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Manager’s Checkup: Problem-solving styles

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Everyone solves problems differently, but experts feel most of us share cer­tain problem-solving styles. Take this quiz and gain some insight into how you approach the challenges you face at work. Answer "true" or "false" to each statement:

___1. Most of the problems I face are variations on a theme; they're not really different.

___2. Talking with people outside my department is useful when I need to solve a problem.

___3. It's hard for me to solve prob­lems unless I know how they origi­nated.

___4. Solutions to problems come to me suddenly or when I'm doing something else.

___5. Knowing how to solve a prob­lem the right way is more important that just doing whatever it takes.

___6. I don't attach much impor­tance to how my predecessors dealt with the same problems I face.

___7. I usually find my past experi­ence and understanding of an issue are most helpful to me in solving problems.

___8. I don't just solve problems; I'm usually the first to identify them.

___9. While my team's input is important, I'm the one who usually solves a problem.

___10. It's necessary to be able to think outside the box to solve the problems I face.

What do your answers mean?

Give yourself one point for each "true" response.

If you scored 0 to 2 points, you may be an "avoidant" problem-solver. This doesn't necessarily mean you avoid solving problems. It may also mean you're less likely than others to consider situations to be problems.

If you scored 8 to 10 points, you're probably a "flexible" prob­lem-solver. This means you use dif­ferent approaches at different times; sometimes you're very logical and methodical, sometimes very creative and innovative.

If you scored 3 to 7 points, go back and score yourself again, this time giving yourself one point for each "true" response to the odd-num­bered statements only. If this second score is 3, 4 or 5, you tend to be an "adaptive" problem-solver who relies on logic, analysis and past experi­ence. If it's 0, 1 or 2, you're more likely to be an "innovative" problem-solver who relies on intuition, imagi­nation and new ideas.

Why was the quiz structured this way? Some experts see adaptors and innovators as two ends of a contin­uum first popularized in the 1970s by British psychologist Michael Kirton, whose assessment tool based on this model is still often used in team-building efforts. (Learn more at Many experts now feel that most of us lie in the middle of this continuum, combining both adaptive and innovative strategies in our personal problem-solving styles, depending on the context and the group with which we're working.

None of these approaches is neces­sarily better than the others, but it's useful to be aware of your style—and how it compares to those of the people you work with—to better solve the problems you encounter every day.

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