Career Sidekick

26 Expert-Backed Problem Solving Examples – Interview Answers

Published: February 13, 2023

Interview Questions and Answers

Actionable advice from real experts:

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Biron Clark

Former Recruiter

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples


Dr. Kyle Elliott

Career Coach

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Hayley Jukes


Biron Clark

Biron Clark , Former Recruiter

Kyle Elliott , Career Coach

Image of Hayley Jukes

Hayley Jukes , Editor

As a recruiter , I know employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure.

 A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers are more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical.

But how do they measure this?

Hiring managers will ask you interview questions about your problem-solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem-solving on your resume and cover letter. 

In this article, I’m going to share a list of problem-solving examples and sample interview answers to questions like, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?” and “Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you handle it, and what was the result?”

  • Problem-solving involves identifying, prioritizing, analyzing, and solving problems using a variety of skills like critical thinking, creativity, decision making, and communication.
  • Describe the Situation, Task, Action, and Result ( STAR method ) when discussing your problem-solving experiences.
  • Tailor your interview answer with the specific skills and qualifications outlined in the job description.
  • Provide numerical data or metrics to demonstrate the tangible impact of your problem-solving efforts.

What are Problem Solving Skills? 

Problem-solving is the ability to identify a problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving encompasses other skills that can be showcased in an interview response and your resume. Problem-solving skills examples include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical skills
  • Decision making
  • Research skills
  • Technical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Adaptability and flexibility

Why is Problem Solving Important in the Workplace?

Problem-solving is essential in the workplace because it directly impacts productivity and efficiency. Whenever you encounter a problem, tackling it head-on prevents minor issues from escalating into bigger ones that could disrupt the entire workflow. 

Beyond maintaining smooth operations, your ability to solve problems fosters innovation. It encourages you to think creatively, finding better ways to achieve goals, which keeps the business competitive and pushes the boundaries of what you can achieve. 

Effective problem-solving also contributes to a healthier work environment; it reduces stress by providing clear strategies for overcoming obstacles and builds confidence within teams. 

Examples of Problem-Solving in the Workplace

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem-Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry-Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

How To Answer “Tell Us About a Problem You Solved”

When you answer interview questions about problem-solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem-solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mentions problem-solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. 

Start by briefly describing the general situation and the task at hand. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact. Finally, describe the positive result you achieved.

Note: Our sample answers below are structured following the STAR formula. Be sure to check them out!


problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Dr. Kyle Elliott , MPA, CHES Tech & Interview Career Coach

How can I communicate complex problem-solving experiences clearly and succinctly?

Before answering any interview question, it’s important to understand why the interviewer is asking the question in the first place.

When it comes to questions about your complex problem-solving experiences, for example, the interviewer likely wants to know about your leadership acumen, collaboration abilities, and communication skills, not the problem itself.

Therefore, your answer should be focused on highlighting how you excelled in each of these areas, not diving into the weeds of the problem itself, which is a common mistake less-experienced interviewees often make.

Tailoring Your Answer Based on the Skills Mentioned in the Job Description

As a recruiter, one of the top tips I can give you when responding to the prompt “Tell us about a problem you solved,” is to tailor your answer to the specific skills and qualifications outlined in the job description. 

Once you’ve pinpointed the skills and key competencies the employer is seeking, craft your response to highlight experiences where you successfully utilized or developed those particular abilities. 

For instance, if the job requires strong leadership skills, focus on a problem-solving scenario where you took charge and effectively guided a team toward resolution. 

By aligning your answer with the desired skills outlined in the job description, you demonstrate your suitability for the role and show the employer that you understand their needs.

Amanda Augustine expands on this by saying:

“Showcase the specific skills you used to solve the problem. Did it require critical thinking, analytical abilities, or strong collaboration? Highlight the relevant skills the employer is seeking.”  

Interview Answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Solved a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” or “Tell me about a time you solved a problem,” since you’re likely to hear different versions of this interview question in all sorts of industries.

The example interview responses are structured using the STAR method and are categorized into the top 5 key problem-solving skills recruiters look for in a candidate.

1. Analytical Thinking

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Situation: In my previous role as a data analyst , our team encountered a significant drop in website traffic.

Task: I was tasked with identifying the root cause of the decrease.

Action: I conducted a thorough analysis of website metrics, including traffic sources, user demographics, and page performance. Through my analysis, I discovered a technical issue with our website’s loading speed, causing users to bounce. 

Result: By optimizing server response time, compressing images, and minimizing redirects, we saw a 20% increase in traffic within two weeks.

2. Critical Thinking

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Situation: During a project deadline crunch, our team encountered a major technical issue that threatened to derail our progress.

Task: My task was to assess the situation and devise a solution quickly.

Action: I immediately convened a meeting with the team to brainstorm potential solutions. Instead of panicking, I encouraged everyone to think outside the box and consider unconventional approaches. We analyzed the problem from different angles and weighed the pros and cons of each solution.

Result: By devising a workaround solution, we were able to meet the project deadline, avoiding potential delays that could have cost the company $100,000 in penalties for missing contractual obligations.

3. Decision Making

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Situation: As a project manager , I was faced with a dilemma when two key team members had conflicting opinions on the project direction.

Task: My task was to make a decisive choice that would align with the project goals and maintain team cohesion.

Action: I scheduled a meeting with both team members to understand their perspectives in detail. I listened actively, asked probing questions, and encouraged open dialogue. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of each approach, I made a decision that incorporated elements from both viewpoints.

Result: The decision I made not only resolved the immediate conflict but also led to a stronger sense of collaboration within the team. By valuing input from all team members and making a well-informed decision, we were able to achieve our project objectives efficiently.

4. Communication (Teamwork)

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Situation: During a cross-functional project, miscommunication between departments was causing delays and misunderstandings.

Task: My task was to improve communication channels and foster better teamwork among team members.

Action: I initiated regular cross-departmental meetings to ensure that everyone was on the same page regarding project goals and timelines. I also implemented a centralized communication platform where team members could share updates, ask questions, and collaborate more effectively.

Result: Streamlining workflows and improving communication channels led to a 30% reduction in project completion time, saving the company $25,000 in operational costs.

5. Persistence 

Situation: During a challenging sales quarter, I encountered numerous rejections and setbacks while trying to close a major client deal.

Task: My task was to persistently pursue the client and overcome obstacles to secure the deal.

Action: I maintained regular communication with the client, addressing their concerns and demonstrating the value proposition of our product. Despite facing multiple rejections, I remained persistent and resilient, adjusting my approach based on feedback and market dynamics.

Result: After months of perseverance, I successfully closed the deal with the client. By closing the major client deal, I exceeded quarterly sales targets by 25%, resulting in a revenue increase of $250,000 for the company.

Tips to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Throughout your career, being able to showcase and effectively communicate your problem-solving skills gives you more leverage in achieving better jobs and earning more money .

So to improve your problem-solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting.

 When discussing problem-solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Don’t just say you’re good at solving problems. Show it with specifics. How much did you boost efficiency? Did you save the company money? Adding numbers can really make your achievements stand out.

To get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t.

Think about how you can improve researching and analyzing a situation, how you can get better at communicating, and deciding on the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem-solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem-solving ability.

More Interview Resources

  • 3 Answers to “How Do You Handle Stress?”
  • How to Answer “How Do You Handle Conflict?” (Interview Question)
  • Sample Answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”

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About the Author

Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions. Follow on Twitter and LinkedIn .

Read more articles by Biron Clark

About the Contributor

Kyle Elliott , career coach and mental health advocate, transforms his side hustle into a notable practice, aiding Silicon Valley professionals in maximizing potential. Follow Kyle on LinkedIn .

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About the Editor

Hayley Jukes is the Editor-in-Chief at CareerSidekick with five years of experience creating engaging articles, books, and transcripts for diverse platforms and audiences.

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Initiative: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 – 5)

By Editorial Team on July 22, 2023 — 3 minutes to read

Initiative is a valuable skill for employees in any organization. It means being proactive, taking charge of tasks or situations, and seeking solutions without waiting for instructions. Employees who demonstrate initiative often excel in their roles, contribute positively to their team’s success, and increase their potential for career advancement.

Questions to determine an employee’s performance rating for initiative:

1. Does the employee take on tasks without being asked? 2. Does the employee go above and beyond their job duties? 3. Does the employee come up with creative solutions to problems? 4. Does the employee take ownership of their work and responsibilities? 5. Does the employee take the initiative to learn new skills and improve their performance? 6. Does the employee take the initiative to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement?

Based on the answers to these questions, you can assign a rating. For example, if the employee consistently takes on tasks without being asked and comes up with creative solutions to problems, they may receive a high rating for initiative. Conversely, if the employee only does what is required of them and does not take the initiative to learn new skills or provide feedback, they may receive a lower rating. It’s important to provide specific examples and feedback to the employee to help them understand how they can improve.

Related: Best Performance Review Examples for 48 Key Skills

2000+ Performance Review Phrases: The Complete List (Performance Feedback Examples)

Initiative Performance Review Phrases and Paragraphs Examples

5 – outstanding, example phrases.

  • Consistently thinks ahead and proactively addresses potential issues
  • Takes on challenging tasks and drives them to completion without prompting
  • Demonstrates exceptional leadership skills in developing innovative solutions

Example Paragraph

“Jane consistently demonstrates an outstanding level of initiative. She is always thinking ahead to identify and address potential problems before they become critical. Her willingness to take on challenging tasks without being asked and her exceptional leadership skills when developing innovative solutions set her apart from her peers and contribute significantly to the team’s success.”

4 – Exceeds Expectations

  • Frequently seeks additional responsibilities and opportunities to contribute
  • Proactively identifies issues and develops solutions independently
  • Demonstrates strong problem-solving skills and a commitment to continuous improvement

“Tom consistently exceeds expectations when it comes to initiative. He frequently seeks out additional responsibilities and opportunities to contribute to the team. His ability to proactively identify issues and develop solutions without waiting for direction demonstrates his strong problem-solving skills and commitment to continuous improvement.”

3 – Meets Expectations

  • Regularly demonstrates initiative in taking on new tasks and responsibilities
  • Works independently to resolve issues and complete projects
  • Adapts to changing priorities and displays a positive attitude under pressure

“Sue meets expectations when demonstrating initiative. She regularly takes on new tasks and responsibilities without being asked and works independently to resolve any issues that may arise. Sue adapts well to changing priorities and maintains a positive attitude even under pressure.”

2 – Needs Improvement

  • Occasionally takes initiative but may need guidance to complete tasks
  • Can be proactive at times but struggles to maintain consistency
  • Needs to demonstrate greater independence and problem-solving skills

“Bob’s initiative needs improvement. While he occasionally takes it upon himself to start new tasks, he often requires guidance to see them through to completion. He can be proactive at times, but struggles with consistency. Bob should work on developing his independence and problem-solving skills to boost his initiative.”

1 – Unacceptable

  • Rarely shows initiative, often waiting for direction before taking action
  • Demonstrates a lack of independence and problem-solving ability
  • Frequently resists taking on new tasks or embraces change

“Mary’s initiative is unacceptable, as she rarely shows any drive to take charge of tasks or situations. She often waits for direction before taking action and consistently demonstrates a lack of independence and problem-solving ability. Mary also frequently resists taking on new tasks and has difficulty embracing change.”

  • Productivity: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)
  • Listening Skills: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)
  • Supervision Skills: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)
  • Problem Solving Skills: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)
  • Training Ability: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)
  • Attendance: Performance Review Examples (Rating 1 - 5)

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Take the initiative: A how-to guide in 10 steps

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What makes a team member proactive?

Why should i care about taking the initiative, when is it the right time to take the initiative at work, 10 ways to take the initiative at work, what causes lack of initiative and how to overcome that, making your way.

Are you doing more or less than what's expected of you at work? When you see a potential problem, do you bring it up? Do you get excited about ways your team can improve? Do you share your ideas or keep them to yourself? 

If you’re doing more and speaking up, it sounds like you're trying to become a team member who takes the initiative in the workplace.

What is initiative and what does it mean to take it?

Taking initiative means thinking proactively about tasks—   not just to check them off a list, but to get them done well. It's about going the extra mile on the basic tasks you're assigned, thinking through complications, and taking on work before someone asks you to.

Taking initiative means noticing opportunities and taking action.

Another word for taking initiative might be “ownership.” At BetterUp, for example, “radical ownership” means that we are fully responsible for our work and that we welcome the opportunity to learn from it and improve when it doesn’t go well.

If you’re the type of employee who takes responsibility and pride in their work, it will benefit both your team and your own career goals . Plus, you will likely experience more satisfaction in your job.

To excel at taking initiative, you must be a proactive team member. Let's dive into a few characteristics that define a proactive team member.

  • Motivated to reach team goals and their own 
  • Action-oriented
  • Collaborative with others
  • Open to thoughtful risks and using their voice
  • Skilled at making decisions  
  • Positive attitude toward work and team 
  • Confident communication  
  • Responsible and receptive to constructive criticism  

If you’re doing everything you were hired to do, you might be wondering why you would ever want to take on more. This is where it might help to reframe your thinking a little. When you think about taking the initiative to get things done, don’t think of it as increasing your workload.

Think of it as becoming more valuable and relevant and positioning yourself for growth. Depending on your work, you might also think of it as achieving an important outcome.

Besides establishing yourself as a valuable team member, taking initiative can impact you and your work in many positive ways. 

But your impact reaches beyond your workplace too. Take a look at these main reasons to take the initiative and imagine yourself trying them. 

  • Makes you stand out from the rest of the competition
  • Builds confidence in your professional life and personal life
  • Improves your chances for promotions and career growth
  • Strengthens your relationship with your team members
  • Helps with problem-solving 
  • Boosts happiness and job satisfaction for you and your workplace
  • Creates better critical thinking and problem-solving skills


Although you may encounter many opportunities to take initiative,  choose your time wisely. Think about when you can best speak up and act so that you are more likely to be effective and also have space to learn from the experience.

When you've mastered your required tasks

It’s great to take initiative in your primary role — there’s always room for improvement and new ideas. But, make sure you understand your core job, and you’re doing it well, before taking initiative too far afield. 

It's never a good idea to take on more than you can handle if you aren't pretty sure you can deliver. Remember, every single employee is responsible for completing certain tasks before taking on something more.

Once you've finished the non-negotiables of your own agenda, start looking for where you have interest and enthusiasm to take initiative on other tasks. Remember, even on your core tasks, there’s almost always room to take more initiative.

Think about how efficiently you're working and completing your tasks each day. If you feel like you’re more often drowning than surfing, focus on your core skills and practices before you raise your hand to take charge of other tasks. 

When you see a problem in your workplace

One of the benefits of being collaborative in your work environment is using more minds to help problem-solve. If something isn't working and you have ideas about how to fix it, taking initiative can help your team. You don’t have to “know” for certain or always be right. Offer your ideas. Be open to others building on and adapting your ideas. Commit yourself to driving a solution, even if it isn’t your own. 

Taking initiative doesn’t necessarily mean having the answers but it does mean taking action. Team members around you will recognize that you're a reliable, collaborative, and giving coworker who leads by example .

When you understand the limits of your authority and experience

Before you jump into action in the name of taking initiative, consider if you're qualified to do so. Certain decisions might need a supervisor's permission if they’ll have a significant impact. Others will benefit from consulting with others in the company who might have relevant expertise.

If a task requires a particular skill set or level of authority to carry out, you need to make sure you're capable. 

You’ll also need to put your safety first if you're using equipment you're unfamiliar with using. Asking for help or clarification is part of taking initiative and better than assuming you can do it all by yourself.

 Ideally, your manager or supervisor gives you some guidance and guardrails so that you know what is most important to the company and what types of decisions or actions are off-limits. 

When your well-being is in a good place

Taking extra initiative can stretch you beyond your comfort zone and tap into passion or ambition that can also leave you feeling drained or approaching burnout. Recognizing when you've done enough is important. After a long day of work, you could be tired and ready to rest. Pushing harder to keep going can have the negative effect of leaving you depleted and doing a poor job.

Listen to your body and energy levels before taking on different projects. Even if you have to say no to an opportunity or schedule something on tomorrow’s to-do list, it's often better than overworking and under-delivering. 


Sometimes, how to take initiative at work can be obvious. Opportunities to be proactive and collaborative in the workplace could be right in front of you. Your boss could mention that they hope someone could help them with a task or get something accomplished. 

Other times, you might need to look a little harder within your workplace. Here are 10 ways you can become a proactive employee and take the initiative at work:

  • Voice your ideas
  • Be curious and learn about the work going on around you
  • Find a new opportunity for improvement within your workplace
  • Address any problems you notice
  • Step in when someone needs help, and ask about team progress
  • Offer help when training new employees
  • Make an effort to get to know your coworkers
  • Ask for clarification when you're confused 
  • Speak up during team meetings
  •  Request constructive criticism and feedback on your work


People don't take the initiative due to various internal and external factors. Many of them can be resolved or overcome in some way.

Internal causes for lack of initiative

When someone is new in their workplace, they might not want to rock the boat. They may fear speaking up or misspeaking, self-doubt, and a lack of self-confidence. Even experienced employees can feel like they don’t know enough to step up.

Team members may also view taking the initiative as extra work and not be interested in the benefits. If you notice that you tend to shy away from being a proactive team member, ask yourself why. Try to make purposeful contributions that matter to you — either because of the outcomes or because of the personal career benefit — when you can. 

External causes for lack of initiative

The environment you work in and those around you can impact how proactive you are. People who constantly complain and don't respect and appreciate their team members often stop people from taking the initiative. If nobody has team spirit or long-term visions of their work, it's harder to encourage people to be proactive. 

Occasionally, your supervisors might be threatened or put off by your willingness to work harder or your desire to grow and succeed. Remember that this isn't on you. You shouldn't hinder your growth opportunities just because others don't want to see you excel. It is worth checking in honestly with yourself to confirm that you are delivering on your current responsibilities as expected. 

How to overcome a lack of initiative

Whatever the reasons stopping you from taking the initiative, you can overcome them. Like any other obstacle or aspect you want to improve, it takes time and effort. Seek input (and moral support for trying new things) from a few trusted co-workers or even friends outside of work. Objective guidance from a coach or mentor can help, too. 

Taking initiative doesn’t have to mean always going it alone or chasing the spotlight. But it does mean being willing to take the first steps.

  •   Internal Inhibitors: It's all about building confidence and experience and finding your voice. You have helpful skills and perspectives to offer in your workplace. Asking questions when you're confused doesn’t make you look bad or lazy. It shows that you’re engaged and willing to be a team player and overcome your challenges .
  • External inhibitors: Use your confidence to speak up and be willing to lead . If a team member or supervisor seems to be throwing up obstacles or putting you down, you need to address it. Consider whether they are trying to guide you or put the brakes on your plan because they have more context — in which case, seek their input or enlist them in your efforts. If you find yourself in an environment where taking initiative isn’t welcome or valued, focus on your next career move . You should never feel ashamed to pursue new career plans and learn new skills — including leadership skills .


Nobody will hand you immediate success. It's up to you to learn to be proactive in any way you can to help yourself, which includes being kind to yourself and knowing how much you can handle in a day.

If you're looking to learn how to become a more vital, more proactive team member and have the skills to pursue your goals, BetterUp can help . The coaches we pair you with are excited to help you with a personalized plan to help you get where you need to go.

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Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.


Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.


Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow


Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!


As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.


Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.


The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.


A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.


Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.


As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.


No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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17 Tips On How To Take Initiative At Work (With Examples)

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Find a Job You Really Want In

Every driven professional is looking for a way to stand out from their competition and impress their employer to advance their career.

Taking the initiative to make things happen in your position is a tremendous tactic to attract positive attention from a supervisor and be a generally good employee .

Key Takeaways:

Taking initiative at work can lead to positive growth and benefits.

Ways to take initiative include: offering solutions beyond the scope of your work, speaking up during meetings, and being willing to take on additional tasks.

Make sure not to overextend yourself because this can lead to a negative impact.

Taking initiative is a great way to build confidence and dependability.

Be positive and empathetic when taking initiative.

17 Tips On How To Take Initiative At Work (With Examples)

17 Tips for How to Take Initiative at Work

The definition of taking initiative at work, ways taking initiative at work can help you, what causes and how to overcome a lack of initiative.

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Taking more initiative at work is a strong strategic move to make if it’s gone about in the right way. You’ve taken the first step by deciding to be more resourceful in your professional life . The second is reading through the following list of 17 tips for how to take initiative at work:

Think about ways to improve the organization. Even the best companies manage to find ways to innovate and improve their productivity. This is true of your employer as well. Consider the ways that your organization or team could improve.

Once you’ve gathered a list of realistic ways to innovate your company, think about how you’ll go about presenting these ideas to your team. You don’t need to formulate the entire plan, just the thought outline.

Go the extra mile when completing projects. Work is stressful , and because of this fact, many employees cruise by for years just meeting the average expectations of their employers.

While only meeting the bottom line of completing your work probably won’t get you fired , it also isn’t going to win you any promotions either.

Speak up during meetings more. A lot of companies have meetings weekly or monthly as a designated time for employees to converse about what’s going on. Unfortunately, many employees stay quiet during team meetings . This is a squandered opportunity to speak up and take initiative.

Ask questions. One of the best ways to take initiative at your job is to ask questions every chance you need to. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in improving and doing good work. You can’t advance from your position if you don’t know where you stand or what you can do to get better.

Only put out work you’re proud of. When you first began your job, this tip was probably an inherent part of your work process. Over time, though, your drive to only turn in work that you’re 100% proud of becomes a little less intense.

It’s a natural cycle that happens when someone settles into their professional role.

Consider your future and career goals. Individuals who display initiative in their career are often thinking about objectives in the future and how to achieve them.

Building rapport with co-workers. It’s important to build rapport with co-workers and act together as a team. The staff of a company needs to be able to function well together, even in jobs with competitive undertones.

Request constructive feedback from supervisors. Another technique for showing your employer you mean business when it comes to growing your career is to request constructive feedback.

Asking a supervisor for feedback about your skills and weak points indicates that you’re an employee who’s open to suggestions and ready to improve your performance.

Pay attention at all times. You never know when a vital piece of information is going to be brought up in a meeting or a new opportunity will present itself briefly. To make sure you’re aware of everything happening at your organization and any opportunities for advancement, pay attention at all times.

Always be prepared for the next opportunity. Your place of employment has a wealth of opportunities that can introduce themselves at any given point. Taking advantage of these occasions relies on catching them at the right moment and being ready to take them on.

Adopt a team-centered mentality. A business achieves its success through the strength of its team. Always feeling like you need to compete with your co-workers creates a tense work environment that’s difficult to collaborate in.

Offer to help when you can. An employer notices when you go out of your way to offer help when you didn’t have to because it exhibits initiative. While you should never extend your services to help when you already have a full plate, making the generous offer when you can will impress a supervisor.

Take on some extra work . This is another tip that’s only possible to do if you have enough room for it in your schedule. When you have some downtime at your position, it might be a good call to ask for some extra assignments.

Step up to solve problems when they arise. Problem-solving is an advantageous skill for employees to have, but it’s useless if you don’t share this information with your colleagues. Although nobody is thrilled at the idea of maneuvering problems and overcoming obstacles, it needs to happen eventually in any professional environment.

Act as a leader within the company. While you might be in an associate ’s position now, there’s always the possibility of leadership in your career’s future. Start now by acting as an example and presenting leadership skills .

Improve your soft skills in your spare time. Taking it upon yourself to improve your career’s transferable skills shows an immense amount of initiative. An employee is rarely told they need to work on their interpersonal abilities or time management.

Stay positive. Co-workers are aware of and affected by the energy you bring to the workplace. Even though a professional environment has the potential to be stressful at times, staying positive is significant to how you’ll be perceived.

Most companies have that one employee who goes beyond their basic job responsibilities to accomplish goals and find solutions without being asked.

Their supervisors know that they can count on them to get their job done and more. Thanks to being proactive and problem-solving , they experience career growth.

This describes an individual who takes initiative at work.

Helps you stand out from the competition. The professional world is competitive despite the field you work in. Even people in the most laid-back occupations need to make themselves stand out to gain traction in their careers.

Builds confidence. Putting yourself out there as a capable employee who’s eager to take on difficult assignments builds confidence . It’s impossible to get better at your craft without taking a little calculated risk to improve.

Your employer sees you as dependable. Businesses want to fill their team with individuals who take initiative because it means that they won’t need to hold their hand through every small task.

It can improve your career. Taking initiative in the workplace can greatly advance your career over time. Stagnant employees who don’t take action to move upward in their company usually don’t.

To overcome a lack of initiative, you must first understand what causes a lack of initiative. Not everyone is naturally good at taking initiative, so it is very normal to feel like you have certain challenges in front of you.

These challenges can be broken into two categories:

External factors. External factors are challenges within your work environment that prevent you from taking initiative. This could be a toxic work culture where initiative is not rewarded, where speaking up can lead to ideas being stolen or shot down.

Other factors include a lack of infrastructure that allows you to work outside your job responsibilities. For example, although you may want to take initiative, your boss only wants you to work on a specific project and provides no means for you to expand outward.

Internal factors. Internal factors are the challenges within you that prevent you from taking initiative. This can range from something as simple as ignorance to opportunities, to something more serious such as a mental health issue like chronic depression.

Most people have internal factors get in the way of their initiative. A lack of confidence, an anxiety of being rejected, procrastination, or an inability to articulate goals can all result in little to no initiative being taken.

Luckily, these are all problems that can be solved. If your environment does not incentivize initiative, you can try to bring the issue up with your supervisors. However, sometimes it may just be better to find work elsewhere. Generally though, most work environments will want to see and support initiative from their employees and do their best to help you.

Internal factors, which are more common, also come with solutions. The first step is to be honest with yourself. Practice developing your self-awareness with exercises such as meditation and journaling. From there, begin to notice patterns in your behavior. Acknowledge and accept internal factors that are preventing you from taking initiative.

Once you understand what the problem is, you can work to improving your situation. Each internal factor has its own solution, but it first needs to be identified. This may be accomplished alone, however, don’t be afraid to ask for help from peers, a mentor , or a mental health professional . Generally it is going to take effort to develop new habits.

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Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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Taking Initiative

Making things happen in the workplace.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

"There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened." – Mary Kay Ash, American businesswoman
"Initiative is doing the right thing without being told." – Victor Hugo, French writer

Helen's manager was due to meet with her and her co-workers to discuss their role in the next product roll-out. Unfortunately, he's been snowed in at an airport on the other side of the country, and his cell phone battery is dead. The deadline is tight, and the team can't afford to waste a day because of his absence.

Helen was the last person to talk to her boss before he left, and he'd outlined who was going to be doing what on the project. So, Helen takes command, and, within an hour, everyone on the team has their preliminary tasks mapped out.

When her boss arrives in the office three days later, he's impressed and grateful that Helen took responsibility to get the project moving. If she hadn't, several valuable days would have been lost.

Do you take initiative like Helen? That is, do you make things happen for yourself and for your team? Or, do you wait for someone else to tell you what to do?

People who have initiative and make things happen are highly valued in the workplace. But, what is it? And how can you develop it? We'll be covering both of these questions in this article.

Defining Initiative

Researchers Michael Frese and Doris Fay define initiative as "work behavior characterized by its self-starting nature, its proactive approach, and by being persistent in overcoming difficulties that arise in pursuit of a goal."

When you show initiative, you do things without being told; you find out what you need to know; you keep going when things get tough; and you spot and take advantage of opportunities that others pass by. You act, instead of reacting, at work.

Most of us have seen initiative in action. Maybe you've seen a young manager who fills her boss's shoes when she's sick and the rest of the team is unsure what to do, or perhaps you've seen a team member proposing a process improvement plan to the executive board.

Initiative has become increasingly important in today's workplace. Organizations want employees who can think on their feet and take action without waiting for someone to tell them what to do. After all, this type of flexibility and courage is what pushes teams and organizations to innovate and overcome competition.

How to Develop Your Initiative

The good news is that initiative is a skill that you can develop. You can do this by following these steps:

1. Develop a Career Plan

Research* has shown that people who have a long-term career plan are more likely to take initiative. Professionals who know what they want and where they want to go are far more likely to show initiative at work, especially when the action or decision will help them further their career goals. Develop this plan .

Also, make sure that you understand your job, your team and your organization's purpose, so that you know what you should be achieving. See our articles on Job Analysis , Team Charters and Mission and Vision Statements for more on this.

Once you know what you want to achieve, integrate your career goals with your personal goals so that you have something to work towards. (In your personal life, the key to developing initiative is to set clear personal goals , and then to work steadily towards achieving them.)

2. Build Self-Confidence

It can take courage and a strong sense of self to show initiative, especially if you fear that people may disagree with your actions or suggestions.

First, take our quiz, How Self-Confident Are You? The results will give you a good idea of your confidence levels right now. Then, if you need to, take steps to build your self-confidence .

For instance, set small goals so you can achieve some quick wins. And push yourself to do (positive) things that you'd otherwise be scared to do – this will not only help you build your self-confidence, but it will help you build the courage to accomplish bigger, scarier tasks later on.

You might also want to read our article on Positive Thinking . This, along with Visualization , can help you build your self-confidence even further.

Some people have a real fear of speaking up , or of taking any action that's not yet authorized by the leadership team, because they're afraid of failure or rejection. If this sounds like you, see our article on overcoming fear of failure to learn how to manage your fears.

3. Spot Opportunities and Potential Improvements

People who show initiative often do so by spotting and acting on opportunities that their colleagues or leaders have not noticed. They're curious about their organization and how it works, and they keep their minds open to new ideas and new possibilities.

You should always be on the lookout for areas in your organization that could use improvement. To spot opportunities and potential improvements, consider the following from the problem-finding stage of the Simplex Process :

  • What would our customers (internal and external) want us to improve? What could they be doing better if we could help them? How can we improve quality?
  • Who else could we help by using our core competencies ?
  • What small problems do we have that could grow into bigger ones?
  • What slows our work or makes it more difficult? What do we often fail to achieve? Where do we have bottlenecks ? What is frustrating and irritating to people on our team?

Get into the habit of looking for these things – perhaps set a repeating appointment in your diary to remind you to look for them; and, when things go wrong, think about how you can fix them.

For more on implementing your ideas, see our articles on the Simplex Process and on turning your idea into reality .

4. Sense-Check Your Ideas

Imagine that you've come up with a creative way of breaking through a bottleneck in your customer service process. Before you head straight to your boss with your idea, stop and do some homework. Think about the costs and risks associated with the idea. (Tools like Cost/Benefit Analysis , Risk Analysis and Impact Analysis will help here.)

Where the cost of the project and the consequences of something going wrong are small, consider going ahead with your idea directly, while keeping your boss "in the loop" (how far you should do this depends on your relationship with your boss). Where risks or costs are more significant, consider preparing a business case , and ask for authorization before you go ahead.

You've already shown initiative by coming up with a solution. Make sure that you follow this through by doing your homework on the idea. The more you have researched and considered your ideas, the higher your chances of success will be.

5. Develop Rational Persistence

Persistence is the art of moving forward even when you encounter inertia or difficulty. People who show initiative often encounter difficulties and setbacks along the way, so resilience and rational persistence (where you listen to, consider, and appropriately modify your direction depending on other people's input) are essential if you want to achieve what you've set out to do.

When you're persisting with your idea, you'll find things much easier if you learn how to manage change effectively – this can often make the difference between success and failure for a project. It's also helpful to learn how to open closed minds , since people may already have an opinion on a subject before you even start presenting your idea.

6. Find Balance

While it's important to take initiative, it's just as important to be wise in the way that you use it. In some situations, it can be inappropriate to take initiative, and people who generate too much extra work for other people can upset others.

For instance, you might have worked with a colleague who was "gung-ho" about every idea. He was constantly pushing the team, and your boss, to lead the next project or to implement a new idea. However, some of his ideas were naïve, his persistence in taking the initiative often crossed the line into aggressiveness, and perhaps the team felt that he "rocked the boat" too much at a time when other team members were overloaded.

This is why it's so important to learn good decision-making techniques . The more you enhance these skills, the better you'll be at judging when an idea is good, and it isn't. This way, you can develop a reputation both for initiative and for good judgment – an invaluable combination!

You'll also want to develop your emotional intelligence skills. It's helpful to know how to read the emotions of others. This sensitivity can help you further decide when to take initiative, and when it's best to let things be.

Initiative has become increasingly important in today's workplace. You show initiative when you act without being told what to do, persist in the face of inertia and difficulty, and see your idea through to a successful conclusion.

There are six steps you can take to develop your own initiative.

  • Develop a career plan.
  • Build self-confidence.
  • Spot opportunities and potential improvements.
  • Sense-check your ideas.
  • Develop persistence.
  • Find balance.

Frese, M. et al (1997) 'The Concept of Personal Initiative: Operationalization, Reliability, and Validity in Two German Samples,' Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psycholog y, No 70. (Available here .)

Campbell, D.J. (2000) 'The Proactive Employee,' The Academy of Management Executive , Vol. 14, No 3. (Available here .)

Frese, M. and Fay, D. (2001) 'Personal Initiative: An Active Performance Concept for Work in the 21st Century,' Research in Organization Behavior , Vol. 23.

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problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

11 Good Examples of Showing Initiative at Work

Examples of Taking Initiative at Work

T he initiative begins with the individual. If you want to be rewarded for the work you do, then take initiative and get it noticed! For some people, the most challenging thing about showing initiative is overcoming the fear of stepping up to take ownership . But making yourself stand out by doing something different can break down whatever shyness you may have and make it easier for your boss to notice the right things you do.

What is Taking Initiative?

Taking initiative is to undertake something boldly on your responsibility without waiting to be told. It is the desire to do things no matter what obstacles are in your path, being motivated by your determination.

In other words, showing initiative is to step up and take responsibility for making things happen. Someone who takes initiative causes things to happen while feeling responsible for what is happening around them whether it’s intentional or not.

Taking initiative can often start with nothing more than an intuition idea or a hunch and usually requires movement then forming out of it into something concrete. There are many ways of showing initiative in action.

Here are 11 good examples of showing initiative at Work:

1. Offering to help when no one asks

Good examples of showing initiative include offering to help when no one asks or without being asked. It shows that you see someone struggling or not getting something done and decide to reach out and offer your assistance rather than just standing back and watching the struggle continue and thinking about helping later.

Helping others when they are struggling has many benefits, including building relationships and character building. When you show kindness to others, they become inclined to reciprocate.

So, when you take the initiative and do something to help someone, that person will be more willing to help you out in the future.

Taking time away from your agenda or situation to offer support and advice even though others are not asking can show initiative. As mentioned earlier, helping others is a great way to build relationships and character.

2. Dealing with an obstacle straight away

When you see an obstacle in your path rather than just plowing through it, you look for the root cause of it.

Many people try to push through obstacles, thinking that “this is just the way it is,” or they assume someone else will do something to sort them out.

And that allows the obstacle to remain unaddressed and the problem to fester. Putting the extra effort into understanding and acknowledging why an obstacle exists shows you have taken the initiative to think things through and find the best way to get around it.

Read also:  Top 14 Personable Skills of a Good Employee

3. Taking care of small issues before they become big

Taking care of small problems before they become big ones is one of the examples of showing initiative. It is such a simple concept, but so many people do not act on it.

If you see something that needs to be done and which no one else seems to be handling, then you handle it — whether it is changing out a light bulb, fixing a squeaky door or clearing up a water leak, drying up a wet floor, or getting rid of slip and strip that can hurt someone.

All these might seem like minor issues, but when left unattended can create major hazards for people. So, because of your proactive initiative, you solved a potentially big problem.

4. Taking on a task that others neglected

When you take on something that other people have tried and failed at, or are just not interested in doing, then you are showing initiative.

You might be taking on a project that everyone else has declared impossible or too time-consuming, or perhaps you’re stepping up to finish a task where others have failed to complete.

Even if it’s something that seems difficult — remember that there is nothing worth having that isn’t worth working for!

5. Being inquisitive about what the job entails

Being inquisitive about what the job entails — and who does or will do it in the future, especially those with whom you share the responsibilities – helps you know how to do a job better.

You can also look for conflicts of interest, be they human or otherwise. It might help you come up with innovative ideas and solutions to improve the workplace and relationships.

Read also: 10 Ways How to Be Attentive to Details

6. Providing career advice to a colleague

Good examples of taking initiative include providing free career advice to junior colleagues and helping them transition smoothly into the company.

One of the challenges many junior employees encounter is knowing how to manage their careers.

When a senior colleague offers free career advice to junior colleagues, it is a great gesture. It makes the workplace inclusive and fosters an environment of caring where everybody finds their job meaningful.

7. Setting your sights on a promotion

You do not hang around in the same position with limited opportunities. Instead, you engineer your promotion strategy that means looking for roles available in the company.

It also means networking with work colleagues in other departments to know which job opportunity is already available for you to take over.

If you find a role that requires a different set of skills, start updating your knowledge immediately to suit the requirements.

There’s no point in wanting to be promoted without the right skills to perform the new role. You don’t need to wait for your boss to tell you about your performance .

You pro-actively check with your boss to know if the job you do is up to standard or not and if there are areas that you can improve on.

Build excellent relationships with their managers by being courteous, helpful, and professional in all situations. When new opportunities become available, you’re ready to take them.

8. Standing up against injustices

How often do you see something wrong and do nothing because you don’t know what to do? Taking initiative and stand up against injustices in the workplace even when no one else has done so is a sign of being a true leader.

If something is wrong, don’t wait for someone else to fix the problem.  Sometimes other people will not like you standing up for what’s right, but you shouldn’t worry about their opinions.

You stand alone as an advocate for what is right despite all odds against your initiative since it goes against what some people think or want.

You say “no” to actions that disregard the rules of morality or legality. And speak up on behalf of those wronged because doing so makes sure such practices stop.

Be courageous and willing to listen to opinions but only if that will stamp out any injustices.

9. Learning something you were afraid of

Learning something you were afraid of will help you attach to prospects or clients and help you build a better rapport with them. Likewise, learning about different cultures can make you open up to others without fear.

It does not mean you should take on more than you can chew, but you should not be afraid to tackle new concepts and ideas. Because if you want to grow as a person and a professional, you have to keep an open mind to allow yourself to learn more every day.

Read more:  16 Character Traits of a Hard Worker

10. Asking for feedback from work colleagues

Asking for feedback from colleagues and use it to improve your skills. Many people have inflated egos and therefore avoid learning about themselves.

In other words, if you are not self-critical and self-accountable or open to criticism from colleagues, you are not going to grow as a person.

People who ask for feedback from others know what they want out of their professional life. Being open to feedback from co-workers can help you in your personal development, and that is one way of showing initiative at work.

By having an open mind, you are willing to listen to people with different thoughts from yours, embracing the fact that they may see things differently than you expect.

11. Identifying your development areas

Take time to reflect on how your daily job relates to the objectives or goals of your company. Identifying what needs improvement through self-reflection sets you up for success by enabling you to take steps towards improving yourself every day at work.

You will start seeing where you can make improvements, even if they are small ones. And this is the way of showing initiative at work.

Taking initiative is a great skill especially, for employees to have because it encourages them to meet new challenges with enthusiasm and rewards them by increasing their confidence which in turn motivates them towards productivity again from this point on.

Managers should trust and reward “higher-level thinkers” who can find solutions to difficult problems and anticipate potential pitfalls.

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Problem solving and decision making

 "This has shown increasing demand as employers are acknowledging that graduates are expected to think for themselves and perhaps find different ways of working and thinking creatively"

Carl Gilleard, Former Chief Executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters

How to be an effective problem solver

We all use our initiative and creativity to solve problems every day. For example, you might have to change your route due to traffic congestion, solve an IT issue, or work out what to make for dinner with the ingredients left in the fridge. The challenges you may face in your professional career are likely to be a bit more complicated than these examples, however the skills and processes you use to come up with solutions are largely the same, as they rely on your ability to analyse a situation and decide on a course of action.

Problem solving and decision making  are likely to be essential aspects of a graduate-level job, so it is important to show a recruiter that you have the personal resilience and the right skills to see problems as challenges, make the right choices and learn and develop from your experiences.

You are likely to have to apply techniques of problem solving on a daily basis in a range of working situations, for example:

  • using your degree subject knowledge to resolve technical or practical issues
  • diagnosing and rectifying obstacles relating to processes or systems
  • thinking of new or different ways of doing your job
  • dealing with emergencies involving systems or people.

You may have to use a logical, methodical approach in some circumstances, or be prepared to use creativity or lateral thinking in others; you will need to be able to draw on your academic or subject knowledge to identify solutions of a practical or technical nature; you will need to use other skills such as communication and planning and organising to influence change.

Whatever issue you are faced with, some steps are fundamental:

I - Identify the problem

D - Define the problem

E - Examine alternatives

A - Act on a plan

L - Look at the consequences

This is the  IDEAL  model of problem-solving. There are other, more complex methods, but the steps are broadly similar.

What do recruiters want?

Problem solving, decision making and initiative can be asked for in a variety of ways. Many adverts will simply ask for candidates who can “ take the initiative to get a job done " or " have the ability to resolve problems "; others, however, may not make it so obvious. Phrases such as those below also indicate that initiative and problem solving are key requirements of the role:

  • “We need people who can set goals and surpass them; people who have ideas, flexibility, imagination and resilience…”
  • “Take responsibility and like to use their initiative; Have the confidence and the credibility to challenge and come up with new ways of working…”
  •  “An enquiring mind and the ability to understand and solve complex challenges are necessary…”
  • “We are looking for fresh, innovative minds and creative spirits...”
  • “Ambitious graduates who can respond with pace and energy to every issue they face…”

These quotations are all taken from graduate job adverts and they are all asking for more or less the same two things:

  • The ability to use your own initiative, to think for yourself, to be creative and pro-active.
  • The ability to resolve problems, to think logically or laterally, to use ingenuity to overcome difficulties and to research and implement solutions.

These are important skills which recruiters look for. They want staff who will take the personal responsibility to make sure targets are met; who can see that there might be a better way of doing something and are prepared to research and implement change; who react positively, not negatively, when things go wrong.

Gaining and developing problem solving and decision making skills

Below are some examples of how you may already have gained decision making and problem solving skills at the University of Bradford and beyond. There may also be some useful suggestions here if you are looking to develop your skills further:

  • dissertation - researching and analysing a specific issue and providing recommendations
  • group projects  - overcoming challenges e.g. a change of circumstances, technical problems, etc.
  • part-time jobs, internships and work experience*  - dealing with challenging customers, identifying and solving issues in your role, completing projects, etc.
  • organising events - deciding on date, venue, marketing; solving logistical issues, etc.
  • travel -  organising trips, planning and reacting to change, etc.
  • enter competitions - to   provide a solution to a challenge.

*Using your initiative in a work context is about spotting opportunities to develop the business. This can, for example, include learning new technology to make your work more productive and efficient; being willing to look at processes and systems to see if there are things you can suggest to improve workflow; recognising opportunities that will improve the business and being prepared to follow them through; volunteering to learn new tasks so you can be adaptable and help out in emergencies or at peak periods.

How can you prove to a recruiter that you have these skills?

Think of examples of when you have used these skills. See the above section for suggestions, and then to provide a full and satisfying answer you can structure it using the STAR technique:

  • S - Define the Situation
  • T - Identify the Task
  • A - Describe your Action
  • R - Explain the Result

Here is a detailed example:

Define the SITUATION:  (where were you? what was your role? what was the context?) 

I work shifts at a call centre which manages orders for several online companies. One evening I had to deal with a very irate customer who had been promised a delivery a week ago and had still not received it. 

Identify the TASK:  (what was the problem? what was your aim? what had to be achieved?) 

Whilst listening to the customer, I accessed his record. This was no help in solving the problem as it simply reiterated what the customer was saying and did not give any more up-to-date information. I promised the customer that I would do my best to help but I would need to do some research and phone him back. He reluctantly accepted this.

Describe the ACTION you took:  (be clear about what you did) 

I could not check with the office as they were closed and my supervisor had already left for the evening, so I searched for the same product code to see if I could find updated information on other records.  This confirmed that the product was now back in stock and that several deliveries were actually scheduled for the following day. There seemed to have been an error which had resulted in my customer’s record not being updated, so I reserved the item for this customer and then persuaded the Logistics Manager to include him in the schedule.

Highlight the RESULT you achieved:  (what was the outcome? Be specific and, if possible, quantify the benefits)

My shift was over but I telephoned him back and explained what I had done and hoped very much that it was convenient for him to accept delivery the following day. He was delighted with the initiative I had taken and thanked me. Two days later my supervisor told me that I had received excellent feedback from a customer and I would be nominated for Employee of the Month.

To use the STAR technique effectively, remember:

  • You are the STAR of the story, so focus on your own actions.
  • Tell a story and capture the interest of the reader. Include relevant details but don’t waffle.
  • Move from the situation, to the task, to your actions, and finally to the result with a consistent, conversational approach.

A detailed statement like this can be used in online applications, or used at interview. It is also easy to adapt it for use in your CV, for example:

  • My work experience at the call centre required me to develop good problem solving skills when dealing with difficult customers with stock and delivery issues.
  • I have good customer service skills developed through resolving problems relating to stock and deliveries whilst working for a call centre.

Adapting your examples

The example above, for instance, could easily be altered to prove your  communication skills , show that you can  adapt and be flexible , and that you have great  customer service skills .  It is worthwhile spending time writing statements like this about all your experiences and then adapting them to match each recruiters’ specific requirements.

Related key words / skills

  •  Leadership
  • Analytical and logical thinking
  • Recommending
  • Creative thinking
  •  Adaptability and flexibility
  • Time management
  • Researching
  • Applying knowledge

Practical help

We run regular  workshops on employability skills , and you can book an appointment with one of our advisers to discuss how to improve your employability in relation to your career choices.

Further reading

More articles:

  • Problem Solving defined on Skills You Need
  • Mind Tools on Problem Solving Techniques
  • Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee (via TARGETjobs)
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making processes via

You can also check out our Assessement Centre and Psychometric Tests pages for details of the problem-solving exercises recruiters use in their selection processes.

Other relevant websites with general information on skills are:

  • Prospects  – features articles on skills and how to evidence them.
  • TARGETjobs  – has details on essential skills and competencies.
  • Business Essentials
  • Leadership & Management
  • Credential of Leadership, Impact, and Management in Business (CLIMB)
  • Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  • Digital Transformation
  • Finance & Accounting
  • Business in Society
  • For Organizations
  • Support Portal
  • Media Coverage
  • Founding Donors
  • Leadership Team

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.


Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

problem solving and demonstrating initiative examples

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17 Tips on How to Take Initiative at Work

17 Tips on How to Take Initiative at Work

This article discusses tips on how to take initiative at work. The ability to see something that needs to be done and stepping up to do it is a game changing habit that can help you to stand out at work.

Having initiative demonstrates a sense of self-drive, self-awareness, insight and personal motivation.

The habit of taking initiative strengthens your personal brand. You can become a role model to others who would seek to emulate you.

My favorite tip on taking initiative is # 16 “How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm at Work”. What is your favorite tip?

You can quickly skim all the 17 tips on the table of contents below then click on any tip to read further details. Please enjoy reading. Thank you.

  • A Game Changing Habit: Cultivating Initiative
  • What Does Taking Initiative Mean?
  • How to Develop Your Initiative Muscles
  • 25 Ways to Have Initiative at Work
  • Benefits of Taking Initiative
  • Things to Consider Before Taking Initiative
  • How to Take Initiative as a Team
  • How to Encourage Employees to Take Initiative
  • What Causes Lack of Initiative?
  • 20 Qualities That Can Help You Take Initiative
  • Solving Problems at Work
  • How to Think Like an Owner of a Company
  • Asking Good Questions
  • How to Be More Confident At Work
  • How to Pitch a Proposal or Idea to Your Boss
  • How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm at Work
  • 5 Motivational Quotes on Taking Initiative

1. A Game Changing Habit: Cultivating Initiative

One crucial skill that can serve you well in both your personal and professional life is the ability to show initiative at work. If you constantly wait to be told what to do, then you waited too long.

The habit of initiative entails seeing something that needs to be done and either doing it or figuring out ways to do it.

The more you work on initiative, the easier it becomes. The key is finding ways to be resourceful and taking action or doing something before others do it or before you are told to do it.

Taking initiative shows the hallmarks of a leader in the making.

Examples of initiative include: when you see others struggling reach out and offer help. When you see areas where your life is not going as well as you would like to and you decide to do something about it.

When you see bad decisions being made that could be disastrous and have courage to speak up and point the flaws rather than waiting for the bad thing to happen and then make statements such “I thought that wouldn’t work out well”.

Other ways of developing your initiative include learning to ask the right questions, probing questions which can bring to surface negative undercurrents that need to be addressed.

Taking initiative helps to build and strengthen your decision making skills and analytical skills where you get to analyze pros and cons of different courses of action.

Having initiative also helps to identify opportunities and capitalize on them.

The habit of taking initiative strengthens your personal brand. A person who takes initiative will be a role model to others.

You will chart a new path and try out a new way of doing things that could help improve your life and those of others.

2. What Does Taking Initiative Mean?

Taking initiative means going the extra mile or going above and beyond your normal job responsibilities to make things happen.

Taking initiative means the ability to see something that needs to be done and deciding to do it out of your own free will without someone else telling you to do it.

Doing something that needs to be done out of your own personal drive with a desire to make things better than they were before or improve processes and ways of doing things.

Doing more than your normal work duties and adding a little unexpected surprise for others at work.

Being proactive instead of reactive , thinking ahead and taking action.

3. How to Develop Your Initiative Muscles

Developing your initiative begins by knowing what you want to achieve in your career, what things you have to and are willing to do and how fast you want to achieve your career goals.

Learn how things work and figure out efficient ways of working. Look for opportunities in problems.

Persevere and be willing to start small. You don’t have to dive into a big project immediately; build your initiative muscles one step at a time.

Observe colleagues who are masters at taking initiative. Talk to them, learn from them, work with them, learn their thinking processes and most importantly study how they execute ideas and accomplish goals.

Practice speaking up and making your voice heard. You could start by contributing and participating actively in small group meetings then graduate slowly to larger groups.

Let people get used to hearing your input. When you consistently offer good ideas, suggestions or recommendations, your opinions will be sought over time.

Learn to be decisive. Become comfortable at making decisions rather than agonizing endlessly over decision making.

Think long term. Study how different things are interrelated and connect the dots such as the interplay between individual annual goals and the strategic goals of the company.

4. 25 Ways to Have Initiative at Work

There are many ways and opportunities to take initiative at the workplace.

Typical ways to demonstrate or show initiative at work include the following:  (detailed explanations are available below this summary)

Seeking more responsibilities. Tackling challenges/solving problems. Training others/sharing knowledge. Helping your coworkers. Providing regular status updates. Building strong working relationships with coworkers. Doing things and projects that others avoid. Volunteering to work with different teams and departments. Stepping in when someone is unavailable or absent. Being innovative/improving systems, processes and procedures. Resolving interpersonal conflicts at work. Offering to mentor others. Volunteering for leadership roles. Referring good potential employees. Helping in the interviewing and hiring process . Brainstorming ideas to improve the company. Becoming a good team player. Supporting your supervisor or manager efficiently. Helping others to see their strengths and qualities. Anticipating and preventing problems. Dressing to succeed. Sharing the credit. Maintaining high quality standards. Making good decisions and being decisive. Doing quality control for finished projects.

4.1 Seeking more responsibilities

Begin by doing your actual job exceptionally well and then identify areas where you can contribute over and above your normal tasks.

When you have identified specific work-related tasks and projects that you can do, run these by your manager to let them know what you want to work on and reassure them that this will not affect your regular roles.

The next step is to begin working on a few small tasks over and above your normal duties and keep repeating these tasks till you get comfortable doing them and gradually increase the amount of extra work that you are capable of handling. You can also help your manager to handle some of their priorities.

Over time you might end up doing a lot of extra tasks that add value to your team and department and you could even end up being considered for a job promotion.

4.2 Tackling challenges/solving problems

In a typical work setting, problems occur every now and then. It is vital to work on building one’s skills and confidence in problem solving so that you can identify problems, come up with options and choose the best solution .

The first step in problem solving is to clearly understand the problem so that you can come up with correct solutions.

Some questions to ponder on during problem solving process include: What is the problem? When did it happen? Why did it happen? What solutions have we tried before? What solutions worked and which ones didn’t? How can we solve this particular problem? How much time do we have?

If the challenge being addressed is big, break it down into smaller pieces and resolve each section at a time.

Each time you come up with a solution for a problem then implement the solution and it work outs well, this in-turn helps to strengthen your problem solving skills.

Some solutions may work and others might not, on average strive to come up with as many good solutions as possible. Brainstorming with others similarly helps to identify options and narrow down choices.

4.3 Training others/sharing knowledge

One way of showing initiative at work is by being a fast learner and training others or explaining things to others. When you attend a professional development training course, you can organize a brown bag lunch to cross-train colleagues who might benefit from the knowledge.

Similarly, share your knowledge through creating internal resource documents such as “how to” manuals, operating guides, flowcharts, standard operating procedures, checklists etc.

You can also create a virtual library of resources and resource manuals for colleagues to use.

When new staff are hired in your team, you can give them orientation training regarding your department and the company and help them to settle in quickly.

Additionally, you can deliver companywide training on areas and skills where you excel in such as delivering training on advanced spreadsheets, how to use databases, budget preparation and management, report writing, presentation skills, closing a sale, fundraising and prospecting, basics of project management etc.

4.4 Helping your coworkers

You can empower others by sharing your tips, routines or efficiency methods that work you.

Ways of helping coworkers can include being responsive, helping to clear backlog, assisting in coming up with solutions, helping to explain complicated processes, training them on using new systems and being collaborative in sharing relevant information with team members.

Other methods are listening to others view points and opinions, willingness to learn from others, supporting other departments, giving kudos to team members on their accomplishments, participating in office communal and volunteer activities and participating actively in meetings and voicing your thoughts and comments.

Additionally you can act as an accountability partner to check-in, encourage and motivate a colleague who is working on achieving specific goals.

Demonstrate willingness to pitch in and help others when they run into challenges. If necessary, be willing to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to help a colleague meet a critical deadline even when it might call for working a few late nights and weekends.

4.5 Providing regular status updates

Aim to provide regular progress updates to both internal stakeholders such as your boss and coworkers on one hand and on the other hand keeping external stakeholders regularly informed as well such as other departments, clients, customers, funders etc.

It helps to be on the same page with your boss regarding your priorities. When you are working on your assignments or when you have been assigned tasks by your manager, aim to give them periodic updates on not only what you are doing but also on your progress.

Similarly when collaborating with colleagues on tasks, especially sequential or dependent tasks where one person has to finish their part, in order for the other to start their part, plan to give regular status updates on your progress as well.

4.6 Building strong working relationships with coworkers

One of the great honors in the workplace is being a person that people want to genuinely work with.

It starts from the little things such as saying “hi” in the morning and saying “have a good evening” when you leave for the day, to being polite and respectful, to expressing gratitude and saying “thank you,” to being accountable and reliable.

Building strong working relationships with coworkers goes beyond small talk. It requires genuine effort and takes time to achieve.

When you start working in a new organization, introduce yourself to others and learn how different people work and interact with each other.

Make a sincere effort to get to know others by asking respectful questions, learning what they do, inviting them for lunch or a walk and getting to know their interests both at work and outside work.

Remember to acknowledge special occasions such as birthdays and work anniversaries.

Maintain regular contact with your colleagues. When nurtured well they could turn into lifelong friends.

Furthermore, having strong work bonds and friendships at work can help to increase your morale, job satisfaction and productivity.

4.7 Doing things and projects that others avoid

In any organization, department or team, there are usually some specific activities or tasks that most people shun from doing. These are typically low priority tasks that when left unattended can turn into major priorities over time.

Examples of these kind of activities can include filing, organizing hardcopy and electronic files, scanning, shredding, archiving old documents, cleaning up data including filling-in incomplete information and removing or merging duplicates, spotlessly cleaning the office fridge or microwave, organizing departmental filing cabinets etc.

When you have some downtime at work, you can make an effort to quietly complete one of these kinds of projects.

4.8 Volunteering to work with different teams and departments

Spread your tentacles across the organization by not only working with your immediate team but also looking for opportunities to work with teams from other departments.

This enables you to learn what other teams do, create new working relationships and raise your visibility in the workplace because others will in turn know who you are and what you do.

Other avenues for participating are office social committees that help in planning office activities such as baby showers, annual parties, team lunches, employee appreciation and awards ceremonies, office contests and games, office parties, ice cream socials, happy hours etc.

4.9 Stepping in when someone is unavailable or absent

Demonstrate willingness to step in when needed during times when a colleague is unavailable or absent.

Ways of assisting include offering support in doing routine tasks or even during emergencies and acting as a backup when a colleague is on vacation then working with your manager on prioritizing tasks.

Additionally, you can extend your help to support colleagues who work remotely and also staff who are out on business travel or in the field.

A little support from headquarters staff during these situations goes a long way.

4.10 Being innovative/improving systems, processes and procedures

Innovation at work can take the form of coming up with new ways of doing things or improving existing systems and processes.

Ways of developing your innovation skills include the following: questioning the way things are, asking how tasks can be done better, inventing unique solutions to problems, looking at unrelated industries and professions for inspiration, combining unrelated ideas to come up with new methods, asking colleagues for tips, suggestions and ideas and dreaming big and visualizing expected outcomes.

Other ways are looking for people to critique your ideas and offer suggestions for improvement, seeking feedback from customers, observing competitors, analyzing constant complaints to identify patterns, setting high goals that stretch your abilities, reading books and watching video tutorials for inspiration and collaborating with others on improving things.

More ways of honing innovation skills are revisiting failed ideas to see if they are salvageable, seeking coaching and training to expand your thinking, acknowledging failure as part of the process towards innovation, attending industry events, exhibitions and conferences, participating in focus groups and making regular upgrades, edits and changes to services and products.

4.11 Resolving interpersonal conflicts at work

Despite our best intentions of working harmoniously with colleagues, inevitably conflicts and disagreements occur at work.

Unresolved conflict especially over long periods of time can damage work relationships and productivity.

Unresolved conflict can manifest itself in different forms such as tension, negativity, backbiting, uncooperativeness, name calling, hostility, nitpicking, silent treatment, unhappiness, arguments and undermining each other.

When you have a misunderstanding with a coworker , take the initiative to work out your differences as quickly as possible.

Sometimes you could be the one in the wrong and at other times you could be the aggrieved party. It pays to acknowledge the problem, privately discuss it, find a middle ground or a resolution, apologize and find ways to move on.

If necessary, a mediator such as a supervisor could be involved.

4.12 Offering to mentor others

You can volunteer to mentor peers, junior staff or new hires.

You could be surprised by how much knowledge you have to offer especially if you have been in a company for a while.

As a mentor you can offer a support system for others, help in on-boarding, answer questions about the company, transfer skills, offer encouragement and help others to grow in their careers.

Additionally, you can motivate others to reach their goals and act as a sounding board to listen to and help refine mentees’ ideas.

Benefits of being a mentor consist of developing your leadership and coaching skills such as giving feedback , becoming better at guiding others and communicating well.

Mentorship enables you to increase your network within a company and is likewise a good way of giving back to others.

4.13 Volunteering for leadership roles

A good way of showing initiative is volunteering for leadership roles at work such as leading events or meetings, leading planning sessions and working with different teams and departments.

These types of activities help to develop leadership skills such as public speaking, communication, negotiating, decision making, resource allocation, delegating, motivating others, collaboration, team building, mentoring and providing feedback.

It also helps you to assess your areas of weaknesses and proactively work on improving your strengths in these areas.

4.14 Referring good potential employees

When you know a person who meets the requirements for an open position within your company, it makes sense to refer them for the job.

Benefits of employee referrals to companies include: it helps to save time in the recruiting process and it reduces the level of risk and unknowns because the existing employee vouches for the job applicant.

If the person is hired, you can even act as a mentor to help them find their way around and bring them up to speed on how things work in the organization.

4.15 Helping in the interviewing and hiring process

When your team or department has a job vacancy, volunteer to help in the initial rounds of interviews to interview future team members.

Armed with inside knowledge, you can provide value by assessing candidates who can be a good cultural fit and assist in selecting exceptional candidates.

Offer your feedback and opinions to the hiring manager or evaluation team on whether a candidate is a good fit for both the job and the company and your evaluation on whether they can succeed in your organizations work environment.

This opportunity gives you a chance to improve your interviewing and listening skills as well as gaining practice in applying consistent standards or criteria for evaluating all candidates.

In addition you can offer help in drafting or editing the job description.

4.16 Brainstorming ideas to improve the company

One way of taking initiative is through participating actively during brainstorming sessions.

Begin by offering as many ideas as possible, then help in narrowing down the options, identifying the pros and cons of the top solutions, questioning assumptions, connecting the dots and finally selecting the best alternative.

Wherever possible, prepare by doing research ahead of time.

Improve your brainstorming skills by asking questions such as: What are we trying to achieve? How can we make this better? What else has been done? What do we know? What don’t we know? Is there a better way of doing this?

The major benefit of generating and sharing ideas in a group setting is the value addition process that raw ideas are subjected to.

You can come up with a basic idea, for example, how to improve a product, then someone else adds another angle or element to the idea and this process is repeated over again.

Eventually the final idea is usually much richer and more refined.

4.17 Becoming a good team player

More results are achieved through teamwork and teamwork skills are vital for success at work.

Ways of being a good team player in the office include communicating clearly, being reliable – someone others can count on, staying committed, being open minded – listening to different opinions without your ego getting in the way and working with others to set and achieve common goals.

Other ways entail celebrating other people’s achievements, listening well and demonstrating understanding by paraphrasing, developing mutual trust, offering solutions, providing regular feedback, being flexible, adapting well to change, keeping others regularly updated, asking questions for input and clarification, collaborating with others in a friendly way and sharing information.

Additional ways for becoming a good team player are having fun and a sense of humor, steering clear from gossip, apologizing when you make a mistake, paying attention to body language, being approachable, taking time to learn what others do and networking with colleagues in other departments.

4.18 Supporting your supervisor or manager efficiently

Align your priorities with your supervisor. Make it a habit to have regular check-in meetings with your boss where you update them on the activities that you are planning to work on as well as the ones you have completed.

Find out what your manager’s top priorities are and ask how you can help them.

When you run into problems or challenges and need your manager’s help, come up with proposed solutions and run these by them.

This makes their work easier when they have to choose among alternatives rather than figuring things out from scratch.

Other ways of supporting your manager include finding out their strengths and weaknesses and actively supporting their strengths while helping them to overcome their weaknesses.

For example, if your manager is fond of leading rambling agenda-less meetings, help them to get focused by working with them to prepare draft agendas and help them to follow or stick to the agenda during meetings.

4.19 Helping others to see their strengths and qualities

It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself with others and feeling that your skills and contributions at work fall short.

Likewise it is important to note that other people could be facing the same affliction as well.

You can take an active role in ending this cycle, especially as a leader or manager, by making it a part of your role to regularly identify and bring out the best in others.

Everyone is unique and has something to contribute in their own way.

Make a point of letting others know what you think their strengths are. You can even write down their strengths and hand over the document.

This kind of exercise can be an eye opener for the other person. It can help to confirm what they are good at and excel in doing. It can also help to boost other people’s confidence.

Additionally ask others what they enjoy doing and put them in roles and teams that can best utilize their skills and help them shine.

Genuinely offer timely praise to others when they do a good job.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is helping others to discover their weaknesses and actively work on helping them to improve and excel.

Offer to train, mentor and coach others. Ask for areas where they want to improve and identify development opportunities that can benefit them.

Help and encourage others to push themselves by setting challenging goals and each time they reach their goals, they should then set even bigger ones.

4.20 Anticipating and preventing problems

Become good at thinking ahead, anticipating and preventing problems before they occur.

Especially by drawing from your past experience and knowing typical failure paths or where mistakes usually happen in a certain project and avoiding errors ahead of time.

Foreseeing challenges is greatly aided by good planning upfront. When working on an activity, set aside some time at the beginning to plan it well.

Think through what you want to accomplish and at the same time visualize areas that could potentially go wrong.

One typical challenge at work is running out of time to do assignments and missing deadlines.

This could be caused by underestimating the amount of time required to do the work, procrastinating and starting the work late, and discovering that you don’t have all the needed resources or information to do the task when it is too late.

Other reasons are not following up with others who you are collaborating with to ensure that work is progressing well and not being on the same page with team members on the expected requirements and deadlines.

These challenges can be overcome by having good work plans, clearly communicating with others the expectations at the beginning of a task, assessing requirements at the beginning and identifying gaps or missing resources and following up regularly on the progress.

4.21 Dressing to succeed

Work on dressing sharp and professionally represent yourself and your organization well.

Your dressing style should help you to stand out in a confident and positive way.

Get inspiration from the dressing style of senior professional managers who you admire. Look at details such as color combinations, well put together outfits, good quality clothes and sparkling shoes.

At a minimum choose clothes that are comfortable, well fitting, clean and well maintained, then top it up with good grooming and key accessories.

4.22 Sharing the credit

Many activities in the workplace are usually accomplished through teamwork, joint efforts or contributions from various employees.

Make it a practice to acknowledge, recognize and appreciate colleagues, in a timely manner, who helped, contributed or pitched on a completed or successful project.

Simple ways of sharing the credit include sending out an email to team members thanking them and acknowledging their contributions, publicly praising colleagues during a meeting or privately thanking a co-worker for their help.

By not being a credit hog, you build up goodwill that makes it easier for others to assist you in the future.

A by-product of sharing the credit is when you appreciate others, they could in turn acknowledge your contributions in other projects to your manager and others thereby raising your profile during performance reviews.

4.23 Maintaining high quality standards

Push yourself to higher limits of excellence and performance. Be known as a professional who not only sets high quality standards but also consistently works to maintain those standards.

Examples of high standards at work can include: setting goals and taking action, planning and prioritizing your work well, always meeting deadlines, being well prepared for meetings, participating and giving valuable contributions during meetings, giving top-notch customer service, having integrity and maintaining a good attitude.

Other examples are submitting well-organized high quality work at all times, not being afraid to repeat work that has been done incorrectly, keeping your commitments, being willing to help others, supporting your boss to succeed and always looking for ways to improve your company’s performance.

4.24 Making good decisions and being decisive

Being decisive is an important trait for succeeding in the workplace especially in situations where there is ambiguity or uncertainty.

Equally important is involving others in decision making by seeking their inputs and feedback.

Over time, it helps to come up with your own method of making decisions.

A simple way of decision making is coming up with a few solutions or alternatives then analyzing each option in terms of what would be the best outcome if I choose this option and also what would be the worst outcome. Then select the option that makes the best sense.

Aim to make decisions that help to keep things moving forward.

Likewise, endeavor to keep improving on your decision making process over time so that you become better and more comfortable in deciding and at the same time being able to confidently explain to others your rationale for making a particular decision.

4.25 Doing quality control for finished projects

When you finish major projects, make it a habit to set aside some time to review the final work output.

A few questions to aid in evaluating completed tasks include: Does the final project or work output match the original specifications and requirements? Are there any errors? Is there any incomplete work? Are any corrections needed?

It helps to prepare work plans and checklists when starting a project and these can in turn be used to do the end of project evaluation.

Aspire to get good at not only creating checklists but also in using them for monitoring finished work and additionally training others on using your checklists and standards.

5. Benefits of Taking Initiative

You should take initiative because it gives you visibility at work, you stand out, you get recognition, and it enhances your value and personal brand.

Taking initiative improves your potential for promotions and career growth .

More problems are solved at work, time is saved, resources are saved or utilized efficiently and processes are improved.

Taking initiative and trying different things, methods or processes can lead to breakthroughs.

Additionally relationships are strengthened when you help others resulting in stronger team dynamics.

It likewise creates independence, higher morale, bosses and supervisors are happy with your contributions, you become a role model for others, you stretch your critical thinking skills and challenge your problem solving skills.

Other benefits of taking initiative include strengthening your people skills, identifying synergies, removing redundancies and duplication in work and improving your self-confidence as you tackle things and obtain results

Moreover, the habit of taking initiative adds to your personal happiness and job satisfaction.

6. Things to Consider Before Taking Initiative

In as much as taking initiative is to be praised, there are some caveats to take into account before diving into the depths of demonstrating your initiative.

The first item on the checklist is to ensure that you finish your normal tasks satisfactorily before taking on more work.

Your primarily responsibility is the job that you were hired to do. Efficiently handle what is on your plate first. Avoid overcommitting yourself.

The second item on the checklist is to know the limits of your authority. Before taking initiative on matters in a gray area, consult as appropriate.

Work with your boss on critical high profile initiatives or obtain your boss’ permission to proceed on your own. Do thorough research before changing things or proposing major changes.

Taking initiative also means taking risks. Assess your risk tolerance. Know that there is a potential to make mistakes and fail.

Don’t overpromise and under deliver – it affects your credibility. There could be situations where you need to own up and admit your mistakes when you fail. Have resilience and a good attitude.

Additionally your sincere initiative efforts and ideas could be ignored or unwelcome. Rein in your ego when you encounter rejection of your ideas, don’t take it personally. Keep your cool.

Have the ability to bounce back and keep on going with enthusiasm.

Don’t try to solve all the company’s problems at once. Likewise don’t try to do everything alone. Feel free to ask for help when you need it.

When you stick your neck out you can attract haters; people who won’t be happy by your progress. You can be taken advantage of by others and have extra work dumped on you.

You can encounter people who want to put you down for no reason. Be cautious of idea killers especially when idea is at infancy.

Don’t appear as a know it all – be a sponge, absorb, learn and soak up knowledge. Don’t brown nose. Practice being patient, change takes time.

Sometimes you will underestimate the effort involved in executing a task; this is part of the learning process. You will become better at estimating effort required over time and through practice.

At all times, take care of yourself, be well rested, take time to do a job well rather than hurrying up to finish the work, be open to other people’s viewpoints, be humble, and respect yourself and others.

7. How to Take Initiative as a Team

Ways of taking initiative as a team consists of problem solving as a group, brainstorming ideas – presenting a raw idea to a team can result in a much better idea after input of different people, and volunteering on an internal or external activity as a team.

Other ways entail working collaboratively on designing manuals, standard operating procedures, guidebooks, flowcharts etc. for others to use and teaching each other through formal or informal learning sessions.

Taking team retreats to work on developing ideas, concepts and projects and working on team building initiatives to strengthen working relationships.

Remember to thank others and acknowledge other people’s contributions in making the teamwork a success.

8. How to Encourage Employees to Take Initiative

An organization with a culture of employees taking initiative can achieve substantially more results than a company where staff do not take initiative.

How can you create a culture of taking initiative in your company? By acting on employee feedback and suggestions from staff surveys. By praising staff for doing a job well.

By providing company-wide rewards tied to taking initiative to stimulate creativity and innovation. By inviting well respected industry leaders to talk to, inspire and motivate your team.

Encourage employees to take initiative by creating environments necessary for initiative to prosper such as weekly meetings where staff share their initiatives and the successes achieved, including employees in planning goals, publicly appreciating and recognizing those who take initiative and empowering employees.

Other ways of stimulating creativity include knowing what your employees are good at and encouraging those positive traits, sharing the company vision and inviting clarifying questions, showing employees the results of their efforts i.e. who benefits from their work and equipping employees with knowledge, skills and tools to succeed.

Challenging employees to improve processes and create efficiency, being accessible to staff and listening to their ideas, making it ok to take smart risks and make mistakes.

Being open and sharing information about what is going on in the company, encouraging sharing of knowledge and information and senior leadership to make taking initiative a priority.

Good management, culture of initiative being supported, actively seeking suggestions, ideas and recommendations from employees on how to fix what is broken and areas of improvement.

Encouraging teamwork, allowing work flexibility and telecommuting, giving employees regular and actionable feedback and hiring people with a history of taking initiative.

9. What Causes Lack of Initiative?

There are many reasons why people do not take initiative such as fear of presenting your ideas, fear of speaking up, fear of criticism, self-doubt, lack of faith in one’s ability and thinking someone else should do it.

Doing the bare minimum to survive in your job, making excuses, playing the blame game, playing the victim, waiting to be told what to do and believing that the boss has all the answers.

Other reasons why people do not take initiative consist of: lack of interest, shyness, don’t want extra work, self-sabotage and not seeing the benefit of doing it.

Not wanting to rock the boat, procrastination, search for perfectionism, it simply takes too much time, resistance to change, mistrust, coming up with reasons why it won’t work, negativity, burnout, other commitments and being overstretched.

External reasons for lack of initiative include people pulling each other down, constant complaining and doing nothing, taking initiative is frowned upon, your ideas getting stolen by others, not getting the credit you deserve and people satisfied with the status quo.

Being held back by past failures i.e. we tried that before and it didn’t work, short term thinking, busyness, low morale, poor team spirit, micromanagers and fearful managers who are threatened by employees’ success.

It is worth noting that despite all your good intentions while taking initiative, there are some bosses for whatever reason who might feel insecure and threatened when you take initiative at work.

10. 20 Qualities That Can Help You Take Initiative

The following 20 traits can aid you in the pursuit of initiative:

10.1 Action-orientation

Planning and then taking action.

10.2 Ambition

Knowing what you want to progressively achieve in your career and deliberately taking steps to get you closer to your career goals.

10.3 Caring

Concern and consideration for not only the well-being of the company but also about the well-being of colleagues.

10.4 Collaboration

Teamwork, cooperation and working well with colleagues, bosses and customers.

10.5 Courage

Boldness to take smart risks and having confidence that what you are doing will have a positive impact.

10.6 Curiosity

Interest in how things work and trying to figure a way to make things and processes better.

Reading widely. Keen observation to see different perspectives and connecting the dots.

10.7 Decisiveness

Not agonizing over making decisions and choosing options. Thinking on your feet.

Conducting relevant research, analyzing, interpreting and drawing timely conclusions and recommendations.

10.8 Determination

Persevering even when the going is tough or when it takes a long time to reach the desired result.

Not giving up. Following through.

10.9 Goal-orientation

Set targets for yourself and actively work on meeting and even exceeding your goals.

Let your goals excite you and energize your actions. Measure your progress.

10.10 Good attitude

Having a good attitude complements all your other traits.

It makes it easier to get along with others. Smile. Practice being grateful.

10.11 Good communication

Strong listening skills. Talking, writing and expressing your thoughts in a logical organized and persuasive manner .

Be aware of your tone of voice. Pay attention to body language or nonverbal communication.

10.12 Humility

Keeping your ego in check. Valuing other people’s ideas and opinions. Respecting others.

Concern for others and their feelings. Not over stepping your boundaries.

10.13 Open mindedness

You can learn from anyone and any situation. Being open to new methods of doing things.

10.14 Optimism

Thinking of possibilities and potential benefits.

10.15 Organization

Good planning skills. Good time management skills.

10.16 Passion

Passion for your job, for success, to teach others, to contribute positively and the desire to make a difference.

10.17 Reliability

You can be counted upon. You always do what you say you will do.

10.18 Self-drive

Pushing yourself to accomplish what you set out to do. Having internal motivation and the will to see it through.

10.19 Thinking big

Thinking about the big picture of the company and how your seemingly small efforts can benefit the overall organization – entails   dreaming big , being creative and innovative.

10.20 Willingness to change

Flexibility. When your assumptions don’t work as expected re-calibrate and try another way. Desire and willingness to keep improving.

11. Solving Problems at Work

Inevitably problems are a part of our daily lives. Problem solving skills are important for the career-minded professional.

The foundational pillars of taking initiative include the ability to solve problems.

A quick way of solving problems in the workplace entails:

  • Understanding what the problem is.
  • Listening to and assessing all available viewpoints.
  • Identifying what solutions have been tried already if any.
  • Brainstorming possible solutions.
  • Analyzing how the problem arose.
  • Resolving the problem.
  • Lessons learned.
  • Mapping out repeatable steps for the future.

12. How to Think Like an Owner of a Company

When you imagine yourself as the owner of a company, it can help stimulate your appetite for taking initiative.

A business owner is responsible for the success or failure of the company. This mindset requires thinking about all the moving pieces of the organization and ensuring proper alignment.

To think like an owner of a company , ask questions such as – how can this company go to the next level?

An owner thinks about the big picture and creates systems to make processes easier including automating tasks, delegating and even outsourcing some activities .

They also work on setting goals, taking responsibility and not making excuses or blaming others, keeping good records, treating customers like royalty, following up regularly with customers, taking risks, develop the brand and reputation and studying other successful business leaders.

Being decisive and not getting caught up in analysis paralysis, thinking of potential revenue generating ideas, how to grow the business, how to improve processes, how to save costs and where to get good employees.

A business owner similarly encourages staff, prioritizes work , networks, builds rapport and alliances, negotiates, sells, forecasts, innovates, studies business trends, looks for opportunities, manages, visualizes and plans.

Studies the competition, seeks mentors, makes presentations and pitches, improves processes, reduces expenses, works on customer satisfaction and learns from failure and mistakes.

13. Asking Good Questions

The art of asking good questions is a relevant ingredient in the process of taking initiative. Question why things are the way they are.

In a respectful manner, ask open-ended questions and also follow-up questions. Don’t ask too many questions at once.

Take down good notes. Later on take time to review and reflect on the important points you learned.

Become proficient at gathering data, understanding details, figuring out how things work, understanding bottlenecks, listening well, paraphrasing, not interrupting, recapping, assessing pros and cons, testing theories and assumptions, and making logical conclusions.

Seek feedback and use it to spur on your initiative efforts. Talk to supervisors and colleagues to learn what you are doing well and should continue doing.

On the other hand also learn about which areas you are not performing well and what you need to do to improve.

Talk to customers, ask them what they like and what they don’t like and seek any suggestions for improvement that they might have.

14. How to Be More Confident At Work

How much initiative you take can be determined by your level of confidence at work. So how do you increase your confidence so that it spurs you take more initiative?

Simple ways of increasing your confidence include: being good at your job and having a record of accomplishments, being knowledgeable about your subject area, increasing your skill levels and competence .

Paying attention to details, not making excuses, knowledge of both the big picture and the nitty gritty, building alliances and networks at work, supporting colleagues and supporting your boss.

Other ways entail working on your posture and body language, speaking with confidence and projecting your voice well, participating in meetings, keeping your supervisor updated, planning your work and meeting deadlines

Having goals and meeting them, being well prepared, dressing well and comfortably, smiling, stretching yourself, going beyond your comfort zone, being kind to yourself and practicing positive self-talk.

15. How to Pitch a Proposal or Idea to Your Boss

Part of taking initiative at work will entail sharing and pitching your ideas to your boss.

When you have a proposal or a new idea, write down the idea, list the major benefits of the idea, list the drawbacks and disadvantages, explain what resources would be required to implement the idea, how to execute and implement the idea, what are the implications if the idea is not implemented and a timeline for implementation.

Prepare a one or two page outline that covers the points above then schedule a good time to meet with your boss.

Send your boss the proposal in advance. On the day of the actual meeting present your idea confidently, anticipate any questions that might be asked and prepare yourself adequately.

Practice your pitch a few times. Carry copies of your proposal.

You might get an answer immediately or you might get it later on. In either case be prepared for either a yes or no answer.

Whichever answer you eventually receive, always graciously thank your boss for taking time to review your proposal.

Seek to gain as much insight and feedback as possible if the answer is no and use this as a learning lesson for your future pitches.

Get used to some rejection along the way. Cultivate the skill of quickly bouncing back and moving forward.

16. How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm at Work

Your level of enthusiasm affects how much initiative you take and how self-motivated you are to go the extra mile.

Firstly, enthusiasm and love for what you do will take you further than when one is unenthusiastic about their work.

Granted everyone has good days and bad days at work, the key thing is to on balance strive to have more better days.

Enthusiasm is infectious; it can be transmitted from one person to another. It makes the work environment fun and stimulates creativity.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines enthusiasm as “strong excitement about something or a strong feeling of active interest in something that you like or enjoy.”

Maintaining enthusiasm takes effort. Routine at work can cause loss of enthusiasm. Without enthusiasm apathy and complacency can set in. This can lead to coasting or doing just enough to keep you going.

Boost your enthusiasm through talking to colleagues and cultivating healthy work relationships, attending industry events and conferences, interacting with customers, reading widely, getting mentors and learning new skills.

Similarly maintain your enthusiasm level through seeking feedback, setting mini challenges for yourself, organizing your work area and decorating it, reading motivational quotes and re-reading kudos or congratulatory notes from your boss or colleagues.

You can also listen to inspirational music.

Other ways of maintaining your enthusiasm include writing down your career goals, going outdoors and enjoying nature, taking a break and teaching others.

Watching inspiring videos, volunteering, complimenting and recognizing others when they do well and avoiding negative thought patterns and self-talk.

More ways entail taking small steps to achieve big goals, taking time to do personal reflections, taking time off, writing down your ideas and taking care of the basics such as sleeping well, eating breakfast and lunch, drinking water, dressing well and planning your day well.

17. 5 Motivational Quotes on Taking Initiative

From time to time, take a moment to read a few inspirational and motivational quotes on initiative, to boost and recharge your mood and morale.

Below are five motivational quotes on taking initiative:

“When you believe in what you’re doing and use your imagination and initiative, you can make a difference.” ― Samuel Dash

“Initiative is doing the right things without being told.” ― Elbert Hubbard

“People who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.” ― Stephen R. Covey

“Success depends in a very large measure upon individual initiative and exertion, and cannot be achieved except by a dint of hard work.” ― Anna Pavlova

“Your success is your responsibility. Take the initiative, do the work, and persist to the end.” ― Lorii Myers

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  • Initiative – The Key to Becoming a Star Employee

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Into all problem-solving, a little dissent must fall

Events of the past several years have reiterated for executives the importance of collaboration and of welcoming diverse perspectives when trying to solve complicated workplace problems. Companies weren’t fully prepared for the onset of a global pandemic, for instance, and all that it engendered—including supply chain snarls and the resulting Great Attrition  and shift to remote (and now hybrid) work, which required employers to fundamentally rethink their talent strategies . But in most cases leaders have been able to collaborate their way through the uncertainty, engage in rigorous debate and analyses about the best steps to take, and work with employees, suppliers, partners, and other critical stakeholders to react and, ultimately, recover.

And It’s not just COVID-19: many organisations have had to rethink their business strategies and practices in the wake of environmental concerns, the war in Ukraine, and social movements sparked by racial injustice, sexual misconduct, and widespread economic inequity . Ours are fast-moving, complex times, rich not just in worrisome challenges but also in exciting potential—organisations that enable innovation will find ample opportunities to thrive. So now more than ever, decision makers can’t act alone; they must bring diverse perspectives to the table and ensure that those voices are fully heard . 1 Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, and Sara Prince, “ Diversity wins: How inclusion matters ,” McKinsey, May 19, 2020.

But while many leaders say they welcome dissent, their reactions often change when they actually get some. They may feel defensive. They may question their own judgment. They may resent having to take time to revisit the decision-making process. These are natural responses, of course; employees’ loyalty and affirmation are more reassuring to leaders than robust challenges from the group. There is discomfort, too, for potential dissenters; it is much safer to keep your thoughts to yourself and conform  than to risk expulsion from the group. 2 Derived from this work on the evolutionary origins of social and political behavior: Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior , Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001.

What’s missing in many companies, in our experience, is the use of “contributory dissent” or the capabilities required to engage in healthy if divergent discussions about critical business problems. Contributory dissent allows individuals and groups to air their differences in a way that moves the discussion toward a positive outcome and doesn’t undermine leadership or group cohesion . 3 McKinsey itself has established obligation to dissent as one of its core values alongside those focused on client service and talent development. For more, see Bill Taylor, “True leaders believe dissent is an obligation,” Harvard Business Review , January 12, 2017.

McKinsey’s research and experience in the field point to several steps leaders can take to engage in healthy dissent and build a culture where constructive feedback is expected and where communication is forthright. These include modeling “open” behaviors, embedding psychological safety  and robust debate into decision-making processes, and equipping employees with the communication skills that will allow them to contribute dissenting opinions effectively.

In this article we outline the steps leaders can take to encourage healthy dissent, and the actions teams and individuals can take to share their voices and perspectives most effectively. It takes both sides, after all, to engage in robust debate, find the right solutions, and enable lasting, positive change.

How leaders can encourage contributory dissent

Senior leaders in an organisation play a central role in ensuring that individuals and teams see contributory dissent as a normal part of any discussion. They can signal the importance of dissent by taking a series of steps to institutionalise the practice within an organisation and empower employees to share their ideas freely and productively. Specifically, senior leaders should strive to inspire rather than direct employees to collaborate, explicitly demand dissent and, taking that one step further, actively engage with naysayers (see sidebar “How to encourage healthy dissent”). 4 Leaders can also draw on McKinsey’s “influence model” for changing mindsets and behaviors: role modeling, fostering understanding and conviction, reinforcing with formal mechanisms, and developing talent and skills. For more, see Tessa Basford and Bill Schaninger, “ The four building blocks of change ,” McKinsey Quarterly , April 11, 2016.

Inspire, don’t direct

How to encourage healthy dissent.

To encourage dissent through personal leadership:

Lead to inspire, not to direct:

  • Empower the group to come up with ideas: “None of us knows the answer yet, but we can work it out together if we harness the best of everyone’s thinking.”

Foster dissent by actively seeking it:

  • Explicitly seek dissent; give people permission and encouragement.
  • Consider including dissent as a stated organisational value.
  • Make provision for open discussion in the buildup to decisions.

Welcome open discussion when it comes:

  • Listen to dissenters and naysayers, and thank them for their insights.
  • Recognise this as a usefully unfiltered channel for understanding the organisation’s perceptions on issues.
  • Seek to bring dissenters along the decision journey, so they become positive influencers later during implementation.
  • Employ deliberate techniques such as red teaming and pre-mortems to widen the debate and mitigate groupthink.

As the inspirational speaker Simon Sinek put it, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” 5 Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action , New York, NY: Portfolio, 2009. That is especially important for fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and contributory dissent. Rather than immediately jump into a discussion about solutions, one senior leader in an international organisation addressed his team’s anxiety in the wake of a crisis. “Let me guess,” he said, “you’re all feeling confused and uncertain about the way ahead. Terrific. I’m so glad we are of one mind and that we all understand our situation correctly! I’m sure that we can work it out together, but it’s going to require the best of everyone’s thinking. Let’s get started.” His authenticity and understated humor allowed him to connect with the group and inspired them to keep calm, carry on, and generate solutions that the leader alone couldn’t have come up with. Harvard professor Ron Heifetz describes this as creating a holding environment, a key element of adaptive leadership. 6 Ronald A. Heifetz and Mary Linksy, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading , Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002; Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linksy, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World , Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Explicitly demand dissent

It’s not enough for leaders to give people permission to dissent; they must demand it of people. In many companies, individuals and teams may (understandably) default to collegiality, not realizing that there are ways to challenge ideas while still respecting colleagues’ roles and intellect. It’s on senior leaders, then, to help employees understand where the boundaries are. In World War 1, Australia’s General Sir John Monash was determined to develop better tactics to overcome the catastrophic impasse of trench warfare. He knew there were answers to be found from the experience of soldiers in the trenches, but he needed to loosen the military discipline of blind obedience: “I don’t care a damn for your loyal service when you think I am right; when I really want it most is when you think I am wrong.” Monash scheduled open battle planning sessions and pulled in advice from whoever offered it. In doing so, he built ownership of and confidence in his plans among all ranks. The resulting orchestration of tanks, artillery, aircraft, and troops led to rapid advances along the Somme Valley, and Monash garnered respect and appreciation from his troops, whose chances of survival and ultimate victory had increased markedly.

Actively engage with naysayers

Taking the demand imperative one step further, it’s beneficial for leaders to actively seek out the views of vocal naysayers , who can turn into influential champions just by being part of the conversation. They can immediately improve the nature of business debate and may boost the quality of the final decision, although engaging with naysayers can be tough. Some dissenting opinions can be ill-informed or uncomfortable to hear. The objective for senior leaders, then, is to put their discomfort aside and listen for signs of cognitive dissonance within an organisation. As an example, front-line employees may say things like “We’re not considered strategic thinkers,” or “The company doesn’t put people first,” while senior management may actually feel as though they have made strides in both of those areas. Still, leaders need to absorb such comments, treat them as useful data points, assess their validity, and engage in what may be a challenging discussion. They may want to use red teams  and premortems , in which teams at the outset anticipate all the ways a project could fail, to frame up dissenting opinions, mitigate groupthink, and find a positive resolution. These behaviours also serve to enhance organizational agility and resilience .

How leaders can establish psychological safety

Senior leaders need to establish a work environment in which it is safe to offer dissenting views. The McKinsey Health Institute’s work on employee well-being points to a strong correlation between leadership behaviors, collaborative culture, and resistance to mental health problems and burnout : only 15 percent of employees in environments with low inclusivity and low support for personal growth are highly engaged, compared with 38 percent in high-scoring environments. 7 “ Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem? ,” McKinsey, May 27, 2022. Leaders can build psychological safety (where team members feel they can take interpersonal risks and remain respected and accepted) and set the conditions for contributory dissent by rethinking how they engage in debate—both the dynamics and the choreography of it.

The dynamics of debate

The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde described a healthy debating culture as one in which people are “playing gracefully with ideas”— listening to, and even nourishing, opposing points of view in a measured and respectful way. 8 The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Volume 2: De Profundis, “Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis,” Oxford, United Kingdom: Clarendon Press, 2005. Indeed, the best ideas can emerge at the intersection of cultures and opinions. In 15th century Florence, for instance, the Medici family attracted and funded creators from across the arts and sciences to establish an epicenter of innovative thinking that sparked the Renaissance. 9 Frans Johansson, The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Culture , Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004. Closer to this century, we have seen cross-discipline innovations like the application of biologists’ research on ant colonies to solve problems in telecommunications routing. And in the business world, extraordinary innovations have been achieved by open-minded leaders bringing together smart people and creating the conditions for playful exploration.

To achieve a state of “graceful play,” senior leaders must carefully manage group dynamics during debates. Rather than lead with their own opinions, for instance, which might immediately carry outsize weight in the group and stifle discussion, senior leaders can hold back and let others lead the discussion . They can lean in to show genuine curiosity or to explicitly recognise when a dissenting view has changed their thinking. But by letting other, more junior voices carry the agenda and work through ideas, however imperfect, senior leaders can establish a climate of psychological safety—and garner more respect from colleagues long term. 10 Amy C. Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth , Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2019.

Leaders will also need to be aware of cultural differences that may crop up during debates. For example, many Australians speak candidly and are happy to address issues squarely. By contrast, the concept of “face” is so important in many Asian cultures that a more circumspect approach is taken. And the Pacific and Maori cultures emphasize displays of both strength and respect. 11 Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business , Philadelphia, PA: PublicAffairs, 2014. These differences in debate dynamics really matter. They can be a great source of hybrid vigour, 12 “Heterosis, also called hybrid vigour: the increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of a hybrid organism over those of its parents. The first-generation offspring generally show, in greater measure, the desired characteristics of both parents.” Encyclopedia Britannica , accessed September 19, 2022. if sensitively managed, or a source of conflict and disenfranchisement if not. To approach these differences in a positive way, senior leaders could undertake a mapping exercise that identifies the different styles of the cultures present, thereby providing validation and enabling pragmatic measures to integrate them.

Choreographing debate

Beyond just managing debate dynamics, business leaders must take a hand in choreographing the debate and, specifically, in helping to design collective-thinking processes  so people know how best to play their part. Business leaders may adopt a structured approach  to brainstorming, for instance, or plan strategic off-site schedules that combine deliberate thinking with “distracted” thinking—taking time to engage in a social activity, for instance—to take advantage of employees’ deep-thinking processes.

How deliberate choices by the leader can optimise a decision-making process

A leader must consciously assess each new situation and design the collective-thinking process accordingly, then articulate this so that people know how best to play their part.

In doing so, the leader should consider an array of questions, the answers to which will determine the context, for example:

  • What does success look like?
  • Will the organisation underwrite initial failures in the interests of agility and innovation?
  • How broad and freethinking an analysis is required?
  • What are the explicit expectations for contributory dissent?
  • Are any topics and behaviours out of bounds?
  • Who will lead the discussion, and how will comments be captured?
  • Does urgency mean that it’s better to be directive?
  • Who will be consulted?
  • Which decisions can be delegated, and to whom?
  • Whose support needs to be built?
  • What parameters and boundaries exist?
  • Are there interim decisions and communications required?
  • What form should the deliverable outcomes take?
  • When are the deliverables required?
  • Direction setting on these parameters by the leader focuses the team, while also creating space for creativity and iterative learning.

To create a sustainable structure for debate, business leaders will need to consider questions relating to team structure and rules of engagement: What does success look like when it comes to contributory dissent? What topics and behaviors are out of bounds? Who will lead the discussion, and how will comments be captured? Who has the final say on decisions, or which decisions can be delegated, and to whom? (For a more comprehensive explanation, see sidebar “How deliberate choices by the leader can optimise a decision-making process.”)

Having these parameters in place can free up the team to think more creatively about the issue at hand. Establishing such protocols can also make it easier to raise dissenting opinions. At one company, people are asked to call out their underlying values or potential biases when expressing a dissenting view. During meetings of the promotion committee, for instance, a statement like “I think we are making the wrong decision” would be rephrased as “I am someone who values experience over collaboration, and this decision would risk losing too much institutional knowledge.”

How individuals and teams can engage and dissent

As we’ve shared, senior leaders can take steps to set conditions for robust discussion and problem-solving, but individuals and teams themselves must also have the right mindsets and skills for contributory dissent to work well (see sidebar “How teams and individuals can dissent effectively”). In particular, they must embrace the obligation to dissent, actively make space to analyse ideas that are different from their own, and then find ways to either iterate on others’ ideas or respectfully agree to disagree.

Embrace the obligation to dissent

How teams and individuals can dissent effectively.

For dissent to be effective, its delivery requires courage and tactical skills underpinned by sincere respect and grace. Speaking up with respect is the right thing to do, and the responsibility to do so exists, even if there is uncertainty. The following guidelines are useful in enabling effective dissent:

Prepare a welcome for dissenting views:

  • Understand the context and motivations of others, appreciate their views, and syndicate your own.
  • Stop and strategise before wading into the conversations, establish a solid platform for agreement, and explicitly seek permission to dissent.

Play the long game:

  • Be open minded and iterative. Don’t expect to succeed on the first try.
  • Listen to others for what their views might add rather than to defend your own.

Withhold assent if you need to, but do it carefully:

  • Withholding assent is a legitimate option if done judiciously.
  • Minimise offense to and loss of face for the decision maker.
  • If principles or legality is at stake, document your dissent.

Individuals and teams need to exhibit a certain amount of humility and confidence in order to speak truth to power with respect; they must be sure for themselves that doing so is the right thing to do. To build this confidence, individuals and teams should remember that the very act of dissent can be valuable, even if the contribution itself isn’t 100 percent baked. Others can react or build on the dissenting view—which, in itself, can be a satisfying process for a dissenter. If the ultimate decision isn’t what they proposed, they still helped shape it by offering and testing a worthy possibility.

Make space to analyse different views

Individuals and teams may need time to determine their positions on an issue. During this period, it’s important to be (and seen to be) open-minded and respectful of others’ views. That means asking lots of questions, gathering information, assessing others’ motivations, and acknowledging their views before syndicating alternatives of your own. Much of this fact gathering can be done one-on-one, in a nonconfrontational way, in offline conversations rather than in a tension-filled meeting room. In these conversations, individuals could start by reaffirming a shared commitment to finding a solution to the issue at hand, their respect for the decision-making process and the group, and areas of broad agreement. They could also signal their possible intention to dissent and seek permission to do so rather than confronting people head-on. People will find it harder to refuse that permission, and will be less likely to get defensive, when approached with statements like “This is a great discussion, and I love the vision of where we are headed, but would it be OK for us to explore some alternatives for how to get there?”

Agree to iterate …

Individuals and teams that decide to offer dissenting views should agree to iterate on other solutions, rather than digging in. Their dissenting opinions should be cogent, persuasive, and open-minded—but dissenters shouldn’t expect to change hearts and minds on the first try. They should plant seeds gently and bide their time; they might even see their idea come back as someone else’s. The critical skill required here is active, open listening: dissenters should listen carefully for others’ additive insights and find ways to build on them. In their contributory dissent, individuals and teams can take a moment to summarize what others have said and then use statements like “Can I offer another take?” and then allow the momentum of the conversation to take over.

… or agree to disagree

But what happens if, after all the considered and tactful input, the dissenter still believes a decision is heading in the wrong direction? In our experience, withholding assent then becomes a legitimate option: people shouldn’t agree if they don’t agree. This is where all the careful, respectful groundwork the dissenter has done can pay dividends. In fact, a dissenting view gains even more power when an individual can say something like, “I still believe in my alternate solution, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this process, and I respect that you have the final say.” In this case, the dissenter is supporting the leader while flagging that the open debate hasn’t convinced them to change their initial view.

Of course, withholding assent should be a relatively rare action, taken only after an individual or team has shown that they can accommodate other views and have aligned with the consensus when they believe it’s right to do so. Think of US Supreme Court associate justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the consensus view on many decisions but who is especially celebrated for the positive changes that arose from her highly influential dissenting opinions on issues such as gender equity, human rights, and religious freedom.

Contributory dissent can help strengthen employee engagement, unlock hidden insights, and help organisations solve tough challenges. But putting it into practice takes courage and humility, and it won’t just happen by accident. Leaders need to be intentional about welcoming challenges to their plans and opinions, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. They need to establish cultures and structures where respectful debate can occur and where individuals and teams feel free to bring innovative—and often better—alternative solutions to the table.

Ben Fletcher is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Sydney office, Chris Hartley is a partner in the Melbourne office, Rupe Hoskin is a senior expert in the Canberra office, and Dana Maor is a senior partner in the Tel Aviv office.

The authors wish to thank Jacqueline Brassey, Nikki Dines, Richard Fitzgerald, Sam Hemphill, Ayush Jain, Jemma King, and Martin Nimmo for their contributions to this article.

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    6. Solution implementation. This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully.

  12. Initiative skills in the workplace: definition and examples

    Initiative skills in the workplace are your abilities and tendencies to assess a situation and take action, without requiring direction or permission from someone else. Initiative is a useful skill to develop as it can help you to appear confident, assured and decisive with your decision-making. It can also highlight problem-solving ability and ...

  13. How to answer interview questions on initiative (6 examples)

    An ideal way to answer this question is to provide specific examples of when you took the initiative at work and how that benefited your employer. For example, if the interviewer asks this question during an interview for a position at a bank, then your answer may include details about a time when you helped clients with their banking needs.

  14. 17 Tips On How To Take Initiative At Work (With Examples)

    Practice developing your self-awareness with exercises such as meditation and journaling. From there, begin to notice patterns in your behavior. Acknowledge and accept internal factors that are preventing you from taking initiative. Once you understand what the problem is, you can work to improving your situation.

  15. Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)

    Demonstrating problem solving skills in project sections or case studies. Including a dedicated section for projects or case studies in your resumé allows you to provide specific examples of your problem solving skills in action. It goes beyond simply listing skills, to demonstrate how you are able to apply those skills to real-world challenges.

  16. Taking Initiative

    Once you know what you want to achieve, integrate your career goals with your personal goals so that you have something to work towards. (In your personal life, the key to developing initiative is to set clear personal goals, and then to work steadily towards achieving them.) 2. Build Self-Confidence.

  17. 11 Good Examples of Showing Initiative at Work

    Here are 11 good examples of showing initiative at Work: 1. Offering to help when no one asks. Good examples of showing initiative include offering to help when no one asks or without being asked. It shows that you see someone struggling or not getting something done and decide to reach out and offer your assistance rather than just standing ...

  18. Problem solving and decision making

    Problem solving, decision making and initiative can be asked for in a variety of ways. Many adverts will simply ask for candidates who can "take the initiative to get a job done" or "have the ability to resolve problems"; others, however, may not make it so obvious.Phrases such as those below also indicate that initiative and problem solving are key requirements of the role:

  19. 9 Interview Questions About Initiative (With Sample Answers)

    3. Tell me about a time you improved a process or system. This question helps employers gain insight into your problem-solving skills. They want to see that you can come up with ingenious solutions to everyday problems. Think about a time you took it upon yourself to make something better and more efficient.

  20. What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

    Its benefits include: Finding creative solutions to complex problems: User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation's complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it. Adapting to change: Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt.

  21. 17 Tips on How to Take Initiative at Work

    11. Solving Problems at Work. Inevitably problems are a part of our daily lives. Problem solving skills are important for the career-minded professional. The foundational pillars of taking initiative include the ability to solve problems. A quick way of solving problems in the workplace entails: Understanding what the problem is.

  22. What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definitions and Examples

    Although problem-solving is often identified as its own separate skill, there are other related skills that contribute to this ability. Some key problem-solving skills include: Active listening. Analysis. Research. Creativity. Communication. Decision-making. Team-building.

  23. 15 Real-Life Case Study Examples & Best Practices

    For example, "How a CRM System Helped a B2B Company Increase Revenue by 225%. Introduction/Executive Summary: Include a brief overview of your case study, including your customer's problem, the solution they implemented and the results they achieved. Problem/Challenge: Describe the problem your customer faced before using your product or service.

  24. Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

    Problem-solving skills are skills that enable people to handle unexpected situations or difficult challenges at work. Organisations need people who can accurately assess problems and come up with effective solutions. In this article, we explain what problem-solving skills are, provide some examples of these skills and outline how to improve them.

  25. Embracing the obligation to dissent

    Events of the past several years have reiterated for executives the importance of collaboration and of welcoming diverse perspectives when trying to solve complicated workplace problems. Companies weren't fully prepared for the onset of a global pandemic, for instance, and all that it engendered—including supply chain snarls and the resulting Great Attrition and shift to remote (and now ...