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Supervisor Problem Solving: Steps to Improving This Vital Skill


As all leaders are, supervisors are frequently confronted with challenges that test their problem-solving skills. These skills are not just a part of the job; they are the essence of effective leadership and management. General Colin Powell once said, “When your soldiers stop bringing you their problems, is the day you have stopped leading them.” 

There are operational problems, scheduling problems, team conflict problems as well as many others. With so many issues being thrown at supervisors, learning how to problem-solve should be near the top of the list of skills to master. Regardless of the type of supervisor you are, learning to solve problems will make your work life much easier.

If you’re an entrepreneur leading your employees or a supervisor leading your team, this article will help give you some steps to take to improve your problem-solving skills.


Why Problem-Solving is Important for Supervisors

For supervisors, problem-solving is a fundamental skill. It is one of the qualities that good supervisors possess. For many types of businesses, solving the problems of their team or business is something that happens several times per day. Since this is something that supervisors will be doing often, supervisors must learn to improve on this skill.

One of the keys to operational efficiency is the ability to quickly resolve problems that come up. Supervisors frequently encounter challenges that can disrupt workflow. It can be something like technical glitches or a process inefficiency. If a supervisor can solve these problems effectively, it will ensure that those issues are addressed swiftly and competently. This will minimize downtime and maintain the smooth operation of business activities. This is not only crucial for meeting targets and deadlines but also for upholding the overall quality of work.

Also, supervisors are often the first point of contact for resolving conflicts within teams. Good problem-solving skills enable supervisors to mediate disputes. Conflicts can be major problems in the workplace. Finding common ground among team members and establishing resolutions that benefit all of the individuals involved is challenging for a supervisor. This skill is vital for maintaining a positive and productive work environment.

Leaders of all kinds need to be able to solve problems. As a supervisor, these problems can come from all directions. Understanding how to solve them in the best way can help grow your business, your department, and yourself.


Understanding the Problem in Depth

One of the first things supervisors need to do when problem-solving is to get a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. A supervisor cannot solve a problem if they are not really clear on what that problem is and its effect on the business and team.

Supervisors must dig deeper than the surface symptoms to uncover the root causes of problems. This requires an investigative approach, often involving asking probing questions and analyzing patterns.

During this step, supervisors should encourage team members to share their perspectives. Each team member may have unique insights based on their experiences and expertise. This will provide a 360-degree view of the issue. This in-depth understanding is critical because it shapes the entire problem-solving process. The aim is to ensure that solutions are not just superficial quick fixes but are targeted at the underlying causes.


Gather All the Information

Next, supervisors need to collect and gather all the data they need to work on the problem. The process involves collecting all relevant information that sheds light on the nature and scope of the issue at hand. This phase is crucial as it forms the basis upon which all subsequent decisions and solutions are built. Supervisors must approach this step methodically, identifying the types of data needed and the best sources for acquiring it.

This can include quantitative data such as sales figures, production metrics, or customer feedback scores. But it can also include things like employee opinions, customer reviews, or observational notes. It’s important to gather data from a variety of sources to ensure a well-rounded understanding of the problem.

One of the things that cannot be overstated is to make sure that the data collected is accurate and relevant. Let’s use the example of conflict resolution. If a supervisor is trying to resolve an issue between two employees, that person should make sure to understand the situation from the perspective of the people involved as well as others on the team. This will help them see things as they truly are. This will also help them avoid biases that could skew the problem-solving process.

Analyzing this data effectively provides critical insights and helps in identifying the true root causes of the problem. Once you have all of the information you need, you can move on to solving the issue at its core.


Generate Multiple Solutions

You have a better chance of solving problems if you know of several solutions that may work. Because of this, leaders need to come up with as many solutions to the problems at hand as possible. They should consider all possible options without immediate judgment or dismissal. This approach is beneficial because it prevents tunnel vision and opens up the possibility of finding better solutions.

One way to do this is to use a method like mind mapping. This is when you visually explore the relationship between different ideas. You can also use the ‘5 Whys’ method. This method involves asking “Why?” five times to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The belief is by the time you ask ‘why’ the 5th time you will have the real cause of the issue which will allow you to create solutions that will actually fix the problem.

The goal here is to create a pool of ideas to choose from. As a result, a supervisor increases the likelihood of finding the best solution to the problem.

Keep in mind that problem-solving should not be a solitary activity. Collaborative leads to better results. Supervisors should encourage their teams to brainstorm and think differently. Drawing from the skills and experiences of the team will help the supervisor come up with an answer to the problem and can also help them think differently about the way they come up with solutions. 


Implement and Monitor the Solution

As a supervisor, once you’ve picked a solution, the focus should shift to its implementation and monitoring. This stage turns theoretical solutions into practical actions and outcomes. Supervisors need to develop a clear implementation plan, outlining the steps, resources required, timelines, and responsibilities.

Monitoring the solution’s effectiveness involves regular check-ins and gathering feedback from the team and other leaders. If the solution is not as good as anticipated, supervisors should be prepared to revisit the problem-solving process. However, this time with the goal of understanding what went wrong. 



Adjust if Needed

Along the same lines as previously stated, supervisors need to adjust strategies if the chosen solution turns out not to be a good one. This phase acknowledges that even well-planned solutions can encounter unforeseen challenges or may not fully resolve the issue. Supervisors must have an adaptable mindset. They should view the problem-solving process as evolving and changing rather than static and linear.

While a solution may have looked good on paper, sometimes it doesn’t translate into a practical solution in the real world. Supervisors need to be able to pivot and abandon an idea that just isn’t working. One mistake that supervisors tend to make is being so prideful that they do not want to admit they made the wrong choice. Supervisors should be willing to stop what isn’t working in order to apply something that will work.


Keep on Developing Strong Decision-Making Skills

Problem-solving and the ability to make sound decisions are very closely linked. Supervisors must cultivate their skills to assess solutions critically. This requires a balance of intuition and analytical thinking. Supervisors should be able to analyze data and trends to inform their decisions. All the while trusting their instincts and experiences when data may not give them a clear direction.

Decision-making also involves considering the impacts of decisions on the team and the organization as a whole. Therefore, supervisors should develop an ability to anticipate potential outcomes and plan accordingly. Equally important is the courage to make tough decisions and the resilience to handle the consequences, learning and adapting from each decision-making experience.

Here are some ways to improve your decision-making skills:

  • Practice Decision-Making Regularly: Like any skill, decision-making takes practice. Do exercises or scenarios that challenge you to make small and large decisions. This builds confidence and sharpens your decision-making abilities.
  • Avoid Decision Fatigue: Recognize that making too many decisions in a short period can lead to poorer quality choices. Prioritize decisions, handle important ones when you’re most alert, and don’t rush complex decisions.
  • Use Decision-Making Frameworks: Learn different decision-making frameworks and tools like SWOT analysis, cost-benefit analysis, or the Eisenhower Box. 
  • Learn from Past Decisions: Reflect on your past decisions, both successful and unsuccessful. Understand what worked, what didn’t, and why. Learning from past experiences helps in making better decisions in the future.
  • Manage Emotions: Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in decision-making. Be aware of how your emotions influence your decisions and strive to maintain a balance between emotional and rational thinking.


One of the strengths all good supervisors have is the ability to solve issues.  Also, the more problems you solve the better you will be at finding the right solutions. Supervisors don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes or failure as not every solution will work out. However, if you can learn from each attempt, you will be able to strengthen your problem-solving muscles.

Thomas Martin
Tom is a member of the Editorial Team at StartUp Mindset. He has over 6 years of experience with writing on business, entrepreneurship, and other topics. He mainly focuses on online businesses, digital publishing, marketing and eCommerce startups.

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Tom is a member of the Editorial Team at StartUp Mindset. He has over 6 years of experience with writing on business, entrepreneurship, and other topics. He mainly focuses on online businesses, digital publishing, marketing and eCommerce startups.

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