When things get tough or have not gone to plan, we need to know how to come back stronger. This article, based on Peterson’s work on family functioning (2009), outlines how we should consider and effectively solve problems together if everyone is to come back stronger.

Why We Need to Understand Problems Together

How we share and solve problems together greatly influences everyone’s; ability to cope and function properly, their psychological wellbeing, and whether the best individual and collective outcomes are achieved. Further, it helps everyone learn problem solving skills that will promote their resilience.

Typically the problems that we consider and aim to solve are about how to get a task done or a goal achieved. These are instrumental problems, e.g., how are we going to reduce our energy bills, reduce staff injury, or gain promotion.

As a society, however, we’re increasingly realising that problems may also be affective, that is to do with our feelings and emotions. For example, we’re worried we’re not going to learn from each other if we’re working at home, or we’re concerned that not getting promotion will lead to cuts.

With this in mind, it’s easy to appreciate why individuals may experience problems and potential solutions differently. Also, if we consider that individuals who believe their feelings are not heard or addressed are unlikely to accept or act upon a given solution, it helps us understand why problems often remain unresolved.

If therefore, others are affected by a problem and/or its potential outcomes, or they’re required to act to solve a problem, it’s important that the problem is considered from everyone’s instrumental and affective experience to ensure that it’s effectively understood and resolved.

How to Solve Problems Together

Taking the time to systematically follow the below six-step process (Peterson, 2009) will promote everyone’s engagement with the problem-solving process and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for all.

If considering this within a work setting, it can sometimes be useful to have a neutral facilitator to help reduce hierarchical or historical communication issues. Better still, work to develop an environment of psychological safety as outlined in my previous article ‘Coming Back Stronger: Communicating Effectively With Each Other.’

  1. Identifying and Agreeing on the Problem. A crucial, but often difficult, first step is to clearly define and agree upon the nature of the problem. Each individual should get the chance to explain how they experience and and feel about the problem to determine its instrumental AND affective components. A ‘no blame and repercussions’ atmosphere and ensuring that everyone feels heard is crucial here.
  2. Creating Options and Alternatives. Involve everyone in brainstorming options to consider the instrumental and affective parts of the problem. Ensure everyone’s feelings are addressed and their strengths recognised. Ideas might aim to help with all or a part of the problem. Resist evaluating options and aim to get a good number of options on the table.
  3. Evaluate Options. The goal here is to find a solution(s) that everyone will consider. Enable each member to give their opinion of each option and eliminate those options that anyone is not prepared to try. Then consider whether you have access to the required resources to enable the remaining options.
  4. Choose a Solution. Decide together which solution(s) everyone can be most committed to and develop an action plan of what is to be done, who is going to do it, and by when. Write it down to make sure that everyone understands and accepts their part. Reinforce how everyone’s part, however big or small, is an important and valued part of enabling a successful outcome for all. Decide how and by whom the process is to be monitored – this could be a good opportunity to allow someone to step up and take responsibility.
  5. Monitoring the Solution. This important step ensures that everyone is; reminded of their role, encouraged and supported as required, and motivated by any progress made.
  6. Evaluate. Finally, the action plan should be reviewed together in light of progress and whether the problem has been solved. This enables adjustments to be made if required, and everyone to learn from the process for both current and future times.

I hope this article helps you, your family and/or colleagues to effectively solve problems and to move forward together.


Peterson, R. (2009). Families First: Keys to Successful Family Functioning Problem-solving. Virginia Cooperative Extension, 350-091, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.

This article was written by Caroline as a blog for the Football Medicine and Performance Association (published May 2019).

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