What is problem solving?

a blackboard with 1+1=3 written on it in white chalk

Not this kind of problem.

Everyone knows it’s important, but what does it actually mean in practise? It’s much more than a corporate buzzword⁠—the ability to solve problems is a key part of learning and navigating everyday life. Problem solving is not necessarily about puzzles or averting disasters; ‘problem’ doesn’t have to mean ‘everything is on fire’ (or, worse, ‘maths’). Simply put, problem solving is the ability to assess and respond to a situation.

In the workplace, these situations can range from important company decisions to how to change the paper in the printer. Understanding creative problem solving skills, and putting in the effort to improve them, is vital in any workplace⁠—but it doesn’t need to be complicated. LockHouse is here to break it down to its essentials, with three key stages of problem solving.

Examine the situation.

The first step of solving any problem is to identify it. A lot of the time, this means taking a step back to examine everything you know about the situation, starting at the beginning. This is a good opportunity not only to get specific and work out what the real root of the situation is, but also to remind yourself of the big picture. Take the time to get a good overview of what the other factors involved with the problem are, and familiarise yourself with what your assets are⁠—it’ll make coming up with a specific, realistic goal that much easier.

Ask questions.

Once you’ve identified your goal, rather than simply sitting and staring at it blankly, waiting for the solution to magically manifest in your mind, it’s time to get curious. You can’t come up with an answer if you haven’t asked the questions first, and this is your time to do just that. Think creatively⁠—as well as asking yourself about specifics such as ‘how’ and ‘when’, indulge in ‘what if’ and ‘why’, or, better still, ‘why not’. The perfect solution might not be the first or even the tenth thing you come up with, but at this stage there’s no such thing as a bad idea. 

Make an action plan.

Once you’ve pushed the boundaries with asking questions, you’ll have a considerable amount of answers bouncing around. This is the time to start focusing on specifics, formulating a course of action that takes into account all the ideas you’ve been bouncing around and turns them into a direct plan. Your approach should be step-by-step, with a clear order, and aim at a specific goal.

Many of these approaches to problem solving are useful attitudes to take with you into an escape room⁠—and, likewise, tips for solving escape rooms prove themselves as useful advice for tackling problems outside of an escape room context as well!

Workplace Solutions

a blackboard with the word problem written on it and crossed out in red, replaced by the word solutionYou understand the principles behind problem solving, but why is it important? Encouraging problem solving in the workplace is an important way of investing in your company. By taking the time to build problem solving skills with your team, you’re fostering a positive attitude towards new challenges, and showing the team that you can rely on them to respond to situations creatively. Everyone will be more engaged and feel more invested in the team if they can feel like they’re coming up with and implementing their own strategies⁠—making your whole team feel more confident as part of the decision-making process. It also improves team cohesion, encouraging people to confront problems together rather than ignore them solo.

That said, not everyone is naturally inclined towards problem solving, and even for those who are, it’s important to keep those skills lively. Creative problem solving is a skill like any other, and encouraging it in the workplace deserves some attention. So, how can you turn these ideas about problem solving into something concrete you can focus on in the workplace?

Try some short activities.

Boosting workplace creativity doesn’t have to be time-consuming or arduous⁠—there are all sorts of short activities that can be carried out on the fly requiring only five minutes. Try reframing the problem in only ten words, or asking what a fictional character would do in the situation. Setting aside a few minutes for a quick creative look at things will get people in the habit of thinking about situations in a new, more creative, way. Check out this list of twenty quick activities and tools that you can apply to any opportunity to get you started.

Commit to training.

Workplace training programs can be hard to sell, but one advantage to problem solving is that it lends itself very well to all sorts of situations⁠—including ones that are fun. Focusing in on problem solving is a good way to get your team engaged and having a good time while doing it. It’s also a highly transferable skill, meaning that you’ll see the rewards of building a creative atmosphere in all sorts of unexpected occasions. Creative workplaces are more efficient in coming up with solutions, respond better to change, and work better as a team⁠—but in order to get there, it’s worth taking the time to really invest in and prioritise the creative process.

Get out of the workplace.

Problem solving has workplace benefits, but that doesn’t mean it has to be confined to the office! We learn best when we’re having fun, and many work outings and team building exercises can also double as practise at problem solving. We might be biased, but we think that escape rooms are the perfect places for any corporate event⁠—they’re great for team building, and will get your team solving problems and thinking outside the box in a fun, high-stakes environment.

Planning a corporate event or creative training exercise around Cambridge? LockHouse offers escape rooms and portable puzzle boxes for events. Check our FAQ or email admin@lockhouse.co.uk to see what we can do for you.