We all know what it feels like when a problem is brewing. It feels unsettling, heavy, and uncomfortable. 

Sometimes we feel the problem building for a long time, and sometimes it catches us by surprise. 

When an employee is facing or creating a problem, managers can offer support through a purpose-driven problem-solving meeting aimed at investigating the problem’s root causes and building an action plan of solutions. 

What is a problem-solving meeting, and what is its purpose? 

The purpose of a problem-solving meeting is to find a resolution—or at least determine the steps to a resolution—for someone who’s facing a challenge. Most often this meeting is held between a manager and the employee(s) undergoing the issue. However, the meeting may include an individual from human resources (HR) or another representative who has insights or needs to be present for legal or organizational reasons. 

Times when a problem-solving meeting may be needed:

  • An employee is underachieving in their role.
  • An employee is overachieving in their role and not allowing other team members to take on new types of work.
  • Two or more employees need help diffusing drama or disagreements. 
  • An employee is consistently negative or grumbling about work.
  • There is an employee-related situation that creates a toxic, troublesome, or otherwise uncomfortable work environment for fellow team members.

Host effective problem-solving meetings

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Who can benefit from a problem-solving meeting? 

Problem-solving meetings are beneficial for any employee, with any size of issue. Whether there’s a one-off problem that just needs a bit of brainstorming time for a solution, or a troublesome employee causing recurring issues, the basics of the problem-solving meeting still apply. It’s a useful approach for any case scenario where employees and managers need to meet to create resolutions together. 

3 steps to resolution

1 Analyze a situation and its causes

The first step to resolution is identifying the actual root cause of the issue at hand. The key word here is “root.” It may take some time to investigate the situation and learn that the “obvious” source of the issue is actually not causing the problem. In fact, surface-level problems are often caused by something deeper. 

For example, an employee’s unwillingness to meet the expectations of the role may not be caused by pure lack of motivation, which would seem like the obvious reason. Instead, the deeper issue may be that they’re dealing with a difficult situation in their personal life or feeling excluded from the team. 

It’s important to have a discussion with your employee about what’s really bothering them. Finding this root will help you build proper solutions later in the meeting.

2 Assess what direction to take

When you’re confident you’ve sought out the deep root of the problem, you can begin considering solutions. To keep the employee engaged in their own problem solving, first ask them what solutions they can think of. This approach is especially beneficial for pessimistic employees who don’t typically try to imagine the best case scenarios for improvement. 

If the employee struggles to imagine what their options for improvement might be, ask if you can present some alternatives. Asking first signifies to the employee that you respect their decision to take or leave an option for improvement. 

Unfortunately, not all employees are going to be open to options to better perform within their role, so you should work with your HR team to consider the best next steps in this situation. 

3 Create an action plan to resolve the problem

If your employee is willing to resolve the issue(s) at hand, you’re ready to begin creating an action plan. Depending on the level of breadth and depth of the problem you’re solving, you may consider developing either more or less formal action plans. A quick one-time problem may not need a documented plan, but a recurring or high-impact problem should have the solution documented. A performance improvement plan (PIP) is one example of a documented set of steps upon which the employee and manager both agree to help the employee perform better within their role. 

How to run a problem-solving meeting 

1 Define a clear meeting purpose 

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? 

Having a crystal clear definition of the problem will make it easy to negotiate the need for the meeting to occur. Knowing the meeting’s purpose will also help you understand who needs to be involved in the meeting and how urgent the problem is. 

The problem definition should answer:

  1. Who is involved in this problem?
  2. What happened, or is happening?
  3. What is the impact of the problem?

2 Brainstorm potential solutions

The problem-solving meeting should be focused on solutions. Once you understand the root cause of the problem, all brains should put their energy towards answering, “How can we make this better?”

Keeping the focus of the meeting on solutions creates a more positive, future-oriented tone for the meeting. This tone can increase productivity and make the employee feel supported by their upper managers. 

To generate more possible solutions, try adopting one of these brainstorming techniques.

3 Discuss the possible outcomes of potential solutions 

All solutions have both positive and negative consequences. 

Discussing or mapping out the possibilities of each solution through a mind-mapping exercise can help you see which solution is going to be the most beneficial for the employee. Ensure that the employee is engaged in providing their feedback, as some solutions may feel more or less comfortable to them. And after all, they are the person who needs to fit within the solution, so their say is really important.

4 Question potential solutions

Question the feasibility of potential solutions. Some things to consider when doing so might be the:

  • Length of time. How long will this option take? Will we need to have results sooner?
  • Schedule allocation. How much time will this take away from daily operations? 
  • Budget. Are there costs associated with training, workplace improvements, or severance?
  • Face value. Is this something the employee is willing to do? Do the employee and employer both see value in pursuing this?

5 Come to an agreement 

The meeting should close out with an agreement on next steps. If the employee is willing to resolve the problem, ideally they’ll be involved in the decision making for the solution and action plan. 

If the employee is opposed to improvement or to conforming to the expectations for the role, other decision makers in the meeting will be responsible for stating the final call. An example of an approach adopted from project management practices is to use the highest paid person’s opinion (HIPPO).

Tips on running a problem-solving meeting 

1 Invite only those who need to be there

Keeping the meeting small has so many benefits, especially for a problem-solving meeting. Facing the issue with less people ensures that the employee who is struggling will not feel attacked or ganged up on by a mass of people. In the same vein, having less attendees in the meeting often allows the employee to feel more comfortable opening up about sensitive, deep root causes that may be affecting their position. Keeping the circle small also ensures that the company isn’t feeding into a drama triangle that begins taking away focus from other employees’ work. 

2 Track the process with an agenda 

Problem-solving meetings can be difficult to manage as they often deal with a lot of strong emotions. Documenting processes and discussions through meeting agendas and meeting minutes are helpful ways to hold all parties accountable in case of a later disagreement or discussion. In the case of recurring problems, tracking processes is vital to accurately measure for how long the problem has persisted.  

Team Meeting Agenda Items

3 Assign meeting roles 

Assigning meeting roles is one way to ensure that only the necessary people are present in the meeting. In the case of a problem-solving meeting, typically only the employee(s) involved in the issue, their manager(s), and possibly an HR representative are included. If it seems like someone invited to the meeting doesn’t have a clear role to play, it’s best to keep them outside of the meeting for the time being. Consider another option for the excluded attendee, like reading the meeting minutes after the call.

4 Schedule check-ins

Earlier in 2022, 65% of employees said they wanted more feedback, and 40% of employees were completely disengaged when they received little to no feedback from their manager. Rather than leaving employees to implement solutions on their own, managers can show support by offering regular check-in meetings for feedback and progress updates. These follow-ups are important to help everyone understand how the solution is working and to decide if the current solution needs to be revised. 

Free problem-solving meeting agenda template

Parting advice

Problems in the workplace don’t have to cause managers or their teams to lose sleep. Conducting an efficient problem-solving meeting can enable your team to identify solutions that work best for them, while also encouraging employees to improve within their role. An engaged, supportive manager can apply the steps above to implement a problem-solving meeting for any type of issue and get their team back on track to being more productive and successful. 

Better yet, proactive problem mitigation strategies can help identify problems earlier so your workplace remains positive, supportive, and collaborative!