Can Problem Solving Skills Be Taught?

Are Problem Solving Skills Innate or Learned?

Sounds like the old leadership question doesn’t it? Are leaders born or taught? I believe the answer is both and that the same holds true for problem solving skills. I also believe that problem solving skills are an ability we should recruit for, encourage and teach when they are lacking. Let me explain how.
Good Problem Solving Start With Understanding the Problem
This seems simple enough yet I would venture a guess that many employees do not really understand why a problem is in fact, a problem. In my corporate days and HR admin came to me upset because she just audited the I-9′s. She found a good number of them that where not filled out completely. The General Manager was in the office when she explained and asked her why that was bad. She looked at me for an answer. She knew that we needed to fill out I-9′s completely. She knew it was bad when they weren’t filled out correctly, but she didn’t really understand why. I explained the possibility of fines should we be audited and now the problem was even more serious in her eyes. It went from just being a clerical issue to one of compliance. She may have been able to solve the problem either way, but truly understanding the problem and it’s consequences, helped her solve for not only the crisis at hand, but deliver an ongoing solution that would prevent it from happening again.
Good Problem Solving Comes From Offering Solutions
Inadvertently, this is where leaders often discourage problem solving skills. An employee comes with a problem and the leader automatically gives a solution. If the leader took a step back and asked the employee how they think it should be solved, the employee is now taping into their problem solving skills by being asked for a solution. It may not be the right one, but at least they had to think it through and offer a solution. Allowing them to work through the process and encouraging them to problem solve on their own, makes them better equipped to do so in the future.
Good Problem Solving Skills Remove the Negative Quickly

I once worked with a leader who, when presented with a problem, would immediately want to get to the bottom of how it happened. She would want to know who was at fault. She would wonder if processes were broken and would sometimes get at a long term solution rather than fixing the problem at hand. While all of these things may be important for future structure, going through that conversation at the time of the problem would often put people on the defensive and breed negative feelings which in turn inhibited problem solving skills. This article states that nueroscientists have proven that we can not find a solution if we focus on the problem. We should encourage our employees to move away from the problem and right onto finding a solution.
Problem solving skills are like communication skills. Every one says they are good at them, but in actuality not everyone is. Finding opportunities to encourage employees to use and develop these skills means leaders spends less time on problems. I absolutely believe they can be taught. What about you?


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