"Problem Solving" is something we do every day; we just usually call it "getting on with the job". It's not always easy at work (or at home), but it's the bigger problems that cause us to become unstuck as an employee, especially when they start to affect our colleagues, superiors or other members of our team.

You usually know when you have a problem - they're easy to spot. They have no obvious solution! For this article let's use an example problem: you are approaching a deadline for a project to design and launch the new company website. The project manager has been taken to hospital (so uncontactable) and there's only a couple of days to go before the launch. When we say "problem", it's usually a culmination of several small ones that add up to a big stumbling block. In this example:
- Your Project manager is uncontactable
- You don't have a set return date when they're back
- The deadline is approaching

These are the facts. It's always good to start by actually defining the problem, so you can work on the solution in a logical way. This problem has three elements to it. Let's look at the first part - the Project Manager is uncontactable. What would you be contacting them for? Passwords to launch the site? A list of contacts they were working with to build, design and implement it? An up to date Project plan? This enables you to start approaching a solution. Can someone else who is in and who is still working on the project, deputise for the absent manager? This could be turned into a positive - a chance for someone else to shine and step up to the plate under pressure. Do you have other people trained up in the software that is being used? Can they put it in layman's terms so that everyone else gets up to speed on how the project was left? This is where you can fill the knowledge gap left by the absent project manager.

Since the deadline is approaching and you don't know when your manager is back, you now have to tackle the next part of the problem: staffing and time issues. Will any of your team work overtime? Did that work experience girl who outperformed last year like to come in and do a bit of temping? Can the deadline be extended? (not necessarily until your manager gets back, but at least to give yourselves some breathing room). Who else is depending on the deadline? Do you have press releases lined up to coincide with the launch? Would they appreciate an extra deadline extension too? It's once again these kinds of problems that may end up writing solutions themselves. If you can take the pressure off the team, they won't feel the absence of the manager so much.

Remember that there's pressure on you, too. You have to file in the HR sickness forms for your manager. If morale is slipping because of the undue pressure and their absence, raise it by having a collection for flowers or get well gift for the absentee. Usually in the face of problems, if you're managing people, you'll have to be the positive influence, driving the project forward to a solution.

Remember that once the solution is found: look back and see what you did wrongly or rightly with regard to problem solving. Remember the positives - did team members manage to shine in the face of pressure? Then put this in their next appraisal. Did you recognise training needs and gaps in knowledge that you wouldn't have noticed if your manager wasn't away? Then schedule those for later in the working year. Problems don't always have to be a negative experience - it's how you tackle them that counts!