How to Help Your Employees Solve Problems

By: Becky Kirgan

There’s no denying that being a manager is hard. You are responsible for your own work and making sure your team has what it needs to be successful, all while you are likely continuing to work from home. There are countless things to prioritize, conversations to have, and you are expected to execute your role while both coaching and managing your people.

Being a good manager matters to you and your organization. Whether you have a background as a manager, you recently made the transition from individual contributor to manager, or you’re somewhere in between, you’ll have to adapt your management style in this new world of remote working.

Much of what your team is struggling with right now is likely connected to problem solving. Working in a remote environment makes it harder to know what’s expected of you and what problems you can solve on your own. Plus, being able to “read the room” is much more difficult when everyone is working remotely. Being able to develop your team so they’re confident problem solvers is an asset. Here’s what you need to know.

Good Problem Solving

Great managers appreciate the different perspectives their team members bring to the table and create balanced workspaces. They set the expectation that everyone on the team helps one another, values one another, and will work together to accomplish team goals. Team members who make the best problem solvers are patient, creative, thoughtful, and strong listeners. They are truly willing to solve the problem at hand and are invested in thinking about solutions. There are generally two categories of problem solvers: analytical and intuitive.

Analytical problem solvers act with certainty. They recognize that a problem could be at hand and review the information available to them to define the problem before researching and analyzing to define the root of the problem. Finally, they compare the benefits and risks that each potential solution brings with it and then acts to implement the appropriate solution.

Intuitive problem solvers act with speed. They rely on their past experiences and gut feelings to identify problems quickly and will look at the big picture to decide if it is worth acting on the problem to solve it. These workers quickly see the likely outcome of each possible response and then act without deliberation.

Again, as their manager, you need to appreciate these different perspectives and find a balance of both perspective on your team. When you can recognize which of these categories your employees fall into and what the balance looks like for the team you manage, you’ll know how to help them adapt and thrive.

The Solving Spectrum

Even in a remote environment, managers can find effective ways to encourage team members to solve problems, whether that be on their own or as a team. New team members need directive from their manager while team members who have been around for a while should be encouraged and pushed to solve their own problems. So how do you, as their manager, do this?

In either situation, managers are encouraged to ask questions first that raise awareness of the problem. When directive is needed with new employees or in new situations, you can make suggestions, give feedback, offer guidance, give advice, or flat out give them instructions on how to proceed.

In non-directive situations, you need to help them solve the problem on their own. That might include summarizing the problem at hand for them, reflecting on the problem together, or listening to them as they discuss the problem. Your best workers will love this as they’ll feel encouraged to be creative in solving the problem the way they want to without being micromanaged. If you have confidence in them, this is a great way to show that.

When your employees feel confident in their ability to solve problems, as well as their manager’s confidence in them to ask questions and solve problems, the organization and the individual benefits, and you, as their manager, have more time to work on what you want to get done.

You can refine and expand your management skills in Manager Boot Camp. This interactive program will help you guide others successfully through organizational and professional change, as well as counsel others on career goals.

Becky Kirgan

Becky Kirgan teaches Manager Boot Camp at the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development. To learn more about the program, visit Manager Boot Camp.