9 Problem solving techniques for new GMs

While I’ve written about the new GM avoiding taking on the problems of their team members; there are times when you do have to face these problems and solve them yourself.  Or you need to provide your team members with the skills to solve problems

There are many ways to solve management problems that ou can encourage your managers and team members to use. As a new General Manager you may also have to coach your managers on how they should solve their daily problems.  So how do you, as a GM coach problem solving and as a manager, go about solving your issues?

Here’s a simple means of considering how to creatively solve a problem.

creative problem solving

In coaching problem solving to managers who worked for me, the absolute easiest way for me to deal with the problem was to do it my self- i had the knowledge and experience to solve the majority of problems quickly and simply. This- as I’ve mentioned earlier- just encourages your team members to bring their problems to the problem-solver-in-chief… you. So don’t try to solve the problem.  The next easy way is to tell the person what to do- do this, do that, problem solved.  Its also relatively quick in addressing problems, but rarely have I found this approach useful in developing people. To coach people in problem solving takes time and a little effort to ask the right questions of your team for them to develop responses they will use and remember.

Encourage your team members to learn as they solve problems, to be creative, and use these approaches to assist them develop as managers.

There are the nine best ways to solve management problems that I’ve found.

Use the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) to prioritize problems and separate the trivial many from the vital few.  Sure 100 things are going wrong, but if you can concentrate on the most important problems first, some of the rest will just go away in the process, and in solving the most important problems first you are disproportionately generating better results for the time invested.

When your team members come to you ask… “so which are the most important problems and why”. Ask them to identify them, and the reasons why they are important.  As them to rank the problems and ask why they chose that method to rank them, ask if there are other ways to rank, encourage them to think ‘big picture’ not just about their own area. Encourage them to prioritize the most important and work on those first.

Sort your issues based on how much control you have in order to focus on problems you can control. Why worry about problems that are out of your control?  Ask your managers, “do you have : full control, partial control or no control over a problem”.  Then ask them where they should focus, and why”  They should be identifying those problems where they have full control as a sustainable solution is in their hands.
Focus, first your team on those problems they have full control over and ignore those they have no control over. “You have to fix your department problems first. Don’t try to solve management problems in other areas before you have made sure your area is totally under control.”

Using a structure problem solving methodology like root cause analysis (RCA) ensures you are solving the right problem right. Root cause analysis gets to the heart of problem solving and focuses on solving the real cause of a problem, and not merely addressing its symptoms.

Use these tools to help identify causal factors:

  • Appreciation  – Use the facts and ask “So what?” to determine all the possible consequences of a fact.
  • 5 Whys  – Ask “Why?” until you get to the root of the problem.
  • Drill Down  – Break down a problem into small, detailed parts to better understand the big picture.
  • Cause and Effect Diagrams  – Create a chart of all of the possible causal factors, to see where the trouble may have begun.

One of the key challenges I had was that my managers would come with their opinions or reactions in a situation, especially a people related problem. Opinions can lead you astray. Be sure to collect objective data and make decision by hard facts.  Encourage your managers to identify the difference between an opinion and a fact, and to be clear about them. Both can be valid, but only facts will enable you to sustainably address problems.

As you are coaching your managers, encourage them to identify if there are component parts to a problem. If  they can break a problem into several smaller ones. Big problems are harder to solve. Break the problem down into manageable parts that can more easily be solved.


Encourage your managers to think about their team members and peers (not just you) as problem solving resources. Enable them to think that they are smarter as a group than as any one individual.  Encourage them to empower their employees and to involve the whole team to solve management problems.  This can be threatening to some managers who believe if they say that they don’t know the answer that they will go down in the estimation of their staff.  Rather than this, encourage the thinking that while they may not know the answer, but they know how to reach an answer with everyone’s help.

I firmly believe that intractable problems occur because of narrow-minded thinking. Maybe your manager is thinking too narrowly, and is hemmed in by their own boundaries and can’t creatively see out of their “box” to create a solution. If you are up against, what you consider is, an impossible problem then change your paradigm to find the solution. How creative is the thinking and how can you encourage more creative approaches to the difficult problems?.  Look at yourself as the new General Manager, do you encourage innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, do you enable people to break their paradigms. Here’s how you can stimulate paradigm thinking in solving intractable of impossible problems

  1. Radical goals.  Set yourself at least a 50% increase in performance or 50% reduction in costs.  A BIG goal forces new thinking.
  2. Willingness to invent new core concepts.  For example the iPhone reinvented human interface with computers.
  3. A recognition of the desire for a better way.

There are times where you and your team are stuck.  The walls of your ‘box’ are too high, and you struggle to break them down or jump over them. Consider asking someone (a friend, an ex-colleague) to provide a completely different view. Sometimes a fresh new look at the problem from someone outside of your area can provide the insight missing to solve your problem.  Encourage your managers to do likewise in their challenges.

I often hear “we tried that before, so it won’t work now” when suggestions are made. Solutions that may not have worked in the past may work today- things change. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking – if it was tried before it can’t work. It might just work this time- for example now the technology has changed. Consider all of your possibilities when trying to solve management problems.

VERY Last option… Hire a consultant
If all else fails, then maybe its time to hire a consultant. Consultants bring an objective viewpoint free of your internal politics. Consultants have a wider range of tools to use like value stream mapping. And consultants have experience solving problems encountered at other companies (and yes I am available…).