All teams and organizations will encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to communication, resolving business-critical issues, or challenges around growth, design, user activation and retention, or development.
Problem solving activities are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges, ideating on possible solutions, and then evaluating the most suitable.
Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right techniques, methods, games and creativity exercises can help your team be more efficient in the process.
Remember that not all problems are the same, and organizations of different sizes, business stages and industries require different problem solving techniques. Solutions are also likely to be different based on the team attempting to deliver them.
So how do you develop problem solving strategies that are engaging, empower your team to come up with the problem solving steps that will be most effective?
In this blog post, we share a series of problem solving techniques you can use in your next problem solving workshop or team meeting.
Each activity comes with a short summary and a link to its detailed description. If you think of using any of these activities in your next meeting, you can easily add them into a session agenda in SessionLab’s workshop planner tool.
Let’s get started!
- Tips for more effective problem solving
- In-depth problem solving techniques
- Problem solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
- Problem solving techniques for finding and developing solutions
- Warm-up activities for a problem solving workshop
- Closing activities for a problem solving workshop
Problem solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method or game can help unlock your team’s problem solving potential, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions your group creates may not be fit for purpose. Let’s take a look at some problem solving tips you can apply to any activity to help it be a success!
Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on. This is a vital part of the problem solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later.
It’s easy for groups to exhibit bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research and adequate forethought. The best problem solving techniques ask participants to be methodical and not jump to conclusions – make sure you take your time and approach the process with a clear, rational mindset.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the problem solving techniques you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding creative solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative problem solving activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.
Depending on the nature of your team or organisational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated or overly emotive. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the problem solving process, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions. You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement on you personally.
Problem solving can be a tough nut to crack and its worth ensuring the right people are on the job. If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages. Creating the right group make-up is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow-up on potential solutions.
The best solutions can take refinement, iteration and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your problem solving process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many problem solving techniques involve the creation of documents or shared resources – be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done.
Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!
It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problemsolving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions. Check out our post on problem solving skills to see how you and your group can develop your problem solving abilities!
In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem solving techniques that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions.
If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem solving model, these processes are a great place to start.
- Six Thinking Hats
- Lightning Decision Jam
- Problem Definition Process
- The 5 Whys
- World Cafe
- Discovery & Action Dialogue
- Design Sprint 2.0
- Open Space Technology
When a team or individual runs into a problem or challenge, it can be tempting to fast track to a possible solution and put in place a quick-fix without first considering the nature of the problem and approaching finding a solution in a structured manner.
Without a clear process, attempts to resolve issues or challenges can become unstructured and frustrating. End-to-end problem solving processes provides a framework for a group to approach problems of any size or scope and see results
The techniques introduced below provide a solid architecture for problem solving that takes a group through all the problem solving steps necessary to go from accurately identifying issues and challenges to developing, rolling out and recording appropriate solutions.
Let’s find the right process for you!
Individual approaches to problem solving can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds, and so it can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the problem solving process. It is important to make space for different perspectives when looking and problems and their potential solutions.
Six Thinking Hats is a classic technique for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions or by considering why a particular solution might not work.
Like all problem solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with solving complex problems with an effective problem solving process.
Courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those problem solving strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. The problem solving process is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and have a fun but not entirely productive time.
Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use problem solving techniques that create a clear process and team focus. In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group. From there, the team are then invited to vote on which problems to solve and the team is then guided through the problem solving steps that allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on.
By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages.
By the end of Lightning Decision Jam, your team will have actionable tasks and solutions they can begin to implement quickly. Like lightning!
While problems can be complex, the problem-solving techniques you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design.
By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem and create a problem solving process that allows a team to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable a team to solve problems with a focus on generating change. You begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and problem solving ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.
Problem solving techniques like this are great for enabling in-depth discussions that create space for finding creative solutions too! It will take a few hours, but the end to end process of Problem Definition is well worth the time and effort you will put in..
4. The 5 Whys
Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their problem solving strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying the root causes behind business problems or recurring challenges or events.
Ostensibly most problem solving techniques and problem solving models can be adapted for conducting root cause analysis and for creating solutions to the root causes discovered as a result. That said, there are some problem solving strategies and approaches that work best as root cause analysis tools and can be used as a root cause analysis template.
The 5 Whys is one such process and is highly effective in helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct root cause analysis that will deliver results.
By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it into a root cause problem statement, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to guide a group through a root cause analysis with ease.
5. World Cafe
World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.
World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the problem solving process, let them take the lead!
Making problem solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable problem solving techniques like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold.
One of the best problem solving strategies is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices, behaviors, and problem solving techniques that can help them find more effective solutions, often without needing massive organizational change or additional resources.
Resistance or ambivalence to change can often feel like an unavoidable element of the problem solving process and one of those problem solving steps that all teams must go through before finding a solution that works for everyone.
With DAD, you can help a group to choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the problem solving techniques you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.
Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a problem solving process with proven results. Developing problem solving strategies that will be effective can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct problem solving steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.
Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution. Want to see a problem solving model in action from start to finish? Take a look! We think you’ll find it useful.
Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.
Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme which they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.
Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group are then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin! Everyone joins the problem solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.
Using activities and techniques to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.
Here are some great problem-solving techniques that focus on the problem identification and analysis part of the process.
- Flip It
- The Creativity Dice
- Fishbone Analysis
- Problem Tree
- SWOT Analysis
- Agreement-Certainty Matrix
- Speed Boat
- The Journalistic Six
- LEGO Challenge
- What, So What, Now What?
Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve.
Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives on the exact nature of a problem and all problem solving strategies require a degree of alignment on this in order to help the group move forward.
Identifying a problem accurately requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute to the problem solving process, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature.
Remember that problem analysis and further discussion is also an important part of the problem solving process. Problem solving strategies that do not include an element of further analyzing and discussing a problem or challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying problem.
Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.
With this data you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any problem solving process you undertake to tackle this issue.
We’ve put together a list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.
Let’s take a look!
9. Flip It
Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important to problem solving strategies, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?
Flip It is one of the problem solving techniques we love in that it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed.
Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.
No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.
One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Problem solving games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the problem solving process with a sense of fun and speed.
In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards or criteria for the session.
Problem solving activities that encourage rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible and move between different points of view are great to include in any problem solving process. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important – problem solving strategies should include moments of pause and thought to ensure the solutions that are put forward are the most suitable.
Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved. Developing problem solving skills that go deeper than the surface are especially important in the long-term, and allow teams to develop more effective problem solving strategies that really get to the heart of the issue.
Fishbone Analysis – or Ishikawa diagram as also popularly labeled – helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem in order to deliver more considered and effective solutions. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis template that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around.
Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish.
Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop creative approach to both the problem and solution. Particularly useful with work problems that may require a larger organizational solution, definitely give Fishbone Analysis a go if you want to improve problem solving skills in your team which can lead to effective business change.
12. Problem Tree
Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many problem solving strategies, and by simply reframing and clarifying problems a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them.
In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.
Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps. Problem Tree is a super-effective way of both identifying and analyzing problems before moving onto developing solutions.
13. SWOT Analysis
Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem solving activity which focuses on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested part of many problem solving strategies and is well worth using with your team or organization as part of the problem solving process.
Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants. Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move the problem solving process forward.
The danger with all problem solving strategies is whether they are best suited to the problem that is trying to be solved. Not every problem solving process is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right approach for the problem at hand is a key part of being an effective problem solving team.
The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams avoid common problems when it comes to deploying a problem solving model and ensure that the right solution will be deployed. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what problem solving techniques are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results.
If you are conducting a root cause analysis (RCA), this problem solving tool can provide the basis for a root cause analysis template that can guide a team successfully through the whole process.
If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem solving workshop, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause.
Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success and problem solving techniques that allow for easy tracking of where the group is at are incredibly useful.
SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great problem solving model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the problem solving skills they need to stay on track throughout the process.
Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.
It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future problem solving activities and as one of your problem solving examples for other teams. Great when trying to instill a problem solving mindset across your organization!
16. Speed Boat
To continue with our theme of problem solving techniques with a nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.
Problem solving games that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments are invaluable to the problem solving process, particularly if they do so in a simple, fast manner.
In Speed Boat, the approach is to consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop problem solving strategies that can also deal with outside parties.
Some of the most effective kinds of problem solving techniques when it comes to problem identification and analysis are those which encourage teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.
Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create problem solving strategies that cover the whole picture and range of users, clients and stakeholders. By using who, what, when, where, why and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem solving process are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.
18. LEGO Challenge
Now for problem solving activities that are a little out of the (toy) box. Lego Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem solving skills.
Problem solving techniques that approach the process with an abstract or creative mindset can be especially effective in helping your team develop problem solving strategies that might succeed where another problem solving model might fail.
The Lego Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking. What the lego challenge brings to the problem solving games ecosystem is a fun working example of what it is to work with different stakeholders who might not be on the same page and then move forward with a problem solving process that works for everyone. Also, it’s Lego! Who doesn’t love Lego!
If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.
The What, So What, Now What? Problem solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying and analyzing organizational or work problems.
Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight. Throughout the three problem solving steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken.
This can be a great problem solving activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This ability to contextualize both problem and solution is one the most important problem solving skills you can teach your team and empower them to find solutions that can find traction among an entire organization.
Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stage of all problem solving games and sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details of a particular problem and are unable to move forward with developing the necessary problem solving strategies.
Journalists is a problem solving activity that can avoid a group getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stage and see the big picture. Problem solving techniques like this are great to have in the back pocket even if they are not the main part of your agenda. Great facilitators prepare for potential blocks to progress and take action to remove those blocks to the problem solving process where necessary.
Successful problem solving techniques help participants move from generalisation to focus. In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the problem analysis and problem identification stages of the process and be better prepared for the problem solving steps to follow.
The success of any problem solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces.
Use these problem solving techniques when you want to help your team find effective, highly targeted solutions.
- Improved Solutions
- Four-Step Sketch
- 15% Solutions
- How-Now-Wow matrix
- Impact Effort Matrix
Finding solutions is the end goal of any problem solving activity and whatever problem solving techniques you employ, organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution.
A key stage for any problem solving model is to ensure that you are first solving the right problem and have clarified it through the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the process. Once you know you are approaching the right problem, you can begin to identify the right solution.
Remember that the problem solving process is iterative. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, by using some of the problem solving activities below to find a wide range of solutions and encourage creative thinking, you can help facilitate the creation of a number of solutions before identifying those most likely to succeed.
Let’s dig in with some solution-focused problem solving techniques!
Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem solving process and all problem solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly.
With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation.
This is one of our favorite problem solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem solving games like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex.
The goal of all problem solving strategies is to come up with solutions to the problem at hand. After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result.
One of a number of problem solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution.
23. Four Step Sketch
Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem solving strategies. Problem solving games that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged.
By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem solving techniques like Four Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from more textual or discussion-based problem solving activities.
24. 15% Solutions
Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change.
Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and appetite for solving large problems.
Problem solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick-wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.
It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change.
The problem solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages of a problem solving model to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process.
When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose the creative energy of the problem identification, problem analysis or brainstorming stages of the process. The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.
Problem solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud.
All problem solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution as part of a problem solving process, groups are invited to put on their decision making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice.
The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort. Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable in a successful problem solving model – use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them.
If you’ve followed each of the problem solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your problem solving process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action?
Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus.
One of the problem solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively.
All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem solving workshops are no different.
Use these problem solving activities to warm-up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process.
As we’ve discussed, facilitation is a process, and all problem solving workshops benefit from having a structured process that covers all the necessary problem solving steps with focus and purpose.
With a sequence of problem solving activities that encourage creative thinking, solution development, and decision making, you’re already halfway towards facilitating a great problem solving workshop.
Facilitating a problem solving workshop effectively requires many of the key skills which we’ve covered in our article on essential facilitation skills, though there are some special considerations when facilitating a group in finding solutions to complex problems.
As teams and groups are increasingly time-pressured, trying to fit all of the ground you need to cover in a problem solving workshop can be difficult and you might consider removing your warm up or ice breaker activities in an attempt to find solutions as quickly as possible.
This is a risky idea for the simple reason that without being warmed up and being given space to arrive mentally in the room, your participants are less likely to contribute effectively to the problem solving process. Facilitation is all about making something easier for a group and making the group comfortable with one another is an important part of the process.
Remember to carefully design and plan your workshop agenda so you can ensure you can include warm up problem solving activities and help your participants prepare for the session ahead. With the right ice breaker games, energizers and problem solving games, you can kick your problem solving workshop off right and see more effective results too.
In problem solving workshops, there is often a need for both creative and critical mindsets and empowering a group to switch between these is something a facilitator can really help with!
Here are some of our favorite warm-up activities for problem solving workshops.
Let’s dig in!
Solid problem solving processes are thought out from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem solving process.
Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard and expected to contribute.
If you are running a series of problem solving workshops, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove and settle in for the problem solving steps to come. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!.
Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem solving skills for any group or team, and warming up a problem solving workshop by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start.
Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective and fun and can make all following problem solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems.
30. Show and Tell
You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem solving activity to kick-off a problem solving workshop.
Asking participants to prepare a little something before a problem solving workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm-up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big picture thinking.
By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem solving process as a team!
Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any problem solving workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases and patterns that can come into play as part of your problem solving process.
Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible.
32. Draw a Tree
Problem solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem solving model.
Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy to your problem solving workshop. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic.
Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.
All problem solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem solving skills in an accessible and effective way. Trees are a tried and tested metaphor for many facilitation concepts – why not continue that great tradition with this activity!
Each step of the problem solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques.
Here are some problem solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.
All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work of the workshop done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results of the workshop and take a moment to reflect on the process.
At the end of an effective problem solving workshop, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space.
The primary purpose of any problem solving workshop is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.
Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem solving workshops and see further success in the future too.
Here are some great techniques for closing out your problem solving workshop.
At the end of a successful problem solving process, the group will have identified and analyzed problems, generated solutions to those problems, and come to a decision of what problem solving strategy to implement. That’s a lot of work and your team is likely tuckered out after following all those steps to find a solution!
Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspective in a quick feedback round.
One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them.
Matrices feature as part of many effective problem solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use and generate results whichever of the problem solving steps you group is working on.
The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem solving workshop by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy to follow way of ensuring your team can move forward.
Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership, and your problem solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved.
35. Response cards
Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem solving activities and by the end of a problem solving process, you might find that your team is talked out!
Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.
Response Cards is a great way to close a problem solving workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised.
The problem solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem solving techniques and a mix of activities designed to strengthen problem solving skills and generate solutions, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.
Is there a problem solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!