I love taking trips with my daughter to our local playground. It’s grown over the years and is a fun place for kids to have fun, explore, build friendships and try new things.

Often, as I sit and watch her and other kids play I see more than just what’s in front of me. I like to think of the playground as a great big collection of life lessons that kids get to work on… all in one special place.

The other night I was thinking about the connection between the playground and one of my favorite work activities – problem solving.

There are almost unlimited opportunities to problem solve at the playground. Sometimes kids will be playing tag and they will scamper up to the top a structure and scatter. And I’ll watch the tagger evaluate all of the different options at their disposal for getting down.

Of course, there is a mix of slow ways, fast ways, safe ways, dangerous ways. They don’t want to think too long because their targets are quickly moving away, but eventually they’ll pick an option that is as close to the safe and fast part of the matrix as possible.

Other times, it might be a toddler staring up at some ominous looking steps that lie between them and the activity and excitement they see at the top. They may start to take on the first step, then maybe one more, but then quickly begin to evaluate where they are and if they’re willing to risk going farther.

Our playground also has a big rope net pyramid where kids can pick a multitude of ways to climb around and up to the peak. My daughter loves to get to the top and slide right down the pole in the middle while others might take a different approach.

And then there is the problem of parents telling kids that it’s time to go. This might be when I see kids get the most creative in their problem solving skills.

When it comes to work, encouraging and growing problem solving skills in your team members is one of the most critical tasks you can undertake. It is those skills that help them make the right decisions when the process breaks down or they have to navigate a customer conversation or trouble shoot a machine or other failure in your system.

And like on the playground, the more opportunities you give your people to think on their own, the more they can take calculated risks and think for themselves. Each opportunity does a little bit more to strengthen those muscles.

Are you giving your people enough chances to think on their own or are they just given a specific path with no room for questions or thinking?

I think you find that the more they’re able to be in those positions and empowered to problem solve, the better your company will be in the long run… as well as your people.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I’d love hear from you about today’s topic or just in general. You can shoot me an email at shawn@shawnwashburn.com¬†or head to shawnwashburn.com/contact and you’ll find links to connect with me on social media as well.