As an entrepreneur, you're the visionary and leader of your company, but your employees are the ones who will carry your business to success. They're carrying out your vision, working with your customers and coming up with ideas of their own when need be.
The better they are at their jobs, the more likely your business is to succeed, but one of the most important qualities for a worker is also one of the most elusive: the ability to solve problems efficiently.
Problem-solving can’t be taught the way algebra, basic work duties or software can. It requires more creativity and abstract thinking, as well as an ability to remain calm under pressure and see the bigger picture.
So, what are some ways you can foster better problem-solving abilities in your team?
1. Start with the hiring process.
You need to start the process when you make your hires in the first place. You may already have a team in place, but you can still apply this system to future hiring opportunities. When most people interview candidates, they look for experience, qualifications and a record of achievement; these are good qualities, of course, but they don’t tell you much about a person’s ability to think on the fly.
Instead, try something more akin to Google’s approach, giving your interview candidates problems to solve on the spot, and see how they react. Do they fold under pressure? If they do, pass on them. Do they rise to the challenge? If the answer is yes, keep them around.
2. Trust them.
Your next job is a simple one; trust your employees to get the job done. If you’re constantly looking over their shoulder, micromanaging them, they’ll become dependent on your instruction and guidance (not to mention, they’ll probably become resentful of you).
Instead, back off and give them space. Let them know you count on them to find the solutions to problems on their own, and most employees will feel empowered to rise to the occasion.
3. Give them goals, not instructions.
This follows the same thread as the last strategy: empowering your employees rather than directly guiding them. When assigning tasks or projects to your team, don’t give them a set of instructions. Don’t tell them how to complete the job or exactly what they need to do.
Instead, set a goal for them, and let them figure out the rest. For example, instead of directing a sequence of steps to follow, lead a marketing team member with something like, “I’d like to see a 10 percent higher conversion rate. Can you make that happen?”
4. Encourage creativity.
Next, you’ll want to encourage creativity as much as possible. Problem-solving often requires a bit of abstract thinking, as logical, straightforward problems can often be solved without much issue. There are dozens of ways to foster creativity throughout the office, and you can use as many or as few of them as you like.
For example, add more color and plant life to the office; add games or fun to a break room; hang abstract art on the walls; or even play stimulating music.
5. Provide ample resources.
Problems are easier to solve when you have the right resources with which to solve them. For example, tracking down a problem with an an SEO campaign is much easier when you have solid analytics software to point you in the right direction.
Don’t skimp on the tools your team members are using to complete their work, and if they voice a criticism about how things could be better, take it to heart. Connect them with better sources, tools and points of consultation to help them get the answers they need.
6. Facilitate team brainstorming.
Your employees may be good problem-solvers individually, but they’ll be even better when they work together as a group. Team brainstorming isn’t always productive -- in fact, if you get a group of people together talking over one other and missing the “big picture,” you could end up wasting time.
But if you train your people to work together, and foster team bonding whenever possible, your employees will be able to share ideas freely, build off one another and ultimately produce faster, more efficient solutions -- completely on their own.
7. Appreciate new ideas.
This last strategy is a simple, yet effective one. Simply be more receptive to new ideas, never dismissing someone out of hand, and encouraging your employees to speak up with their opinions. The more you do this, the more empowered and appreciated your employees will feel, and the more confident they’ll be when it comes to solving their own problems.
Problem-solving is an essential component of many parts of business, from analyzing what went wrong in a campaign to coming up with new solutions for a common customer complaint. When your employees are better equipped to solve those problems on their own, with minimal intervention from you, your organization will work faster; more smoothly and efficiently; and with far more solutions in tow.