Our surroundings can have a significant effect on the way we feel, think and work. The type of environment we favour for problem solving varies, depending on what puts us in the right frame of mind for a particular task. Some people thrive in a bustling atmosphere while others prefer more calm surroundings. Often we require different circumstances for different types of task. Quiet may be more suitable to analytical thinking, whereas lively surroundings might help us to get into a more relaxed, free-thinking frame of mind. We can learn from experience what conditions suit as best for different types of mental task and then try to recreate these when needed. Environmental stimulants determine our level of mental arousal, which affects the ease with which we can use various mental skills.
The optimum level of arousal varies for different people. The sight of flowers, the smell of coffee, the sound of traffic, etc, may raise or lower arousal depending on the individual. Emotions such as frustration and anger also affect the level of arousal. With such a wide range of influences affecting people in different ways, there are no hard and fast rules about the best physical environment for problem solving. However, some aspects of the environment are particularly important. Adequate resources, available for employees to use, are essential. Lack of resources may cause frustration. Physical comfort is also very important, although some individuals may find it too sleepy to be creatively stimulating. Discomfort can create a distraction, raise levels of arousal, and result in stress or sleepiness. Proper temperature, good lightening, ergonomically designed furniture and office systems, little noise, and airy environment also help to create a physical comfort.
Now time to talk about policies, processes and procedures has come. The way organization is structured, the rules and regulations, the channels of communication, all impact on employee performance. With the flattening hierarchical structure and greater empowerment of the work force, many employees now have more autonomy to make a creative contribution to the success of their organization. Given greater accountability they are encouraged to apply their problem solving skills in their day-to-day work. When employees make a significant contribution to corporate success this must be equally well publicized, both as a reward to the individual and to encourage others. Reward through promotion, bonuses and other cash incentives plays an important role. Suggestion schemes are a popular way of encouraging employees to contribute ideas for the successful running of a business.
Often there is a financial reward, such as a share of any saving to the company when an idea is implemented. Quality circles are another way of encouraging employees to contribute through problem solving. Employees should also have the opportunity to suggest solutions to problems outside their own job role. However, money is not always the most powerful incentive. Many people who leave a company to build their own business do so because their attempts to develop their ideas within the company have been frustrated. Their incentive is often achievement rather than money.
The last thing I would like to talk about is culture and management style. A commitment to original thinking, aimed at finding better ways to respond in the changed environment, needs to be reflected in the business strategy and throughout its operations. Individuals should have the expectation of high achievement through their own efforts. It is vital that this involves the whole organization. We tend to assume the attitude of those around us without realizing. If our peers and managers are happy with the status quo we may easily .adopt the same view. Management style can influence both our attitude and freedom to respond creatively to changing circumstances. Consider the different influence of two tem leaders. One believes in leading from the front. He both suggests implements work changes based on his own perspective, persuading other team members that this is the best course.
The second team leader leads from within the team. She is always asking the others for their views, trying to get a complete picture of what is happening. When she identifies an opportunity she tells the others, ?It’s time for change, where do we go from here?’ She makes change a team effort. The first group of employees inevitably feel undervalued and their potential contribution is thwarted. The second team is active in building a successful business. Setting targets and standards that stretch individuals also plays an important role. It provides a stimulating challenge, encouraging people to search for more effective ways of working, and creates an environment where individuals think only the best is acceptable. While some people find being under pressure of work or a deadline a stimulus to problem solving, others find it an obstacle. The right atmosphere must exist to encourage people to express their ideas freely. As well as being asked for ideas and problems as they arise, people need to feel that will listen when they make suggestions and not be unduly critical if their ideas are unusual or seem unpractical.