5 Ways Problem Solving Skills Will Make Your Startup More Agile
At its heart, entrepreneurship is a problem-solving endeavor, one where the success or failure of a budding company hinges on how well a certain problem is addressed.
Yet, more than 40% of startups close up shop due to their inability to solve a market problem – they are unable to identify a problem to solve, or if they find one, they can’t seem to find a solution.
Identifying a market problem is a critical skill for any startup, but here, we will focus on the latter issue – the poor problem-solving capabilities that many startups seem to suffer from.
How Can a Startup Hone Its Problem-solving Capabilities?
In the simplest terms possible, a startup consists of two main entities: a founder who leads and a team following the founder.
Both of these entities must work on their problem-solving capabilities to give their startup the best chance of survival.
How Founders Can Better Their Problem-solving Skills
Seeing as entrepreneurship is all about solving problems, founders should possess a natural inclination to work in uncertain conditions. Most of them actually enjoy taking on tough problems that might stump other people.
Founders and entrepreneurs, in general, develop a unique approach to solving problems, one that involves them keeping a calm head when under pressure and knowing which tasks should be delegated and when to delegate them.
The good news is that there are several things that you can do to better your problem-solving skills, regardless of your current skill level:
- Always stay positive. Problems come with the territory, so a founder has to get used to them. They should never get angry or frustrated by the problems ahead of them because all that will do is impede their decision-making process.
- Listen more, talk less. Plenty of founders can get so involved with their startup that they can no longer see the forest for the trees.
Ergo, it is always important to listen to other perspectives, especially if the person providing it is detached from the problem and has a little more perspective.
- Communicate openly. Founders need to be open and transparent with their team. Not only does this allow for the team to participate and offer ideas, but it also helps build trust between the founder and their team.
- Ask for help when needed. Despite what most founders might want to believe, there are very few problems that are unique. Most problems have been solved before by someone else.
Asking for the advice of another professional, such as an experienced investor or executive from their networking circles, is always a good idea that can save plenty of money and time.
- Get familiar with different creativity exercises. As mentioned above, an integral part of problem-solving is coming up with a variety of solutions, plenty of which need to be creative.
Brainstorming activities such as mind mapping or through solving puzzles and games like Sudoku can prove helpful with creativity.
- Maintain a curious position in life. Some of the most successful inventions in history started out as outlandish ideas that were dismissed by the majority of people.
Successful founders shouldn’t be afraid to approach every situation with an inquisitive mentality, one that welcomes “crazy” ideas and isn’t afraid to try out new approaches.
How Teams Can Hone Their Problem-solving Skills
The main determinant of how competent a team is at solving problems is the culture established by the founder.
So, founders need to be careful about the precedents they set and the rules they put in place.
For founders, the ideal scenario is that not only is the team capable of solving problems together but that each individual member also becomes an adept problem solver.
What would even be better is if each member learns to tackle different problems, strategic and technical, instead of specializing in a specific niche and staying there.
In such a manner, the next time an employee has a problem with their workstation, they can start troubleshooting and solving the problem immediately rather than waiting for the IT guy to come around in a couple of hours.
And, when the same employee is faced with a disgruntled customer who isn’t happy about something, they will be able to solve the problem in a smart way that pleases the customer without overstraining the company.
Mistakes That Can Lead to an Ineffective Team
There are many mistakes founders can make that can cripple their teams, starting with creating siloed functions rather than encouraging collaboration between different teams.
The problem with having every team focus solely on their function rather than having every member feel responsible for the success of the entire company is that it becomes second nature for each team member to push problems to other people, claiming that it is “someone else’s responsibility.”
This sort of thinking can be catastrophic if taken to an extreme, leading to problems being ignored until they balloon out of proportion.
Another mistake is micromanaging.
Teams need to be given freedom to find solutions to the problems they face, and if their founder tries to direct every move they make, the founder is in effect stifling their creativity and teaching them to look to him any time something out of the ordinary comes their way.
On the other hand, encouraging experimentation but penalizing people who falter is no better.
A big part of experimentation is knowing that there is a high chance that things won’t go as planned, and if every team member knows that they will face the hangman’s noose should their experiment fail, how can they be expected to try new and unique ideas?
The Qualities of Successful Teams
Most teams that are successful problem solvers have two things in common: They are cognitively diverse, which means that different members on the team approach the same problem differently, and they offer a psychologically safe environment within which people can work.
- With regard to cognitive diversity, the idea is to get individuals with varying problem-solving behaviors, including collaboration, maintaining discipline, breaking rules, and inventing new methods.
The alternative, which is having too many of the same type in the same group, such as too many rule-breakers or too many disciplinarians, creates slower teams that can get easily stuck when tackling a tough problem.
- As for psychological safety, this follows from our above discussion about how a big part of problem-solving involves experimentation and the willingness to be wrong.
If a team member feels that they will be judged or scrutinized by their peers for offering poor ideas, people will be discouraged from trying to step outside of the proverbial box.
How Founders Can Create the Right Culture for Their Team
There are many things startup founders can do to get their teams tackling problems like pros:
- If the team is still new and not used to working together, it might be smart to get them started on small, easy tasks. This will help them get a few wins early on, encouraging them to take on harder issues later down the road and giving them the space to learn how they can come together as a team and solve problems as a unit.
- A team that is given full autonomy over their decisions is a team that will be willing to take responsibility and ownership of the problems they handle. A good founder should refrain from interfering too much with their team’s work. (Remember what we said about micromanaging?)Instead, anytime a team member comes to the founder with a question on how a certain task should be handled, the founder should flip the script and ask them this simple question: “What do you think?”Not only does this invite the team member to offer their input, but it also encourages them to grow and become more self-reliant.
- We mentioned earlier that a team needs to offer its members a psychologically safe space, and it’s the founder’s responsibility to institute this space. They can achieve this by doing two things: refraining from anger when someone messes up and celebrating every time a team member achieves a win, no matter how small. This environment of positive reinforcement will get people to contribute and to share ideas.
- With regard to cognitive diversity, a founder should assemble a team that approaches problems in different ways. A founder can also teach their team how to frame problems, encouraging them to see the good, the bad, and the neutral in each situation. An extra step would be to get the team to come up with a solution for each frame, and if the team gets stumped in coming up with different frames, finding solutions for these frames, or just identifying the problem, the founder should encourage their team to seek outside expertise.
What are the Benefits of Having Good Problem Solving Skills
Problem-solving skills go beyond validating a business idea. They are integral in every stage of a business’s life.
Here are a few of the many benefits that can come with developing these skills, specifically within a team:
1. Better Customer Experience
Regardless of the product offered, customers will not return to a startup if their experience was unpleasant, and one of the main determinants of the quality of their experience is how fast their problems were resolved.
Ergo, if a startup wants to get repeat business and ensure stable cash flow, it would do well to brush up on its problem-solving capabilities.
2. A More Productive Team
If we agree that productivity can be defined as the number of tasks or jobs completed within a certain amount of time, then we can also agree that having good problem-solving skills can help a team become more productive by enabling them to finish more tasks in less time.
3. Lesser Turnover
How much someone likes their job is determined by how much meaning they find in it, how fulfilling it is, and how close they feel to their peers.
This means that creating teams that offer psychological safety and value their member’s input is a great recipe for job satisfaction, one that is bound to keep each employee feeling loyal and committed to the company.
4. Better Risk Management
A big part of risk management is knowing when to hedge your bets, when to bet more, and when to cut your losses and walk away.
However, as social psychology has shown us, people are more willing to take on risk when they are within a group than they are when they are on their own.
Group decision making is better suited for risky decisions.
5. More Creativity and Less Bias
A cognitively diverse team is less liable to fall prey to groupthink than a more homogeneous group.
The diverse group will also have an easier time framing any given issue from multiple perspectives, making it easier to come up with plenty of solutions, several of which will be so creative that they might warrant starting a new business.
If anything, sticky notes came about as a result of a failed experiment to create a super-strong adhesive.
Problem-solving isn’t only integral to budding startups; it is also important to Fortune 500 companies.
The good news is that being a good problem solver is something that can be learned and developed, whether on the individual level or the group level.
It might take some hard work, but the results are worth it, and given that more than 90 percent of startups fail, they need to seize anything that can give them an extra little edge.