How to Help People Solve Problems Effectively with Experiential Learning Activities from MTa
Solving problems at work is part of the regular routine for many organisations. With rapidly changing circumstances, increased competition and evolving customer and market requirements, problems are inevitable. Being able to solve them quickly and effectively can be the key to success and competitive advantage.
Most people are familiar with the basics of problem solving: we learned to solve problems at the same time we were learning to walk and talk. But in work situations, many still struggle to find the right solutions, especially when problems are complex and multi-faceted.
This can often lead to new problems like paralysis, mis-diagnosis, or the wrong solutions due to knee-jerk responses. Sometimes people don’t believe they can solve problems, or don’t have the mindset to look at different approaches.
How do you develop people so they have the attitudes, beliefs, resilience and mindsets needed to effectively identify and solve problems?
In group situations, certain voices often dominate, while others stay silent. People who’ve thought about the problem and come up with solutions can be afraid to share their thinking in case they look “stupid”. And others are afraid to speak up for fear of challenging conventional wisdom or rocking the boat.
How do you address the added complexities that come from working in teams: ego, groupthink, social conformity, fear of failure and the impact of cultural norms?
Practice makes perfect but no two problems are ever exactly the same so how do you take lessons learned from previous problems to help solve problems of the future?
Problem-solving activities from MTa help your staff learn how to approach problems by allowing them to solve simulated problems in a team-setting.
We’ll introduce some of the most relevant problem solving activities below. But if you’re not sure where to start, it might be easier to give us a call or chat to us and we’ll help you find the right training activities for you, or read on for an idea of what’s available.
The MTa Insights kit is a great place to start with a dedicated section on problem solving. There are six activities in total varying in length between 30 and 90 minutes. They explore common problem-solving challenges like failing to fully understand the problem before seeking solutions; seeing what you expect to see, not what is actually there; inability to separate a problem from an irrelevant context, or not seeing the big picture.
Take an activity like colourful necklace. Here, the focus is on creative problem-solving in teams, and the ability to turn a problem around and the risks (and costs) of ignoring problems.
Participants tackling realistic problems learn both key elements of effective problem solving and explore their personal “blocks,” which could be perceptual, emotional, cultural or intellectual. There are ample opportunities in subsequent activities to develop and hone the skills, approaches, attitudes and behaviours that enable effective problem-solving.
Building core skills
They learn what both helps and hinders them in solving problems.
These include things like effective problem identification, building on ideas, constructive critiquing, the ability to focus on the critical issues, questioning self and others, and valuing the contributions of others so that a whole diverse range of skills is optimised.
These are just six activities out of 53 in the Insights kits. They also explore critical skills like planning, team working and communication, which we discuss in more depth elsewhere.
MTa’s Team Kit also boasts several activities that explore the challenges of solving-problems in teams. Here the focus is often on the tension between individual and team success, which often leads to difficulties in solving real-world problems.
Take an activity like Digital Display. Members of a large group are each given a task that contributes to a bigger group task. But not everyone has all the equipment they need to complete the task and verbal communication isn’t allowed. Some complete their task early and are left hanging around. Others can’t complete their task and get frustrated.
It’s an emotionally charged activity that replicates a lot of the frustrations that emerge with real problems: some people feel they’ve “done their bit” and don’t understand what is holding up the rest, while others don’t have the resources to do what they need to do. To be successful, individuals need to step back and see the big picture and one particular individual (ostensibly an observer), has a crucial role to empower others and allow them to switch roles so that everyone’s talents are utilized.
Digital Display is one of 16 activities in MTa Team Kit, with others exploring many other aspects of teamwork that are crucial in solving problems in teams.
All MTa activities are practical and engaging, but they are equally anchored in established theories like Schoenfeld theory of problem solving. Originally designed for solving mathematical problems, this theory can be deployed equally for real-life problems, including in business. It centres on four aspects that are critical to effective problem solving: resources, heuristics (techniques for problem solving such as working backwards, or drawing figures), control, and beliefs.
MTa’s practical activities readily explore these with elements like scarcity of materials and time (resources); exploring different approaches and experimenting with models (heuristics); deciding priorities; assigning tasks and components (control) and finally promoting problem-solving mindsets (beliefs)
Another theory, Newell & Simon’s General Problem Solver, centres on definition of the ‘problem space’ and then breaks the problem down into solvable chunks. This approach is also explored in depth in MTa’s problem solving tasks.
Reflect on your reality
Each activity involves an engaging task and a thought-provoking review process. This helps participants reflect on what happened in the activities, and to consider the skills, behaviours and attitudes that are necessary to succeed. In a well-facilitated exercise, it is this reflection that provides most of the learning. MTa call this the ‘Learning Arena’ where all participants are encouraged to:
- Identify the positive, indifferent and negative aspects of the activity being reviewed
- Build on positive aspects to make them even more valuable
- Develop ideas to address indifferent and negative aspects
- Evaluate and select ideas to be implemented
- Explore, practise and refine ideas
- Plan the Learning Transfer: how will the learning experience lead to tangible improvements in day-to-day performance
Participants are encouraged to reflect and think for themselves and then share their perspectives with the group. To help that reflection, each leadership activity comes with learning review sheets that should be completed before group discussion. Download a sample learning review sheet here.
One of the best ways to see these kits in action and to find out which kit(s) are best for you, is to attend one of MTa’s Facilitator Masterclasses. Here you’ll get unique insights from our experienced facilitators on how to run successful sessions, as well as first-hand experience of the kits and your own reflection.
Call our friendly team today to find out more, or view the full range of MTa’s learning, development and assessment activities at www.experientiallearning.org/training-activities/