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The Simplest Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

The Simplest Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Have you ever been highly trained for a position only to find that when you actually dive into the job, all kinds of things come up that require quick decisions and problem-solving skills that you weren’t ever trained for?

Problem-solving skills are part of everyday living and are necessary for all aspects of life. They aren’t just for solving math and science problems. They’re needed for all kinds of positions such as doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, construction workers, and professional drivers.

If you’re a creative person, you have the ability to be an excellent problem-solver. Anyone can sharpen problem solving skills using the power of the mind.

1. Have a healthy frame of mind.

Try not to panic or play the victim. Don’t think, “Why me?” Think, “How can I resolve this?” The two things to always bring into the situation are positive thinking and open-mindedness.

2. Keep emotions out of it.

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. This is exactly why a stable frame of mind is paramount. Remember that for every problem there is a solution. Don’t get tunnel-visioned so that the problem is magnified. Problem-solving skills are one of the traits of successful people.

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3. Know when to speak up and when to keep a problem to yourself.

Sometimes, alerting others of a problem that you’re experiencing breeds additional drama. However, often times in the business setting, it’s wise to alert superiors and co-workers so that they can assist in solving it before the problem escalates. If you’re not sure whether to speak up, check office regulations, or perhaps wait until you can make an informed decision.

4. Define the problem clearly.

Before beginning, make sure you completely understand exactly what the problem is. Sometimes it looks like there’s a lot of problems, but it’s actually just one with a lot of symptoms. Try to find the root cause of a problem instead of looking at a myriad of symptomatic issues. Ask questions like these:

–  What is the real problem?

–  What assumptions am I making that could be biased or inaccurate?

–  Where’s the latest information/research/data on this subject?

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–  How long do I have before this becomes a bigger issue?

–  Can I ignore this problem?

–  Who and what can help solve this?

5. Identify causes… especially the root cause.

Consider how and why it happened. Look at the problem from different perspectives. Play the devil’s advocate. It wouldn’t be considered a ‘problem’ if you knew how to solve it. This is why it’s imperative to consider other views and opinions. Others may see it differently.

6. Gather as many facts as possible.

Collect information based on evidence… not on feelings. It’s easier to come up with problem-solving strategies when you’re not emotionally charged. An informed mind is much more capable of resolution than an uninformed one. Observe what is going right, or the positive aspects of the subject at hand, and to see if it gives ideas of how to fix what’s going wrong. Then, do the same with the negative aspects. Write them down.

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7. Brainstorm solutions.

Before brainstorming, make sure you’ve clearly defined the problem and gathered solid facts. Ask others for input. Often how others view something is completely different than how you viewed it because you might be too close, tunnel-visioned, or too emotionally charged to make distinctions between the facts and exaggerations.

8. Make a decision as soon as possible.

Procrastination is not your friend when it comes to problem solving. When a problem is avoided it either becomes a larger problem or splits into many problems. Be diligent about defining the problem and gathering solid information so that you can brainstorm effectively.

9. Assign responsibility for who does what in the resolution.

Know what prompts your abilities and/or the abilities of your team. Use outlines, graphic organizers, color codes, charts, tables, graphs, and spreadsheets. Any of these tools can help organize and plan out the steps required for whatever solution you decide on. They can also ensure that you don’t get sidetracked and focus on things that are irrelevant to the original problem.

10. Set standards to measure progress and/or deadlines for completion/resolution.

Establish criteria that proposed solutions must meet. This way, if you implement a plan of action and you monitor the results, you will see before you become frustrated whether it’s working or not. If it’s not working, you waste less time.

11. Take actions that are focused on a solution.

Select your solution and begin making a step-by-step plan of action to solve the problem. By making a plan, this promotes implementation of the solution. Remember to remain focused on one thing at a time.

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12. If you can’t find a solution, go back and define what the problem is.

When problems cannot be solved, it is usually because they weren’t clearly identified. Anytime you hear someone say they’ve been dealing with a problem for quite some time, often the reason is because they haven’t slowed down long enough to carefully define the actual problem.

If problem solving skills are a challenge for you, just follow these steps.  Before long, you will become an excellent problem solver and an asset for any team, business, or organization.

Find out why solving problems often takes a team.

Featured photo credit: Marco Bellucci via http

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Last Updated on September 30, 2019

How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

Minutes are a written record of a board, company, or organizational meeting. Meeting minutes are considered a legal document, so when writing them, strive for clarity and consistency of tone.

Because minutes are a permanent record of the meeting, be sure to proofread them well before sending. It is a good idea to run them by a supervisor or seasoned attendee to make sure statements and information are accurately captured.

The best meeting minutes takers are careful listeners, quick typists, and are adequately familiar with the meeting topics and attendees. The note taker must have a firm enough grasp of the subject matter to be able to separate the important points from the noise in what can be long, drawn-out discussions. And, importantly, the note taker should not simultaneously lead and take notes. (If you’re ever asked to do so, decline.)

Following, are some step-by-step hints to effectively write meeting minutes:

1. Develop an Agenda

Work with the Chairperson or Board President to develop a detailed agenda.

Meetings occur for a reason, and the issues to be addressed and decided upon need to be listed to alert attendees. Work with the convener to draft an agenda that assigns times to each topic to keep the meeting moving and to make sure the group has enough time to consider all items.

The agenda will serve as your outline for the meeting minutes. Keep the minutes’ headings consistent with the agenda topics for continuity.

2. Follow a Template from Former Minutes Taken

If you are new to a Board or organization, and are writing minutes for the first time, ask to see the past meeting minutes so that you can maintain the same format.

Generally, the organization name or the name of the group that is meeting goes at the top: “Meeting of the Board of Directors of XYZ,” with the date on the next line. After the date, include both the time the meeting came to order and the time the meeting ended.

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Most groups who meet do so regularly, with set agenda items at each meeting. Some groups include a Next Steps heading at the end of the minutes that lists projects to follow up on and assigns responsibility.

A template from a former meeting will also help determine whether or not the group records if a quorum was met, and other items specific to the organization’s meeting minutes.

3. Record Attendance

On most boards, the Board Secretary is the person responsible for taking the meeting minutes. In organizational meetings, the minutes taker may be a project coordinator or assistant to a manager or CEO. She or he should arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins and pass around an attendance sheet with all members’ names and contact information.

Meeting attendees will need to check off their names and make edits to any changes in their information. This will help as both a back-up document of attendees and ensure that information goes out to the most up-to-date email addresses.

All attendees’ names should be listed directly below the meeting name and date, under a subheading that says “Present.” List first and last names of all attendees, along with title or affiliation, separated by a comma or semi-colon.

If a member of the Board could not attend the meeting, cite his or her name after the phrase: “Copied To:” There may be other designations in the participants’ list. For example, if several of the meeting attendees are members of the staff while everyone else is a volunteer, you may want to write (Staff) after each staff member.

As a general rule, attendees are listed alphabetically by their last names. However, in some organizations, it’s a best practice to list the leadership of the Board first. In that case, the President or Co-Presidents would be listed first, followed by the Vice President, followed by the Secretary, and then by the Treasurer. Then all other names of attendees would be alphabetized by last name.

It is also common practice to note if a participant joined the meeting via conference call. This can be indicated by writing: “By Phone” and listing the participants who called in.

4. Naming Convention

Generally, the first time someone speaks in the meeting will include his or her name and often the title.

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For example, “President of the XYZ Board, Roger McGowan, called the meeting to order.” The next time Roger McGowan speaks, though, you can simply refer to him as “Roger.” If there are two Rogers in the meeting, use an initial for their last names to separate the two. “Roger M. called for a vote. Roger T. abstained.”

5. What, and What Not, to Include

Depending on the nature of the meeting, it could last from one to several hours. The attendees will be asked to review and then approve the meeting minutes. Therefore, you don’t want the minutes to extend into a lengthy document.

Capturing everything that people say verbatim is not only unnecessary, but annoying to reviewers.

For each agenda item, you ultimately want to summarize only the relevant points of the discussion along with any decisions made. After the meeting, cull through your notes, making sure to edit out any circular or repetitive arguments and only leave in the relevant points made.

6. Maintain a Neutral Tone

Minutes are a legal document. They are used to establish an organization’s historical record of activity. It is essential to maintain an even, professional tone. Never put inflammatory language in the minutes, even if the language of the meeting becomes heated.

You want to record the gist of the discussion objectively, which means mentioning the key points covered without assigning blame. For example, “The staff addressed board members’ questions regarding the vendor’s professionalism.”

Picture a lawyer ten years down the road reading the minutes to find evidence of potential wrongdoing. You wouldn’t want an embellishment in the form of a colorful adverb or a quip to cloud any account of what took place. Here’s a list of neutral sounding words to get started with.

7. Record Votes

The primary purpose of minutes is to record any votes a board or organization takes. Solid record-keeping requires mentioning which participant makes a motion — and what the motion states verbatim — and which participant seconds the motion.

For example, “Vice President Cindy Jacobsen made a motion to dedicate 50 percent, or $50,000, of the proceeds from the ZZZ Foundation gift to the CCC scholarship fund. President Roger McGowan seconded the motion.”

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This vote tabulation should be expressed in neutral language as well. “The Board voted unanimously to amend the charter in the following way,” or “The decision to provide $1,000 to the tree-planting effort passed 4 to 1, with Board President McGowan opposing.”

Most Boards try to get a vote passed unanimously. Sometimes in order to help the Board attain a more cohesive outcome, a Board member may abstain from voting. “The motion passed 17 to 1 with one absension.”

8. Pare down Notes Post-Meeting

Following the meeting, read through your notes while all the discussions remain fresh in your mind, and make any needed revisions. Then, pare the meeting minutes down to their essentials, providing a brief account of the discussion that summarizes arguments made for and against a decision.

People often speak colloquially or in idioms, as in: “This isn’t even in the ballpark” or “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.” While you may be tempted to keep the exact language in the minutes to add color, resist.

Additionally, if any presentations are part of the meeting, do not include information from the Powerpoint in the minutes. However, you will want to record the key points from the post-presentation discussion.

9. Proofread with Care

Make sure that you spelled all names correctly, inserted the correct date of the meeting, and that your minutes read clearly.

Spell out acronyms the first time they’re used. Remember that the notes may be reviewed by others for whom the acronyms are unfamiliar. Stay consistent in headings, punctuation, and formatting. The minutes should be polished and professional.

10. Distribute Broadly

Once approved, email minutes to the full board — not just the attendees — for review. Your minutes will help keep those who were absent apprised of important actions and decisions.

At the start of the next meeting, call for the approval of the minutes. Note any revisions. Try to work out the agreed-upon changes in the meeting, so that you don’t spend a huge amount of time on revisions.

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Ask for a motion to approve the minutes with the agreed-upon changes. Once an attendee offers a motion, ask for another person in the meeting to “second” the motion. They say, “All approved.” Always ask if there is anyone who does not approve. Assuming not, then say: “The minutes from our last meeting are approved once the agreed-upon changes have been made.”

11. File Meticulously

Since minutes are a legal document, take care when filing them. Make sure the file name of the document is consistent with the file names of previously filed minutes.

Occasionally, members of the organization may want to review past minutes. Know where the minutes are filed!

One Caveat

In this day and age of high technology, you may ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be simpler to record the meeting? This depends on the protocols of the organization, but probably not.

Be sure to ask what the rules are at the organization where you are taking minutes. Remember that the minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said at the meeting.

The minutes reflect decisions not discussions. In spite of their name, “minutes,” the minutes are not a minute-by-minute transcript.

Bottom Line

Becoming an expert minutes-taker requires a keen ear, a willingness to learn, and some practice, but by following these tips you will soon become proficient.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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