How to help your team as they problem solve
For most teams, any day at work can bring up dilemmas – from not knowing how to use a piece of equipment, to accidentally making an unauthorised purchase. It’s why problem-solving skills are often a focus when we take on a new employee.

But your team will generally need a little help to solve the challenges they face at work.

SEEK research found more than one in three (37%) candidates feel they need more support to overcome work problems or help breaking down situations at work.

Every team will face its own challenges, but knowing the help employees want most will help you address their needs.

Here are the four key types of support employees are seeking, and how you can put it into practice to guide your team to better problem solving.

The support that employees want

Employees are looking for four main types of help to solve problems at work:

  1. Support from co-workers (55%)
  2. Training and coaching sessions (48%)
  3. More time to work through problems (38%)
  4. Frameworks for decision making (38%)

So how can you help to provide this?

Support from co-workers

SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read recommends managers set up regular opportunities for peer-to-peer sharing, socialising and learning. “Frequency can help build connections, trust and friendships, which all help to increase support,” she says. “Be transparent about organisational goals, mission and values so individuals and teams are clear about the goal posts guiding work and outcomes. People who feel clarity and purpose in their role are more likely to support others.”

More time to work through problems

Problem solving takes time. It’s important to create an environment where employees feel that they can ask for more time and where managers recognise when employees may need additional time to address challenges.

“Understand that effective problem solving can’t be turned on and off in a one-hour weekly meeting,” Read says. “It’s better cultivated by allowing time and space to problem solve, both individually and collectively, across teams and within teams.”

Training and coaching sessions

Most of the time, staff members can identify beneficial training and coaching. “Some organisations find it’s useful to offer a budget and then invite employees to source their own training and coaching from a range of preferred suppliers,” Read says. “This can help garner a sense of ownership and self-agency, which tends to increase engagement.”

A framework for decision making

Donna McGeorge, an author and consultant specialising in workplace effectiveness and leadership suggests four key steps in helping employees approach challenges:

1. Sleep on it or take a break 

“If the problem presents in the afternoon, we are likely to experience decision fatigue, which happens as a result of making lots of decisions throughout the day,” McGeorge says. “Give your employee’s brain a chance to ‘reboot’ overnight as things always seem clearer in the morning.”

2. Identify and break down the problem

“Identify what the real problem is and make a start,” McGeorge advises. “Often a problem feels bigger than it is, so breaking it down into tasks, sub-tasks and sub-sub tasks makes it more manageable.”

3. Assess how much energy, attention and focus it requires

For most of us, tasks that require high levels of intensity are best done in the morning and repetitive tasks are best in the afternoon. “When we do things is as important as what we are doing,” McGeorge says.

4. Have an image of the problem

McGeorge suggests imagining the problem in your mind. “Close your eyes and ‘see’ the problem in your head,” she advises. “Now make it smaller or move it further away.”

According to McGeorge, this mental exercise helps reduce the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in our bodies by taking the edge off a problem and making it more mentally manageable.

Supporting millennials

SEEK research found millennials felt least supported in terms of getting help to overcome work problems. “Early stage career workers will benefit from being asked what their needs and expectations are for getting help with work related issues,” Read says. “They may feel they would like more help but are hesitant to ask because they believe they should have all the answers.”

Problems are often part of the job. But providing the types of support employees want can help them feel equipped to tackle challenges – big or small – and help you set your team up for better problem solving.