Virtual Problem-Solving

When it comes to solving a problem, there are various methods that a person can take. I would usually take a walk around my building and talk to myself about the issue. If anyone viewed the security cameras, they’d think I was talking to a ghost or an imaginary friend. I’d usually walk until I solved my problem or (if it was complex enough) came up with at least one solution before getting a second opinion.

“Companies that promote collaboration are five times as likely to perform to a higher standard than those that don’t” (Ripton, 2020).

If the walk didn’t work, then I’d find an empty room and repeat the process. Personally, I like to be alone with my thoughts, so when a problem presents itself, I retreat on purpose. However, over the years, I’ve learned that I can miss many angles to problem solving without the help of others. So, for my sanity and to arrive at the best solution, I retreat first and then call for reinforcements when needed. Who are my reinforcements?  My trusty colleagues within and outside of my organization.

I usually call on my in-house colleagues and let them offer suggestions and critique any solution that I’ve thought of.  My colleagues at other organizations critique me as well, but I find that they have many more options for me to consider because they are elsewhere and have seen different scenarios. This process of collaboration takes longer, but the results are far better than I could imagine. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

So how does this work virtually?  Surprisingly, it’s not too different, except for one area: I find that I call on my co-workers more, and that’s what’s fortunate about it. While I claim myself to be an introvert and homebody, not seeing my co-workers every day has made me more of a social butterfly. Working from home for the past seven months has turned me into an expert on quickly scheduling a brief virtual meeting with my team in order to hash out problems. We frequently text each other or call one another now to brainstorm ideas or get different opinions. Not only do I get more input, but solving problems doesn’t take as long as it used to.

If you’re working virtually and struggling to find a rhythm to your group’s problem-solving methods, there are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Adjust communication: Everyone communicates differently and having virtual meetings mean that you can’t always read body language. Therefore, ask your team to explain what they mean when say something you might not understand. Also, give each other time to verbalize thoughts and receive those thoughts.  In other words, practice listening and comprehending.
  2. Use chat features:  Just like in a face-to-face meeting, not everyone feels comfortable talking in a meeting; therefore, utilize the chat feature. He chat feature is great for the person who’s not always vocal or who doesn’t want to interrupt another person. Just make sure that someone in the group is managing the chats.
  3. Set clear goals:  Believe it or not, when it comes to problem-solving, not everyone knows what the end goal is. While it’s crucial to make sure that everyone is on the same page in a face-to-face meeting, it’s imperative that people understand this in a virtual space. What exactly needs to be solved?  What is your end goal? State this directly.
  4. Have frequent check-ins:  In an office setting, it’s okay to not have a follow-up meeting after a problem-solving session. Why? Because if you and your teamwork in the same building, you’ll more than likely have informal meetings anyway. Walking down the hall together, having lunch together, leaving the building and walking to your cars all provide opportunities to chat and share additional ideas or suggestions. We often take the fact that we have multiple informal meetings for granted; in the virtual world, these things need to be planned. So, plan for a follow-up meeting, a conference call, or an email to make sure that everyone still agrees with a decision.
  5. Cross the problem off of your list and write the outcome. Just like any other meeting, keep a record of the problem that was solved, how it was solved, and the resolution. You never know when a conversation surrounding that issue will arise, and someone always forgets what was agreed upon.

Virtual problem-solving does not have to be difficult. It’s all about finding a new rhythm with your group. Meetings may be more frequent, and you’ll even find yourself a bit more tired from communicating so much. However, the result can make for a more close-knit group and faster problem solving.

Keep leading and stay safe,

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