of stress in the client’s life and their problem-solving strengths and weaknesses.
  • Obstacles to effective problem-solving Explore typically human challenges to problem-solving, such as multitasking and the negative impact of stress. Introduce tools that can help, such as making lists, visualization, and breaking complex problems down.
  • Problem orientation – fostering self-efficacy Introduce the importance of a positive problem orientation, adopting tools, such as visualization, to promote self-efficacy.
  • Problem orientation – recognizing problems Help clients recognize issues as they occur and use problem checklists to ‘normalize’ the experience.
  • Problem orientation – seeing problems as challenges Encourage clients to break free of harmful and restricted ways of thinking while learning how to argue from another point of view.
  • Problem orientation – use and control emotions Help clients understand the role of emotions in problem-solving, including using feelings to inform the process and managing disruptive emotions (such as cognitive reframing and relaxation exercises).
  • Problem orientation – stop and think Teach clients how to reduce impulsive and avoidance tendencies (visualizing a stop sign or traffic light).
  • Problem definition and formulation Encourage an understanding of the nature of problems and set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Generation of alternatives Work with clients to help them recognize the wide range of potential solutions to each problem (for example, brainstorming).
  • Decision-making Encourage better decision-making through an improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and the value and likelihood of different outcomes.
  • Solution implementation and verification Foster the client’s ability to carry out a solution plan, monitor its outcome, evaluate its effectiveness, and use self-reinforcement to increase the chance of success.
  • Guided practice Encourage the application of problem-solving skills across multiple domains and future stressful problems.
  • Rapid problem-solving Teach clients how to apply problem-solving questions and guidelines quickly in any given situation.

Success in PST depends on the effectiveness of its implementation; using the right approach is crucial (Dobson, 2011).

Problem-solving therapy – Baycrest

The following interventions and techniques are helpful when implementing more effective problem-solving approaches in client’s lives.

First, it is essential to consider if PST is the best approach for the client, based on the problems they present.

Is PPT appropriate?

It is vital to consider whether PST is appropriate for the client’s situation. Therapists new to the approach may require additional guidance (Nezu et al., 2013).

Therapists should consider the following questions before beginning PST with a client (modified from Nezu et al., 2013):

  • Has PST proven effective in the past for the problem? For example, research has shown success with depression, generalized anxiety, back pain, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and supporting caregivers (Nezu et al., 2013).
  • Is PST acceptable to the client?
  • Is the individual experiencing a significant mental or physical health problem?

All affirmative answers suggest that PST would be a helpful technique to apply in this instance.

Five problem-solving steps

The following five steps are valuable when working with clients to help them cope with and manage their environment (modified from Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to consider the following points (forming the acronym ADAPT) when confronted by a problem:

  • Attitude Aim to adopt a positive, optimistic attitude to the problem and problem-solving process.
  • Define Obtain all required facts and details of potential obstacles to define the problem.
  • Alternatives Identify various alternative solutions and actions to overcome the obstacle and achieve the problem-solving goal.
  • Predict Predict each alternative’s positive and negative outcomes and choose the one most likely to achieve the goal and maximize the benefits.
  • Try out Once selected, try out the solution and monitor its effectiveness while engaging in self-reinforcement.

If the client is not satisfied with their solution, they can return to step ‘A’ and find a more appropriate solution.

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Positive self-statements

When dealing with clients facing negative self-beliefs, it can be helpful for them to use positive self-statements.

Use the following (or add new) self-statements to replace harmful, negative thinking (modified from Dobson, 2011):

  • I can solve this problem; I’ve tackled similar ones before.
  • I can cope with this.
  • I just need to take a breath and relax.
  • Once I start, it will be easier.
  • It’s okay to look out for myself.
  • I can get help if needed.
  • Other people feel the same way I do.
  • I’ll take one piece of the problem at a time.
  • I can keep my fears in check.
  • I don’t need to please everyone.

Worksheets for problem solving therapy

5 Worksheets and workbooks

Problem-solving self-monitoring form.

Answering the questions in the Problem-Solving Self-Monitoring Form provides the therapist with necessary information regarding the client’s overall and specific problem-solving approaches and reactions (Dobson, 2011).

Ask the client to complete the following:

  • Describe the problem you are facing.
  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried so far to solve the problem?
  • What was the outcome?

Reactions to Stress

It can be helpful for the client to recognize their own experiences of stress. Do they react angrily, withdraw, or give up (Dobson, 2011)?

The Reactions to Stress worksheet can be given to the client as homework to capture stressful events and their reactions. By recording how they felt, behaved, and thought, they can recognize repeating patterns.

What Are Your Unique Triggers?

Helping clients capture triggers for their stressful reactions can encourage emotional regulation.

When clients can identify triggers that may lead to a negative response, they can stop the experience or slow down their emotional reaction (Dobson, 2011).

The What Are Your Unique Triggers ? worksheet helps the client identify their triggers (e.g., conflict, relationships, physical environment, etc.).

Problem-Solving worksheet

Imagining an existing or potential problem and working through how to resolve it can be a powerful exercise for the client.

Use the Problem-Solving worksheet to state a problem and goal and consider the obstacles in the way. Then explore options for achieving the goal, along with their pros and cons, to assess the best action plan.

Getting the Facts

Clients can become better equipped to tackle problems and choose the right course of action by recognizing facts versus assumptions and gathering all the necessary information (Dobson, 2011).

Use the Getting the Facts worksheet to answer the following questions clearly and unambiguously:

  • Who is involved?
  • What did or did not happen, and how did it bother you?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did you respond?

2 Helpful Group Activities

While therapists can use the worksheets above in group situations, the following two interventions work particularly well with more than one person.

Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making

A group setting can provide an ideal opportunity to share a problem and identify potential solutions arising from multiple perspectives.

Use the Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making worksheet and ask the client to explain the situation or problem to the group and the obstacles in the way.

Once the approaches are captured and reviewed, the individual can share their decision-making process with the group if they want further feedback.

Visualization

Visualization can be performed with individuals or in a group setting to help clients solve problems in multiple ways, including (Dobson, 2011):

  • Clarifying the problem by looking at it from multiple perspectives
  • Rehearsing a solution in the mind to improve and get more practice
  • Visualizing a ‘safe place’ for relaxation, slowing down, and stress management

Guided imagery is particularly valuable for encouraging the group to take a ‘mental vacation’ and let go of stress.

Ask the group to begin with slow, deep breathing that fills the entire diaphragm. Then ask them to visualize a favorite scene (real or imagined) that makes them feel relaxed, perhaps beside a gently flowing river, a summer meadow, or at the beach.

The more the senses are engaged, the more real the experience. Ask the group to think about what they can hear, see, touch, smell, and even taste.

Encourage them to experience the situation as fully as possible, immersing themselves and enjoying their place of safety.

Such feelings of relaxation may be able to help clients fall asleep, relieve stress, and become more ready to solve problems.

We have included three of our favorite books on the subject of Problem-Solving Therapy below.

1. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual – Arthur Nezu, Christine Maguth Nezu, and Thomas D’Zurilla

Problem-Solving Therapy

This is an incredibly valuable book for anyone wishing to understand the principles and practice behind PST.

Written by the co-developers of PST, the manual provides powerful toolkits to overcome cognitive overload, emotional dysregulation, and the barriers to practical problem-solving.

Find the book on Amazon .

2. Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy: Treatment Guidelines – Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu

Emotion-Centered Problem-Solving Therapy

Another, more recent, book from the creators of PST, this text includes important advances in neuroscience underpinning the role of emotion in behavioral treatment.

Along with clinical examples, the book also includes crucial toolkits that form part of a stepped model for the application of PST.

3. Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies – Keith Dobson and David Dozois

Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies

This is the fourth edition of a hugely popular guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and includes a valuable and insightful section on Problem-Solving Therapy.

This is an important book for students and more experienced therapists wishing to form a high-level and in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques available to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

For even more tools to help strengthen your clients’ problem-solving skills, check out the following free worksheets from our blog.

  • Case Formulation Worksheet This worksheet presents a four-step framework to help therapists and their clients come to a shared understanding of the client’s presenting problem.
  • Understanding Your Default Problem-Solving Approach This worksheet poses a series of questions helping clients reflect on their typical cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to problems.
  • Social Problem Solving: Step by Step This worksheet presents a streamlined template to help clients define a problem, generate possible courses of action, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented solution.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

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While we are born problem-solvers, facing an incredibly diverse set of challenges daily, we sometimes need support.

Problem-Solving Therapy aims to reduce stress and associated mental health disorders and improve wellbeing by improving our ability to cope. PST is valuable in diverse clinical settings, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, with research suggesting it as a highly effective treatment for teaching coping strategies and reducing emotional distress.

Many PST techniques are available to help improve clients’ positive outlook on obstacles while reducing avoidance of problem situations and the tendency to be careless and impulsive.

The PST model typically assesses the client’s strengths, weaknesses, and coping strategies when facing problems before encouraging a healthy experience of and relationship with problem-solving.

Why not use this article to explore the theory behind PST and try out some of our powerful tools and interventions with your clients to help them with their decision-making, coping, and problem-solving?

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

  • Cuijpers, P., Wit, L., Kleiboer, A., Karyotaki, E., & Ebert, D. (2020). Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. European P sychiatry ,  48 (1), 27–37.
  • Dobson, K. S. (2011). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2021). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies  (4th ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Eysenck, M. W., & Keane, M. T. (2015). Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook . Psychology Press.
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2009). Problem-solving therapy DVD . Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310852
  • Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2018). Emotion-centered problem-solving therapy: Treatment guidelines. Springer.
  • Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2013). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual . Springer.

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Best exercises for problem-framing.

Discover our favorite exercises to help you untangle any problem and frame it for success. Workshopper is the #1 resource for facilitation and workshopping advice.

Defining just the right problem to tackle and framing it right is the groundwork of the effective problem-solving process . Without taking the time to carefully define your challenge you run the risk of focussing on all the wrong things, scattering your attention, and ultimately - solving no problem at all, or worse yet – realizing after the challenge that you should’ve focussed on a different challenge altogether. What makes things worse is that problems are rarely (if ever!) straightforward and transparent.

But not to worry, there are effective tools and exercises that will help you get to the bottom of the tangled mess that problems are.

These exercises are our personal favorites (that we use when working with clients!) for getting to the bottom of the challenges and framing them for success.

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1. How Might We

How Might We is a great note-taking technique that allows you to reframe your challenge in a more positive, solution-oriented statement. At its core, every problem is an opportunity for improvement, and the How Might We method allows you to switch the gears into the solution mode, rather than dwell on all the things that are not going your way. This exercise will help you look at your challenge from a different angle and tap into unseen before opportunities. 

For example, “ We don’t have enough sales” is not a challenge or an opportunity, it’s just a negative statement. So how can you transform it into an opportunity instead?

  • Begin by identifying and jotting down your main challenges and pain points.
  • Now, reframe these insights into questions by starting each note with “How might we…”, or by simply writing “HMW” at the top left corner of your note.
  • Write out as many “How Might We” as you can come up with! The HMWs you can gather, the more opportunities you’ll have for solution exploration.

An example of a How Might We (HMW) exercise

*You can run this exercise with the challenges you already know exist, or combine it with the next exercise on our list–Expert Interviews–to uncover bottlenecks and unearth problems you weren't aware of.

Pro tip: Make sure that your HMW is neither too broad, nor too narrow. Something like “How Might We save the business” encompasses too many areas and makes it hard to ideate a specific solution. In contrast, “How Might We increase sales by leveraging our affiliates” is too narrow, and already implies a solution.

2. Expert Interviews

Time: Approximately 30 minutes

You can’t solve a problem you don’t fully understand. But here’s the thing: getting to the nitty-gritty of each and every problem can be time-consuming. Why not take advantage of the experts who already know their domain? Expert Interviews are a great way to leverage the existing knowledge in a time effective manner.

When we talk about experts in this setting, we are referring to a person who knows more than everyone else about the whole product or parts of the product we are most interested in.

They could be talking to us about customers, legal issues, UX ideas, company considerations, finance and budgeting, AI...you get the gist.  

Whatever their role may be, they are telling us something important about what we are going to do and what they tell us will prompt ideas, challenges and questions and will help us define the challenge more clearly. 

This exercise is super easy to run:

  • Invite all your selected experts to your problem-solving session, describe the challenge at hand, and let them share their views and expertise on it.
  • Have your other team members listen to what the Experts are sharing, and as they talk, urge your participants to think about the implications this shared information has for your business or challenge. Everything that might influence the challenge you’re working on has to be noted down!
  • Tell your participants to note 1 challenge per sticky note to make working with these challenges easier in the follow-up exercises.
  • After you’re done, these notes can be turned into challenges to be worked on, and will help you get more clear on the angle of the challenge you need to tackle, where exactly you need to focus, and some underlying issues you might not have been aware of. 

Pro tip: Combine the Expert Interviews with the How Might We note-taking technique to double the efficiency! All you need to do is explain the HMW method to your participants beforehand and tell them to reframe the challenges on the fly as they listen to the expert.

3. The Sailboat

The sailboat is a nice metaphor to help teams figure out what’s moving them forward, and what’s holding them back when it comes to the challenge they’re trying to resolve. It also is a great tool that will allow you to see any emerging repeating themes that you might not have been aware of before. 

As the outcome of this exercise, you’ll have a categorised list of challenges and issues to work on.

Here’s the step-by-step process of running this exercise:

  • Start by drawing a sailboat on a white board, or in a digital whiteboard, just like so:

Sailboat exercise step 1: drawing the sailboat

  • Set the timer to 5-10 minutes and tell your participants to silently note down the things that they feel are moving the team forward when it comes to the challenge they are  working on. They should write simple statements, one per sticky note. 
  • Once the time is up, you as the facilitator will ask each participant, one by one, to stick their sticky notes to the top part of the Sailboat drawing and read them aloud to the group. The goal here is not for each person to explain each sticky in detail, simply read what's on the sticky note. Give each person 1 minute to stick up and read all their sticky notes. Once everyone is finished presenting, this part of the exercise is complete and the Sailboat will look something like this:

Sailboat exercise: what's moving us forward

  • Now you’re moving onto the more negative part of the exercise and the rules for presenting change here, too. In fact, there will be no presenting at all! This is a completely anonymous round which will allow people to be more honest!
  • Set the timer for 8-10 minutes and ask the team to write as many sticky notes as they can on "What's holding us back" in terms of solving the challenge you’re working on. Clearly state to the participants that their stickies will be anonymous this time, so they should write whatever they like.
  • Once the 8 minutes are up, ask everybody to stick their stickies to the bottom part of the Sailboat. They should do this fast and randomly without discussion. If there isn't enough space underneath the sailboat, simply have them spread them out.
  • As quickly as you can, remove duplicates from the board. Just you, no-one else, and no discussion. Once Step 2 is complete, you now have a visual overview of the challenges that the team is experiencing.

Sailboat exercise: What's holding us back

  • The final step here is to tidy things up and categorize the challenges. You could skip this step if you’re short on time, but it is a great way to give everyone a super clear overview of where most of the challenges lie.

And just like that, you have a visual categorized overview of the most pressing challenges that you can tackle!

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The Map is a great exercise for when the challenge you’re trying to tackle is complex, multi-faceted, and you just don’t know where to start.

This exercise is all about creating a high-level overview of the challenges our product or service is facing. Having a high-level overview of the challenge not only helps us to visualize where the bottlenecks are, it also helps us to choose an area of maximum impact to focus on!

Often, when teams are presented with a host of different challenges for a product or service, it might be hard to pick the right one to ficus on first. Mapping out your challenge gives you a nice visual overview of where in the workflow your challenges are. A good rule of thumb to follow is to tackle the bottlenecks that are more upstream - it’s likely that solving them will solve a couple of other challenges down the flow.

To properly run this exercise, you either need to be a subject matter expert on the topic of your challenge, or conduct prior research on the subject ( Pro tip: you can combine this with the Expert Interview exercise!)  

Once you have all the information you need to understand how the product works, it’s time to get down to business.

  • Create an outline of the Map on a whiteboard (or in a digital collaboration tool of your choice). On the left-hand side, create a column headed  ‘Actors’: these are all the people who interact with the product. Later you will list all your Actors under this heading. On the right-hand side, write out the end goal, the objective you have for your actors after they’ve gone through the whole Customer Journey.
  • Write the different stages of the Customer Journey  across the top from left to right: Discover, Learn, and Use. Your outline should look something like this:

The Map exercise: Map outline

  • Now it's time to fill in the Map. The easiest way to start is by defining the start and the end of the Map, because you usually know who your product is for, and what your goal with it is!
  • Start jotting down the ‘Actors’- all the people who interact with your product, service, or process. To keep it high-level, try to keep the number of Actors to four max, and group them if necessary (i.e. Customer Service team). After listing all relevant Actors, choose the main one - the user of this product or service that you want to focus on most .
  • Define the end goal for your main Actor. What is their end target action you want them to make? What do they want to get done? This can be as simple as “completes the check-out process”, or “subscribes to a newsletter”
  • Now fill in the Discover column.  Include  a few points about how your main Actor might first find out about your service. For example, if you’re working on a music streaming app, you might jot down things like “saw a Facebook ad” or “typed in a query into the App store”  
  • Continue filling out the Map, transitioning into the ‘Learn’ phase. Think of the steps your Actor might take once they have discovered your product or service.  How do they learn more about it?  Is there an onboarding process? How and where does the learning process take place? Jot down  a few bullet points of how your Actors find instructions, or product info.
  • The last step of the Map is called ‘Use’. This one is usually where discussion and debate breaks out, because the usage part is often the most complex. Remember to keep the Map high-level and don’t get too bogged down by the small details. Once your entire Map is filled out, it will look something like this:

The Map exercose: filled out map

Now you have a full overview of the flow of the challenge you’re working on and can use it with other tools to choose problem areas, create solutions and commit to experiments and changes.

Pro tip: If you ran a How Might We session, you could take your notes and start placing them on the respective parts of your worflow. This will allow you to visualize where most of the challenges concentrate, and what the most upstream challenge is.

5.  The Empathy Map

The Empathy Map is yet another great exercise that will help you enhance a user-centric point of view and solve challenges that are important for your users. It’s also a great tool for revealing blind spots in your user data!

  • Sketch out the Empathy Map on your (digital) whiteboard. The centre of your map is the user, surrounded by 4 quadrants, labeled with “Says”, “Thinks”, “Does” and “Feels”. Draw two rectangles under the square and name them “Pains” and “Gains”. You should have something like this:

Empathy Map exercise outline

  • Each Empathy Map is centered around one user, so if you have multiple Target Audiences, draw a separate Map for each group and run the exercise in lop until you fill out all of the Maps.
  • Name the first user or customer group you’ll be analyzing with this map.
  • Go through the four sections and explain to your team what you want to collect in each quadrant:

In the “says” section the participants will put all the things users actually said in interviews, product tests or reviews. An example would be “My favourite thing about this product is that there’s always new things to discover.”

In the “thinks” section they can also put in things they heard the users say in interviews, but also things they just assumed that the user thought. One example could be that a user raises one eyebrow when asked if the price is too high, politely says “there will be different opinions on this” but seems to think that the price is too high.

In the “does” section they put everything they can observe users do, e.g. switching between tabs all the time.

In the “feel” section they can put the emotional states of users, e.g. “I'm worried that clicking this button will delete all my previous actions”.

  • Set the timer to 10 minutes and let your team come up with as many ideas as they can. The exercise is done ina  together alone manner, and that means that there’s no discussion or sharing going on during these 10 minutes. Your team will be silently noting down things on their (digital) sticky notes. 
  • After the ten minutes are up, ask everyone to put the sticky notes up in the respective sections at the same time. Your Empathy Map will know look something like this:

EMpathy Map exercice step-by-step process

  • Now’s the time to synthesize your learnings from filling out the 4 quadrants into the pains and gains. Set the timer to 5 minutes and let your team read all of the sticky notes that you gathered on the map to make sure they got insights form other team members.  
  • Introduce the pains and gains to the group: The "pains" are the biggest frustrations of the user when using the product and challenges for the product. The “gains” are the goals and motivations of the users when using the product.
  • Set the timer to 10 minutes and let them come up with as many pains and gains on their sticky notes as they can. Again, you’re jotting one idea per sticky note, and you’re working together alone! 
  • After the time is up, let everyone stick up their insights for both sections one by one and read them aloud to the group.

And there you have it, you now have more insight into both the pain points that you need to solve for your audience, plus the benefits you need to emphasize for them. Once you know what really drives your audience it’s that much easier to spot the right challenge to tackle.

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6. draw toast.

Draw Toast is a quick and fun exercise that will get your team out of their usual thinking patterns and will allow them to take a fresh look at their mental models. 

Now, while it’s not an exercise that will help you get to the bottom of your problem per se, it’s a great launch pad for further discussions, because the exercise reveals how diverse the thinking models of the group are, priming the group to be open-minded and think laterally while discussing the challenge at hand. It works as a great warm-up before a problem-solving session. Try it out and see for yourself!

Here’s how to run the exercise: 

  • Gather all your participants in the same space (whether in-person or remote), and explain the scope of the problem you’ll be working on. Set the expectations with the group and tell them that the kick off exercise will be centered around getting a clean slate for looking at the problem with fresh eyes. 
  • Set the timer to 3 minutes, and tell the participants to draw out  the process of making a toast. Reassure them that their sketch doesn’t need to be a work of art, and tell them to concentrate on the sequence of the steps rather than on the aesthetic aspect of the task. 
  • Remember to emphasize that the exercise is done in a ‘together alone’ fashion–meaning no conversations or discussions should be taking place between the participants as they get on with their sketches.
  • Once the time is up, tell your participants to reveal their drawings to the group. Once aöö drawings have been put up on display, take the time to reflect as a group on how different each sketch is.
  • Point out that while every drawing is different, they are all fundamentally correct, opening up your participants understanding that one problem can have different solutions.
  • Play the original Draw Toast TED talk that explains the ideas about system thinking. Alternatively, you can  watch the video on your own and relay the main ideas to the group!

  • Now that you’ve done the priming, it’s time to move on to your actual challenge! Set a timer to 3-5 minutes and tell your participants to draw schematically how they see the challenge you’re currently working on. Again, the exercise is done in together alone mode, so watch out for any conversations sparking up
  • Once the time is up, let the group present their sketches. Compare the diagrams they’ve created: find the differences and point out the similarities.  

This is a great foundation for not only understanding the challenge deeper, but getting the entire tema aligned on a common understanding of the challenge.

7. The 5 Why’s

The 5 Why’s is an easy exercise out of the Design Thinking toolbox. It’s great for exploring the cause and effect of the problem, and getting to the core of the issue you’re working on.

Running the exercise is as simple, as starting with the most obvious effect of your problem, and asking “why” 5 times, until you get to the ultimate cause of it. 

The repetitive nature of the exercise allows you to build off the cause and effect relationship, and uncover the underlying issues quickly. 

For example, this is how the exercise might unfold: 

Why don’t we reach our sales targets? – Because not enough people convert from discovery calls into paid services. 

Why aren’t enough people switching to our paid services? – Because they don’t understand or see the extra benefits of our services.

Why don’t they understand the extra benefits we offer? – Because they don’t read through our promotional materials.

Why don’t they read through our promo materials? – Because the materials are too long and not interactive.

Why are our promos too long and not interactive? – We’re limited by the legal constraints of our industry.

The root cause, in this case, are the legal requirements that you are bound by. Your problem statement would likely focus on balancing marketing persuasion and legal requirements of your industry.

8. Problem Framer Workshop

And there you have it, this concludes the list of our all-time favorite exercises for problem framing and definition. Now, if you're looking at the list of exercises and don’t know where to start, or how to combine them for best results–don’t worry. Combining workshop exercises together is actually harder than you might think! 

They need to flow into one another seamlessly, and complement each other. It’s a hard balance to strike! So if you’re looking for a plug and play workshop that you can implement right away to frame the right challenge to tackle, Problem Framer is just what you need. 

The workshop builds on several exercises from the list above, is easy to facilitate and run. You’ll just need 30 minutes of your time.

Check out how to run the workshop here.  

Anastasia Ushakova

Brand Strategist, Digital Marketer, and a Workshopper.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

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Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, 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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></center></p><h2>13 Problem-Solving Activities & Exercises for Your Team</h2><ul><li>May 22, 2024</li><li>Project Management</li><li>21 min read</li></ul><p><center><img style=

Are you looking to enhance your or your team’s problem-solving abilities? Engaging in activities specifically designed to stimulate your and your team’s critical thinking skills can be an excellent way to sharpen your problem-solving prowess. Whether you enjoy puzzles, brain teasers, or interactive challenges, these activities provide an opportunity to overcome obstacles and think creatively.

By immersing yourself in problem-solving activities, you can develop valuable strategies, improve your decision-making abilities, and boost your overall problem-solving IQ. Get ready to unlock your full potential and tackle any challenge that comes your way with these exciting activities for problem-solving.

In this article, we will explore activities for problem-solving that can help enhance your team’s problem-solving skills, allowing you to approach challenges with confidence and creativity.

What Are Problem Solving Activities?

Problem-solving activities or problem-solving exercises are interactive games requiring critical thinking to solve puzzles. They enhance teamwork & critical thinking. Examples include building towers, navigating simulated challenges, and fostering creativity and communication.

For instance, imagine a team working together to construct the tallest tower using limited materials. They strategize, communicate ideas, and problem-solve to create the best structure, promoting collaboration and inventive thinking among team members.

Some widely practiced problem-solving activities include:

  • A Shrinking Vessel: Teams must fit into a shrinking space, testing their cooperation and adaptability.
  • Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower: Participants build a tower using marshmallows and spaghetti, promoting creative engineering.
  • Egg Drop: Protecting an egg from a fall challenges problem-solving skills.
  • Desert Island Survival: Teams simulate survival scenarios, encouraging creative solutions.
  • Rolling Dice: A simple yet effective game involving chance and decision-making.
  • Build a Tower: Constructing a stable tower with limited resources fosters teamwork and innovation, etc.

13 Easy Activities For Problem-Solving Ideas to Enhance Team Collaboration

Team building activities offer a great opportunity to test problem-solving abilities and promote effective collaboration within a group to problem solving group activities. By engaging in these activities, teams can break the monotony of the workplace and create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

Here are nine easy-to-implement activities that can bring substantial change to your team culture and overall workplace dynamics.

#1. Crossword Puzzles

Crossword Puzzles

Objective: To enhance problem-solving skills, vocabulary, and cognitive abilities through engaging crossword puzzles. 

Estimated Time: 15-20 Minutes 

Materials Needed:

  • Crossword puzzle sheets
  • Pens or pencils
  • Distribute crossword puzzle sheets and pens/pencils to each participant.
  • Explain the rules of crossword puzzles and the goal of completing as many clues as possible within the given time.
  • Participants individually or in pairs work on solving the crossword puzzle by filling in the correct words.
  • Encourage critical thinking, word association, and collaborative discussions for solving challenging clues.
  • At the end of the time limit, review the answers and discuss any interesting or challenging clues as a group.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving: Participants engage in critical thinking while deciphering clues, promoting effective problem-solving skills.
  • Vocabulary Expansion: Exposure to new words and phrases within the crossword improves vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Cognitive Stimulation: The mental exercise of solving the puzzle stimulates the brain, enhancing cognitive abilities.
  • Team Collaboration: If done in pairs, participants practice collaboration and communication to solve clues together.
  • Achievement and Motivation: Successfully completing the crossword brings a sense of accomplishment and motivates individuals to explore more puzzles.

Tips for Facilitators:

  • Provide varying levels of crossword puzzles to accommodate different skill levels.
  • Encourage participants to share strategies for solving challenging clues.
  • Emphasize the fun and educational aspects of the activity to keep participants engaged.

#2. A Shrinking Vessel

A Shrinking Vessel

Estimated Time: 10-15 Minutes

  • Materials Needed: A rope and a ball of yarn
  • Prepare the Setting: Lay a rope on the floor in a shape that allows all team members to stand comfortably inside it. For larger teams, multiple ropes can be used, dividing them into smaller groups.
  • Enter the Circle: Have all team members stand inside the rope, ensuring that nobody steps outside its boundaries.
  • Shrinking the Circle: Begin gradually shrinking the rope’s size, reducing the available space inside the circle.
  • Adapt and Maintain Balance: As the circle shrinks, team members must make subtle adjustments to maintain their positions and balance within the shrinking area.
  • The Challenge: The objective for the team is to collectively brainstorm and find innovative ways to keep every team member inside the circle without anyone stepping outside.
  • Collaboration and Communication: The activity promotes teamwork and open communication as participants strategize to stay within the shrinking circle.
  • Adaptability: Team members learn to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances, fostering agility and flexibility.
  • Creative Problem-Solving: The challenge encourages inventive thinking and brainstorming to find unique solutions.
  • Trust Building: By relying on each other’s actions, participants build trust and cohesion among team members.
  • Time-Efficient: The short duration makes it an ideal icebreaker or energizer during meetings or workshops.
  • Observe and Facilitate: Monitor the team’s dynamics and offer guidance to encourage equal participation and effective problem-solving.
  • Encourage Verbalization: Prompt participants to voice their ideas and collaborate vocally, aiding in real-time adjustments.
  • Debrief Thoughtfully: Engage the team in a discussion afterward, reflecting on strategies employed and lessons learned.
  • Emphasize Adaptability: Highlight the transferable skill of adaptability and its significance in both professional and personal contexts.

#3. Human Knots

Human Knots

  • Objective: Improving Collaboration & enhancing Communication Skills

Estimated Time: 15-20 minutes

  • Materials: None required

Procedure: 

  • Organize your team into a compact circle. For more sizable teams, subdivide them into smaller clusters, with each cluster forming its own circle. 
  • Direct each individual to grasp the hands of two other people in the circle, with the exception of those positioned directly adjacent to them. This action will result in the formation of a complex “human knot” within the circle. 
  • Present the challenge to the group: to unravel themselves from this entanglement while maintaining their hold on each other’s hands. If preferred, you can establish a specific time limit. 
  • Observe the team members collaborating to unravel the knot, witnessing their collective effort to devise solutions and free themselves from the intricate puzzle.
  • Team Cohesion: The activity encourages team members to interact closely, promoting bonding and understanding among participants.
  • Effective Communication: Participants practice clear and concise communication as they coordinate movements to untangle the knot.
  • Problem-Solving: The challenge stimulates creative thinking and problem-solving skills as individuals work collectively to find the optimal path for untangling.
  • Adaptability: Participants learn to adapt their actions based on the evolving dynamics of the human knot, fostering adaptability.
  • Trust Building: As individuals rely on each other to navigate the intricate knot, trust and cooperation naturally develop.
  • Set a Positive Tone: Create an inclusive and supportive atmosphere, emphasizing that the focus is on collaboration rather than competition.
  • Encourage Verbalization: Urge participants to articulate their intentions and listen to others’ suggestions, promoting effective teamwork.
  • Observe Group Dynamics: Monitor interactions and step in if needed to ensure everyone is actively engaged and included.
  • Reflect and Share: Conclude the activity with a debriefing session, allowing participants to share their experiences, strategies, and key takeaways.
  • Vary Grouping: Change group compositions for subsequent rounds to enhance interactions among different team members.

#4. Egg Drop

Egg Drop

Helps With: Decision Making, Collaboration

  • A carton of eggs
  • Construction materials (balloons, rubber bands, straws, tape, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • A suitable location for the activity
  • Assign each team a single egg and random construction materials.
  • Teams must create a carrier to protect the egg from breaking.
  • Drop the carriers one by one and increase the height if necessary to determine the most durable carrier.
  • The winning team is the one with the carrier that survives the highest drop.
  • Decision Making: Participants engage in critical decision-making processes as they select construction materials and determine carrier designs.
  • Collaboration: The activity necessitates collaboration and coordination among team members to construct an effective carrier.
  • Problem-Solving: Teams apply creative problem-solving skills to devise innovative methods for safeguarding the egg.
  • Risk Management: Participants learn to assess potential risks and consequences while making design choices to prevent egg breakage.
  • Celebrating Success: The victorious team experiences a sense of accomplishment, boosting morale and promoting a positive team spirit.
  • Provide Diverse Materials: Offer a wide range of construction materials to stimulate creativity and allow teams to explore various design options.
  • Set Safety Guidelines: Prioritize safety by specifying a safe drop height and ensuring participants follow safety protocols during construction.
  • Encourage Brainstorming: Prompt teams to brainstorm multiple carrier ideas before finalizing their designs, fostering diverse perspectives.
  • Facilitate Reflection: After the activity, lead a discussion where teams share their design strategies, challenges faced, and lessons learned.
  • Highlight Collaboration: Emphasize the significance of teamwork in achieving success, acknowledging effective communication and cooperation.

#5. Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower

Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower

Helps With: Collaboration

Estimated Time: 20-30 Minutes

Materials Needed (per team):

  • Raw spaghetti: 20 sticks
  • Marshmallow: 1
  • String: 1 yard
  • Masking tape: 1 roll
  • Tower Construction: Instruct teams to collaborate and utilize the provided materials to construct the tallest tower possible within a designated time frame.
  • Marshmallow Support: Emphasize that the tower must be capable of standing independently and supporting a marshmallow at its highest point.
  • Prototype and Iterate: Encourage teams to engage in prototyping and iteration, testing different design approaches and refining their tower structures.
  • T eamwork and Communication: Promote effective teamwork and communication as team members coordinate their efforts to build a stable and tall tower.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Evaluate each tower based on its height, stability, and the successful placement of the marshmallow at the top.
  • Collaboration: Participants collaborate closely, sharing ideas and working together to design and construct the tower.
  • Innovative Thinking: The activity encourages innovative thinking as teams experiment with different strategies to build a stable tower.
  • Time Management: Teams practice time management skills as they work within a specified time limit to complete the task.
  • Problem-Solving: Participants engage in creative problem-solving to address challenges such as balancing the marshmallow and constructing a sturdy tower.
  • Adaptability: Teams adapt their approaches based on trial and error, learning from each iteration to improve their tower designs.
  • Set Clear Guidelines: Clearly explain the materials, objectives, and evaluation criteria to ensure teams understand the task.
  • Foster Creativity: Encourage teams to think outside the box and explore unconventional methods for constructing their towers.
  • Emphasize Collaboration: Highlight the importance of effective communication and teamwork to accomplish the task successfully.
  • Time Management: Remind teams of the time limit and encourage them to allocate their time wisely between planning and construction.
  • Reflect and Share: Facilitate a discussion after the activity, allowing teams to share their design choices, challenges faced, and lessons learned.

Sudoku

Objective: To engage participants in the strategic and analytical world of Sudoku, enhancing logical thinking and problem-solving abilities. 

Estimated Time: 20-25 Minutes 

  • Sudoku puzzle sheets
  • Pencils with erasers
  • Distribute Sudoku puzzle sheets and pencils to each participant.
  • Familiarize participants with the rules and mechanics of Sudoku puzzles.
  • Explain the goal: to fill in the empty cells with numbers from 1 to 9 while adhering to the rules of no repetition in rows, columns, or subgrids.
  • Encourage participants to analyze the puzzle’s layout, identify potential numbers, and strategically fill in cells.
  • Emphasize the importance of logical deduction and step-by-step approach in solving the puzzle.
  • Provide hints or guidance if needed, ensuring participants remain engaged and challenged.
  • Logical Thinking: Sudoku challenges participants’ logical and deductive reasoning, fostering analytical skills.
  • Problem-Solving: The intricate interplay of numbers and constraints hones problem-solving abilities.
  • Focus and Patience: Participants practice patience and attention to detail while gradually unveiling the solution.
  • Pattern Recognition: Identifying number patterns and possibilities contributes to enhanced pattern recognition skills.
  • Personal Achievement: Successfully completing a Sudoku puzzle provides a sense of accomplishment and boosts confidence.
  • Offer varying levels of Sudoku puzzles to cater to different skill levels.
  • Encourage participants to share strategies and techniques for solving specific challenges.
  • Highlight the mental workout Sudoku provides and its transferable skills to real-life problem-solving.

Escape

Helps With: Communication, Problem-solving, & Management

  • A lockable room
  • 5-10 puzzles or clues
  • Hide the key and a set of clues around the room.
  • Lock the room and provide team members with a specific time limit to find the key and escape.
  • Instruct the team to work together, solving the puzzles and deciphering the clues to locate the key.
  • Encourage efficient communication and effective problem-solving under time pressure.
  • Communication Skills: Participants enhance their communication abilities by sharing observations, ideas, and findings to collectively solve puzzles.
  • Problem-solving Proficiency: The activity challenges teams to think critically, apply logical reasoning, and collaboratively tackle intricate challenges.
  • Team Management: The experience promotes effective team management as members assign tasks, prioritize efforts, and coordinate actions.
  • Time Management: The imposed time limit sharpens time management skills as teams strategize and allocate time wisely.
  • Adaptability: Teams learn to adapt and adjust strategies based on progress, evolving clues, and time constraints.
  • Clear Introduction: Provide a concise overview of the activity, emphasizing the importance of communication, problem-solving, and time management.
  • Diverse Challenges: Offer a mix of puzzles and clues to engage various problem-solving skills, catering to different team strengths.
  • Supportive Role: Act as a facilitator, offering subtle guidance if needed while allowing teams to independently explore and solve challenges.
  • Debriefing Session: Organize a debriefing session afterward to discuss the experience, highlight successful strategies, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Encourage Reflection: Encourage participants to reflect on their teamwork, communication effectiveness, and problem-solving approach.

#8. Frostbite for Group Problem Solving Activities

Frostbite for Group Problem Solving Activities

Helps With: Decision Making, Trust, Leadership

  • An electric fan
  • Construction materials (toothpicks, cardstock, rubber bands, sticky notes, etc.)
  • Divide the team into groups of 4-5 people, each with a designated leader.
  • Blindfold team members and prohibit leaders from using their hands.
  • Provide teams with construction materials and challenge them to build a tent within 30 minutes.
  • Test the tents using the fan to see which can withstand high winds.
  • Decision-Making Proficiency: Participants are exposed to critical decision-making situations under constraints, allowing them to practice effective and efficient decision-making.
  • Trust Development: Blindfolding team members and relying on the designated leaders fosters trust and collaboration among team members.
  • Leadership Skills: Designated leaders navigate the challenge without hands-on involvement, enhancing their leadership and communication skills.
  • Creative Problem Solving: Teams employ creative thinking and resourcefulness to construct stable tents with limited sensory input.
  • Team Cohesion: The shared task and unique constraints promote team cohesion and mutual understanding.
  • Role of the Facilitator: Act as an observer, allowing teams to navigate the challenge with minimal intervention. Offer assistance only when necessary.
  • Clarity in Instructions: Provide clear instructions regarding blindfolding, leader restrictions, and time limits to ensure a consistent experience.
  • Debriefing Session: After the activity, conduct a debriefing session to discuss team dynamics, leadership approaches, and decision-making strategies.
  • Encourage Communication: Emphasize the importance of effective communication within teams to ensure smooth coordination and successful tent construction.
  • Acknowledge Creativity: Celebrate creative solutions and innovative approaches exhibited by teams during the tent-building process.

#9. Dumbest Idea First

Dumbest Idea First

Helps With: Critical Thinking & Creative Problem Solving Activity

Estimated Time: 15-20 Minutes

Materials Needed: A piece of paper, pen, and pencil

  • Problem Presentation: Introduce a specific problem to the team, either a real-world challenge or a hypothetical scenario that requires a solution.
  • Brainstorming Dumb Ideas: Instruct team members to quickly generate and jot down the most unconventional and seemingly “dumb” ideas they can think of to address the problem.
  • Idea Sharing: Encourage each participant to share their generated ideas with the group, fostering a relaxed and open atmosphere for creative expression.
  • Viability Assessment: As a team, review and evaluate each idea, considering potential benefits and drawbacks. Emphasize the goal of identifying unconventional approaches.
  • Selecting Promising Solutions: Identify which seemingly “dumb” ideas could hold hidden potential or innovative insights. Discuss how these ideas could be adapted into workable solutions.
  • Divergent Thinking: Participants engage in divergent thinking, pushing beyond conventional boundaries to explore unconventional solutions.
  • Creative Exploration: The activity sparks creative exploration by encouraging participants to let go of inhibitions and embrace imaginative thinking.
  • Critical Analysis: Through evaluating each idea, participants practice critical analysis and learn to identify unique angles and aspects of potential solutions.
  • Open Communication: The lighthearted approach of sharing “dumb” ideas fosters open communication, reducing fear of judgment and promoting active participation.
  • Solution Adaptation: Identifying elements of seemingly “dumb” ideas that have merit encourages participants to adapt and refine their approaches creatively.
  • Safe Environment: Foster a safe and non-judgmental environment where participants feel comfortable sharing unconventional ideas.
  • Time Management: Set clear time limits for idea generation and sharing to maintain the activity’s energetic pace.
  • Encourage Wild Ideas: Emphasize that the goal is to explore the unconventional, urging participants to push the boundaries of creativity.
  • Facilitator Participation: Participate in idea generation to demonstrate an open-minded approach and encourage involvement.
  • Debriefing Discussion: After the activity, facilitate a discussion on how seemingly “dumb” ideas can inspire innovative solutions and stimulate fresh thinking.

This activity encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving. It allows teams to explore unconventional ideas that may lead to unexpected, yet effective, solutions.

#10: Legoman

Legoman.

Helps With: Foster teamwork, communication, and creativity through a collaborative Lego-building activity.

Estimated Time: 20-30 minutes

  • Lego bricks
  • Lego instruction manuals

Procedure :

  • Divide participants into small teams of 3-5 members.
  • Provide each team with an equal set of Lego bricks and a Lego instruction manual.
  • Explain that the goal is for teams to work together to construct the Lego model shown in the manual.
  • Set a time limit for the building activity based on model complexity.
  • Allow teams to self-organize, build, and collaborate to complete the model within the time limit.
  • Evaluate each team’s final model compared to the manual’s original design.
  • Enhanced Communication: Participants must communicate clearly and listen actively to collaborate effectively.
  • Strengthened Teamwork: Combining efforts toward a shared goal promotes camaraderie and team cohesion.
  • Creative Problem-Solving: Teams must creatively problem-solve if pieces are missing or instructions unclear.
  • Planning and Resource Allocation: Following instructions fosters planning skills and efficient use of resources.
  • Sense of Achievement: Completing a challenging build provides a sense of collective accomplishment.
  • Encourage Participation: Urge quieter members to contribute ideas and take an active role.
  • Highlight Teamwork: Emphasize how cooperation and task coordination are key to success.
  • Ensure Equal Engagement: Monitor group dynamics to ensure all members are engaged.
  • Allow Creativity: Permit modifications if teams lack exact pieces or wish to get creative.
  • Focus on Enjoyment: Create a lively atmosphere so the activity remains energizing and fun.

#11: Minefield

Minefield.

Helps With: Trust, Communication, Patience

Materials Needed: Open space, blindfolds

  • Mark a “minefield” on the ground using ropes, cones, or tape. Add toy mines or paper cups.
  • Pair up participants and blindfold one partner.
  • Position blindfolded partners at the start of the minefield. Direct seeing partners to verbally guide them through to the other side without hitting “mines.”
  • Partners switch roles once finished and repeat.
  • Time partnerships and provide prizes for the fastest safe crossing.
  • Trust Building: Blindfolded partners must trust their partner’s instructions.
  • Effective Communication: Giving clear, specific directions is essential for navigating the minefield.
  • Active Listening: Partners must listen closely and follow directions precisely.
  • Patience & Support: The exercise requires patience and encouraging guidance between partners.
  • Team Coordination: Partners must work in sync, coordinating movements and communication.
  • Test Boundaries: Ensure the minefield’s size accommodates safe movement and communication.
  • Monitor Interactions: Watch for dominant guidance and ensure both partners participate fully.
  • Time Strategically: Adjust time limits based on the minefield size and difficulty.
  • Add Obstacles: Introduce additional non-mine objects to increase challenge and communication needs.
  • Foster Discussion: Debrief afterward to discuss communication approaches and trust-building takeaways.

#12: Reverse Pyramid

Reverse Pyramid.

Helps With: Teamwork, Communication, Creativity

Materials Needed: 36 cups per group, tables

  • Form small groups of 5-7 participants.
  • Provide each group with a stack of 36 cups and a designated building area.
  • Explain the objective: Build the tallest pyramid starting with just one cup on top.
  • Place the first cup on the table, and anyone in the group can add two cups beneath it to form the second row.
  • From this point, only the bottom row can be lifted to add the next row underneath.
  • Cups in the pyramid can only be touched or supported by index fingers.
  • If the structure falls, start over from one cup.
  • Offer more cups if a group uses all provided.
  • Allow 15 minutes for building.

Teamwork: Collaborate to construct the pyramid.

Communication: Discuss and execute the building strategy.

Creativity: Find innovative ways to build a tall, stable pyramid.

Clarify Expectations: Emphasize the definition of a pyramid with each row having one less cup.

Encourage Perseverance: Motivate groups to continue despite challenges.

Promote Consensus: Encourage groups to work together and help each other.

Reflect on Failure: Use collapses as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles and improving.

Consider Competitions: Modify the activity for competitive teams and scoring.

#13: Stranded

Stranded.

Helps With: Decision-making, Prioritization, Teamwork

Materials Needed: List of salvaged items, paper, pens

  • Present a scenario where teams are stranded and must prioritize items salvaged from a plane crash.
  • Provide teams with the same list of ~15 salvaged items.
  • Instruct teams to agree on an item ranking with #1 being the most important for survival.
  • Teams share and compare their prioritized lists. Identify differences in approach.
  • Discuss what factors influenced decisions and how teams worked together to agree on priorities.
  • Critical Thinking: Weighing item importance requires analytical thinking and discussion.
  • Team Decision-Making: Coming to a consensus fosters team decision-making capabilities.
  • Prioritization Skills: Ranking items strengthen prioritization and justification abilities.
  • Perspective-Taking: Understanding different prioritizations builds perspective-taking skills.
  • Team Cohesion: Collaborating toward a shared goal brings teams closer together.
  • Encourage Discussion: Urge teams to discuss all ideas rather than allow single members to dominate.
  • Be Engaged: Circulate to listen in on team discussions and pose thought-provoking questions.
  • Add Complexity: Introduce scenarios with additional constraints to expand critical thinking.
  • Highlight Disagreements: When priorities differ, facilitate constructive discussions on influencing factors.
  • Recognize Collaboration: Acknowledge teams that demonstrate exceptional teamwork and communication.

Now let’s look at some common types of problem-solving activities.

Types of Problem-Solving Activities

The most common types of problem-solving activities/exercises are:

  • Creative problem-solving activities
  • Group problem-solving activities
  • Individual problem-solving activities
  • Fun problem-solving activities, etc.

In the next segments, we’ll be discussing these types of problem-solving activities in detail. So, keep reading!

Creative Problem-Solving Activities

Creative problem solving (CPS) means using creativity to find new solutions. It involves thinking creatively at first and then evaluating ideas later. For example, think of it like brainstorming fun game ideas, discussing them, and then picking the best one to play.

Some of the most common creative problem-solving activities include:

  • Legoman: Building creative structures with LEGO.
  • Escape: Solving puzzles to escape a room.
  • Frostbite: Finding solutions in challenging situations.
  • Minefield: Navigating a field of obstacles.

Group Problem-Solving Activities

Group problem-solving activities are challenges that make teams work together to solve puzzles or overcome obstacles. They enhance teamwork and critical thinking.

For instance, think of a puzzle-solving game where a group must find hidden clues to escape a locked room.

Here are the most common group problem-solving activities you can try in groups:

  • A Shrinking Vessel
  • Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower
  • Cardboard Boat Building Challenge
  • Clue Murder Mystery
  • Escape Room: Jewel Heist
  • Escape Room: Virtual Team Building
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Dumbest Idea First

Individual Problem-Solving Activities

As the name suggests, individual problem-solving activities are the tasks that you need to play alone to boost your critical thinking ability. They help you solve problems and stay calm while facing challenges in real life. Like puzzles, they make your brain sharper. Imagine it’s like training your brain muscles to handle tricky situations.

Here are some of the most common individual problem-solving activities:

  • Puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, sudoku, etc.)
  • Brain teasers
  • Logic problems
  • Optical illusions
  • “Escape room” style games

Fun Problem-Solving Activities

Fun problem-solving activities are enjoyable games that sharpen your critical thinking skills while having a blast. Think of activities like the Legoman challenge, escape rooms, or rolling dice games – they make problem-solving exciting and engaging!

And to be frank, all of the mentioned problem-solving activities are fun if you know how to play and enjoy them as all of them are game-like activities.

Team Problems You Can Address Through Problem Solving Activities

Fun problem-solving activities serve as dynamic tools to address a range of challenges that teams often encounter. These engaging activities foster an environment of collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, enabling teams to tackle various problems head-on. Here are some common team problems that can be effectively addressed through these activities:

  • Communication Breakdowns:  

Activities like “Escape,” “A Shrinking Vessel,” and “Human Knots” emphasize the importance of clear and effective communication. They require teams to work together, exchange ideas, and devise strategies to accomplish a shared goal. By engaging in these activities, team members learn to communicate more efficiently, enhancing overall team communication in real-world situations.

  • Lack of Trust and Cohesion:  

Problem-solving activities promote trust and cohesiveness within teams. For instance, “Frostbite” and “Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower” require teams to collaborate closely, trust each other’s ideas, and rely on each member’s strengths. These activities build a sense of unity and trust, which can translate into improved teamwork and collaboration.

  • Innovative Thinking:  

“Dumbest Idea First” and “Egg Drop” encourage teams to think outside the box and explore unconventional solutions. These activities challenge teams to be creative and innovative in their problem-solving approaches, fostering a culture of thinking beyond traditional boundaries when faced with complex issues.

  • Decision-Making Challenges:  

Activities like “Onethread” facilitate group decision-making by providing a platform for open discussions and collaborative choices. Problem-solving activities require teams to make decisions collectively, teaching them to weigh options, consider different viewpoints, and arrive at informed conclusions—a skill that is transferable to real-world decision-making scenarios.

  • Leadership and Role Clarification:  

Activities such as “Frostbite” and “Egg Drop” designate team leaders and roles within groups. This provides an opportunity for team members to practice leadership, delegation, and role-specific tasks. By experiencing leadership dynamics in a controlled setting, teams can improve their leadership skills and better understand their roles in actual projects.

  • Problem-Solving Strategies:  

All of the problem-solving activities involve the application of different strategies. Teams learn to analyze problems, break them down into manageable components, and develop systematic approaches for resolution. These strategies can be adapted to real-world challenges, enabling teams to approach complex issues with confidence.

  • Team Morale and Engagement:  

Participating in engaging and enjoyable activities boosts team morale and engagement. These activities provide a break from routine tasks, energize team members, and create a positive and fun atmosphere. Elevated team morale can lead to increased motivation and productivity.

By incorporating these fun problem-solving activities, teams can address a variety of challenges, foster skill development, and build a more cohesive and effective working environment. As teams learn to collaborate, communicate, innovate, and make decisions collectively, they are better equipped to overcome obstacles and achieve shared goals.

The Benefits of Problem Solving Activities for Your Team

The Benefits of Problem Solving Activities for Your Team

#1 Better Thinking

Problem-solving activities bring out the best in team members by encouraging them to contribute their unique ideas. This stimulates better thinking as team managers evaluate different solutions and choose the most suitable ones.

For example, a remote team struggling with communication benefited from quick thinking and the sharing of ideas, leading to the adoption of various communication modes for improved collaboration.

#2 Better Risk Handling

Team building problem solving activities condition individuals to handle risks more effectively. By engaging in challenging situations and finding solutions, team members develop the ability to respond better to stressful circumstances.

#3 Better Communication

Regular communication among team members is crucial for efficient problem-solving. Engaging in problem-solving activities fosters cooperation and communication within the team, resulting in better understanding and collaboration. Using tools like OneThread can further enhance team communication and accountability.

#4 Improved Productivity Output

When teams work cohesively, overall productivity improves, leading to enhanced profit margins for the company or organization. Involving managers and team members in problem-solving activities can positively impact the company’s growth and profitability.

How Onethread Enhances the Effect of Problem Solving Activities

Problem-solving activities within teams thrive on collaborative efforts and shared perspectives. Onethread emerges as a potent facilitator, enabling teams to collectively tackle challenges and harness diverse viewpoints with precision. Here’s a comprehensive view of how Onethread amplifies team collaboration in problem-solving initiatives:

Open Channels for Discussion:

Open Channels for Discussion

Onethread’s real-time messaging feature serves as a dedicated hub for open and seamless discussions. Teams can engage in brainstorming sessions, share insightful observations, and propose innovative solutions within a flexible environment. Asynchronous communication empowers members to contribute their insights at their convenience, fostering comprehensive problem analysis with ample deliberation.

Centralized Sharing of Resources:

Centralized Sharing of Resources

Effective problem-solving often hinges on access to pertinent resources. Onethread’s document sharing functionality ensures that critical information, references, and research findings are centralized and readily accessible. This eradicates the need for cumbersome email attachments and enables team members to collaborate with precise and up-to-date data.

Efficient Task Allocation and Monitoring:

Efficient Task Allocation and Monitoring

Problem-solving journeys comprise a series of tasks and actions. Onethread’s task management capability streamlines the delegation of specific responsibilities to team members. Assign tasks related to research, data analysis, or solution implementation and monitor progress in real time. This cultivates a sense of accountability and guarantees comprehensive coverage of every facet of the problem-solving process.

Facilitated Collaborative Decision-Making: Navigating intricate problems often demands collective decision-making. Onethread’s collaborative ecosystem empowers teams to deliberate over potential solutions, assess pros and cons, and make well-informed choices. Transparent discussions ensure that decisions are comprehensively comprehended and supported by the entire team.

Seamless Documentation and Insights Sharing:

Seamless Documentation and Insights Sharing

As the problem-solving journey unfolds, the accumulation of insights and conclusions becomes pivotal. Onethread’s collaborative document editing feature empowers teams to document their discoveries, chronicle the steps undertaken, and showcase successful solutions. This shared repository of documentation serves as a valuable resource for future reference and continuous learning.

With Onethread orchestrating the backdrop, team collaboration during problem-solving activities transforms into a harmonious fusion of insights, ideas, and actionable steps.

What are the 5 problem-solving skills?

The top 5 problem-solving skills in 2023 are critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and data literacy. Most employers seek these skills in their workforce.

What are the steps of problem-solving?

Problem-solving steps are as follows: 1. Define the problem clearly. 2. Analyze the issue in detail. 3. Generate potential solutions. 4. Evaluate these options. 5. Choose the best solution. 6. Put the chosen solution into action. 7. Measure the outcomes to assess effectiveness and improvements made. These sequential steps assist in efficient and effective problem resolution.

How do you teach problem-solving skills?

Teaching problem-solving involves modelling effective methods within a context, helping students grasp the problem, dedicating ample time, asking guiding questions, and giving suggestions. Connect errors to misconceptions to enhance understanding, fostering a straightforward approach to building problem-solving skills.

So here is all about “activities for problem solving”.No matter which activity you choose, engaging in problem-solving activities not only provides entertainment but also helps enhance cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, decision making, and creativity. So why not make problem solving a regular part of your routine?

Take some time each day or week to engage in these activities and watch as your problem-solving skills grow stronger. Plus, it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time and challenge yourself mentally.

So go ahead, grab a puzzle or gather some friends for a game night – get ready to have fun while sharpening your problem-solving skills!

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14 Best Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities For 2024

The best teams see solutions where others see problems. A great company culture is built around a collaborative spirit and the type of unity it takes to find answers to the big business questions.

So how can you get team members working together?

How can you develop a mentality that will help them overcome obstacles they have yet to encounter?

One of the best ways to improve your teams’ problem solving skills is through team building problem solving activities .

“86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.” — Bit.AI

These activities can simulate true-to-life scenarios they’ll find themselves in, or the scenarios can call on your employees or coworkers to dig deep and get creative in a more general sense.

The truth is, on a day-to-day basis, you have to prepare for the unexpected. It just happens that team building activities help with that, but are so fun that they don’t have to feel like work ( consider how you don’t even feel like you’re working out when you’re playing your favorite sport or doing an exercise you actually enjoy! )

Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities

What are the benefits of group problem-solving activities?

The benefits of group problem-solving activities for team building include:

  • Better communication
  • Improved collaboration and teamwork
  • More flexible thinking
  • Faster problem-solving
  • Better proactivity and decision making

Without further ado, check out this list of the 14 best team-building problem-solving group activities for 2024!

Page Contents (Click To Jump)

Popular Problem Solving Activities

1. virtual team challenge.

Virtual Team Challenges are popular problem-solving activities that involve a group of people working together to solve an issue. The challenge generally involves members of the team brainstorming, discussing, and creating solutions for a given problem.

Participants work both individually and collaboratively to come up with ideas and strategies that will help them reach their goals.

Why this is a fun problem-solving activity: Participants can interact and communicate with each other in a virtual environment while simultaneously engaging with the problem-solving activities. This makes it an enjoyable experience that allows people to use their creative thinking skills, build team spirit, and gain valuable insights into the issue at hand.

Problem-solving activities such as Virtual Team Challenges offer a great way for teams to come together, collaborate, and develop creative solutions to complex problems.

2. Problem-Solving Templates

Problem-Solving Templates are popular problem-solving activities that involve a group of people working together to solve an issue. The challenge generally involves members of the team utilizing pre-made templates and creating solutions for a given problem with the help of visual aids.

This activity is great for teams that need assistance in getting started on their problem-solving journey.

Why this is a fun problem-solving activity: Problem-Solving Templates offer teams an easy and stress-free way to get the creative juices flowing. The visual aids that come with the templates help team members better understand the issue at hand and easily come up with solutions together.

This activity is great for teams that need assistance in getting started on their problem-solving journey, as it provides an easy and stress-free way to get the creative juices flowing.

Problem Solving Group Activities & Games For Team Building

3. coworker feud, “it’s all fun and games”.

Coworker Feud is a twist on the classic Family Feud game show! This multiple rapid round game keeps the action flowing and the questions going. You can choose from a variety of customizations, including picking the teams yourself, randomized teams, custom themes, and custom rounds.

Best for: Hybrid teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Coworker Feud comes with digital game materials, a digital buzzer, an expert host, and a zoom link to get the participants ready for action! Teams compete with each other to correctly answer the survey questions. At the end of the game, the team with the most competitive answers is declared the winner of the Feud.

How to get started:

  • Sign up for Coworker Feud
  • Break into teams of 4 to 10 people
  • Get the competitive juices flowing and let the games begin!

Learn more here: Coworker Feud

4. Crack The Case

“who’s a bad mamma jamma”.

Crack The Case is a classic WhoDoneIt game that forces employees to depend on their collective wit to stop a deadly murderer dead in his tracks! Remote employees and office commuters can join forces to end this crime spree.

Best for: Remote teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: The Virtual Clue Murder Mystery is an online problem solving activity that uses a proprietary videoconferencing platform to offer the chance for employees and coworkers to study case files, analyze clues, and race to find the motive, the method, and the individual behind the murder of Neil Davidson.

  • Get a custom quote here
  • Download the app
  • Let the mystery-solving collaboration begin!

Learn more here: Crack The Case

5. Catch Meme If You Can

“can’t touch this”.

Purposefully created to enhance leadership skills and team bonding , Catch Meme If You Can is a hybrid between a scavenger hunt and an escape room . Teammates join together to search for clues, solve riddles, and get out — just in time!

Best for: Small teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Catch Meme If You Can is an adventure with a backstory. Each team has to submit their answer to the puzzle in order to continue to the next part of the sequence. May the best team escape!

  • The teams will be given instructions and the full storyline
  • Teams will be split into a handful of people each
  • The moderator will kick off the action!

Learn more here: Catch Meme If You Can

6. Puzzle Games

“just something to puzzle over”.

Puzzle Games is the fresh trivia game to test your employees and blow their minds with puzzles, jokes , and fun facts!

Best for: In-person teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Eight mini brain teaser and trivia style games include word puzzles, name that nonsense, name that tune, and much more. Plus, the points each team earns will go towards planting trees in the precious ecosystems and forests of Uganda

  • Get a free consultation for your team
  • Get a custom designed invitation for your members
  • Use the game link
  • Dedicated support will help your team enjoy Puzzle Games to the fullest!

Learn more here: Puzzle Games

7. Virtual Code Break

“for virtual teams”.

Virtual Code Break is a virtual team building activity designed for remote participants around the globe. Using a smart video conferencing solution, virtual teams compete against each other to complete challenges, answer trivia questions, and solve brain-busters!

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Virtual Code Break can be played by groups as small as 4 people all the way up to more than 1,000 people at once. However, every team will improve their communication and problem-solving skills as they race against the clock and depend on each other’s strengths to win!

  • Reach out for a free consultation to align the needs of your team
  • An event facilitator will be assigned to handle all of the set-up and logistics
  • They will also provide you with logins and a play-by-play of what to expect
  • Sign into the Outback video conferencing platform and join your pre-assigned team
  • Lastly, let the games begin!

Learn more here: Virtual Code Break

8. Stranded

“survivor: office edition”.

Stranded is the perfect scenario-based problem solving group activity. The doors of the office are locked and obviously your team can’t just knock them down or break the windows.

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Your team has less than half an hour to choose 10 items around the office that will help them survive. They then rank the items in order of importance. It’s a bit like the classic game of being lost at sea without a lifeboat.

  • Get everyone together in the office
  • Lock the doors
  • Let them start working together to plan their survival

Learn more here: Stranded

9. Letting Go Game

“for conscious healing”.

The Letting Go Game is a game of meditation and mindfulness training for helping teammates thrive under pressure and reduce stress in the process. The tasks of the Letting Go Game boost resiliency, attentiveness, and collaboration.

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Expert-guided activities and awareness exercises encourage team members to think altruistically and demonstrate acts of kindness. Between yoga, face painting, and fun photography, your employees or coworkers will have more than enough to keep them laughing and growing together with this mindfulness activity!

  • Reach out for a free consultation
  • A guide will then help lead the exercises
  • Let the funny videos, pictures, and playing begin!

Learn more here: Letting Go Game

10. Wild Goose Chase

“city time”.

Wild Goose Chase is the creative problem solving activity that will take teams all around your city and bring them together as a group! This scavenger hunt works for teams as small as 10 up to groups of over 5000 people.

Best for: Large teams

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: As employees and group members are coming back to the office, there are going to be times that they’re itching to get outside. Wild Goose Chase is the perfect excuse to satisfy the desire to go out-of-office every now and then. Plus, having things to look at and see around the city will get employees talking in ways they never have before.

  • Download the Outback app to access the Wild Goose Chase
  • Take photos and videos from around the city
  • The most successful team at completing challenges on time is the champ!

Learn more here: Wild Goose Chase

11. Human Knot

“for a knotty good time”.

Human-knot

The Human Knot is one of the best icebreaker team building activities! In fact, there’s a decent chance you played it in grade school. It’s fun, silly, and best of all — free!

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: Participants start in a circle and connect hands with two other people in the group to form a human knot. The team then has to work together and focus on clear communication to unravel the human knot by maneuvering their way out of this hands-on conundrum. But there’s a catch — they can’t let go of each other’s hands in this team building exercise.

  • Form a circle
  • Tell each person to grab a random hand until all hands are holding another
  • They can’t hold anyone’s hand who is directly next to them
  • Now they have to get to untangling
  • If the chain breaks before everyone is untangled, they have to start over again

Learn more here: Human Knot

12. What Would You Do?

“because it’s fun to imagine”.

Team-building-activity

What Would You Do? Is the hypothetical question game that gets your team talking and brainstorming about what they’d do in a variety of fun, intriguing, and sometimes, whacky scenarios.

Best for: Distributed teams

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: After employees or coworkers start talking about their What Would You Do? responses, they won’t be able to stop. That’s what makes this such an incredible team building activity . For example, you could ask questions like “If you could live forever, what would you do with your time?” or “If you never had to sleep, what would you do?”

  • In addition to hypothetical questions, you could also give teammates some optional answers to get them started
  • After that, let them do the talking — then they’ll be laughing and thinking and dreaming, too!

13. Crossing The River

“quite the conundrum”.

Crossing-the-river

Crossing The River is a river-crossing challenge with one correct answer. Your team gets five essential elements — a chicken, a fox, a rowboat, a woman, and a bag of corn. You see, the woman has a bit of a problem, you tell them. She has to get the fox, the bag of corn, and the chicken to the other side of the river as efficiently as possible.

Why this is an effective group problem solving activity: She has a rowboat, but it can only carry her and one other item at a time. She cannot leave the chicken and the fox alone — for obvious reasons. And she can’t leave the chicken with the corn because it will gobble it right up. So the question for your team is how does the woman get all five elements to the other side of the river safely in this fun activity?

  • Form teams of 2 to 5 people
  • Each team has to solve the imaginary riddle
  • Just make sure that each group understands that the rowboat can only carry one animal and one item at a time; the fox and chicken can’t be alone; and the bag of corn and the chicken cannot be left alone
  • Give the verbal instructions for getting everything over to the other side

14. End-Hunger Games

“philanthropic fun”.

Does anything bond people quite like acts of kindness and compassion? The End-Hunger Games will get your team to rally around solving the serious problem of hunger.

Best for: Medium-sized teams

Why this is an effective problem solving group activity: Teams join forces to complete challenges based around non-perishable food items in the End-Hunger Games. Groups can range in size from 25 to more than 2000 people, who will all work together to collect food for the local food bank.

  • Split into teams and compete to earn boxes and cans of non-perishable food
  • Each team attempts to build the most impressive food item construction
  • Donate all of the non-perishable foods to a local food bank

Learn more here: End-Hunger Games

People Also Ask These Questions About Team Building Problem Solving Group Activities

Q: what are some problem solving group activities.

  • A: Some problem solving group activities can include riddles, egg drop, reverse pyramid, tallest tower, trivia, and other moderator-led activities.

Q: What kind of skills do group problem solving activities & games improve?

  • A: Group problem solving activities and games improve collaboration, leadership, and communication skills.

Q: What are problem solving based team building activities & games?

  • A: Problem solving based team building activities and games are activities that challenge teams to work together in order to complete them.

Q: What are some fun free problem solving games for groups?

  • A: Some fun free problem solving games for groups are kinesthetic puzzles like the human knot game, which you can read more about in this article. You can also use all sorts of random items like whiteboards, straws, building blocks, sticky notes, blindfolds, rubber bands, and legos to invent a game that will get the whole team involved.

Q: How do I choose the most effective problem solving exercise for my team?

  • A: The most effective problem solving exercise for your team is one that will challenge them to be their best selves and expand their creative thinking.

Q: How do I know if my group problem solving activity was successful?

  • A: In the short-term, you’ll know if your group problem solving activity was successful because your team will bond over it; however, that should also translate to more productivity in the mid to long-term.

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Can Generative AI Solve The Data Overwhelm Problem?

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Data is arguably the most valuable asset for today’s businesses. This means it’s vital that people across the organization are able to work with data and extract insights – insights that (hopefully) lead to better, more informed decisions across the organization.

But all that’s easier said than done. Because, rather than being empowered by data, many people find themselves intimidated (or even paralyzed) by it.

How Bad Is The Data Overwhelm Problem?

In a world that’s full of data – where everything we do generates data – the sheer volume of data that’s available to the average business can become overwhelming. This phenomenon is described by software leaders Oracle as the “ Decision Dilemma ." You could also call it "decision paralysis" or "data anxiety." Whatever you call it, the basic gist is that more data causes anxiety and lack of action instead of better decisions.

For its Decision Dilemma report, Oracle surveyed more than 14,000 employees and business leaders across 17 countries, and the results were eye-opening:

· 83 percent agreed that access to data is essential for helping businesses make decisions, BUT…

· 86 percent said that data makes them feel less confident and

· 72 percent said that data has stopped them from being able to make a decision.

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At the same time, three-quarters of business leaders say the daily volume of decisions they need to make has increased tenfold over the last three years. More decisions to make, but less confidence in making them despite masses of data at our fingertips? This is a potential crisis for business leaders.

Could generative AI help to solve this crisis? Judging by generative AI’s ability to make sense of data and extract useful information – and the fact that generative AI capabilities are already being built into analytics tools – the answer appears to be yes.

What Can Generative AI Do?

How exactly can generative AI be used to interpret data? Use cases include:

· Driving faster and better decision making through better insights: Through real-time tracking of data, decision makers can gain a better grasp of what’s happening across the business and be presented with actionable insights. And this can be achieved through natural language prompts, such as “What are our top three customer behavior trends this month?”

· Acting as a decision-making co-pilot: Thanks to generative AI’s conversational abilities, these tools can function as virtual advisors – a sounding board to help discuss and generate ideas.

· Generating summaries of data: Generative AI can sift through vast quantities of data and create executive summaries that pull out the key points, along with best-practice recommendations.

· Visualizing data: Generative AI can generate analytics reports in an easy-to-digest format – presenting insights from the data not just as text narratives but also in a visual format (graphs, charts, etc.).

· Automating data analytics: Generative AI can potentially automate the data analysis process and provide automatic notifications for, well, anything you want. Spikes in sales, trending website activity, a drop in factory machine performance, increased sick leave, you name it…

· Harnessing predictive capabilities: As well as understanding what’s going on in the business right now , generative AI can help decision makers pre-empt what might be coming down the line.

· Using synthetic data to test ideas and scenarios: By creating large amounts of synthetic data that mimic real-world data, leaders can model scenarios that may be difficult to model with real-world data (for example, because an event is a rare, but impactful occurrence, or because gathering that much data would be difficult and expensive).

· Preparing data: Generative AI can also be used to take care of data preparation tasks such as tagging, classification, segmentation, and anonymization.

· Helping to clean up data for better analysis results: Because generative AI is so good at spotting patterns, it can be used to detect anomalies and inconsistencies in your data – things that could potentially skew results.

Another advantage is that generative AI can, in theory, work with all sorts of messy, unstructured data, including photos and video data, customer feedback comments, and social media posts – meaning, it isn’t just limited to neatly structured data in databases.

Best of all, these incredible capabilities make data much more actionable for decision-makers across the organization – regardless of their data expertise . So, you don't need to be a data expert to harness data in your everyday work. Decision paralysis, begone!

Look Out For Generative AI-Powered Tools

Providers of analytics software and platforms are beginning to build generative AI functions into their tools to enable more intelligent data analytics. For example, tools such as Microsoft Power BI, Teradata VantageCloud, Tableau AI, and Qlik Cloud now incorporate generative AI capabilities. This generally allows for natural language querying of data, easy summaries, tailored reports, and more.

What we’re seeing, then, is a democratization of generative AI and data. This will help to level the playing field between large corporations and smaller enterprises because you no longer need an army of data scientists to gain a competitive advantage.

We urgently need people to become more confident and competent at working with data. I believe generative AI will help to achieve this vision and solve the data overwhelm problem – by giving anyone the ability to analyze vast amounts of data in a more intuitive way. In other words, all you need to do is ask the right questions!

Read more about generative AI and its impact in my new book, Generative AI in Practice, 100+ Amazing Ways Generative Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Business And Society.

Bernard Marr

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