Every team has problems – even if things are going well, your new problem is how to sustain the gains and go to the next level. Teams, when working well, are GREAT at solving problems. They harness the experience, wisdom and creativity of the entire group. Together, the team is smarter than any of the individual team members. Does this sound like your team? Tragically, many teams never realize their full problem solving potential. One way to help your team in this arena is to provide a clear process for problem solving.

Here are six steps that my friend and consultant, Jennifer Howard taught me over 20 years ago. It still works! You may want to experiment with it the next time your team faces a significant or complex problem.

Step One: Identify the Problem. This is perhaps the most obvious of the steps, but you could argue that it is the most critical. There’s an old saying I love, “A problem well-defined is half solved.”

Step Two: Review the data. This serves several purposes; it may help you refine your problem statement. The data may give you clues regarding the root cause of the problem or perhaps the solution itself.

Step Three: Brainstorm Potential Causes. Now that your team has reviewed the data, it is essential that they agree on the most probable cause(s) of the problem. The outcome of this step will be the focus of step 4. (In my next post, I’ll review some brainstorming basics.)

Step Four: Brainstorm Potential Solutions. This is where many teams BEGIN their problem solving. However, without the pre-work of steps 1 – 3, this is often misplaced energy.

Step Five: Create Your Action Plan. Based on the work of step 4, select the solutions you believe will have the greatest impact; decide who will do what by when and begin to deploy your solution.

Step Six: Monitor Your Progress. This is essential. Did your intervention work? Did your action plan solve the problem? If not, you’ll need to retrace your steps and repeat steps three through six.

Using a process for solving problems is like providing tracks for a locomotive. Without them, the train can’t move. If you provide the tracks for your team, they will amaze you with their ability to solve even the most difficult problems.

What problem, if solved, would accelerate your team’s success?

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.